Image by Katarina K
I've always found the relationship between 'inspiration' and 'inspirational' intriguing. Although intrinsically linked to each other, one being the noun, the other the adjective, it is clear to me that they are used as synonyms of sorts while their purposes and reasons for being are, in fact, very different. When I think of them, I am reminded of Coleridge's seemingly hair-splitting exercise in Biographia Literaria, where he went to great lengths in order to articulate the differences between fancy and imagination. I wish he had done the same for inspiration and inspirational, for these two remind me of those faux amis we were told about in French class, those terms whose meaning you think you know, while you really do not.
When I was a child, I was always inspired. I was a prolific writer and I used to fill notebooks with drawings and sketches. Not once did I sit on the sofa with the cushion on my lap and asked myself what to fill the pages with. If there was paper and a pen, there was the process and the finished product. Ideas were coming to me not from the outer world but from the inner one. It was not magazines, toys or cartoons that inspired me; it was an introspective journey, in a primordial way, as if my own head were an extension of Plato's ideas communicating to me from a place somewhere above the clouds. This continued until I hit fifteen or sixteen.
I did not realise something was afoot; in fact, it is only with hindsight that I can identify those formative years as those that changed things. I started to study philosophy at senior high and very slowly I responded to it by subconsciously valuing knowledge absorbed from books as superior to creativity and imagination. There was no time for what I then regarded as games; as Aristotle was more important, I became nothing. It got worse as I started university; I was not inspired any longer and yet I had started talking about inspiration. At the time, and as an English major, talking about the Muse and her influence and effect on one's own work was normal, even expected. In fact, Muse-talk gave us all a defining sense of self. Shame we didn't know what we were talking about, nor why.
We didn't know because this relationship between our selves, 'inspirational' and 'inspiration' is marred by misunderstandings. One thing is to elicit inspiration and to become receptive to it (that's when things and people are defined as 'inspirational'), quite another thing is the divine influence which is directly exerted upon the soul (that's inspiration itself). When I thought of myself and of my own methods, I realised that my inspiration was not down to the 'inspirational', but was coming from a distinct quality. Equally, I got confused along the way. When as an undergraduate I was lamenting a lack of inspiration, I was in fact talking about a lack of knowledge. That's what I needed to get started and complete my essays. It had nothing to do with inspiration per se, but with my inability to create to spec. Once the knowledge started seeping in, writing, or at least its beginning stages, became less and less worrisome.
I can see that at some point between then and now I found the direct line to inspiration and it was all down to writing itself. The more I wrote, and the more inspired I felt to write. The more often I wrote and the more divine the influence was felt upon my soul. I do not know where the surge comes from, neither do I know how it makes itself felt. Perhaps this is because I do not give it the opportunity to pander as I buy time, fiddling with excuses. Leave inspiration to hang on the doorstep one too many times and, eventually, she will not turn up at your door quite so readily.
I write every day, on command, but that command is subliminal; it comes from within, not without. The confidence to follow the sacred call isn't instilled in me by pretty pictures (much as I love looking at them), by nice quotations (much as I like copying them down) or by tear-jerking memoirs of misery that should make me feel grateful for what I have (I don't read them). It is built in my genes and has been sitting there always (although on occasion strangely dormant, such as at university), starting with those notebooks I used to fill when I was small and I liked to write stories of widows whose husbands had been lost at war.
More odd still was my belief that to write as a widow I had to be a widow; being only seven or eight at the time and unlikely to have a husband to speak of, dead or alive, I used to dress up in rags and tell my sob stories to my mum as she was cooking. I guess that was my coded message to the Muse: she was stringing me along successfully, I was listening, I was in tune with that very weird song only I could hear, I was ready for more.
Famous authors (Jeanette Winterson, Twyla Tharp, Stephen King, Danielle Steel) always say that they cannot afford to wait for inspiration (that would be an excuse) and that the more often one shows up at the page and the more surely and steadily inspiration will sit right there every day, for as long as it takes. Well, that's true. My inspiration comes from writing and writing comes from inspiration to write and inspiration to write comes from writing. It's like the sun and the air, like day, night, hunger, happiness and pain, like the seasons, the wind and the sea: it never goes anywhere. It is always right here.
Don't forget to pay a visit to all other blogs writing about inspiration today: Anne Sage, Carla Kay White, Smart Chick, Grainline, Living Fresh, Noshii, Pop + Shorty, Silence and Noise, Viva Cindy and to Shayna, of The Cabin House, who shared her thoughts on Friday.
Tomorrow go and see what Charmaine Velasco at The Delicious Home has to say about her inspiration. And thank you!