“What I fear and desire most in this world is passion, I fear it because it promises to be spontaneous, out of my control, unnamed, beyond my reasonable self. I desire it because passion has color, like the landscape before me. It is not pale. It is not neutral. It reveals the backside of the heart. I climb the rocks on all fours, my hands and feet throbbing with the heat. It feels good to sweat, to be engaged, to inhabit my animal body.” – Derrick Jensen
I am, by nature, drawn to people with passion, and I have found over the years that their passion is quickly addictive. I have spent several hundreds if not thousands of dollars on other people’s hobbies, wishing they were my own, but because they aren’t, inevitably, the passion fades. The $300.00 lite weight backpack I bought five years ago now collects dust under my bed, as it has since after the week I used it.
I have several such moments of inspiration all around my house and they all speak to a simple truth: being inspired is easy and can come from the strangest of people and places, but it’s the remaining inspired that is difficult. Very difficult.
I came home the other day to my wife bundled in blankets and leaning toward her computer screen. When I walked through the front door she looked at me with a half grin; she was embarrassed to be caught watching whatever she had on her computer screen. “I thought I’d be done before you got home!”
I slipped off my shoes, “What is it?”
She was watching Kevin Costner’s eulogy of Whitney Houston.
I laughed at first, but then sat and watched with her . . . Then told the kids to be quiet so I could hear it better . . . Then wiped my eyes. When it was over we wanted more Whitney (inspiration from weird places!), so we clicked on old videos. We watched her sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the ’91 Super Bowl. If you’ve never seen it, or have seen it hundreds of times, watch it now. Stop reading this and watch it. I won’t be offended . .
Wow, right? Now go wipe your eyes.
But something else struck me, something deeper, because of Kevin Costner. Whitney Houston, singing before millions, seems completely comfortable, almost like how she would sing while doing the dishes . . . in a sweat suit. But according to Kevin Costner, throughout her entire career, she questioned herself, doubted talents, and wondered if people liked her, if they loved her, and if she was good enough. One of the greatest singers of our generation (or any) struggled with doubt.
And then she sings like that. How?
Watching her made me think of one of my favorite Jack London quotes: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” I love this quote and often remind myself of it, especially when I feel uninspired, because its true (and every book on how to be a writer says the same); if you wait to be inspired, you never will be. “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules” (Willpower, by Baumeister).
And so I go after inspiration and beat it into submission, like The Man in the Red Sweater does to Buck in London’s The Call of the Wild, and when I’m done, sometimes I’m inspired, but sometimes I’m not. And sometimes, the pursuit of inspiration beats me down. I try and get back it, but it smacks me down again. Then again . . . then again. And I stay down.
Then I watched Whitney and Jack London’s quote suddenly has new meaning.
Inspiration isn’t a thing wrapped tightly or hiding behind some lethal that it needs to be fought for with a club, it’s in the open and available. It’s pleading to be found. It calls out in the sound of crashing waves, hollers at us in the colors of the setting sun, and announces it’s arrival with the rumble of a distant storm. It calls from a few abandoned coins sitting on a rail.
Inspiration isn’t dormant. It seeps in with the giggles of a small child and overwhelms us with the reciprocated love of another. It’s awake with us in the early hours of the morning, when the coffee brews and the world stretches and prepares for another day (if you are one of those who doesn’t drink coffee then I’m pretty sure you’ve never felt inspiration because to drink coffee is to be human, and only humans can be inspired). It’s beckons from the busy streets, in the silence of the mountaintops, and in the clamor of kids at play. It’s in a taxi ride with your kids.
Inspiration comes from a picture of a man on a mountain top,
or a lady in a window.
It can come from Coldplay and a song about trying to fix hurting loved ones (there may not be a more inspiring riff than the one starting at minute marker 2:25).
Inspiration begs us to pick it up, to play with it, and to know it, not to beat it. The club isn’t to be used on inspiration; it’s to ward off distractions.
When, like Whitney Houston, doubt of abilities begins to hiss from the hedges, pick up the club. When others criticize talents and malign good intentions, swing even harder. When the pictures and movies of others on social media open the door to thoughts of comparison and guilt, tighten your grip and beat down the lie that their world is perfect and yours is broken. Beat it down until it stops moving. And when history of failure weighs heavy upon the shoulders and churns the gut and curls the lip, wrap your hands like a boxer, move the furniture, and prepare for battle.
Then, when it’s over, take a shower, get up on stage, and sing like Whitney.
Inspiration, like passion, promises to be spontaneous, out of control, unnamed, and beyond reasonable self. It promises to bring color, and it promises to bring life.
Inspiration is easy to find, you don’t even have to wait for it. But you do have to fight to keep it. A lot.
It would be best to bring your club.