It was the talking to the plants that started it. I began naming them, you know.
Then I started wittering to myself. Just about the things that I was doing. But what I do every day is fairly dull, in reality, and after a year of it I’m beginning to feel as though most of my actions are hollow pursuits.
So I’ve started using the inside of my brain as a theatre, making up stories and watching them play out in a kind of mental psychogeography. I used to do this as a child to get myself to sleep: tell myself stories, some of which were based on the things I was reading or watching on TV at the time. Most of them are quite surrealist wanderings, it has to be said, and they make for very vivid viewing. It’s quite easy to get distracted by them: I was told at school that I was a daydreamer.
Could be a sign of impending madness, of course. Wouldn’t surprise me. But it could also just be the sign of a fertile mind suffering a lack of purposive activity. Perhaps what is needed is a change in inspiration: a shift in direction to channel this creativity into more useful occupations.
But how do you do this? How do you, outside of an environment which makes it easy, provoke and follow through with inspiration? Within academia, you’re surrounded with an environment which begs you to create, to innovate in thought: well, it’s certainly always been that way for me. But whoever you are, the expectation is always implicitly there. You’re surrounded by books, and by people with ideas.
Outside, you’re not. Removed from a location which encourages work, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve been left deserted on some terminal beach. It’s easy to forget, to become complacent, lazy, dulled by the spores of this alien environment. It’s easy to think there’s nothing out here to see, nothing you can do.
That’s the easy way out though. It’s to give inspiration to an externally located control point. Safely out of your way then – nothing you can do about it. Situation beyond your control. It’s easy to get dragged into a no win scenario that way: you can’t do anything about it, and everything that happens is pre-organised, or left to fate.
That’s tosh and we all know it. Of course there are certain things we can’t control, but those circumstances should not be allowed to determine how we respond to them, and how we continue to work on our own plans. It should not affect how we choose to use our minds. We have agency too.
So. Inspiration. It’s up to you. Work on it.
The world around you is full of things. Children look at objects and make them into something new. As an adult, we can still do this: we can look at a thing – any-thing – and use our imagination and our experiences in academia to consider its essence and its relationship with the world. Everything around you can be tapped into that network of thought: nothing is beyond contemplation. So the first part of inspiration is, perhaps, learning to look again. And by ‘look’, I refer not just to the ocular, but to the looking of the mind which can be produced by all the senses: maybe what I mean, then, is learn to observe, learn to feel – not emotionally, but critically.
When you have an idea, write it down. Develop some of them, write a few of those as short pieces, extend some of them into longer articles. Force yourself to sit down and to repeatedly write sentences and ideas: make sense of your statements, break them down, put them back together and start again.
Read. Never stop reading. Without reading, whether it’s articles, books or blogposts, you’ll loose the stimulus, the food, which powers your creative core. To produce inspiration, you have to first perform some maintenance engineering on your own mind.
If topics have you stumped, take a topic you know, and experiment with methodology instead. Look at your topic from a new theoretical perspective. Do some research using a method you’ve never encountered before. Write the paper in a way which is itself innovative, but not gimmicky, where the medium is as much the message as the message itself.
Remember that inspiration does not always come at the start of an endeavour. It may arise in the middle or at the end, up and down irregularly and unpredictably. And remember too that inspiration may not be an experience given to the author or the producer of an idea. No academic should expect inspiration every time: we are not owed it. It is instead what we owe to the world: to push the boundaries of thought in ways that inspire colleagues and students, and to offer that chance to others. The ideal academic act is one of giving, of giving new knowledge, new thought, new doubt, new explorations, to the present and to a future we might never know.