Inspiration(?)

I don’t get inspired much by staring at a computer. And you’re thinking “well, great, neither do I, what’s your point?” My point is that my computer is my typewriter, my piano, my blank draft score. You know the pictures, the portrait of some 20th century American master, there’s a glass of scotch on the desk and a cigarette quietly burning away to itself in the valley of an ashtray rim, and just behind them, from our perspective, is a nice typewriter. Typewriters are so bold and robust, chunky mechanisms that don’t really sound like anything else except perhaps a machine’s approximation of marching troops, like the Swamp Thing that dreamt it was a man. Poised just inches above the keys of this nice, chunky, positively sexy typewriter, are the fingers of a man, and this man is staring on intently at the paper which we assume, foolishly, is just one of many that have risen from within the bowels of the machine that day. And he’s really typing something, too! Or how about the composer, piano and/or score paper in his immediacy, one dainty finger pressed to the keyboard, or pen clutched in a hand poised for action, a look of mischievous or serious intent (and this one really depends on when the portrait was taken; during the late 1700s folks like Haydn were forgiven for having a little gleam in the eye, but the window was pretty short, and in the times surrounding this brief period of allowance of that most rarefied of composer face ingredients (apologies, Tom) the faces are all either seriously angry about something or merely not emotionally affected either way) on the face. And you imagine them saying to themselves, regularly, say every few minutes, “ah yes,” and adding a few more squiggles to the lines. It’s like chess, you have to ponder the situation a little, then you say “ah yes,” and your opponent knows they’re in deep blue shit. Okay, so maybe that doesn’t happen in chess, at least not with me, because I just want to move the damn thing along. You’ve never seen Chessmaster’s take-back feature used so often in the space of ten minutes.

Chess aside: yes, folks, this is how writers write and composers compose, and even though I hate photographs and I’ve never had a professional want to take my portrait, I too sit around my studio (ha!) waiting for divine inspiration in a variety of poses should some intrepid photographer break into and enter my house, specially selected Zeiss lenses at the ready, with the intent of capturing me in a variety of entirely natural looking positions while I pretend to work. Pretend. Let’s not pretend that what I’m doing all the time is working. In fact, let’s be honest about this: most days, work takes up the least amount of time. Why? Because I don’t get inspired much by staring at my computer. Yeah, no piano-bound lightning bolts from God for me, just sitting, staring at a computer, thinking “I could be watching an obscure Taiwanese art film with only three lines of dialogue in the entirety of its three hour duration right now. That’s one line per hour, baby!” And coincidentally, that’s about the speed at which I write. Oh, be serious, you writer-slash-composer I’ve never heard of. You’re entirely correct, I’m not that slow, but I do have an uncanny penchant for writing at a fair pace only when I’m avoiding the subject.

I don’t get inspired much by staring at a computer. I’ve said this three times already because I enjoy belabouring my point with jokes, it’s the only way I can achieve longevity. I’m not so much a procrastinator as a rambler, I have to wander a little to get the juices going, and I always end up with a substantial word count. My secret is I don’t edit once I’ve gotten all the nonsense out of the way. That aside, the writer-slash-composer in my generic portrait is never at work, he’s static, an enduring symbol of hard work, determination, and inspiration that it’s easy to forget never existed outside of this still image. The guy who inspired the portrait, whoever he is, when he’s at work he doesn’t look half as confident, and that cigarette isn’t being left to mind its own business in its nice little glass pit type environment, and the levels in that scotch glass are changing so rapidly you’d want to take it and study it for signs of some internal landmass straining and fissuring from microtectonic shifts.

The keyboard is not an inspirational thing, it’s just a bunch of keys, and when you press one of them the mechanism or circuitry below triggers a process, and the letter appears before your very eyes. It’s like magic, a secret incantation of the inanimate that dreamt it could move, and from it you have the start of a sentence, but where do you go? It’s not like you had a plan when you sat down, you’re just stringing letters together and hoping they form an intelligible sentiment. Let’s face it: the only reason you’re here is because at some point in your life you said “I’m a writer” and you believed it, poor schmuck. Then you had a brilliant idea: get advice from other writers. Now, you’re a shy fellow, rightly aware of your nothing status in the publishing world, and why’s Don DeLillo or whatever likely literary hero going to give even half a shit (I’m not even sure that’s possible, because if you take a shit and break it in half what you’ve got is two shits, so don’t take it out on Don, okay?) about you and your situation? Well, he isn’t and they aren’t, so you try the next best thing: YouTube. You get writerly advice from not only your main man Don, but Paul Auster, and Günter Grass, and Umberto Eco, and a bunch of guys and gals you’ve never heard of but seem to know what they’re talking about, and they’re all telling you the same thing. “If you’re a writer you have to write every day, no excuses, you write and you write and you write, and that’s how a writer must be.” So here you are, sat before the keyboard, and you’ve written one sentence, and it’s the stupidest fucking thing anyone has ever written from Dispilio through to the Facebook post you were reading not ten minutes ago in order to keep informed about what clothes some girl you met once last Tuesday is wearing to a party you aren’t attending. You hate this sentence, you want to kill the person who wrote this sentence. You sit back in your chair, give a few minutes to really let the distinctive aroma of ham-fisted cliché in a redundant sauce with a garnish of platitudes embrangle the nasal passages, really taste that foetid, bland ugliness. You begin now to even feel a distaste for the hate, because it’s purple, and you remember someone on the internet, whose opinion you respect for some reason, making fun of purple prose as if it was the worst thing you could possibly commit to record.

After a while of going through this torture on a daily basis, you develop an intuition for it. There are those days when you can just feel it, you know your brain isn’t up to the task. So why, when you are like this, would you bother to write anything? What is it that makes you feel like you have to get something down, or you’re not a writer? Well, it’s probably because you were putting your stock in the advice of people from a different time, Don’s old, so’s Günter and Umberto, and Paul’s getting up there. Not that they aren’t great writers, massively intelligent guys with mountains of experience that could dwarf Olympus Mons, but they were established probably long before you were born, they were getting started then and you’re trying to make your shit happen right now. You feel inspired and intimidated by these guys and others, because there’s some inherent quality about special groups, whether it’s important writers, or composers, or artists of any kind, or multibillionaires, the very existence of these groups naturally makes you and other ordinary people feel guilty for not being within them. So you’ve taken the words of the Important Writers as gospel, you think that’s how you get there, and worse still, you think it’s vitally important that you get there. You aren’t a writer, you’re a would-be socialite who chose to aspire to a group that just happened to be made up of writers, a better class of people for you to aim for in your frantic scurry up the rungs. Fuck you and fuck your writing, and fuck whatever else it is that you do, you phony piece of shit.

That’s how it feels when you try to write every day without an idea simply because someone you think is cool said you should.

So what exactly are we to draw from this? Life sucks, you suck, why bother? No. The thing to take from all that I’m saying, and it’s something that took me a while to realise for myself, is that if you approach your work based on the perspectives of people who aren’t you, who will probably never know you, you aren’t taking inspiration, you’re doing imitation. The difference between the two is something you have to learn, and it’s no mere semantic inconsequentiality. Sure, it’s okay to seek encouragement from the words of others when you can’t find it within yourself, to listen to people who have done great things in your chosen field and for whom you believe you have a lot of respect, but if you’re waiting around for validation from them it’s going to be a very long time coming, if you’re lucky, more likely it will never come. By trying to be them you place yourself in a losing race against the shadows of giants in late afternoon, and all you are then is just another parrot voice lost to the indifference of the world. But then what do I know, I’m just a writer-slash-composer you’ve never heard of.

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