How to Always Be Inspired

“Each rose represents a story, so I’m never at a loss for what to type. I just look deep into the heart of the rose, read its story, and then write it down.” – Steve Martin

The definition of the word “inspiration” is to have air breathed into your lungs. So. Here’s a trick. Open your mouth. Breath in.

Is there breath in your lungs?

Yes?

Okay!

Bam!

You’re officially inspired.  Now you can get to work on that novel, or painting, or screen play, or starting your own company.

Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

. . .

What? Not helpful? Not useful? Not filling you with awe and ambition and a desire to go out and perform like a trained circus otter?

Let’s think of the phrase “to have breath breathed into you” as a metaphor. (Oh no! She’s a poet! Run for your lives!) Inspiration. In -Spirit. Air. The force and natural gift of the universe.  Inspiration is everywhere you go where people are breathing. If you want to be inspired, you just have to open your lungs and inhale. If that’s not enough. Try opening your eyes. Your ears. Your nostrils. Your mouth. Whatever hasn’t been sewn up. Any orifice will do. Whatever comes in, that’s what you are supposed to make art out of that day.

When my students tell me they can’t think of anything to write about I say, open your eyes. What’s in front of you? Breath it in, whatever it is. “Make a list of things in the room around you.” Or “Make a list of things in your parent’s room.”  Or “things you might find in a dead man’s wallet.”

If your room isn’t that interesting, and you don’t have a dead man handy, here’s something else you can do.  Go to a coffee shop. Coffee shops are a veritable vortex of cosmic interplay. A little slice of the human experience. A small canvas on which are re-enacted the painful and triumphant dramas of all human existence in miniature. And in L.A. even more so.

I usually go to my little coffee shop down the street or near the beach and I can see a cast of characters living their Judy Garland, Star is born, guns and roses, failed and flailing artist little lives. Women glossing their lips. Boys playing guitars. Men hunched over their laptops, hunting and pecking feverishly, drilling out in dribs and drabs the words of a screenplay you just know will just never get produced, and will ultimately lead to some tragic cocaine soaked lost weekend that will make perfect material for some better writer to write about later. Characters from a Hopper painting all of them.

If you get really lucky something tragic or insightful will happen. Somebody will have a nervous break down or break into a fist fight, or get a phone call their mother just died, and begin revealing the small, personal details of their life, right there on the thin tiled polish of the coffee-colored floor.

Just last week, I saw a man in a Starbucks, mumble something to himself, then pick up a chair and throw it at a man, typing at the counter. The man was probably working on his screenplay. I like to think he was uninspired and hoping for something interesting to happen to give him an idea of the human drama that goes on every day.

Who are all these people? I don’t know. But it is very kind of them to follow me around, showing up in the coffee shop I go to, and revealing themselves to me in their various ways. Shoving their stories in my face. Flashing their most personal possessions in front of my eyes. Generally living their lives in full view to give me inspiration for my next poem about how sad and disasterous it is to walk into coffee shops on Sunset before 9:00 a.m. when all the working class folk are there to politely order a latte and leave.

The point is, the old saying is true. “If you’re bored, you’re boring.” If you’re not feeling inspired, you’re clearly not breathing. Get out of your house. Get out of your routine. Stop searching the deep dank treasure trove of your own heart for material, and look at what is going on down the street.

There is drama unfolding every minute of every day. There are small outbursts of overwhelming emotions. There are frustrations and alienations and triumphs and joys and need. There are opportunities for artists to pick up on these things everywhere they go. If coffee shops don’t work for you. Go into nature.

In a minute I am going to leave the coffee shop where I am writing and go walk on the beach. There will be girls playing volleyball, and men asleep in sleeping bags. A man who has slung a hammock underneath the pillons of the Santa Monica pier. Families teaching their babies how to surf. Shells that have been cracked open by gulls, and overhead a thousand birds circling, looking for trash, and crabs, and crumbs that strangers are dropping for them to eat.  And I will write down in my journal how the seagull is a metaphor for all artists. I’ll finish this blog by saying, “Be like a seagull. Show up each day at the edge of the world, with an empty belly and an open eye. Look out below you. Someone will walk by, fat with stories. If you watch long enough you might see one drop, like crumbs out of their pocket. Keep your mouth open. Be ready to swoop into the sand.”

