A violent, rippling surge that pulsates through the cavity of life in blossoming melodic synchrony; Oftentimes leaves in its wake, art, ideally breaking all the boundaries of traditional good taste, constructing in earnest an unforeseen, heraldic marvel.
But from where does this entirely human phenomenon spawn? From love? From the sight of a particular hue emanating from a spear of grass? Or from that exquisite dorm-room oatmeal that you consumed this morning?
Literary giants, upon embarking on their magnum opus, have invoked the Muses. Homer did it. So did Edmund Spenser. Accrediting these Muses with the resulting bold, creative wit, they themselves humbly claim to be the vessel through which this rich stream of luminous genius rollicks, tumults, and pours out of. Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns, he says. And the epic poetry that in a deluge, spills forth, is not his own doing, but some universal force conspiring to bring the words to his ready, poised hand. There have been many instances in which I found myself voluntarily locked in the fourth floor stacks of the Hatcher Graduate library, essay-prompt in hand, and desperately calling for my Muse to promptly present itself. Give me wondrous, beautiful syntaxy droppings to fill this empty screen, I say. Within half a second, I am met with a wave of shushes and someone from a neighboring study-carrel knocks at my door and politely reminds me, as he delicately readjusts his glasses on the bridge of his nose, the carrels are not sound-proof. The cursor on the screen continues to blink mockingly, and to my utter dismay, neither the muscles in my hand nor my intellect flex by their own accord to produce nine-line stanzas of literary art. At that moment, I need nothing more than, as Jonathan Nolan cleverly puts, “moments of clarity, insight — when the clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious.” In its stead, all I have are clumsy electrical impulses, rising, in a tumultuous, enraged manner, to mere rebellion against idleness. Yet they are thoroughly substanceless, lacking a textured palpability, a unified vision that encourages their movement towards birthing a true, affecting idea. Instead, old drawers are hastily opened and shut, moth-eaten curtains are flapped yet again, and vessels carrying stale and frayed stems of once matured ideas are tipped over in their furious lunges of motion. The neurons know that perhaps, nothing remarkable is to be found in the billions, trillions of folds of white and gray matter — a horrifying prospect that further incites their violent, untamable desire to keep firing wild arcs of shrapnel into the darkness.
I am alone, through and through, with my endeavor to create.
During these moments, I wonder on the nature this psychological curiosity of Inspiration. Where do those canonical, ground-shattering poets, painters, architects gain the incessant fervor to shape the volatile intangibilities of their minds? From what factory is brilliance manufactured in? And let’s not restrict inspiration only to the realm of art. Otto Loewi, a German pharmacologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1936 claims that the idea of chemical signaling (his experiment included the placing of dissected frog hearts in beakers of saline solution) came to him in a dream and after controlled experimentation to quantifiably demonstrate chemical synaptical transmission, he is now referred to as the “Father of Neuroscience”. Is there simply a genetic formula that I had not been graced with that causes a proclivity to inspired states? At times, it seems to me that one either has the talent of finding Inspiration and channeling it into something quite (alarmingly) beautiful, or doesn’t. Other times, I look at pieces of art by O’Keefe, or read an essay by Emerson and wonder if they are simply just stricken with the disorientation of life – of nature, in all of its chaotic vicissitudes of chance – that they simply must articulate it because to keep these inflamed wisps of thought within the confines of their mind is utterly intolerable. But where to encounter it? What does it take for that cavern beneath your sternum to be filled with a lurid anxiety to produce and for a mind to be set ablaze?
While it engulfs us in rapture when it occurs, I find Inspiration, on a whole, quite unreliable. She’s never there when I needed her, and if I waited on her for every class assignment on the syllabus, my professors would have long ago denied me an acceptable grade. Habit, and sheer diligence with the absence of Inspiration, is more dependable. It’s pragmatic and sufficient in this world.
However, whenever the clamor of daily duties dwindle naturally or are forced into inaudibility, I find her lurking in the pattern of upholstery, an overheard conversation, or the leathery texture and the veins of a leaf. It is then when I find myself producing something beyond what habit could dream of giving shape to. I am certain that my best work comes from when I’m inspired. The apparition of that sublime state of being will perhaps forever be inexplicable, even as we learn the depths of human cognition and the intricacies of the molecular machineries that give rise to it. And further, no two human brains are identical; perhaps no set of rules can ever be drawn to entrap the whimsy of Inspiration.
So from what parts of life do you find inspiration? And I’m curious to know: Do you think inspiration is independent of habit?
Sue majors in Neuroscience & English and tends to lurk in bookstores.