When I talk about my own inspiration, please know that I am referring to the thing that gets my motor running as a writer. Artists of all sorts rely on inspiration, but they also need some degree of skill in the art to which they apply that commodity. Unless stick figure murals or bubble-gum sculpture become all the rage, I will never have much use for inspiration in the visual arts.
The human mind is a complex thing. At any rate, your narrator’s mind certainly is. As a result, I find I am unable to tell you, right here: this is where I go to fetch my inspiration. Come to think of it, I don’t think I am so unusual in that respect.
To be sure, I suffer the same way that a number of people with any appreciable skill at writing do, when I simply stare at a blank page and can come up with nothing. Clearly, inspiration is the starter mechanism, without which the piece will not get written.
As a result, I try not to waste my time sitting and staring at blank pages, but if an inspiration does strike me-from whatever source-I will hie myself off to the keyboard as quickly as I can. I have learned from long and frustrating experience that the thought held is often the thought lost. You should bear in mind, your narrator is no longer a callow youth of 58, so the memory cannot be trusted as in days of yore.
On the other hand, when an idea comes to me, it is hardly ever something I hear or see on the spot. Often, it is something that registered in my consciousness a while before, then, for some reason, decided to regurgitate itself onto the forefront of my thought process.
To give you an example-perhaps not the best one, but one which comes to mind-I remember traveling up to Philadelphia a few years ago on Thanksgiving Day to have dinner with my brother and his family. I always go the day of, because it is only 150 miles, and we all know what a Hell-on-Earth trying to get anywhere the day before Thanksgiving is.
When I make that trip, I typically start out listening to the radio for as long as it will pick up the station, before I switch to the CD player. Also, I listen to the public broadcasting station, which normally plays classical music. But this day was Thanksgiving, so, as a tribute to the day, the station played “Alice’s Restaurant,” which, lest we forget, begins on a Thanksgiving Day, sometime in the 1960s.
The night after that year’s Thanksgiving feast, I awoke from my slumber on the living room couch, not from an attack of inspiration, but, rather, of digestion. As I returned from my nightly “European vacation,” though, somehow the words from Arlo Guthrie’s description of the notorious pre-induction physical began rambling through by head: “inspected, injected, dee-tected, nee-glected and see-lected.” From there came a short snatch of a poem: “Pick a card, any card…don’t show me the one you selected or all of the many you somehow neglected.”
Immediately, I threw on my Glub Dzmc disguise and scribbled the words down on a piece of scratch paper, which, fortunately I remembered, I then jammed into my bathrobe pocket. Later, at my keyboard, I allowed “Glub” to add the following poem to his “Lost Notebooks;”
pick a card, any
card, it ain’t all that hard, said the
greeting card sharper with
the prestidigit fidgets. don’t show
me the one you
selected or all of the many you somehow
neglected. to distract your
attention and other such items too
shameful to mention, i’ll show you a limerick,
using only my mouth or, rather, a limerick
sampler: not much sense,
but the variety’s ampler. there
once was a man from peru
whose poetry never would scan. said
he with a grin as he wiped off
his chin, it’s just
when ah itches, ah scratches. was it the
ace of clubs? i thought not, taa
Give me or, actually, “Glub” just a couplet, and he’s off to the races.
Seriously, that is another interesting aspect of inspiration: it does not need to wrap up the whole product for you in a neat package. Just a hint of something is often enough to get the writer rolling on to a much fuller piece. At least, that’s how it works for this particular writer.
It is all very well to rhapsodize about ideas that come to us from “out of the blue,” but let’s be honest: often there is nothing like a specific assignment to get a writer off the dime. A certain site I write for-you may have heard of it-periodically offers “calls for content,” a scant few of which actually call for stuff anyone gives the aftmost portion of a rat about. When I claim such a topic, it may not be just the very thing I was hoping to write about, but the point is, at the time, there was no “very thing.”
Ideas are wonderful, and it is good that we have them, particularly if we imagine ourselves to be writers, but, every so often, it is good to have some disinterested party come along and say, “Look, I don’t care how sentimental you get over a bouquet of scallions, I want 400 words about this, capishe?” And, whatever “this” may be, it is at least a starting point for more opportunity to do the thing you have wanted to do all along: write, right?
By the way, I don’t want to come off as too flippant about those “calls for content.” A good many of them seem awfully silly to me, but, two recent ones, in the short fiction area, gave me the impetus to write two of the best pieces I have put out in a while: Pirate Georgie’s Big Score and Mickey Rat. I am not, by nature, a boastful person, but I would commend both of these stories to your attention, if you have not already read them. I may make only 18 or 19 cents on each of those pieces, but I will have the rich reward of having done something I could be proud of. And, if I had not seen, then grabbed, the assignment, I probably never would have thought of either story on my own.
So, whether it comes from the figurative light bulb over your literal head lighting up or someone telling you to do some specific thing, inspiration is a fine thing. All in all, I’m in favor of it.
The Lost Notebooks of Glub Dzmc, T.C. LaBonza, ed.
“Alice’s Restaurant,” Arlo Guthrie