a little too much

My writing is cyclical. There are times I feel I have a lot to say that is not just noise, or words filling a page, but rather, something of substance I feel like sharing with the rest of you. Something that contributes to the greater conversation we all seem to be a part of.

Then there are times I worry I will never harbor another original thought. I worry that my words have dried up. That my ideas are only repeating themselves like the one joke I know, and that isn’t really funny, but still catch myself retelling at dinner parties.

I consider whether I should start rationing my stories. Give them more time to incubate before unveiling.  Distribute them in longer intervals. Or maybe never. I worry that whatever little muse resided on my shoulder for so long decided she has outgrown me. She’s tired of having to nag me to write, over having to push me towards my laptop at night. So she’s moved on to a timeshare with a little more sun, a little more heat, and a few more free drinks. Where the words come easier. Where everything doesn’t feel so hard.

So, today, I write about inspiration.

Because being inspired is an important part of the creative process. How can you make anything new if you’re doing the same thing every day? During work Wednesday our director presented updated goals for our department. All in all, much was the same just re-purposed in a new PowerPoint presentation. In sum: be better, be collaborative, own your work. I was happy when she unveiled the last bullet point: Seek out inspiration.

I won’t lie. Normally I never speak out in large meetings. Especially in the morning. Especially when I am focused on hating everyone else for having time to get a coffee beforehand. I also don’t really do meetings. I find them largely unproductive and unnecessary. But this, this was something I could get behind.

While others seemed more focused on survey results and figures concerning how we quantify the results of our work, I snapped out of my game of matching people with their respective writing implement.

“I’m a fan of the last point,” I said, getting a nudge of support in the ribs from the designer to my left.

How can you maintain your creativity if you aren’t feeding it? How can you be better if everything you’re doing is the same? If you’re visiting the same places, talking to the same people, taking the same routes to get there? I’m not suggesting abandon your friends, change your dreams, or move. I am just saying, try going left instead of right sometimes. Walk instead of run. And go visit something pretty.

For me, my opportunity came yesterday. I had an interview on the fringe of campus with someone who intimidated me. In a building I didn’t know existed. On a road I never before noticed. I walked up the path, curving along the golf course until reaching a chain link fence I wasn’t sure I was allowed to cross. I was.

Inside the studio, the professor showed me his latest works. Canvases larger than my car, ready to knock you down with their colors. He told me how he came to paint.

“When I was 17 I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. “I didn’t find myself very happy. I never worried about practical things, I worried about being happy.”

So he abandoned a life selected for him by national test scores and university offerings, and instead, picked up a paint brush. He began taking pictures of objects that moved him. And then put them in a drawer and forgot about them. Or at least tried to.

“I hesitated for a long time before painting them,” he says. “My hesitation came because there was no formal unity in the images, I thought it was too accidental, without unity of color, or form. It was too busy.”

He came back to his prints years later. Only now, instead of finding them chaotic, he took comfort in their unpredictability. Realized they depicted more how life really is – not so harmonious, but just a series of moments and conflicts between some people who happen to live at the same time. And isn’t that beautiful?

“An idea happens and it lives in your mind for a while. You question it. You dissect it. You define it. You reject it. Then you take a small step,” he said. “You let it be somewhat chaotic and disharmonious, and a little too much.”

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