Since I quit my day job and began living my dream of being a full time writer and artist, I have had to make peace with how counter this life is to the expect norms of productivity. We live in a world where hard work is demonstrated in those things we can measure and define. Full buckets and barns attest to the work I do on the family farm. As a teacher I measured my progress in lectures written, tests given, and papers graded, before that progress was measured by the time clock. Now it seems as if nothing I do will have such concrete proof of my effort ever again.
Sure there is the occasional painting, the drawing, and the pages that multiply on a good day, but most of days do not seem to be very productive. I read a novel, a history book, or a news post. I listen to music while staring at the clouds. I watch a movie, answer emails, or talk with a friend. From the outside it must seem as if I live of wasted time. Time spent in frivolous and unproductive pursuits. However, so much more is going on beneath the surface. It is all part of a process few understand, a process, in fact, that I am just learning to define.
As an artist, I am always on the prowl for that next piece of inspiration. I need it like a junkie needs their next hit. It is the basis and reason for my work. It is what makes life vibrant and beautiful, and when it is absent, why I am unsettled and restless.
For centuries, the essence and process of inspiration has been debated. Some claim that it is unfaithful lover coming and going at its whim. Some say that it overtakes you like a summer storm. Others find it in quiet meditation. Each a description holds merit, but yet each one fails to address how we prepare ourselves to receive the inspiration that will move us to write great words, create profound images in clay, paint, or marble.
It is true that inspiration cannot be decreed or mandated. It cannot be summoned like a faithful dog, or controlled by the powers of mental or emotional discipline. It strikes when it is ready, when the heart and mind have been properly conditioned to receive it and not before. However, despite its uncontrollable and predictable nature we can prepare ourselves to receive it, equip ourselves with the proper tools to bring it into the light of this realm.
And we can practice those things which bring us into the lightning’s path. Of all things that I hold to be true, one of the beautiful truths I celebrate is inspiration begets inspiration. So I seek out those things which hold the light inspiration within their words and images. I read the works of those who capture their inspired moment with words. I listen to those who froze that fleeting moment in the eternal language of music. I look upon those images that portray the intimacy of that perfect moment in ink and oils. They all speak to me of something greater that I too can know if I allow it to become a part of my reality.
Each idea and concept embedded in these forms takes root within my mind, a fertile ground for extraordinary and curious connections, blossoming into new and original thoughts, the basis for future creativity. My time, seemingly wasted, is Psyche sorting seeds, pulling ripe kernels of the sublime from the husks of the mundane.
A slow and arduous process where I toil, hoping to find that one brilliant insight that will breathe new life into me, it why the artist is weary from a day of what others consider leisurely activity, why watching a movie can leave us exhausted, a book or painting can drain us the point collapse. For us, the reception is never passive. A single good idea once communicated by another bursts forth in our minds as a plentiful harvest of inspired ideas of our own, compelling us to create anew, adding our perspective and experience until resembles nothing of its original state.
Our work, began by what others consider to be casual amusement, becomes consuming. Demanding to be created, given life of its own, and we find ourselves at the mercy of this strange force called inspiration. We sculpt, paint, and write trying to focus the energy we have received, praying that we have the power to give it a form that will be recognized by others and in turn allow them to know the blessing and gift of being inspired. Our ends sacrificed for their means. A cycle as old as time, and one we bow to willingly so that it may continue.
So I will “waste” some more time today, read that novel that has sat too long neglected, watch that movie that has grown dusty while I was doing my “real” work. This is my job now, to discover those seeds of inspiration that will allow me to do what I have been created to do.