MUSING ON THE MUSE
(a doodle from the train ride) Been thinking about inspiration. I jotted a few things down on the train ride back from the Center for Cartoon Studies, where I had a most impressive visit. They're doing something amazing up there, Sturm and the gang. The following musing wasn't directly related to the CCS though, rather to the ongoing journey of discovery of what it means to edit for First Second's creators. INSPIRATION Sometimes it seems like we only have a helpless view of what inspiration might be; and little or nothing known about how to invite it, summon it, woo it. As though it was something fickle and unpredictable, that strikes like lightning, with seemingly no reason. But even lightning strikes where it must. Why are some artists lightning rods all their life, and others “one shot thunders”? Some artists seem to have the notion it’s a game of roulette, and the terrifying thought is that luck may run out somehow. “Maybe the lightning will never strike again!!” Enter the fearsome monster called writer’s block. The drying up of the well. The vanished muse. It’s all a bit like a game of wait and hope, relying on random chance. Then there are those who package and sell the work of creators; in the worst cynical cases, some think inspiration can simply be cranked out on demand. Like something one can control, that can run 9 to 5, and conform to the timings of a quarterly report. Some creators even act that way, delivering up like a short order cook in a busy diner. To the former, it seems like inspiration is arbitrary and wholly out of one’s control. To the latter, inspiration may or may not be present in what they do; regardless, they do it. There is a third way, which goes beyond both of these views, in which inspiration isn’t random and wholly irrational, nor is it something we can boss around or endlessly milk for profit. Everything works by natural laws and inspiration is no exception. For instance: like everything, inspiration needs to—eat. Can one learn to invite or attract, to care for, and to feed one’s inspiration? Maybe that’s the work of it, on the human side of the equation. So what does it eat? Perhaps a little time, open time, unpressured, blank time, without demands or immediate result. Perhaps a little regularity, daily attention even for a small moment; some nourishing IMPRESSIONS, from nature, or other artwork, a conversation, a book, a movie, a favorite tune, a beloved face. Perhaps inspiration needs an arena to play in, a project, a problem to solve, a challenge to rise to; perhaps sometimes it likes us to be busy, with our conscious mind out of the way. OUT OF THE WAY. Getting out of the way. Some people rely on drugs or alcohol to get out of the way. But that eventually robs everything in sight, gutting out the very home one is, and driving inspiration away forever. Some people use distraction, like music, conversation, other things – to distract their front brain and its chattering. This is like the Greek sculptors of old, who used to produce an astonishing number of superb statues of the Gods in very short order: they were at all times surrounded with beautiful young dancers and musicians, food, distractions, to keep them from interfering with their own genius. Where else have I seen this getting out of the way? Ever seen that absent look little children have when they’re eating ice cream? Or the old woodworker who makes a perfect dovetail as though it were easy, with a kind of faraway look? What about the champion figure skater Michelle Kwan, or the violon prodigy Itzhak Perlman – why is it that we see them, and it’s like sometimes something else takes hold of them and they surrender to it — getting out of the way. So skill, technical ease, confidence, increasing mastery — these might be some of inspiration’s foods too. Even working on our skills, at whatever level they currently are, must be sweet music to inspiration’s ears. Does it mind schedules, contracts, all that? I think not. I doubt it even knows about those things. But if inspiration is my friend, it can perhaps read my stress and panic about those things, which must make quite an uninviting noise. (Maybe there’s a case to be made for having a good professional manner; trying to hold deadlines and honor contracts, and be a bit organized in planning one’s work, right from the start. Not out of fear, and not because the Man says so, but simply because it’s a good way to keep cool, lower stress, and stay available for that unseen friend. And then—this may sound like a contradiction—having that sort of professionalism in place in one’s life … to forget it and not care too much about all that.) And then knowingly trust, you know it will come, given half a chance.