December 3, 2013 by Ray Yanek
Early last November, a few of my students and I attended a poetry reading given by Prof. Stephen Frech of Millikin University. I’ve heard Frech read a couple of other times and I adore his work. You can find some of his works and more about him by clicking on this long, unlerlined sentence. Anyway, during the question and answer period, Dr. Frech fielded the typical question concerning where he finds inspiration.
The poem that Dr. Frech had just read called The Dark Villages of Childhood, he said, came to him almost fully formed in a dream. He has a very active dream life, so active and vivid, he revealed, that at times he has to check with people to see if conversations he remembered having occurred in real life or only in that life behind closed eyes.
I was hit with a streak of jealousy, not just because he writes so beautifully but also because I have NEVER had any piece of art come to me almost fully formed in a dream.
Until last Sunday night… (in your face Frech!)
To be honest, I haven’t judged the quality of this idea yet. It was only a snippet and not wholly formed (Argg. Damn you, Frech…) Maybe I’ll do something with it and maybe if I do it will become something completely different. Maybe I won’t do anything at all with it, but what fascinates me about this whole thing is not the product, but the process, the seeming magic of it all. That’s what I would like to discuss here.
But first, the dream–
I dreamt of a long hallway with tall doors on one side and a wall made of windows on the other. I was watching the storm clouds swirl in the sky and I focused specifically on an area of clouds that mimicked a rolling boil. Molten reds rolled behind that section and fear sat in my belly.
The dragon was finding its way home, was finding its way back to her.
In the black wisps of the clouds I could see the dragon start to reformulate. I would catch a glimpse of it coming together and then it would dissipate into wisps of blackness.
Alarms went off next. Warnings came over the intercom that we were to head to the basement because of the storms that were coming. They knew they weren’t storms and the people that began to scramble around the halls knew it too…
There was more, but this should suffice. I remember Michael Connelly, author of the Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, book series once answering the same question about his inspiration. Connelly claimed the best way to come up with ideas was to simply collect ‘stuff’ put it into the blender of your head and let your brain mix everything up and form some new concoction.
After taking a few minutes thinking about that dream, I can see that the above is exactly what my mind took the liberty of doing because I can pinpoint almost precisely where each item came from.
Let me explain…
1.) The setting. Because of the evacuation and the way it came over the PA system
(plus all the numbered doors) I assumed I was in a school, which would make sense
because I work in a school. The wall of glass that made up the other hallway changed my mind though. It looked more like the back wall of The Summit Bar at the Chestnut Mountain Resort, where I stayed over Halloween.
2.) The whole dragon thing. My daughter is currently reading The Hobbit (just can’t seem to get away from the Hobbit, click here to see) for school and just before I went to bed the other night, I saw a preview for The Desolation of Smuag and Smuag, of course, is a dragon. The trailer is also a teaser in that it never shows us the whole dragon. All we see are bits and pieces of the beast and then it vanishes from the screen, kind of like my dragon would break a apart and turn back into cloud.
3.) The storm clouds and the idea of getting into the basement. Some serious tornado issues in my area in the past weeks, and I spent a lot of time listening to evacuation messages on the NOAA weather radio. Also, I have to admit that I was watching an episode of Swamp People the other day and there was a group of Cajun fishermen out in the swamps trying to get off the water as a huge storm rolled in.
4.) The molten red light behind the rolling black clouds. Obviously this had to do with the fire of the dragon, but I also just finished reading a historical novel called Pompeii by Robert Harris, which led me to look at a lot of classical paintings with the eruption of Vesuvius as their subjects. The colors in my dream, as well as undulating motion of the black and red. was very lava-like and very much like the paintings I saw.
So what’s my point here? I really think I was given a glimpse into how the sub-conscious mind works, or how inspiration works, or how God can whisper things in your ear and help your sub-conscious mind blend together disparate elements into something new. What Connelly and Frech were saying really can happen and it’s fascinating.
And it accentuates the idea that if we want to write or create art of any kind, you have to live and experience a myriad of things. We have to be aware of life, we have to observe (and let our subconscious observe) the things that are all around us.
And just as importantly, we need to take time to relax so that our minds can let these things blend together and reformulate the pieces into new wholes. We have to find time to be still and to be quiet, so that we can hear the messages that are being whispered from deep inside of us.
Now it’s your turn to answer that age-old question–where do you get your inspiration from?
Leave me your thoughts in the comments and tell me some of the interesting ways you’ve used to find inspiration…