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by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for my new novel, Glimmerglass
How often do you feel inspired to work? How do you feel different when you’re writing than when you’re doing other things that need to be done in life? And I guess how do you get yourself into that place when you’re not there already.
If you sit around waiting for inspiration, you’ll stay a dabbler and never get to where you want to go. Search through the simple pleasures of drawing or inking or painting or writing, even if you have no idea where you are going. Move your hand--the mind may well follow. Inspiration might come from doodling and playing and jotting down notes. Inspiration might come from collecting your materials and then waiting in quiet.
Oh, it doesn’t matter “how often” you feel inspired. It's not ever about numbers. It just matters that you try to do your work—that’s the path toward the inspiration.
You're young. It's good to have humility before the great masters of the past. It's fine to look at work by your peers. But it's also good to have self-forgetfulness when making art, and that includes a kind of forgetfulness of all you admire--all that makes you feel small and that you cannot "get yourself into that place" and begin.
“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” I don’t recall that line from Van Gogh's letters, but I bumped into it on the web (so it may be truly his, or not) and think that’s a pretty good assessment of how to make art or any other thing in this life.
There’s a scene in one of my books that people have pointed to and asked about many times. A young girl is peeling an orange, a thing she has never done before, and the passage looks at an orange, the fragile veins around the segments and the inner lining with pith and the pebbled exterior and the seeds that seem to float inside the flesh. In terms of the writing, it’s all about seeing like a child. But that passage came about because it was the middle of the night, and I was trying to get work done but felt exhausted and blank—I wanted to get more done because my children were all blessedly asleep, but I would have to be up with them by 7:00 a.m. At that hour--at any hour--they would want a mother, not a writer. So I didn’t wish to waste an hour that I could use to either sleep or write. I went downstairs to the kitchen and fetched an orange and began to peel it slowly in front of my computer. I stared at that orange until it became magical, mysterious, seeded and alive with secrets. I then put the spirit of that orange in the hand of the young girl who had never seen an orange before.
That was how I started that night, by staring and seeing and forcing myself to move forward. Because I was a woman with three small children who had no time to waste on being inspired beforehand. The staring inspired me. The playing with words inspired me. The sitting down in the chair with intention to write inspired me. Inspiration is like a fountain—it will rise and flower into drops and flung water if you give it a chance. But to do so, you need to hush, look, and dream.
A feeling of richness and rightness often takes over when I’m writing. If it’s a poem, I might be surfing on Disch’s “lyric gush.” If it’s the first draft of a piece of fiction, I might be dipping and flying, following the thread of story. Then I’m a zany flying fish, skimming and swimming and reveling in the sea of words. So you’re right in saying that making art is just not the same as daily life.
At the very best, it’s being open to the Muse, the pouring life of the world, the Holy Spirit, the water from the fount at the end of the universe… (Mind you, golden moments sometimes come in ordinary life, and if you wish to do so and are quick, you may seize and make something of them.) As you go on and grow in your chosen pursuits, you will more and more be prepared and readied to catch the Muse, snare life, embrace the Spirit, or dip a pail from the fount. But the mere hunt for these precious, frolicsome things will lead you into the lands where inspiration trickles and streams.
And as a human being, you are made to find joy and truth and wonder and a thousand other contrary and tumultuous elements in creation. It’s that simple. Some find a creative satisfaction in teaching, some in reading, some in needle and thread, some in the unfolding mysteries of science, some in sacrifice for others. But we human beings are all meant to participate in some aspect of the ongoing creation that is our universe—the universe that is perhaps just one of many universes. So sit down in the chair and move the pen or move the brush: begin.