I had an active end to my week, participating in the open mic night at 215 Main in Point Arena last Thursday and then following up with the 2013 kick off of Mendocino Stories and the Writers of the Coast celebration the next night in Mendocino. I heard a lot of other people’s writing and sat with like-minded folks for a few hours each of those nights, enjoying the camaraderie and wondering at the source of inspiration for each writer.
This wonderment came on the heels of an incredible few days of inspiration I experienced earlier in the week, and though I was at first amazed by the clarity I had, both in my dreams and in my waking hours, it became apparent to me that I am benefiting at last from my recent change of environment.
Let me begin by explaining what I mean by this sudden impulse of clarity and inspiration. For several days in a row, while distracted by chores, or as I lay down to sleep in the evening my mind would turn to writing (I should say, turn more acutely to writing) and there I found amazing images, fluid lines of lucid articulation so satisfying that I had to stop whatever I was doing, or get up out of the warmth of my bed and write these things down. This was followed by dreams of such richness that even in considering my real world challenges I found solutions so perfect that I woke enthused and, in fact, accomplished before lifting a finger to do anything. It was like I was in one of those science fiction stories where the protagonist discovers a drug or other power that makes them super effective at everything they do.
What was this new thing I was experiencing?
I’ve often wondered, when looking at writer retreats around the world, how people can think that sitting in a stunning environment in some exotic locale, with a panoramic view of some seaside, or the expanse of a lush forest, perhaps even the eagle’s view from the ledge of a famous mountain, is somehow inspiring for writing. I would be inspired to be out there, not inside sitting among the rest of the silently desperate, with all of that anxious energy fidgeting up from the core of a handful of needy writers!
Well here’s the thing: I simply didn’t know what I was missing.
What I have discovered, since moving to the coast and living day in and day out in a dynamic and beautiful environment, is a sudden overflow of inspired energy. Because of the nature of life out here I am inundated with stimulation. A week and a half ago I was riding the raucous waves of an agitated ocean as we worked to photo ID a pod of killer whales. I have walked the neighborhood and driven the highway in thick fog that made my world feel encased in a deep cocoon, a mystical magical haze of rediscovering every bend, buckle, and berm of the place I live. I have met artists, politicians, wood cutters, abalone divers, fishermen, media people, and a whole range of other people making a life in rural California. I have experienced warm community embrace, and a place for myself in the mosaic of this frontier life. And my mind and my dreams have been charged with a deep, heavy rush of insight because of it all.
It occurred to me, in recognizing this new stimulation, to ask the rest of you: do you love where you live?
And this may or may not pertain to your actual house. It may extend to your town, your state, your country.
But before I go too far with the idea that one must either love their home town or move, I want to share an important insight that my recent realization has afforded me. I believe it took relocating to an entirely new area for me to recognize how understimulated I was where I previously lived. But this was not entirely the fault of my environment. Building a stimulating life for ourselves is not just about choosing a great place to live – some of us don’t have that option – it’s about creating a space in our lives where stimulation happens.
One way to change your mental landscape is to form a group where people can gather under a common interest. The interest does not even have to be creative. But gathering with people who share an interest and enthusiasm with you is certainly one way to be stimulated. Perhaps your gathering is for people who share a love of music, who have a question about government, or who need a place to address more serious issues in their lives: issues we also need to address.
And what about the world outside your door? Are there rivers or lakes nearby? Cafes are also popular places for writers. This may seem obvious but if you’ve never taken advantage of these locales perhaps it’s time to try – especially if your not feeling particularly alive right now . . .
When I lived in the desert I was often critical in my head of where I lived. It was brown, windy, cold, hot, remote, too busy, stagnant. It brings to mind the lyrics of a song I once clung to when I needed to clarify something that was happening during a crucial period of my life: “And I claim I’m not excited by my life anymore/so I blame this town, this job, these friends/the truth is it’s myself.” Yeah, I was to blame for feeling the way I did. I wasn’t allowing myself to be inspired.
I once lived downtown in this place and it was one of the greatest times of my life. I knew it then and in hindsight I know it now. I was stimulated during that time too, even though I still lived in the desert.
So what is the point, really, about finding inspiration and being stimulated to be a more effective creative?
Change is part of it. Change something. Your room, your home, you clothing style, where you hang out, what you read, watch, think. If you have the freedom to give up the house and move to a condo downtown, do it, if you need that change.
Change your attitude. Thinking the way I did about where I lived didn’t help me find inspiration.
Embrace challenges and take risks. You want to talk about vivid dreaming? Do something brand new, maybe a little scary, and see if your mind doesn’t perk up. Leap from your desk job to teaching. Leap from your paying job to being an unemployed writer (yeah, don’t do that – not right away, or at least, not before you have a solid year or two of income stashed away). Stimulate yourself and the inspiration will come.
I guess if I were ever to go on one of those writer retreats to the castles of Scotland, or one some red river locale in the middle east, I would be sure to go out once per day for the two, three, or five weeks I was there and absorb the environment. That way I wouldn’t be distracted by it. I did it when I lived downtown in my desert city, and I’m doing it now, with the ocean always at my feet. The bottom line is to change your scenery – just a little. I don’t think anyone has to turn their life upside down to find the beauty in it. A slight angle gives a whole new perspective.
And if that doesn’t work then I’ll see you here on the coast, or on a mountain top at a retreat one day, or along the banks of a red river.
May your dreams be vivid, may your hand never tire as it crosses the page, and may you find happiness wherever you are.
Until next time,