III. “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” – Madeleine L’Engle
Reading this quote makes me want to know what Isaac Newton was reading when the apple fell on his head because that is the story that epitomizes inspiration for me. But letting my mind wander down that thought path actually makes me wonder how many humans were hit on the head and didn’t think anything more of it until Newton came along. I look it up and find that the he may not have been hit by the apple but he told the story of the apple as inspiration for his work on gravity often enough so it happened in some form. It wasn’t that Newton was sitting around wondering how to make his life fruitful when the apple incident occurred; he was already deep involved in his work as a mathematician and physicist when he was inspired.
In the years just following my divorce, I learned to meditate and listen more deeply to my soul. I found I wanted to have kids even though I hadn’t wanted them when I was married. When I would sit and clear my mind each morning, it was the message my heart would pound under all the clutter. I had a lot of reasons to dismiss it such as my age (early 40’s), desire to be free from all wounds inflicted from my marriage before considering having kids and my relationship status, but the excuses couldn’t deter the steady drumbeat of family, family, family.
In the midst of doing the work to come alive again and healing, I was hoping the perfect man would just fall out of the sky, land at my feet, I would have the right relationship and a family would ensue. One day during this period I visited the small office building that I owned and managed and men in suits were literally lining the halls. One of our tenants was doing a photo shoot tryout for a local menswear retailer and these were the guys that had shown up. But instead of turning it into my own personal fairy tale and talking to any one of them, I simply went about my business. The situation made me laugh – and then realize that no matter how many men just showed up on my radar I was going to have to try a little harder.
So I started dating and then quickly
remembered how much work it is, especially when I had the specific outcome of
creating a family in mind. With each scenario that I became involved in over
the next three years, I could begin to see how the pieces of family did or did
not fit together. I toyed around with the fit of an ex who was willing but we
hadn’t solved any of our fundamental problems so our views on responsibility
and work ethic were misaligned. Then I connected with a guy with whom I shared
a soulful understanding of life but who had already raised a family and wasn’t
interested in doing so again. I met a great guy that aligned with my interests
and sense of humor but not my profound longing for a deep and vulnerable
connection so list of things we couldn’t talk about was longer than the list we
could. That wasn’t the right formula for raising a family.
It was like I had pieces from multiple jigsaw puzzles and none of them could complete the puzzle. I’m naturally such an optimistic that accepting things weren’t just going to work out took me a while but eventually I realized that the jigsaw puzzle wasn’t going to be completed. I wasn’t going to be able to have children with a partner in the timeframe necessary, and I was only able to come to this conclusion once I started doing the work. It was the process that made it clear in a way that my fairy tale idea didn’t.
When I read this Madeline L’Engle quote, it clinched my idea that inspiration isn’t a signpost at the beginning of a trail, but instead a rock cairn at a fork indicating the right way to go. Maybe it works that way because we aren’t ready to receive the solution until we’ve tried to do it on our own or maybe we don’t trust an idea that just suddenly appears. Whatever it is, it was only when I did the work to find a partner that I instead found the inspiration that perhaps I needed to move forward in a non-traditional way to create a family. Coming to understand that inspiration is something that happens during work has freed me so I no longer sit around feeling stuck. I’m pulled to do something about my condition rather than just wish that things were different. The latter reminds me of a former colleague who joked that people on his team would run around as if their hair was on fire when there was a problem. When he’d ask what they tried, they’d say, “I haven’t tried anything and nothing works.” Even when the results are not what I want or what I expect, L’Engle’s words open me up enough to recognize inspiration when it hits me on the head.