How to Always Be Inspired

The definition of the word “inspiration” is to have air breathed into your lungs. So. Here’s a trick. Open your mouth. Yes. Now. Wherever you are. Open your mouth. Breath in.

Is there breath in your lungs?

Yes?

Okay!

Bam!

You’re officially inspired.  Now you can get to work on that novel, or painting, or screen play, or starting your own company.

Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

Okay. But seriously folks. A lot has been said about how important it is not to depend on inspiration. Inspiration will come when you are involved in working.  But I’m not talking about how to get product. I’m talking about how to get motivated to get out of bed.

Now, in all seriousness. There has been a lot of research done on the absolute huey of inspiration. It’s only a myth like the lost city of Atlantis, or Area 51 or gravity. But it is a pretty powerful myth. That’s why we all feel so grounded all the time. Because we are foolish enough to believe it works, and that is what prevents us from flying off of our couches during the best part of the film.

I know because I am now sitting in my chair, believing in it with every pinch of my butt cheeks.

Anyway, I like to think of that definition as metaphorical. To be alive means to be inspired. But in a metaphorical sense, to be inspired means that we are taking something from outside – air – and bringing it inside – then expelling it out again – this time in a changed form. It’s this process that keeps the plants alive – or maybe its when the plants do this that it keeps us alive.

Anyway, the point is, we need to keep breathing.

When I feel uninspired it is usually because nothing in my personal life is all that compelling to me. And what that means is, I need to get out of my personal life. If you want to be inspired all the time, here’s what you do: Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your nostrils and go somewhere where things are going on.

Coffee shops are usually pretty good places.

Whenever I’m not inspired I go to a coffee shop in the hopes that something interesting will happen. And I’m usually not disappointed. Coffee shops are a veritable vortex of cosmic interplay. A little slice of the human experience. And in L.A. even more so.

I usually go to my little coffee shop down the street or near the beach and I can see a cast of characters living their Judy XYZ, Star is born, guns and roses, or Hopperesque little lives. People hunched over their worthless screenplays. Women glossing their lips. Men hunched over screenplays you know will just never get produced. Characters from a Hopper painting all of them.

If you get really lucky something tragic or insightful will happen. Somebody will have a nervous break down or break into a fist fight, or get a phone call their mother just dies.

In various coffee shops in L.A. I have seen the following:

A woman tapped a man on the shoulder and said “I know you. You were in the holocaust. You were the one who put me there.”

Another woman walked up to the window, tapped on it politely, then lifted her shirt and pressed her breasts up agains the glass. Big, overwrought mammalian breasts in a bra the color of aged bird-shit.

And, just last week, I saw a man in a Starbucks, mumble something to himself, then pick up a chair and throw it at a man, typing his screenplay at the counter. The man was probably working on his screenplay. I like to think he was uninspired and hoping for something interesting to happen to give him an idea of the human drama that goes on every day.

The point is, there is drama unfolding every minute of every day. The poet XYZ said that the universe is not made up of atoms, but of stories. There are stories happening every day. There are images. There are poems. There are small outbursts of overwhelming emotions. There are frustrations and alienations and triumphs and joys and need. There are opportunities for artists to pick up on these things everywhere they go.

In a minute I am going to leave the coffee shop where I am writing and go walk on the beach. There will be girls playing volleyball, and men asleep in sleeping bags. A man who has slung a hammock underteath the pilons of the Santa Monica pier. Families teaching their babies how to surf. Shells that have been cracked open by gulls, and overhead a thousand birds circling, looking for trash, and crabs, and crumbs that strangers are dropping for them to eat.  And I will learn from those birds everything I need to know about being an artist looking for inspiration.

Show up. Open your mouth. Keep your eyes trained on the person, fat with stories, waiting for their lives to drop, like crumbs out of their pocket. Be ready to swoop into the sand.

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