When I was in New York City a few weeks ago, I went to the American Folk Museum, mostly to see an exhibit of antique quilts. But while I was there, I saw this:
Believe it or not, these homely little things inspired a passionate response in me. They’re odd, and rather ugly, really…but someone had the creative notion to use something homely and everyday and create something entirely new. Something that spoke to them in some way. Using bits and baubles gathered up, this unknown artist made something entirely unique in the world, and that is something to celebrate – a lesson I would sum up as “Everything has inherent potential.”
As touched as I was by the effort made by our long-ago artist, I was equally impressed by the Museum’s role here. They didn’t buy these from a collector, a pristine climate-controlled showroom, a Chelsea gallery. No. They found them in a flea market. Which is the second lesson embedded in this experience: “Be prepared to be delighted.”
1. Everything has inherent potential.
2. Be prepared to be delighted.
I’m coming out of a slump, and now jumping headlong into two new projects, and these thoughts are perfect ballast for the trip. I’d forgotten them, I think, when I was struggling with proposals a few weeks ago. I needed to have something (several somethings) in hand for my trip to New York, but I kept coming up with…nothing.
I had forgotten that there is a bubbly melty pot of inspiration inside all of us, a stew composed of every impression, thought, memory, conversation, and image we’ve stored in our brain. The trick is to go from parsing them as an observer (“oh yes, I was in Canada in 1999, I had tea at that amazing palace, I saw islands out the airplane window, there was that iron scrollwork that reminded me of a quilt block”) to turning these known things upside down and finding new inspiration from them. The only ingredient the writer has to add is a liberal pinch of “What if.”
I imagine the unknown artist, idle at the end of a long day (and, ahem, undistracted by television) sitting at his kitchen table and thinking:
“What if I took this can that used to hold peas…and a pair of tin snips, and started cutting…here…and hey, that kind of looks like legs,and wow, if I curl these around my finger they’re like antennae, and I wonder if June would notice if I borrowed those earrings she never wears and there’s that paint left over from when we touched up the tractor and…”
Well, crafting a book isn’t really all that different.
We start with impressions of people and events and places, and we begin to tweak. The older lady on the bus, wearing sequined sneakers and holding a rosary, becomes an interesting character if we put a gun in her purse, or a baby shoe, or a scientific calculator. The bland man you see every day at the coffee shop – what if he’s twenty years younger than he looks? Twenty years older? What if he is one of a set of triplets? The boring waiting room at the doctor’s office…what if, sealed behind that wall, is a skeleton? An ancient text? Forty thousand dollars?
I’m not saying this process always yields terrific results – much as a tin can and some ingenuity doesn’t necessarily equal a thing of beauty. But I admire the effort – the power of the “what-if.”
What about you – where do you find your inspiration? Either creative inspiration, or spiritual, or even just the motivation you need to get through the day…a random commenter will receive a $15 Starbucks gift card (because sometimes you can find inspiration lurking at the bottom of a cup of passion tea!)