I often wonder about the function of inspiration within creativity. In a film we watched last evening: A Price Above Rubies, a fine jewelry artist keeps a unique piece he had made years before, left unfinished. He told his friend the ring was for his muse and he was waiting for the right woman to come along to wear it. When she appeared he would know exactly what kind of stone to place in the unfinished setting. Isn’t it so with the creative act? We know it when we see it. Sometimes we know it when we hear it, or touch it. And sometimes I wonder if we must not “fall in love” before we can begin to create. One’s inspiration and one’s best work often reflects something, or someone, you care about very deeply; something that you feel you know inside and out, or long for. The muse speaks to a passion which transcends the mundane.
I fall in love with songs, tunes, ideas even. They run through my head on different levels constantly, but sometimes if I put bow to string, strike a chord on the piano, or put pen to paper only then does that idea or song really make sense to me. I have to write it to know it, I have to sing it to hear it, but first I have to let it take me somewhere internally. I watch how that idea or song makes me feel. I wish I understood better how this experience is connected to the spirit; to God. How does the spirit work within the creative act? I believe Quaker practice has helped me incorporate the skill of centering or finding that quiet voice within, and transferring that practice into my creative life. Indeed, I feel they are same. There have been times when I felt as though I was burning with inspiration. After all, the Webster’s initial definition of inspiration suggests that one is divinely charged in their act. (Now if that ain’t a huge chunk to bite off when a person is trying to make a go of it! ) The intriguing notion however is that the spark must begin in the individual, infused with all their unique gifts and idiosyncrasies. Two people will look at the same landscape or hear the same song and their responses might evolve into day and night – branching into opposite directions. One might be prompted to create from the experience, the other may simply gather nothing. And more acutely, where one musician might be devastated by life circumstances, i.e., illness or deafness, Beethoven, out of his own tragedy found the inspiration to produce the Ninth Symphony, an enduring piece of musical composition.
And then there are the shallow periods where the spark is only that, a spark, and not a fire. Those little sparks are quite valuable however, because they occur far more frequently than the larger flames, but very often the sparks are also accompanied by self doubt. I fancy that this annoying emotion must be just like those flies which hang around the stream when I am fishing. I have my rod in hand, the bait is perfectly arranged on the hook, I have intuitively sensed that my fish is in that lovely, deep pool on the other side of the creek. Two massive rocks form a pool at the bottom of a small, crystalline waterfall and in its green depths I can see my trout. I cast, and all of a sudden this stupid, huge black deer fly starts going for me. Bzzz, bzzzz, wahoozzz I can’t shake it off. I’m contorting all over the place trying to avoid him. He’s infuriating. And the trout is nearly ready to bite, I can feel him swimming downstream following my bait… Bzzzz: I don’t have the chops, I don’t know enough, I’m not skilled enough, I’m not fluent enough… Bzzzz, bzzzzzz.
Still, I don’t loathe self doubt the way some creative types might. I don’t often let it swallow me for long days at a time. I do take it into account, I ponder its meaning, I swat at it but not too much. I am unlikely to be haunted by doubt and in essence I feel it is healthy. Maybe self-doubt is a necessary prerequisite which God gives us to keep our ego-mongering impulses out of the way while in pursuit of that vision. But most of the time it seems to only get in the way. If one can acknowledge those personal limitations, one’s own finite capabilities and still be inspired to create, to produce art, then one has gained something valuable in the process. You have jumped a chasm, you have made a leap of faith. You create in spite of it all. You are in the end sustained by that faith, by the song you hear in your head not by the buzzing white noise of self doubt. You realize it isn’t only about you or me. The gift might work and come through me but ultimately the gift emerges as a small expression of that which is far more than… just me.
Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black where I read white. William Blake
Where some have found their paradise, others just come to harm… Joni Mitchell from “Amelia”.
Where others see but the dawn coming over the hill,
I see the soul of God shouting for joy. William Blake