The other day I was having a beer with a good friend who also happens to be an author and editor I respect very much. A mother of two young (amazing) children, she mentioned the almost overwhelming need for artistic inspiration in her life (yet another aspect we’ve discovered we have in common). She used the specific example of going to a play at the Guthrie– she’s realized that nothing gets her creative juices going like experiencing live theater. After reading some of her work, this makes so much sense to me. Her narratives are incredibly theatrical (in a very realistic, not “over the top” way) — I can hear the voices of her characters in my head and see them fighting, running, painting, or whatever they happen to be doing at the time. As for me, I become inspired to write after viewing art (typically contemporary) and traveling (put the two together– like visiting a contemporary art museum while in San Juan a few months ago– and I soar). Which also makes sense, I guess, because (for better or for worse) I’ve been told that I’m a visual writer.
I wrote an essay on catharsis a few years ago that details what I would call a “transcendent experience” I had at the Walker Art Center’s Frida Kahlo retrospective in 2007. I re-read the piece after our talk about the artist’s need for creative stimulation and sent it to my friend. We both agreed that we derive inspiration from our daily lives (interactions, conversations, tiny quotidian droplets that accumulate to become narrative deluges). However, we also agreed that those “transcendent moments”— the ones that grab you by the throat and make you forget you’re made of flesh and blood, the ones that make you see (even for an instant) the world in a different way, that practically force you to create, to think, to go beyond— don’t happen frequently enough.
At times getting out of one’s normal physical space is the key (or at least a necessary step for me to vacate the cluttered head space I typically inhabit). I’ve also had “transcendent moments” while my derriere was planted in the familiar indentation of my chair in our living room, paying bills (I can’t think of a less inspiring activity). Of course, we can’t always predict when a moment of inspiration will come— that’s the beauty (and agony) of it. But I firmly believe that we can make intentional choices that favor transcendence. For example, committing to going to one play or gallery opening a month, come hell or high water. Easier said than done, especially in light of overburdened schedules and relationship commitments. But really, don’t we owe it to ourselves as artists/writers/creators/humans? When I look back on my life in 50 years, the transcendent moments will be the ones that count.