I attended a conference for work a few weeks ago and was asked “What inspires you?” And naturally, I choked. I think it’s hard to choose one thing that inspires you in all the ways you can possibly be inspired. The song that inspires you to make a bunch of plans and start going out more might be very different from the song that inspires you to focus more inward on yourself and home.
And of course, sometimes we don’t need to be inspired into an action, but rather a state of mind. I think inspiration is anything that moves you from point A to point B.
When point A is “I can’t think of a damn thing to write” and point B is 4 hours of putting words on paper
As a high school senior, I took AP English. With the exception of reading “Lord of the Flies” for the 3rd time in my school career, I loved this class. The material was as interesting as could be expected, but our instructor was truly at the top of her game. The questions she posed to our class after finishing a piece went beyond basic material comprehension. We talked about the feelings behind the words.
I’m a packrat, so I’m sure there are random notebooks and assignments from this class stored somewhere in my father’s house. But one piece of paper has traveled everywhere with me – from home to college dorm rooms, apartments and now my first house. On this piece of paper: "Preludes" by T.S. Eliot. No piece has ever made me think more, wonder more what was intended with the words. Each stanza paints such a crisp, clear picture for me, and that’s how I want to write. In truth, the images painted are bleak, but again, it’s more about the style of writing for me.
When I’m struggling to write – be it a story at work, a blog post here, or even a simple email – coming back to Preludes helps. It opens my mind. This type of descriptive writing isn’t always ideal for an email, but it helps me get past writer’s block to put words on paper. I can always come back and review or edit. Preludes doesn’t always get me to “final” but it gets me to “draft” and that’s (for me) the hardest part.
When point A is “I want to smack my husband” and point B is remembering why getting married was the smartest thing I’ve done
To be 100% clear: I love my husband more than life itself. My days start and end with him, and when I’m traveling and they can’t literally start and end with him, it makes me sad in a good-wife way. Having said that, he makes me want to scream a few times a week. My mom always told me this is normal.
Choosing a good first-dance-at-the-wedding song isn’t easy. There are tons of great options. But I think it’s worth it to invest a little time weighing a number of options. After a full 21 months of debating, we chose “Stay With You” by John Legend. The lyrics spoke so clearly to both of us, it really should’ve been a no-brainer to pick this song. And so anytime I find myself growing impatient with him or wishing I could make him sleep on the couch (we have a policy against doing that to each other), it’s helpful to hear Mr. Legend’s lyrics in my head. They force me to consider all that’s beautiful about TJ. And his list of pros is significantly longer than any list of cons I could make up. This song inspires me to let go of the little stuff as much as possible, and remember all the big reasons why we chose each other.
Our first dance.
When point A is “I’ll never choreograph a decent dance for my team” and point B is teaching them 48 hours later
I coach a DIII collegiate dance team with a friend. I’m typically responsible for all the hip hop choreography for a season. For months, I’ll hear songs that I think are great options, and my mind will overflow with ideas for choreography. And then, usually one week before I have to teach, I’ll decide that every move is dumb and I hate every song. I’ve finally learned to not plan anything for the 2-3 days before I teach, because I’m inevitably going to spend those days on the couch, listening to song after song and making up a routine in my head.
God bless YouTube. Seriously… how did choreographers do anything before they could search for the UDA Nationals or So You Think You Can Dance videos to get ideas? The girls on my team told me to start watching Jasmine Meakin, a dancer and choreographer from Australia. When it comes to hip hop, there’s no one I’d rather watch. Her moves are sick and her style makes me feel more vanilla than anything ever. I can spend hours watching her videos, gathering ideas for my girls, and even finding songs. (Fact: My girls were going to dance to a Skrillex song until 36 hours before our June practice, when I changed it to Work by Ciara after watching Jasmine Meakin’s killer choreo to it.) Watching her reminds me that it’s ok to try something a little out of the box… if it doesn’t work, we just need to change it before a performance!
When point A is “I desperately need to feel my mom’s presence” and point B is understanding what she always knew
This is a tough one. It’s so easy to be bitter about losing my mom so soon in my life (and hers). Taking an incredible woman off the planet when she was only 52 seems to me a cruel injustice that I may never understand. Occasionally, I’ll find myself wondering if maybe I’ll just bump into her on the street one day – Is there any way she could’ve faked her own death? And if she did, would I be mad or just so happy to see her I’d let it go? (I understand this is insanity. Very few people successfully fake their own death. I also saw her and was there when they closed the casket, so I’d say that makes it a sad but done deal.)
In this crazed desperation, I want to talk to her, or feel that she’s near me. It’s true that time does make this kind of thing easier, but it also makes it more distant. I hate that I no longer slip and say things like “I’m going to my parents’ house” or “I should email this to Mom.” It’s been more than a year though, and reality has set in. I no longer make those little mistakes. I know that when I go home, it’s to my dad’s, and if I read a crazy piece of celebrity gossip that we’d have spent hours obsessing over, I’m just going to have to have my own little obsessive party in my brain. In the months after she passed away, I became obsessed over having a “piece” of her with me always. Usually this meant wearing one of her rings that my dad gifted to me. Sometimes it was putting on a sweater of hers, or wearing her favorite perfume. It became a little bit consuming. My solution won’t be right for everyone, but a tattoo gave me the permanence I was looking for.
One year to the day after she died, I went to get a tattoo with my dad and brother. Dad got his nickname for her tattooed on his wrist and Zach got her initials on his right bicep. I chose to have the tattoo artist replicate the word Love in my mom’s handwriting on my right forearm. This tattoo has provided a surprising amount of solace. When I need to concentrate, I rub my index finger over it a few times, marveling that it’s in my skin. When I need to feel centered, focusing on what’s really important, I stare at it. It makes it so simple. And that’s when I feel her hugging me and saying she’s proud of me for understanding what she knew all along: Love is the be all, end all. Be with the people you love, and spend your life doing what you love. And if you do those things, even if your life ends 30 or 40 years sooner than you’d planned, you’ll find peace.