Inspiration is a really nebulous, ill-defined concept. It’s not a solid that you can chew it. It’s not a gas that you can inhale it. There’s no way to really absorb inspiration in a tangible way, or look for it with any specificity, simply because it’s different for different people. And once you do identify it, it’s pretty much impossible to guarentee that it can always be converted into something of lasting value.
My family is full of entrepreneurial spirits. People who see opportunities everywhere and cannot go a day without concocting new ways to fill needs and generate revenue. This is so foreign to me. I don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body. I’m too cynical, too calculating, too alert to the myriad of ways things can fail and all the ways I’m just not qualified enough to wear the many hats of a small business owner. While they see the glorious destination, I only see the potholes.
But I can relate to one aspect of something that feels otherwise alien to me. I can relate to that feeling, that bubbling up in your spirit when you see or feel or know something with absolute certainty, while others just stare blankly ahead and question your sanity. The way my relatives see opportunity for business in every nook and crevice, I see opportunity for art almost twenty-four hours a day.
My brain has always been wired this way. I could barely construct full sentences when I started drawing and making up silly jingles. I was writing full songs before I could spell my own name. I wrote my first (unfinished) novel at the age of ten.
None of this was particularly good art, mind you. I cringe when I read some of the stuff I wrote in high school. Much like my family members’ great ideas seldom translate into sustainable, profitable businesses, most of my childhood art is as laudable as a can of baked beans.
But there was always an indefinable euphoria that would grip me whenever I translated ideas into something tangible. A melody that became a song. A plot line that became a source of light entertainment for my friends. Inspiration followed me everywhere, and it was always a welcome companion.
But I’m getting older and even more cynical. I’m not steeped over and grey, but I do have a lot more responsibilities. I’m planning to take care of someone through their impending and poorly-planned for retirement. I’m saving up for my younger sister’s education. I’m trying every day not to do anything stupid that might kill or maim someone. I’m working ungodly hours, and I’m often roundly abused and underappreciated despite it. I see things that make me want to shut my brain off, my patients tell me stories that make me want to crawl into a hole and never come out again.
So although the inspiration is still there, the energy is not. I’m less inclined to power through a weekend without sleep to knock out chapters of a rough draft and more inclined to just sit and let my ideas ferment in my mind while I rest. I haven’t written a song in eight months. I haven’t even touched the keys of a piano in longer.
The only thing I still manage to do with any sort of regularity (on the non-consuming side of art) is take photos. It’s easy and inconspicuous because we’re an instagram generation so people always assume I’m snapping something for social media when in fact I’m capturing it for the endless hours of fun I can have analyzing and editing it later.
I write sometimes, but nothing like I used to. All the ideas are there, busting at the seams of my imagination, but I’m really not motivated to use what little free time I have to pursue them.
(This post, for example, has been sitting in my drafts for months. The only thing that pushed me to edit it and publish it was a friend’s coaxing. It’s honest, but it’s dry. I have all these really intricate and brilliant ways I want to describe how out of practice I am creatively, but all I can come up with is what you’re reading.)
It’s ironic, reading someone write about how they’re struggling to write, isn’t it?
I wish that irony could spill over into my music. This is really the saddest part for me. I wrote a few months ago about how deprived I’ve been feeling without my partners-in-crime since coming to work in the rurals, but I think that barely scratched the surface. I’m actually seeing them all soon, and we plan to make a weekend of it just like old times and just really immerse ourselves in a bootcamp-like experience. But something is nagging at me, making it difficult to be truly excited.
What if I can’t compose anymore?
This is a legitimate fear I’ve been having for a while now. One of the things that always made it fun to collaborate, was the knowledge that I was more than capable of creating music independently. Being confident in my own abilities made it easy to be ego-less when someone else had a better idea or when I didn’t feel particularly creative on a given day. I never worried that I was becoming redundant, because I knew my strengths.
But like any muscle atrophies with disuse, I feel my own ability to create music dwindling slowly. I have a million things I want to write about, but everything feels stilted and trite coming out of my mouth. There’s nothing original about my thoughts on paper. There’s nothing beautiful about the melodies stored in my voicenotes.
An easy solution is to just write through the drought. It’s what I do with photography. I just take a million boring photographs until I start feeling like I can see again. Then the great shots seem to jump out at me, like they were in hiding all this time just waiting for me to go seek. Writing forums encourage a similar approach for writer’s block. They say set word-count or chapter goals and meet them every day no matter what. One of my favourite writers, Brandon Sanderson, often says he writes through the dull parts of his books until he gets to the good stuff, and then piggyback’s off of that excitement to go back and revisit the poorer bits. This sounds great, if you do have writer’s block. (I don’t think I have writer’s block, since I’m obviously writing. It’s something much more sinister.) With music, it’s tougher. You have to actually sing your ideas out as you create (or play it out if you have an instrument at your disposal). Imagine singing a really horrible song, deliberately, and knowing you wrote it.
The thought is enough to make me want to shut my mouth and never sing again.
But obviously I can’t do that. I know 90% of my problem is exhaustion and stress, but that doesn’t help much since my job isn’t changing until the legislation in this country starts being geared towards protecting junior doctors’ psychological and physical well-being. So what can I do about the other 10% that is really just an issue of discipline?
- I can be courageous. I’ve considered skipping the Bootcamp/reunion out of fear that I really won’t be able to contribute much, but that’s just fear talking. I have to go, even if it just confirms that the musician in me is dead. Besides, I miss my friends and WhatsApp only goes so far.
- I can try to create a routine. My weekends are owned by my current department and my hospital, but most of my evenings are my own. When I’m not sleeping, I’m reading or listening to music. That’s a lot of art consumption, and not much creation. I create really well if I’m well-rested (hahahahaha, not going to happen) but I also create well if I’m on a roll. It might be hard to implement, but if I can create small habits like taking a photo of every sunrise or sunset when I’m not working through them, writing for half an hour straight after work before I pass out from exhaustion, organising ideas (lyrics in my notepad, melodies in my voicenotes) once a week…there has to be a way to create a snowball of habits that can automate and augment the mental space I have to create.
- I can quit making excuses. Everybody is busy, and a lot of people manage to pursue their interests while holding full time jobs and raising families. I know at least two other interns who have managed to continue making music this year, one who is dealing with clinical depression and another who is a new mom. Yes, comparing struggles is pointless because we all have different capacities for hardship and our different personal standards, but feeling sorry for myself adds nothing to my situation but complacency. If I truly want to create, I’ll find a way to create.
So I’m going to start setting goals and then try to make a plan to reach them. I don’t know what those goals will be yet, but I’m giving myself a week’s deadline to make them. Maybe I’ll vow to participate in NaNoWriMo this year (it’s an American thing, but I’ve followed it for years and unfortunately never been able to participate as November has always been an exam month). Maybe I’ll vow to write at least three horrible but complete songs before Bootcamp. Maybe I’ll set the goal of taking enough photos over the next three months to fill this blog for the next year. Or maybe I’ll just vow to do one thing each day, no matter how small, to fuel the creative corner of my soul.
The only way to stop being so damn rusty, is to start putting in some effort.