>Inspiration: the Cottage Cheese and the Fork

>Why is it sometimes simple to feel inspired and other times, not? And I’m not just speaking of simply not having the energy to write, i.e., being “inspired to write.”
A day like today, mid-fall in Minnesota, makes it very easy to not feel very motivated to write, or do anything. All the color has drained out of the landscape and an unremarkable temperature, usually chilly or damp or both, seems to seep in through the walls. The amount of daylight hours diminishes rapidly as we make our way to the winter solstice; evening, and darkness, come so soon after dinner. The television beckons, and multiple other distractions (the laundry, the bills, the dishes) make it difficult to commit to writing a single word, let alone a page.
But equally as bad, and possibly worse than a lack of motivation, is a lack of inspiration.
A characteristic of great writing is that aha moment: the unexpected passage. I remember reading The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx years ago and being struck by her description of how a character’s skin resembled cottage cheese that a fork had been dragged through. Aha. I paused and reread the description several times and realized how accurate the image was in describing skin that was pockmarked and scarred. It was perfect. At a certain point, after reading dozens of those kinds of oddly creative, and very memorable images, I had to close the book and actually stopped reading it. It was too good. I even stopped writing for a time, all because of the cottage cheese that a fork had been dragged through.
And that’s what I mean by a creative inspiration, as in, how the hell does she come up with that stuff? I heard that Proulx keeps notebooks of the odd images she invents (lists of color descriptions, textures, etc.) and I know that of course everyone has their techniques, you have to in order to keep track of these humongous projects also known as novels. But having a technique to keep you organized isn’t the same as being able to invent, to create. I’m really great at organizing myself. I like doing it. I love manila file folders and sticky notes and timelines. Outlines even.

Creativity is an act of dissonant harmony, of maintaining a certain discordant tension between two items that don’t belong together, tenor and vehicle. Each item resonates in its own pitch, and subsequently creates a third tone, an overtone that is called into being by the discordant harmony of the two unrelated notes being played together.
Such creativity thrives under mysterious conditions that I have not yet quite figured out. It requires a level of maintenance to refresh the mind’s language and keep it in a state of internal dissonance. For some, lots of internal drama helps maintain a creative state, though it may diminish the energy you need to write. I remember having extremely creative periods when I was going through tense times. Fortunately drama isn’t always necessary and sometimes it’s enough to simply break out of a routine. For me, that can sometimes mean going to a museum. Or listening to music I haven’t listened to before. Or seeing a movie or play. Sometimes it’s even simpler: the manual labor of making bread, raking, running, just getting the body moving in the world. And sometimes, none of those things. The interplay, the naming of unrelated things that one layers and layers, requires more creative heavy lifting than I am capable of, at times. Then a little ray of sunshine would be nice, especially on these gray November days.

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