-People ask me: "Dana, where do you find your inspiration?"
(I love this cliché. Not the inspiration part, but the "people ask me…" one. Despite and perhaps because it originated in a generation of all-knowing and smug columnists, mostly men. Women columnists were very few back then, and usually they had one and only one niche, that of the housewives' advice column, like "Dear Abbey" and Ann Landers. The women columnists were asked about romance, while the men spoke of serious matters, ideally in a confident, self-assured manner. They spoke fast, but not too fast, and their speech was full of dramatic expressions, exclamation marks, spaces and clichés. So feel free to picture me in drag, as that guy with the bowler hat and the pipe, speaking in a lower voice, and an a tone that leaves no room for questioning. In drag, because, even as a columnist in Israel, [1996-2006 At Magazine], my approach was different. Even here, in this blog, I only aspire to share my experience, ask questions, and if you find a tiny piece of advice here, it's at your own risk.)
Well, maybe not in these very words. In forums, emails, friendly conversations, this question comes up. Where do the stories come from, how do you start writing, where one finds her ideas, this sort of thing. And I do my best to answer, try to answer as frankly as I can, reply that I'm still exploring it myself, that I'm not quite sure about it. I speak about the smell-memory connection or about a quote that led to a story, about a note I once found and about all the endless forms in which I find my inspiration. Surely, I will discuss the inspiration question in one of my future posts, I promise. But I do have this subtle feeling inside, that it is not the real question here.
What is the question, then – you may ask. I would like first to examine what stands behind it. It always feel as it assumes some sublime Kantian concept of divine or cosmic inspiration. A message, a vision, or a prophecy of sort that falls out of the sky one glorious morning on an exhilarated man of arts and letters, who from then on spends his days enclosed in his study within the proverbial ivory tower (proverbial only, because how can anyone build towers from ivory?), nestled in some snowy mountain town, and writes a War and Peace or perhaps The Sorrows of Young Werther.
This is the 19th-Century version of the mythical writer, I know. In a more updated version, we may find J. D. Salinger sitting in his distant home, far from the madding crowd, devoting all his time to write his inspiring stories. When I have the time, says our writer – I have had these dreams myself – when I win the lottery or perhaps a scholarship, I'll be able to sit in my room with the magnificent awe-striking view, writing the stories I've been dreaming to write for years, the novel which is yet to be phrased in words. There, watching the view from my window, I, too, will be inspired.
So two questions arise from the foggy mist of the inspiration question: behind "where will I find my ideas" hides "when will I have time for all of this?" Truth is, there is no time. It's true that writing a novel, a short story, or even a blog post, requires time, and furthermore, making time. But this time can be any time. If I am asked for one piece of advice, to be said in an all-knowing smugness, I'd say: forget the romantic fantasy of the mountain cabin. This fantasy is related to people, mostly men, who had money, other people to raise their children, and usually large staffs of servants. Even Virginia Woolf, author of Room of One's Own who wrote for a living from an early age was never required to pick up the kids from kindergarten (she didn't have any children, and if she had, a governess would have taken care of it) or listen to stupid muzak on the phone while waiting for an associate to answer (they hardly had phones back then, but you know what I mean). And if you will wait for your scholarship or vacation or whatever it is, your stories will dissipate while you wait, because this is what they sometimes do.
It took me a long time to understand that if I want to write, I need to write and that's that. I remember telling Ilan Sheinfeld, a wonderful poet who published my first book, that I wake up at night with ideas, and go back to sleep. "You deserve spanking", he almost yelled at me. But truth was that sleeping hours were priceless for the new mother I was back then, and so my writing was postponed a little. To this day, ten years later, I keep a notebook beside my bed. When ideas sprout at night, I scribble something in the dark, so I won't wake my love, or my baby who had grown into a boy since that chat with Ilan, and now wakes me up when he sneaks next to me, stirring some lines or a metaphor in me. If my notebook is not nearby, I picture a treasure box and put these lines in it. The next morning or during the day, whenever I can, I open it, or read what I wrote in my notebook. Sometimes it inspires more ideas, and sometimes it just stays there. At times, my handwriting is so unclear, that I don’t even try to decipher it. However, I do not look for inspiration in the sublime, nor do I wait for an endless amount of free time to come my way. I just let my inspiration be, in what seems to be small and perhaps insignificant, but it is my life. And this is what I write about, in a quiet evening, or a half an hour between errands.
Thank you, Uri Bruck, for your tech support!