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  • James Tam

Mysterious Inspiration

Most of us have experienced inspiring moments when a great idea appears out of the blue. Most of the most of us then doubt and muse in disbelief, and the great idea vanishes until discovered by someone else. Creativity depends on execution as well as inspiration.

Compared with ‘deductive or analytical intelligence’ such as the ability to figure out five plus six after learning one plus one, creativity is abstract, even mysterious and spiritual. Spiritual? Yeah, seriously.

The word inspiration, though grossly overused, has a divine origin. It means ‘breathing into, in order to give life, or spirit,’ stemming from God blowing a soul into Adam through his nostrils, still a dusty construct at that stage. The kind of selfless yucky things parents — human or otherwise — do to their babies are often unimaginable. Transforming dust to man is of course an enormous work of imagination itself, requiring nothing less than divine ‘inspiration’ to precipitate.

Similarly, inspiration in godless Chinese is Ling Gan (靈感), literally ‘sensing the spirit’, transcending molecular thinking. Our forebears apparently understood the mystical nature of inspiration more intimately than us.

Normally, we don’t know exactly what we will say or do in the next minute. Even prepared in advance, circumstances may change at the last moment. Similarly, a writer can’t usually anticipate what his characters will say or do next. Though vaguely steered by a storyline, fictional personas soon develop a life of their own. They interact with each other, carried by fate and karma, making stories, just like us. Unwittingly, their creator — the writer — is merely an observer and medium of their dramatic vicissitudes. This is especially true with full length novels, when the writer evolves with the characters for months, even years.

When writing Man’s Last Song, I was often curious and eager to ‘discover’ what challenges my remnants of the human race may face today, and how they would react to them. Occasionally, an idea would strike out of the blue as if by inspiration, or instruction. I’d write it down immediately, lest I forget. I keep a notebook with me just to take these spontaneous ‘orders’. I wonder if God similarly takes notes on human prayers.

I suspect we’ve always had plenty of wonderful insights and ideas in us. But like personality, or heartbeat, or breath, it takes awareness and sensitivity to notice their presence, and to lure them from hibernation. External stimuli may also arouse inspirations, but creativity doesn’t necessarily depend on them, or it wouldn’t be so amazingly ‘creative’, would it?

In movies, mediums appear focused and cool, in order to communicate with unseen forces without scaring them away. Perhaps inspiration should be treated likewise? In that case, creativity would be better cultivated through meditation than a course promoting rearrangement of the same old things just to look different.

Just relax, focus, be aware, and let inspiration flow from within.

James Tam 2020.10.18

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