How do YOU stay inspired, Toni Morrison?
I was already nursing a huge crush on Toni Morrison as she spoke about her fictional characters’ natural limitations– how, like you and I, they only know what they know. Her confiding tone, her flirtatious but never-bullshitty manner, made me (and every other “me” there to see her, I suspect) feel as if it were just us two on a porch together, at some place and time that compelled honesty to a fault.
Ms. Morrison’s interviewer, Professor Claudia Brodsky, drew an audience question from the stack of submitted index cards. She smiled at the author, a close friend and subject of her academic studies: “How do you stay inspired?”
The Brooklyn temple, packed to the gills, hushed entirely to hear what Ms. Morrison would say, with her twinkling eyes and easy hands, with her direct simplicity and charm.
Because, hell, this was like the elixir of creative life about to come from the Mouth of Literary Giant Morrison. This could fix all of our problems.
She said WHAT?
But Instead of haranguing the muse’s poor attendance record, instead of telling us a recipe, a trick, her answer was both jubilant and matter-of-fact: “Because I can’t not!”
Right. She can’t not stay inspired.
Anyone else have that problem?
“Because I have to be creative,” she continued. “I have to be! It’s me!” She said that the way a doctor might tell you your blood had to circulate.
Let that sink in: queen of the novel, now well into her wisdom-years, in a wheelchair for unknown reasons, with her nest of braided hair resting in the curve of her neck like a crown worn backwards, continues to be creatively inspired not because she owes it to anyone, not because of any contract, not because of anything.
Because that’s who she is.
She can’t help you stay inspired– but you can!
All the desperate writers in the room, all the hungry writers, the people slightly disenchanted with their lot or lives or creative practice, all those hoping for the “way” to keep our own portals open and stay inspired, sat back.
The law of her universe was– write. Not the more commonly heard “Write when you don’t even feel like it” or “Write everyday” but something more absolute. Do it because it is you. Do it because it is how you be you.
And so that “advice”, that prototype, was not entirely usable.
It was just entire.
What if there is no other option?
I left with copious notes and a huge, aching crush on her articulate, delighted and forthright manner, her (I’ll say it) absolutely beautiful face. Her comfort with herself. Her comfort in that room, speaking sometimes uncomfortable truths as if she was asking you to pass a napkin.
So this can’t be a how-to (stay inspired) post. This post can only ask a question, of writers and non-writers alike, of students and those who don’t know they’re still students:
What if there is no other option BUT to stay inspired?
What if to stay inspired, to stay creative, is as given as storm clouds are to rain?
The kind of rain that keeps the soil year after year creative.
God Help the Child, Indeed! A coda…
Here’s Toni Morrison speaking on her newest novel, God Help the Child (a title she said she hates– she claims her “original” one was much better, but no one liked it, a claim which is oddly leveling). This is the same novel that was the excuse for her interview, which I had the good fortune to attend only because a friend couldn’t use her ticket. And in a brilliant move, you had to buy the novel to attend the event, thereby supporting our amazing Community Bookstore.
“God Help the Child!”, if you think of it as a self-referential plea called out by a truly fatigued person, also may capture what people feel like who have run out of inspiration, period, and have nowhere to turn but to ask for Mercy, as if they were a wee babe needing to be fed but unable to find a willing boob.
Boob, yes. It’s where my mind is these days because it’s my full time job (along with other jobs, hence this blog) to be that for a tiny little person, who seems to have no trouble, ever, finding the world an inspiring place to be. Just watch him pick with determination and awe at smutz on the floor. But that is a different post.
Truth is, my baby’s presence (he’s a front man for the muse) always sends me on tangents, which Morrison redeemed for me last night by delightedly going off on many. And this just might be the direction in which the elusive muse truly lies– not the trajectory you pre-planned, but the unlikely places that call to you in the moment.
But…if you’ve gone off on a tangent that seems irredeemable; if you’ve lost your inspiration, if you just can’t find the words, but must; if you hope, just a little more, to stay inspired despite it all, contact us. We’ll put you right in touch with Toni Morrison. But if for some crazy reason she’s busy, we’re always happy to help you take your writing to the next level.
(I believe in exposing our discovery trails: the image of Toni Morrison used here was generously shared with me by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, whose work you should check out. I found him through a google search that turned up this feminist educator’s blog. Turns out I know her in real real life. Also, it just may be that the quotes as I remember them from Morrison’s mouth are not fact-check-able, but they are spirit check-able, and my guess is if not verbatim, her words as I attribute them caught her essence.)