An absence of inspiration is a terrifying thing. Without it I feel like I’ve failed, as if my brain has flatlined into a bleeping screen of nothingness. And yet that is what I have been faced with the past month. I sit at my computer and beg my fingers to do the work for me. I kneel before the journals on my shelf and pray they grant me solace and light. But nothing happens. And I’m drawn back into a flatlined mess.
So amidst this absence of inspiration I began to feel that crumb of anxiety get bigger and louder.
You’re no writer
A true writer always has ideas
So I curled up into the proverbial foetal position and let the absence wash over me like some god forsaken tidal wave out to deplete the population of my mind.
And then came Elizabeth Gilbert.
The Eat Pray Love author participated in a TED talk in 2009 and about 2 years ago I came across her video.
Now, I regret to say that I haven't read her stories. For a myriad of reasons but mostly out of lack of interest (sorry Elizabeth) but her talk was one that will resonate with me for the rest of my life.
The whole video is incredible and she is a gorgeous orator no doubt, but there is a moment within minute 13 where she really grabbed me by my shoulders:
“One day he [Tom Waits] was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles…and all of a sudden he hears this little fragment of melody, that comes into his head as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalising, and he wants it, it's gorgeous, and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it. He doesn't have a piece of paper, or a pencil, or a tape recorder.
So he starts to feel all of that old anxiety start to rise in him like, "I'm going to lose this thing, and I'll be be haunted by this song forever. I'm not good enough, and I can't do it." And instead of panicking, he just stopped. He just stopped that whole mental process and he did something completely novel. He just looked up at the sky, and he said, "Excuse me, can you not see that I'm driving?"
"Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen.”
And that was it for me.
Elizabeth and Tom had enlightened me to the thing I was most afraid of.
That my ability to write doesn't rest solely on my shoulders, but it rests on the shoulders of both the outside forces that give me my ability and myself combined. Instead of the tidal wave washing over me, I am to let it seep through my skin and drench my own elusive genius. Because all great stories are just waiting to be told, but I have to let them in. And by feeling anxious, like a failure or like Im pressuring myself to be in a constant state of inspiration, all I am doing is creating walls and barricades through which that genius cannot penetrate.
Creativity doesn't have to always be this torment filled adversary with which we battle daily to force it to come out of us. It can sometimes, if we let it, be this bizarre and wondrous collaboration between the sanity of the person and the insanity of the genius.