THE ULTIMATE COLLABORATION
Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness – I wouldn’t know. But I am sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness. Aaron Copland
When I read Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard, a middle grade novel that won the Newbery Medal in 2002, the powerful writing transported me to 12th century Korea. The characters grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I read the last pages in an altered state that any avid reader probably understands, freed from the claims of current time and place, and sensing that something of the divine had touched the work. There’s a presence in and between the lines, communicating through the writer.
The wonderful Children’s Literature Network here celebrates books and their creators and one evening, members got to meet the author. After her talk, Linda Sue joined a group of us at our table for dinner. Tablemates departed, post-dessert, one by one. Finally, only Linda Sue and I remained. How could I resist the opportunity?
“Were you given A Single Shard?” I said, out of the blue.
And without a moment’s hesitation, she said all she needed to say. “Yes.”
It was immensely satisfying to have my suspicions confirmed that she had felt the presence of something beyond her that informed the book’s creation. I don’t mean to suggest that it wasn’t hard work birthing that beautiful story, but, for whatever reason, its light bears the mark of a mysterious collaboration, an unknowable source offering the gift of inspiration to a greater degree than most writers typically experience (including Linda Sue, I suspect).
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, speaks in a recent TED talk of this “genius” that seems to reside outside of us. It can sometimes feel “downright paranormal,” she insists, but makes “as much sense as anything, in terms of explaining the utterly maddening capriciousness of the creative process.” Gilbert relates the poet Ruth Stone’s confession that there were times when she was outdoors that she felt and heard poems coming at her with such speed that she’d have to “run like hell” to fetch a pencil “in order to catch them.” Tom Waits told Gilbert of the time the fragment of a melody presented itself while he was driving on an LA freeway and he addressed the open air –“Excuse me… can you not see that I’m driving?” This was his acknowledgment of the collaboration between himself and “a strange external thing that was not quite Tom.”
The writer Henry Miller speaks of this presence, too: “I didn’t have to think up so much as a comma or a semicolon; it was all given, straight from the celestial recording room. Weary, I would beg for a break, an intermission, time enough, let’s say, to go to the toilet or take a breath of fresh air on the balcony. Nothing doing.”
It’s the visitor I wait and hope for. It’s the company I want to keep for as long as the muse is willing to stick around and uplift me. Preferably, it’s an extended stay that lifts the work from self-conscious pap to something extra-ordinary, writing that’s inspired. I agree with Gilbert that the persistent notion since the Renaissance that creativity comes completely from within results in a culture where artistry too often leads to anguish, whether it’s over a success which one fears cannot be repeated or a failure… to gain acclaim, to earn a readership or a living, even to publish, at all. There is something liberating, yes, in the notion that if I show up and put everything I have into the effort, I’ve done my job. If I’m lucky, my guide, my daemon, my collaborator will choose not to sleep in… and show up, too. Next Monday morning would be good… or at your convenience, really. I’m open to just about anything.
Illustration by David WeisnerExplore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized