Today I got a visit from Inspiration, apropos of absolutely nothing.
If I really go back and retrace the past few weeks, I can reconstruct the component factors that probably went into today’s flash of insight – but why they combined into a coherent thought today, I can’t say. Said bolt of inspiration happened while I was packing a picnic lunch for a pool trip. Here is what I packed: cherries, French bread, pomegranate lemonade, granola bars, and baby carrots. Here is what was playing on Pandora as I packed said lunch: “6th Avenue Heartache,” by the Wallflowers. Here is what I was wearing: dark-brown cargo shorts and my Badlands Harley-Davidson T-shirt. The color of the picnic cooler is dark red with grey nylon webbing. The cherries were Rainiers. My Badlands shirt has one of those double tags in back, and I remember thinking I should cut the other one off, or maybe cut both off. Ellie was asking me if she could have two slices of bread. Alex was looking for his Keens. I was trying to remember if I’d put the district pool passes back in the pool bag. My phone was ringing, and I had a moment of wistful irritation; I had to completely reset the phone over the weekend, and it lost all of my custom ringtones for friends and family.
Not one of these things had anything to do with the idea that popped, fully-formed, into my head as I zipped the cooler shut. Not one. And yet, there it was, as clear as if it had been whispered in my ear. As I deconstructed it later, the precursor elements were all there. Had I listened to a lot of Luka Bloom lately? Had I spent half of a warm summer night stargazing out at Chatfield Reservoir? Had I gone back to Brandt’s Metallurgy Fundamentals for one last checkthrough of some assumptions? Yes, yes, and yes, and the combination of those three things certainly made up the core of the idea (which I’m not going to spoiler, sorry.)
But why then? Why in the midst of packing a picnic? That, I think, is the real frustration with inspiration; it’s like loading a blender full of fruit and ice, one berry or cube at a time. At some strange predetermined time – unknown, of course, to me – when the pH of my accumulated fruit blend is just right, when the ice has melted to just the right blend of solid and liquid, when the resulting taste combination is perfect, said blender surges to life and yields up something amazing. That can be at four in the afternoon or four in the morning; sometimes I’m just out of bed, other times I’m worn to a nub from my day. I’ve been happy when Inspiration visits, and sad; I’ve been on the couch in the family room and on a jetway in New York and in a microbrewery in Chicago.
What makes Inspiration depressing for creatives of all types, I think, is how random it is. You just can’t force it. I capitalize the word itself because I’ve come to think of it as a force, something on a par with Ohm’s Law or Avogadro’s Number; it’s not inspiration, it’s Inspiration. She’s practically a person to me by now (with the proper-name capitalization that her status merits) a maddening one that teases with visits just frequent enough, ear-whispering done at just the right pace, to keep me writing.
I suppose the best I can do is to keep filling the blender, hoping that this kiwi or that blackberry is going to be the magical ingredient. And the sensation when inspiration pours through me – when my hands cannot keep up with the thought as it develops – is just otherworldly. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I just wish I knew where the ON switch was sometimes.