“Well I want to go to South America.”
“Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
“But you’ve never been to South America.”
“South America hell! If you went there the way you feel now it would be exactly the same. This is a good town. Why don’t you start living your life in Paris.”
– A conversation between Robert Cohn and Jake Barnes from
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
How many of us have thought if we could just step away from our routine life and visit someplace exotic, somewhere different from the norm, the pent up dam of inspiration would burst fostering the birth of a great writer? Don’t be shy, raise your hand if you’ve ever thought about it.
You are not alone and there’s nothing at all wrong wishing for an escape to creativity. How many paths to inspiration have embodied the romanticized brooding, hopelessly blocked writer who isolates themselves in a cabin deep in the wooded hills of who knows where, or find themselves by way of a profound revelation traveling into foreign lands? Conjured visions of writers like Kerouac steeling themselves away within a rustic cabin and writing nonstop for weeks on end or Hemingway’s The Lost Generation settling in Paris are rooted in our collective psyches exemplifying the writer’s mystique. Writer’s magazines offer advertisements and fellowships for writers’ retreats, ensconced within serene surroundings. It’s become the image writers should emulate.
Why do we so often dream of being someplace other than where we are? I’m guilty of it. I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, muddling through a fairly menial job helping to research effects of miniscule perturbations of antibacterial soap recipes on volunteer test subjects. Yes, it was as exciting as it sounds. My motivation for all things creative was stifled and I dreamed of being someplace else. I decided to move to northern Spain. My bachelor’s degree was lacking three Spanish courses, so there was my excuse and a study abroad program was my out. But was it what I needed? Apparently, not.
I lived just outside of Bilboa for about six months. I made a few good friends from other countries but money was tight and I couldn’t do much besides our weekly dinners out or pintxo crawls and drinks after. Travel around Europe was not in the cards this go round, unfortunately. Flipping back through my journal for this particular trip, I found myself thinking more about getting back home, not Phoenix but Flagstaff. I was preoccupied with hiking around Flag, mountain biking again through Sedona and seeing long time friends. In one journal entry I chastised myself after having just read the above passage from The Sun Also Rises;
“HA! Now here I am in Spain. Before I came all I could think of was how much I NEEDED to go and how it would fulfill something that has been lacking. So over the last few days I have been thinking about what I will do once I get back to Flag. But I’m HERE in Spain NOW!! And I have about 2 months left. Jesus Christ, live it a little! Quit thinking about what you’ll do when you get someplace else, ’cause all you’ll do when you get back is think about what you’ll do when you get back to Europe!”
There you go, unedited travel journal self-admonishment. Apparently, it worked because subsequent entries were more positive, talking up experiences with people I met, more observations and even a few descriptions of curious people I saw walking by my café table.
Perhaps, this turned out to be a delayed epiphany. I no longer dwell on where I could be. That does not mean I don’t yearn to travel again. But there are no dictates I place upon myself, no conditions for when inspiration comes. “If I could only get away, I will find myself and write my great novel.” My motivation is found in the moment, or ten minutes from now when I tell my mind to open up and write. Is it easy? Oh God, no! There are days it simply doesn’t happen, no matter how much I try or sit in front of the keyboard dabbing away at the keys, spewing drivel onto the screen.
Other times, I have to force myself to break down whatever barrier there is holding things back and let my brain flow into that zone where I see the story and barrel straight into it. But locating that thing, that motivation, inspiration or whatever moniker it’s given, that thing is found here (I’m pointing to my forehead now), inside me within those recesses that sometimes just don’t want to be disturbed. But they won’t be opened by holding up in a cabin at the base of a snow peaked mountain, or lounging in a fragrant garden in old Savannah, Georgia or sitting in a little apartment in Paris (I could be wrong about Paris so don’t hold me to that one). Hemingway wrote, “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another…. the way you feel now it would be exactly the same.”
That is point, inspiration comes from inside, from life experiences. Write about the life being lived now, write about what is personally known. The mind is the only tool that sharpens with use and the same is true for writing. Delving into the act of writing everyday, that is what loosens the holds on inspiration. That’s what fosters the birth of the writer or artist, that escaping to places unknown only wishes it could deliver on.