Last night, when the aches of the third trimester actually let me sleep long enough to dream, I dropped into a magical world. (Thank you, hormones.) I was in a city that was some combination of New York, DC, and San Francisco, and I was walking around the streets. My first few blocks lived in the early 20th century, where horse-drawn carriages and muddy lanes predominated. I saw the first stacks of skyscrapers against rolling hills beyond.
As I continued to walk, the streets gradually became traveled by cars, and buildings began to block the view of the countryside. Each block took me closer to the time I know now, and it felt like I was walking history, getting a glimpse at major historical moments with each step. I watched a Pan Am jet crash into the the San Francisco Bay, and I saw a disco with so much gold, shimmery fabric that I felt like dancing myself.
Eventually, a woman in a hoop skirt urged me to get to class at the Anderson Teacher’s College (I have no idea if such a place has ever existed), and when I entered, I found myself in the National Library (some combination of the National Archives and the Boston Public Library), where I took deep breaths and held back tears at the beauty of all those books on shelves below me. I wandered that space for a while – taking in the reds and browns and deep blues of the spines of knowledge – before my meandering journey took me to Columbia University, where I eventually came into a space where dance crews were preparing for some sort of competition.
I stood fascinated and eventually took a seat on the floor amongst groups of students. A young man who looked remarkably like Ashton Kutcher came over and quickly became my friend. He offered me some of his orange energy drink, which I declined because I was 8 months pregnant, and we watched the dancers for a while until I had to go. I hugged him as I left, and he told me his name was Gayle.
Later in my dream, when I came back to my own life – as these things often work in dreams – it turned out that Gayle was my grandson. (If you’re watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D this season, I expect you can identify the locus for that particular notion.) I woke up so happy to have seen so much, to have witnessed so much life, so much living that had shaped my own.
Inspiration Isn’t Usually a Gift; It’s a Quest
As I watched dawn creep around the curtains, the joy of this dream swelling in my chest, I thought of the way we writers often talk about inspiration, the way we use it as a crutch or an excuse for when we don’t do our work. (If you’ve read much of what I write about writing, you know that inspiration and I have a testy relationship.) I thought of the way that we limit the inspiring ideas that come to us because we are novices to them and don’t know how to use them or because they don’t serve our agenda or our niches in the way that seems most acceptable, familiar, or easy.
Then, I pondered my dream some more and marveled at it’s complexity. My brain, without my conscious effort or choice, shaped a beautiful story out of bits and pieces of what I know, and if my brain can do that while I’m asleep, I can only begin to imagine what it can do when I’m awake and am putting a little bit of will behind it.
So today, I’m thinking of my inspiration as something I dig for, something I keep my eyes open for every day in every minute, something that I know will stun me with beauty if I just allow myself to see it. It’s the ruby long-buried, the gold unmined, the diamond in the cave, and it’s waiting there for me to go find it and really see it. It’s not going to dig itself out for me – at least not very often. I have to go looking for it, and when I do, if I do with an open heart and a receiving mind, it will never, ever disappoint.
I could easily dismiss my dream, consider it just a product of progesterone and estrogen and lack of hard sleep, but I won’t because there was something beautiful and powerful there. I simply need to spend time with it to carve that beauty and truth out.
The Rare Gifts that We Almost Kick Aside
Years ago, a friend of my father’s was taking a walk in his field by his house. As he walked, he kicked against a very large stone. He glanced down at this big rock and could have dismissed it, could have walked away because, well, most rocks in fields are just obstacles.
But for some reason, he took a closer look. I imagine him bending down to peer at the stone at this foot and seeing glimmers of blue. The stone was unusual, and so he picked it up, took it home, and decided to have an expert look at it.
It turned out to be one of the largest sapphires ever found in the world. And he could have missed it if he wasn’t paying attention.
So friends, seek your inspiration today. Hunt it down with pick-ax and headlamp. Build a wash plant to sluice the gold of your own life. Look down to see what you kick loose with your feet. The treasures are there, waiting.