Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Midnight musings on inspiration

I needed to take a walk tonight. (Earlier I succumbed to temptation, in the form of scads of delicious dark chocolate. A heaping helping of sugary goodness, at least for a diabetic, translates quickly to high blood sugar, which in turn leads to eye damage and future blindness... and nothing drives a bibliophile to wrist-slitting despair faster than the thought of not being able to read ever again, so I decided I'd better try to walk it off. Besides, an evening constitutional is good for the soul.) So I shrugged into my hand-me-up black trenchcoat (thanks, Jenny) and went for a stroll around the neighborhood.

The night sky was a true, deep midnight blue, with a nearly-full moon haloed behind high, thin clouds. It's cold now, near the end of November; the trenchcoat was a good idea. I tend to be more of an ambler than a walker by nature, but knowing I needed to burn off some of that sugar, I stepped up the pace a bit, short legs crunching through fallen leaves, moving through the dark spaces between the regular pools of light along the sidewalk. I didn't stop for a breather until I'd reached the center of the highway overpass, when I could feel my heart hammering away. Doing its job. Good.

I stood there for a while on the overpass, leaning my arms on the guardrail and watching cars pass beneath me on the highway. Few people look up, even during the day; practically nobody looks up at night. They didn't see me. But I'm short and round and unremarkable; I don't stand out. I could have gotten up on that metal railing and walked along it like a Wallenda, and I doubt anyone would have noticed. Fortunately I'm not foolhardy.

Breath on a cold night forms a soft halo of cloud as you exhale. The longer you keep a breath in your body, the greater difference there is between its warmth and the ambient cold, the more well-defined that cloud is when you finally let it go. Funny how you never think about your own breath, until cold makes it visible.

And that got me thinking about etymology. (Because, yes, I'm a word geek.) Take, for example, "inspiration." Everyone knows what it means: to be struck by a sudden idea or insight. But what it literally means is "to breathe in." And it made me wonder if there are other things the cold makes more visible. Do our ideas really come from our own brains, or do unformed concepts hang thick in the air around us, waiting, searching, hoping for a likely mind to breathe them in and give them a life of their own? And as we breathe in ideas, does their time spent within us change and quicken not only them, but us as well?

Likewise, we tend to associate the word "expiration" with sour milk, but it's also the act of exhaling, of breathing out. And I thought that ideas, once inspired, are like breath -- they're not meant to be kept inside ourselves forever. A quickened idea, a concept given form and life, needs to be released into the world -- even if the thought of offering it up to others is as frightening as the thought of climbing up and walking along that guardrail above the highway. A concept brought to fruition is always going to be imperfect -- because we're imperfect beings. No creative work is going to be quite the way we first imagined it, whole and complete, in our minds. But that's not a valid reason to hold it in forever.

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