It was one of those infamous Southern California mornings of May Gray when you want to reach up and pry the clouds apart. The sun is comfortably hidden above its shroud-covered floor, and you know that no amount of wishing or cajoling is going to make it break through the fog.
I was sitting at my desk, reading an essay by a writer who had found herself in need of inspiration and had gone searching for her muse. Her journey had happened last fall – months before being quarantined was even a speck of a possibility – but it resonated in this time of confinement, when inspiration is in as short supply as hand sanitizer.
The writer had traveled to Mackinac Island, Michigan, a no-cars-allowed vacation spot reachable by ferry, where she had hoped her muse would magically appear. She even imagined that it might reside in one of the island’s hillside cottages.
“That’s not how it works!” I murmured out loud to no one but my silent computer screen, trying to wrap my mind around her theory. You can’t go looking for inspiration when you travel. Inspiration looks for you. Like an unspoken whisper, it finds you in the most unexpected places, when you are so immersed in the moment that you may not even realize it was there until long after it has moved on.
The locations where inspiration seems to appear are as vaporous as inspiration itself. As I read her story, my mind immediately traveled to a day at sea in New Zealand, where by sheer happenstance I witnessed the most spectacular rainbow I have ever seen. And I remembered walking on a dusty road in a remote Chilean town called Puerto Chacabuco – an unplanned stop on our itinerary – and an experience that offered incredible insight into humanity from vines of roses woven around a weathered wooden door.
Inspiration is always lurking about. It seeks us out, taking us down wonderfully crooked pathways of discoveries and dead ends, challenging us to notice what we otherwise might have overlooked. But trying to find inspiration on our own terms? That’s one game of hide-and-seek we likely never will win.
I think that’s what I miss most of all during this time of restricted travel. The possibility of inspiration. Wondering what lies around the next bend. What is waiting to be discovered, to learn from, to expand my mind and open my heart? What adventure awaits that I hadn’t thought of before or didn’t even know existed?
As for the essay writer who traveled to Mackinac Island, she didn’t find the muse she thought would be waiting for her. Instead, she says the experience humbled her and stripped her of her entitlement. She was challenged to face the silence of the muse who wasn’t there.
None of us can simply order up inspiration. The best we can hope for is to recognize it and welcome it in, whenever it decides to pay us a visit, wherever in the world we happen to be. The trick in getting through this season of uncertainty, I believe, is discovering inspiration in the ordinary, in our daily life, breaking through our own fog when the sun refuses to budge.