A songwriter named Justin just threw me an email via my contact form, sharing with me a lyric he wrote with the intention of opening up a two-way avenue for sharing each other’s creative material. He told me some of the short stories he’s read on this site have inspired him to write new songs, or just have new thoughts that one day might manifest themselves into working material. He stated that, as a songwriter, he’s always looking for new thoughts, new ideas, or anything worth writing about. I know exactly what he means. Thanks Justin!
He threw out the simplest and best of questions, which is exactly the same question I’ve asked others in the past. I remember even asking Pablo Ferro a very similar question back in 2001:
What inspires you?
The thing that’s so cool about good questions is that you can learn so much about yourself by answering them. (Ain’t that what therapy is all about?) While you may know the answer in your head, the process of putting it into words is a great exercise. So,
Thanks for the email. It’s always great to roll ideas around with like minds.
What inspires me? That’s a great question. Thanks for asking. I’m big on fantasy. And I’m a huge fan of juxtaposition, metaphor, and irony. My mind has always had a heightened awareness of things that can be compared, and my tendency to recognize patterns is something I’ve never been able to shake. Sometimes it feels like a curse. A demon that’s picking on me. I suppose it comes with the territory of being a writer, particularly a storyteller. On the outside, we tend to appear preoccupied, aloof, or daydreamy, when in fact our mind is just busy noticing storytelling opportunities in everyday things. It’s not necessarily fun. The inside of my skull is a very noisy place, and is not a place to find relaxation. There is a certain absence of peace in there.
Juxtaposition: This is loosely the act of placing two very different — typically opposing — things side by side. When experienced together, there’s an explosive dynamic achieved by way of the contrast. Mash-up. I love that stuff. It keeps things from going flat, homogenized, and boring, and is a device that can be experimented with in all the arts. Music, storytelling, painting, poetry, fashion, etc.
Metaphor: Huge fan. Insatiable appetite for it. Related concepts are “analogy” and “allegory”. All involve the activity of relating something to something else. With metaphor, we’re usually drawing a comparison between two things by focusing on their similarities. (This is the opposite of juxtaposition, where we’re emphasizing contrast.) I can’t get enough of metaphor in the graphic arts; I’m a big fan of brilliant logos that play with metaphor. And, of course, my favorite area of the arts to use the metaphor device is in storytelling. There are many ways to do this; I tend to do a lot of things with anthropomorphic objects, which means that I’ll take an animal or an inanimate object and use it as a character to reflect a universal truth about the human experience.
Irony: This one’s my kryptonite. As with pastey brunettes with light eyes, I go weak in the knees when irony is used well. My favorite body of storytelling of all time is the classic mid-century television show The Twilight Zone, which is a collection of short polished films that represent what I think to be the most brilliant examples of fantasy, juxtaposition, metaphor, and irony. From existential trippiness to poignant social commentary, it just doesn’t get better than The Twilight Zone. I’ve been told that much of my work reflects that undeniable influence.
I follow my muse wherever she takes me, and it’s often more a process of discovery than invention. It’s a journey, and I often don’t know where an idea will end up. Sometimes it’ll come out as a children’s fable, other times it’ll decide to be a dark adult tragedy. But none are ever without some element that abstractly touches on the deeper levels of the human condition.
And, of course, the bittersweet beauty of getting older is that your pool of experience gets deeper, giving you richer material to use creatively. The bitter part of that beauty lies in the dark painful experiences associated with being human, which, I hope, make us better artists. The sweet part of experiencing pain is that it qualifies you to write about it, first-hand, using whatever devices you see fit. Whether it be a song, a poem, a short story, or a painting, we simply cannot write about the darker side of life with any degree of accuracy unless we’ve been there in our own shoes. On a very subtle level, people can sense when something isn’t genuine.
Thanks for sharing your stuff, and by all means, toss over any ideas you desire feedback on. Inspiration goes both ways!