Setting yourself up for inspiration

Something we will often try to do is duplicate the environment in which inspiration happened. We went on a feverishly productive writing spree while sitting in that one coffee shop in Portland and so we try to return to the same shop and order the same drink. We had a deeply affecting time of prayer and worship at church that day after we sung that one song. So we return and sing that song again. We had a romantic dinner with our fiance at the time and now we return there after 10 years of marriage with high hopes. I wrote that awesome rock song that went to #1 on the charts while I was high on weed. I need to get some more weed and write some more songs, right!?

The problem is, this sort of thing almost never works. SK addresses that here in a manner that is pretty close to home for me:

My home had become dismal to me simply because it was a repetition of the wrong kind. My mind was sterile, my troubled imagination constantly conjured up tantalizingly attractive recollections of how the ideas had presented themselves the last time, and the tares of these recollections choked out every thought at birth. I went out to the café where I had gone every day the previous time to enjoy the beverage that, according to the poet’s precept, when it is “pure and hot and strong and not misused,” can always stand alongside that to which the poet compares it, namely, friendship. At any rate, I prize coffee. Perhaps the coffee was just as good as last time; one would almost expect it to be, but it was not to my liking. The sun through the café windows was hot and glaring; the room was just about as humid as the air in a saucepan, practically cooking. A draft, which like a small trade wind cut through everything, prohibited thoughts of any repetition, even if the opportunity had otherwise offered itself.

-Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition, EK p.107

The truth is, much of his essay on “repetition” was beyond my understanding. The parts I remember had to do with memory.

It seems that trying to replicate the environment where something wonderful happened is misguided. If we want inspiration and passion, we need to start somewhere else – probably just with hard work. My theory is that, for myself, the thing that will push me through the right kind of hard work will be teaching.

It almost seems that to endeavor something for it’s sake alone is one’s downfall. For when I come to think, I can think of nothing. But when I aim to accomplish something else, I can often think steadily and effectively. My wife says I work well to deadlines and she’s right. But I think it is more the thing itself than the fact that there is a deadline. This is why I must teach. The constant, steady challenge of preparing the class and figuring out the puzzle of communicating to the students – this will drive me, in fact ENABLE me to think. Otherwise the thoughts will never take shape. I have not the raw willpower to work through them in a vacuum.