On Inspiration

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To be an artist one needs courage, discipline and an ability to express truth. But to be able to continue to be an artist, one needs to be inspired. 

I also believe: if you want to be an artist, you already are.

Stubbornness helps too. I learned this from a lecture given by Anaïs Nin as transcribed in the book A Woman Speaks, published in 1975. She wrote about how a liberated woman has to be stubborn in order to live the life she really wants to live in spite of the cultural resistance. Anaïs Nin has been an inspiration to me--her intelligence, courage, intellectual curiosity, androgynous mind, aesthetic sophistication, and passion for the arts. I often remember this idea--the importance of being stubborn as a positive thing, as the great protector of the true self, so that your unique voice can be heard. When no one would publish her experimental novels she started her own printing press and published them herself. To continue to be an artist, this is the kind of spirit that is needed.

 Last night I was inspired by Bob Dylan. My husband Lucas just happened to put on No Direction Home, the documentary about Bob Dylan that cuts back and forth between two stories: his story from the beginning, which especially focuses on his musical influences, and then footage of one of Dylan’s concerts when he first went electric. His folk fans felt angry and betrayed by his turning to rock-n-roll and had no problem expressing it. When he performed, he had to block out the audience’s boo’s. He had to believe in his right to make the music he wanted despite the lack of support he received. He was being stubborn.

The last time I watched this same documentary, six years ago, was the night before an important performance where I was to share my quirky, imperfect rock songs with my classmates in graduate school. It wasn’t a music class, but a class about the power of the arts in the context of Expressive Arts Therapy. I have always appreciated music deeply, and play guitar, write songs and sing, but I am very insecure about performing music in front of others. Watching Bob Dylan shrug off the booing of his supposed fans had a powerful impact on me. I realized that I couldn’t let my inner critic who was worrying about other’s judgment prevent me from sharing my music.

When it comes to being an artist, or to self-actualizing in any way, you do what you need to do. So what I did was bring some outfits so I could do a costume change, I experimented with playing a character. I got through my fear with play and performance. That’s what Bob Dylan does, he plays the character in the song. Or the character he’s inspired by in that moment. That’s what being creative is: use of self. The archetype/sub personality enters when it is called for. 

Last night it was the younger, visionary Bob Dylan that inspired me. He inspires others because he is inspired. He was inspired by Woody Gutherie, Odetta, and many other artists, and by his desire to tell stories. He helped me to realize you owe it to yourself and the world to be who you are, and not to hold back. He had a voice he believed in, even when others didn’t. It is not up to us to question our voices. It is up to us to get our of our way so that the voice can be heard.

When I was studying acting, I was very passionate about the Meisner technique.  Joe Anania, my most beloved acting teacher, would call out to us while we did our repetition exercises “trust yourself!” and “get out of your own way!” I still hear his dramatic voice in my ear when I need to. Luckily his voice is loud and can sometimes drown out the critic’s.

Last night, after my first day of publishing ZOELAB, my inner critic had a lot of negative stuff to say about it, as he (my inner critic happens to be male) often does when I put myself out there, perform or take up space. (In this case I am taking up webspace.) I even considered shutting down the whole project. But after watching Bob Dylan, I realized this project is something I have to do. Sure it’s scary, and vulnerable, and I have no idea what it will be like or how it will be received, but I have come to believe all worthwhile things in life start out kind of scary, and usually end up being a lot of hard work, but if I commit to it, with all that I can, the satisfaction and growth that comes from it is well worth all of that because it takes me to somewhere new. 

As I wrote in my commitment statement, I want to be inspired and inspire others. According to the etymology dictionary, inspire means: "to fill (the mind, heart, etc., with grace, etc.);" also "to prompt or induce (someone to do something)," from O.Fr. enspirer (13c.), from L. inspirare "inflame; blow into" (see inspiration).” Inspiration also means breath. I like to think of it as an integral part of the creative process. In order to create you need to breathe in, fill the mind and heart with that which it loves, and then when you breathe out, you express that which needs to be expressed. A few years ago when I was trying to find a way to define myself as an artist, which felt and continues to feel, impossible, I came up with an idea of making a photoshop collage of the female artists that most inspired the kind of artist I wanted to be/already am, also reflecting all the creative outlets/media that I am most drawn to--writing (memoir in particular), music, (rock-n-roll in particular), comedy performance (improv and sitcoms in particular), social/experiential/performance art, filmmaking. I just realized there are no photographers or visual artists on there. Maybe I need to add one to the collage. I am also becoming interested in Marina Abramovic. I want to watch the documentary about her called The Artist is Present

(POSTSRIPT: After learning more about Marina Abromovic. I would most definitely add her to this inspiration collage.)

Here is the list:

Anaïs Nin


Carrie Brownstein

Tina Fey

Sophie Calle

Miranda July

Lucille Ball

Shawn Marshall (of Cat Power)

The image at the top of this entry is that collage, which I called Manifest Destiny. (Postscript: Later, upon realizing the negative connotation of the term, I changed it to Womanifest Destiny.) I put it on my wall and look at it and remember what I am inspired by and therefore why I want to be an artist. After all, if I want to be an artist, I already am.  I am going to make Inspiration a theme on my upcoming Theme Page.

Tell me, who inspires you?