Monday, August 1, 2011

Crippling Inspiration

I just finished Enough About You by David Shields. I'm going to blame him for my lack of sleep this week. Whenever I get one of his books, I have to read it all in a wallop. He's a writer who defies genre - both overtly and covertly. While some people find his work tedious or confounding, I am one of the converted.
It feels like getting a letter from an old friend. Most of my reading time is after I've put the monkeys to bed, so into the wee hours I'm huddled over the book while my husband snores beside me. I'm giggling and I'm nodding in agreement, I'm thinking "Oh, shut up!",  sometimes I'm exasperated, sometimes I'm rolling my eyes, sometimes I'm  holding back tears, but I'm always inspired. Something about his writing triggers a rapid neuron-fire that makes my scalp tingle. I'm ready to write, I'm ready to conquer the world, but first I've got to go to sleep because the monkeys have a dentist appointment at the crack of dawn (who scheduled that?!) or I have a volunteer function to go to at school (do I have to?!) or any number of completely prosaic things that will demand my attention and relative degrees of wakefulness the next day.
So I do my walk of shame the next morning (or later the same morning).  I sit in the waiting room of the dentist's office, or in the school cafeteria or where ever my presence is required and I try to stay awake. I wonder if anyone can tell I didn't wash my hair or that I'm wearing yesterday's clothes.  If they see the bags under my eyes or notice that I've drifted off into another world altogether. Can they smell the six cups of coffee on my breath? Do they know that I spent the better part of the night entangled in the words of another man? Can I casually slip the book into conversation so I can keep thinking about it? Should I read the book again or just put it away and try to move on? Maybe I'll just read that one passage again. Maybe the whole chapter. No, I should just break it off. I need to get some sleep. How much longer do I have to talk to this person in front of me before I can sneak off someplace and write?
Then the adrenaline wears off and the doubt sets in. By the time I am alone again with my own words, I feel inadequate, silly, embarrassed by my ardor.  The inspiration from the night before has turned into paralysis. Is my sentence structure too bloated? My metaphors are too pale. How can anyone even look at such hairy punctuation? How can I ever be inventive enough to satisfy? A nauseous hangover that mocks the loud-mouthed ideas from the night before. The sexy, intellectual vixen has turned into a dowdy housewife, tittering self-consciously up her sleeve in cliches.
Sometimes my heroes are too good. They give me just enough commonality, enough of their humanity to feel akin to something, to feel like I've caught on, to inspire me to more. But then daylight comes and the words seize in my throat. They see my pen and a blank page and turn and run away. Or those words I'd merrily dominated the night before get up and rearrange themselves into one giant yawn: already been done, who cares?, charlatan, fake, tedious bore. So I sit here mute, used up, exhausted, crippled by inspiration.

(Originally written 10 June 2011)

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