Are you feeling stripped of ideas to write your next story and knuckling your head trying to shake inspiration out of the gobbledygook inside it? I’ve been there, and so have many others, and thumping your head will not hatch creativity. Knuckle no more. Better results are achieved through the power of observation. Inspiration is all around you. Here are some steps to set the gobbledygook in order.
- Look around you. See what stands out of place or rises or falls above or below the norm. All you need is to look for anything out of the ordinary. This does not mean that you must not write about the boring normal. Writers and philosophers as Michael Bracewell, Alberto Moravia, Michel Houellbecq, Michael Hiedeggar, and, most notable, Samuel Beckett, especially in his Waiting for Godot, have penned many words on the quagmire of the ordinary.
- Pick up the phone. Call your soul mate or your ex. Don’t call your mother or your banker.
- Get out of your cubby hole, but don’t engage in house chores. Go for a walk. Walk down the block, to the coffee shop, to the park. Take your computer with you if you can’t do without it. You don’t have to open it.
- Go knock on your neighbor’s door for no reason at all other than to say “Hi” or introduce yourself. Bring him/her a muffin to share. Feel like going to the gym? Power to you. Just get out, even for only fifteen minutes. Then return to your crevice and begin to bang gobbledygook on that keyboard. Eventually, words start to make sense, and you can’t stop writing to make dinner.
I was hiking the canyons of the Southwest desert—a short vacation during winter recess. Red rocks towered over me, snow filled the basins and cracks in the canyon walls. I was in touch with my labored breathing as I hiked the trail. The cold wind blew pin needles on my face. I marched on, with stops admire the scenery and to catch my breath. Except for a slithering lizard, there was no sign of life, and the only sound was the rustle of the wind on the dry sagebrush. I paused to take in the contrast of colors–the white snow below, blue sky above, and red rock in between. A flower growing out of a crack in the canyon wall caught my attention, a toadflax with delicate lavender petals and a white center, reached skyward. It seemed to be out of place in this parched landscape, yet it thrived.
I fixated my attention on the flower, wondering about its life source. I spent precious minutes under the sun that, despite the wintry chill, was brutal and unforgiving. But I wore my hat with visor and sunglasses and had plenty of water in my backpack. The flower, on the other hand, was naked. There was no source of water visible as far as my eyes could see. Its open petals seemed to invite the sun. The fragile stem that grew from inside the narrow crack in the canyon wall was frail and delicate to the touch. Yet, the toadflax flourished.
I looked at it from different angles, searching for the source of its fortitude when something happened. Communication transpired between the flower and me, not in words, but a sort of floriography, the language of flowers used by authors from William Shakespeare to Jane Austen, the Brontë melancholic sisters, and, more recently, by J.K. Rowlings in her Harry Potters novels.
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1
And I understood. “If I can, so can you,” it seemed to say. I continued on my trail with renewed energy.
I was teaching high school in an inner-city Los Angeles public school. I took a picture of the solitary flower blooming against all odds to the print shop and had a poster made with the adage “Yes, I Can” stamped on it and hung it in the classroom. That became my source of creativity in the classroom and in life. “Yes, I Can.”
Beauty can be found in the everyday: the crook and nooks of work, the perfectly empty moments sitting in a café, looking at passers-by, and waiting for nothing.
Look for your flower in a pet, a child, or acquaintance near you. Get to know them and learn from them through seeing, listening, and understanding. The best awareness comes from a silent form of communication such as floriography.
The toadflex growing from a crack in the canyon wall has given me the courage to stand for the principles that guide me. One day, another melancholic soul will see a flower flourishing against the grain and reaching for the sun, and he or she, too, will say, “Yes, I Can.” And that’s all it takes to come to full bloom.