This is an interesting question, one that I have been pondering for several months. Now, at 3:00 a.m., God decided to answer this question, and I’m wide awake writing. Apparently, inspiration comes at the most inopportune times, like when I need sleep. On a more serious note, this is a cultural question as much as an individual question. This past weekend, I watched Elizabeth Gilbert\’s Ted Talk on CreativityIt’s fascinating, and I strongly encourage anyone interested in the sources of their own creative process to watch it. She discusses the Ancient Greeks view of creative inspiration as they relied on muses. Creative Greeks believed that they were merely conduits to a message or artistic inspiration which they then relayed. Even Homer opens The Odyssey with the lines, “Muse, tell me of the man of many wiles.” He then relates Odysseus’ story through his poetry. Homer takes no credit whatsoever for an epic poem that has survived some 3000 years – that’s impressive.
The idea of muses, or divine inspiration, still pervades American culture; it just has different names and forms. For example, the lovely idea of muses has morphed into “THE LAW OF ATTRACTION” – if we put out our request for a great idea for a novel out there to the universe, the universe will provide states this law. I think I like the idea of having a muse better than following “the law,” but to answer my original question, I do believe inspiration comes from both my muses and my continual pondering of ideas. The challenge then, is to actually have the courage to trust our muses, act on the inspiration, and not disregard great ideas as idle daydreams. Ralph Waldo Emerson put this succinctly when he wrote, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine Providence has found for you; the society of your contemporaries, the connexion of events. Great men have always done so and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age.” I need to trust in that creative spark and NOT conform to society’s expectations of me, but embrace an act on those creative impulses. That is the gist of his essay “Self Reliance.” To be great, we must live up to our individual potential and reject the parameters society has put on us. However, divine inspiration does not mean that there is no work involved in creating; I’ve learned it’s often painful and difficult.
So what does this look like in my life? Where do ideas come from? They come from everywhere. Our muses will answer if we ask. This sounds awfully Law of Attraction-y, (and even a little on the woo-woo side), but I think that anyone who is the least bit creative will understand what I’m talking about. Let me give an example to clarify. This weekend, I felt compelled to watch a Ted Talk, and the first one I watched had to do with the question of creativity, which I’ve been pondering. When I woke up this morning at 2:30 am, I thought of Emerson’s essay, “Self Reliance.” For whatever reason, I still have my giant anthology of American lit from college. I probably haven’t opened that book since 1991, but there was one bookmark in it . . . marking the essay “Self-Reliance.” And, the quote I put above, was highlighted on the bookmarked page. Call it serendipity, coincidence, inspiration, muses, luck, work . . . whatever, but I do believe that all the little pieces coincide to make a whole. I clearly got the message over the past few days that my muses or God or Angels or the Universe (whatever you choose to call it) will give me what I need when I need it. I just need to LOOK for those pieces both within and without, trust in them, and act on them. That’s the part that is so difficult and sometimes painful. For example, I like what I’ve written here, but I’ve been awake since 2:30 am and now I have to go get in the shower and get ready to teach all day. It’s going to be a great day! Yes . . . it is!!