Porkpie Hat—In Praise of Ordinary Inspiration

I think many of us have had the experience of being in that “flow state” in which we’re so filled with inspiration, that sparks seem to be flying from our fingertips.  We’re doing something we love, something we were meant to do, and minutes and hours lose their normal meaning.  We will go without rest, go without sleep, go without food.  We are flooded with a sense of joy and righteous fulfillment, a feeling that no obstacle could possibly hold us back for long.

Sadly, for many years, it was a feeling that was all too rare in my life, and I suspect I am not alone in that.  Things get in the way.  Our jobs are uninspiring, we are easily distracted by quotidian concerns, vague anxieties, and existential angst.

It seems to me that this feeling of unquenchable exploration and curiosity was far more common when I was a child.  At least until the school system smothered it out of me.  When I was a kindergartener, I had no problem believing the world was my oyster.  I had the potential to be absolutely anything:  musician, poet, singer, dancer, athlete, explorer, scientists, artist, astronaut.  Would I be the best at any of these pursuits? I neither knew nor cared.  Would I be able to make a living at them? Who gave a shit? I was fearless and unfettered.

When I got older, though, I began to understand – was made to understand – that I needed to be “realistic,” that there was no point in devoting myself in any serious way to a pursuit unless it was pragmatic, or I could be the best at it.  I believed this for many years.  So I addressed myself to the business of being practical and ordinary.

But then I started to discover the joys of creativity again.  I’m not sure why, but I just sat down one afternoon and started writing poems.  I was almost thirty years old.  It was something I had not done since I was about twelve; becoming totally immersed in an act of pure, joyous creativity, with no worries about what the point was, or what judgement others might pass on it.  I picked up my guitar and put the words I had written to music.  I was probably ripping off Bob Dylan and Neil Young in a criminal kind of way.  It didn’t matter one iota to me.  This wasn’t for anybody else; this was for me.  After that, I started writing poems and short stories.  I got a few of them published in literary magazines and various websites.  I got some photographs accepted, too.  I wrote a play for a Vancouver theatre company, and it was performed one year at the Fringe Festival.

I quickly discovered that there are hundreds of dollars to be made as a writer and artist.  But the lack of financial reward honestly didn’t mean anything to me.  I had a day job, enough to get by.  I did what I had to do to put a roof over my head.  But my real love was reaching into my imagination and putting the artifacts on display in some way in the world.

And I was reaching people, on a small scale.  My stories, my pictures, were resonating with some people.  Was I—am I—a great writer? A great artist? Shit, no.  Nor do I really aspire to be.  Of course I want to be the best writer I can be.  But I will never be in the company of giants.  Which suits me just fine.  If I actually aspired to be a serious writer, reading Virginia Woolf and F. Scott Fitzgerald would be an exquisite torment.  Pick any of their books at random, open to a page, read half way down, close it up, sigh, say “Yes.  Alright.  It’s just no use.” Access to the blue fire of the gods is restricted to only the rarest of souls.

Fortunately, I have no such aspiration.  If I were a piano player, I would not be Thelonious Monk.  I would be tickling the ivories in the lounge at Trader Vic’s, and very proud of it.  Good for a torch song or two, spending tips just as fast as I make them, occasionally tugging on a memory, or bringing a smile to someone’s face.  Like Billy Joel’s Piano Man, “quick with a joke or a light of your smoke” And for some lives, mine included, that is just fine.