Inspiration 101

“The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson was always saying crazy stuff like that.

Artists of all kinds often tell you that to be a good artist, one must keep a child’s perspective even into adulthood.  Picasso writes, “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Others claim that true inspiration comes from a divine source.  Homer invokes divine muses.  Blake says of his writing, “I myself do nothing.  The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me,” and Puccini says of Madame Butterfly, “The music of this opera was dictated to me by God; I was merely instrumental in putting it on paper and communicating it to the public.”

And yet divine guidance and childlike wonder are often overlooked in writing classes or workshops.  It’s as if a great carpenter suggests, “If you want to make a house, start with a blueprint,” but instead you start measuring 2×4’s because you would rather start with the known.

Some may not be comfortable with concepts like God or Inner Child.  Others will tell you that such “inspiration” is actually the work of your subconscious.  I’m not here to make theological arguments or tell anyone where art actually comes from, but I do wonder this: if many artists, including many so-called great artists, believe that inspiration comes from divine sources or childlike wonder, why aren’t these things discussed, let alone cultivated, in writing classes?

If I approached my current graduate seminar and said, “I’m waiting for God to tell me what my next essay should be about,” my fellow students would probably ask me who my dealer is and whether I could score any of the same stuff for them.  Then someone would ask me what I meant by the word God because if there’s anything English graduate students can’t agree on, it’s the meanings of words.

In Paul J. Silvia’s book How to Write a Lot, he explains that a writer must sit down and write.  He or she must schedule an hour or more each day and spend that time writing or working on writing (i.e. researching, outlining, and so on).  I agree with this assertion because writers often procrastinate, but I would add that sometimes during that hour, a writer can play, pray, or meditate.

Imagine a writing class that spends a silent hour next to a lake.  Or playing with children.  Or dancing naked around a fire.  Okay, the last one might be too much for some (I’m imagining my current class doing this and it ain’t a pretty picture), but let’s not forget that literature isn’t just an intellectual practice that counts alliterations and picks apart the misogynistic and racist views of writers past (although I’m not saying such activities aren’t worthwhile), but literature also communicates experiences.

The playwright David Mamet once told an interviewer that theatre is not meant to explain away, but to “celebrate the mysteries of life.”  He goes on to say, “What is missing from modern life is spirituality – the connection to the greater truths of the universe.”  Then Emerson wryly added (or would have, if he had not written this over a hundred years ago), “Why should we not enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

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3 Responses to Inspiration 101

  1. susan hardoby says:

    Chris-I once taught fifths graders about writing poetry. Children are the best poets-something about their wonder, their ignorance of “adult reality”, that
    gives them a spontaneity we lose as we get older. I guess we writers need to hang around with children and listen to their perspectives, for they are the poets.

  2. Ann says:

    I agree – and I find it disturbing that the arts (which allow for so much expression and cultivation of the imagination) are so often cut from the curriculum. We bring everything back to the 2×4’s and then are frustrated when students have nothing to write ABOUT. Just my two cents…

  3. Pingback: Living An Inspired Life – Part 2 | montyrainey

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