“Write what you want bottomless from the bottom of the mind.” – Jack Kerouac.
Good writers steal words, but the best writers steal inspiration.
They come out at night when everyone is sleeping. They steal from the richness of humanity and give to the needy; those who need comfort, the pleasure of friendship, or affirmation they are not alone. Writers are the thieves of moments that burrow into the soft under-brain and gel together with the words that give them life. They are the thieves of faces in the town square, that elderly gentleman’s bulbous nose, threaded with blue veins, or that young mother’s startlingly gruff voice. They are the thieves of the way a set dinner table might look, stealing how the lamp light reflects the curve of the smooth white china.
They are the thieves of the fish and the words that swim in the language of sea.
An early memory I have of inspiration happened at primary school. When I was 11 or 12, my grade 6 teacher gave us a task that made my heart flutter with excitement. I had gone through my schooling life hating maths, science and sport. But I loved English. The task was to write a creative story on a topic of our choice.
My eager hand shot up. “Mrs Owens? How many pages can it be?” I asked.
Mrs Owens, a delightful woman who taught me more than her profession requested of her, looked flustered but unsurprised by my question.
“Well, I’m not sure. I suppose as many as you want it to be.”
The following week, while every class mate of mine handed in (I hate to say) rather feeble 1-2 page accounts of “once upon a times” sprung from their video game attention spans, I produced a 15 page document, handwritten in my still infamous scrawl. As it turned out, without intending to, I had made Mrs Owens eat her words.
The story was of Raymond Fletcher, an Antarctic explorer in the 1920’s who wrote a series of letters home to his wife detailing his treacherous journey. Mrs Owens was one part enchanted, two parts dismayed. She had to read this voluminous ream of tripe, after all. From then on, I was always prescribed a word limit.
I’ve observed over my life that, generally, if one reads, one writes. The two are intrinsically and beautifully connected. I place this relationship among the highest of my experiences, abundant in spiritual fulfilment.
Often my breath is stolen from my lungs when I read something that shakes me somewhere in the middle of my stomach. I crave and search for that unseen but fiercely acute bond with the stories and characters woven on vanilla-scented, sand-coloured paper … that moment where something about life that had thus eluded you suddenly makes sense.
That, to me, is my greatest inspiration. That is the moment I can ignite a spark that hastens me to tear a new page in my notebook, or throw open the laptop screen with great gusto.
I need other writers to make me remember why it is I want to write.
I could name any number of people who have inspired me over the years. My high school friend Jim, with whom I lovingly canvassed the meaning of life and literature. Virginia Woolf, my stylistic idol. (The Waves changed me in ways difficult to articulate; suffice to say, words were no longer words but paintings … of many dimensions, and visual.) That girl on the train who looks so sad. That homeless man with the dog that sits staunchly by his side. Friends, lovers, foes.
Inspiration. It carries different meaning for everyone. Light bulb moments of immensity are certainly sparse in amongst the frustration of an empty word document. And yet, I challenge any one to say that the high it produces, and the worth of its simple beauty, doesn’t make amends for anything lesser in grandeur. Sometimes it’s dark in the sea of language, but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to go swimming.