Where to find inspiration in daily life
I have always been more of a “make-an-effort” rather than a “galvanised-by-revelation” type of person. I find motivational speakers inordinately depressing. Those great tales of overcoming are riddled by bravery and epiphany and all those things I lack.
It is also the little things in life, (the small challenges like a relationship pattern that is boring or the ‘flu), that rob one of energy. Enthusiasm is so irritating! I want to smack people that are relentless eager beavers. I stand by my cultivated adolescent ennui; I mutter “keen bean” disdainfully and have a drink.
Every self-improvement course I have ever attempted has driven me to find an excuse to do the dishes. I know my reaction is childish and perverse, but my philosopher of choice is Oscar Wilde, and he said: “All advice is bad, but good advice is lethal!” I get a lot of that. People seem to feel I am sorely in need of advice. All that zeal has the opposite effect on me – there really should be a term for that; hopelessness and despair do not quite explain it.
Ah, but inspiration is a different matter. It sort sneaks up on me and catches me unaware. I do not exactly go into nature to find it, but suddenly one looks up and sees the orchard to the left is a Renoir this autumn. I once travelled by bus through the Karoo and saw the midnight landscape, with no sign of human intervention, bathed in silver moonlight. It inspired me at a time when I thought I was beyond inspiration.
The dad in the queue in front of me in the supermarket is carrying his little child on his arm. The child is sticky with pink lolly goo but they gaze at each other with such trust and adoration that one cannot but marvel at the unconditional nature of love. Now I admit that little dimpled arm draped over an adult shoulder limply, rather predisposes one to sentiment, but still…. I am inspired to be my higher, or at least more tolerant self for the rest of the day.
Of course beauty uplifts the soul, but inspiration that prompts creativity, is often found amongst squalor and suffering. It has something to do with the essential dichotomy of the human condition. The tramp asleep on the park bench is dirty and hardly a symbol of success, but he is clutching a tartan handkerchief in his hand. I had seen him before, washing his hankie in the fish pond, reaching through the railings. Somewhere, long ago, there was a mother that loved him enough to teach him about hankies. That inspires me.
I went to the Picasso exhibition in the National Gallery, and learnt that to reach utter simplicity that is meaningful, is a long process that permits no short-cuts. This understanding was so liberating (because I always thought that I was getting it wrong, that the process did not have to be so painful and long) that I sat on the steps of the gallery and wept. That experience inspires me still.