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Finding New Inspiration.

20 years ago I studied with a writing teacher named Natalie Goldberg. She’s written several books, but at the time Writing Down The Bones and Wild Mind were my favorites.

 

Natalie was a Zen monk practitioner and fashioned her style of “writing practice” similar to the practice of her meditation.

 

She’d have her students set a timer and write in stream of consciousness for 10 minutes. Then, they would read what they wrote out loud with no comment, before setting the timer again.

 

She offered writing topics in her books to help the student get started. I still use these tools to help spark inspiration for the memoir I’m writing.

 

One of Natalie’s classics is to write for 10 minutes in specific detail on “I remember…”

 

I remember when my mother used to sing songs in the car. She’d sit in the passenger seat as my father drove, usually at night after leaving my grandparents from Friday night dinner. This was when I remember her at her happiest. Dad would sing along sometimes too, “I’m looking over a four leaf clover that I’ve overlooked before….” Or “Abadabadabadaba said the monkey to the chimp” Or her bedtime song, “I see the moon, the moon sees me, the moon is the one I want to see, please let the moonlight shine on me and shine on the one I love!” When Mom sang like this I felt like everything in our world was right. We were a happy family and I was loved.

 

Then, Natalie would ask us to write for 10 minutes on “I don’t remember.”

 

“I don’t remember” was always fascinating. It took me to surprising new places. And isn’t that what we’re always looking for as artists? New inspiration? Something we haven’t thought of before?

 

“I don’t remember a lot of other moments with Mom as a child. Oh, but I do remember her love of throwing theme parties and how creative she was. One birthday, I received a giant stuffed gorilla named Rootbeer and Mom served Cherry Jell-O with cut bananas in it. I didn’t like Jell-O with bananas. I felt guilty because I wanted to make Mom happy.”

 

Who knew by asking myself what “I don’t remember” I would remember the specific detail of Cherry Jell-O to then include in my memoir?

 

My co-creating partner in life and love is an artist. Like any artist, he can wonder what’s next. If he puts pressure on himself to have to find that thing, then that may stop the new from arising.

 

Fresh inspiration tends to gently rise and float up – it’s never something we can force. But we have to keep our eyes open and be willing to discover it.

 

On it’s most basic level, his work is an attempt to transform ordinary matter into something extraordinary, to bridge the conceptual to the material world. His point of entry into art making has been through using materials that distill and re-present various aspects of their inherent physical properties, revealing an unexpected beauty in a previously un-seen way.

 

In fact, some of his most famous pieces like this one and this one were inspired on a simple daily walk by a leaf floating in the wind.

 

It takes a certain self-awareness to find meaning in how we view things. We see it outside of us because we’re able to feel it within us first: a sensation calling to us.

 

I was on vacation in a beautiful tropical island in the Caribbean last February. The green foliage meeting the turquoise waters was stunning. The path from my cottage to the dining room was lined with gorgeous trees but it wasn’t until late one night, when I was walking back, that I noticed one tree was lit up by the path’s light. It was the most remarkable tree I’d ever seen and I was in awe. I’d walked under it many times before that night and simply didn’t see it.

 

When we’re looking for inspiration, the idea is to simply pay more attention because in truth it’s already there, waiting for us.

 

Wishing you new perspectives!

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Lynn Newman