Friday, November 12, 2010

In search of inspiration

Recently I've found myself drawn to the profiles columns of newspapers, specifically the columns that profile artists or entrepreneurs. At first glance it seems funny to lump those two into the same category, but I think they share many similarities: creativity, resourcefulness, the drive to create, taking an idea and bringing it into fruition, that leap from taking a concept from the ethereal to the tangible. Because it's always a leap, whether you're hatching a computer business in a garage or staring at a pile of fabric and some hastily scribbled notes stuck haphazardly into an inspiration sketchbook, scissors in hand and teeth biting down on lower lip as you prepare that first cut. Nobody knows for sure that it will work, but somehow there is that burning desire to just try, the faith to stay true to your vision even if it is one that the rest of the world does not yet understand.

As someone who was raised by immigrants or the children of immigrants and into a culture that tends to promote education and the pursuit of a professional degree as the hallmark of success in America, neither art nor entrepreneurialism was emphasized in my family. My grandparents all left China because of the ravaged fighting that culminated in World War II (the country experienced over a decade of civil war and warlord infighting before the Japanese began moving down through Manchuria and into the country) and came to the United States at a time when very few Asians lived here. My dad entered middle school at a time when Georgia had not yet desegregated, and they couldn't figure out where to stick his family of 7 siblings.

America was different back then, so their immigrant experience and narrative for success was one that sought stability, and primary among this was the notion that so long as you had a professional degree, nobody could take that away from you, no matter what race or gender you were. And since we tend to transmit the values and the narratives that we know best, that was just the environment that I was raised in. It's one that I appreciate because education still does make a huge difference, but that doesn't mean I personally don't also find value in creativity or that entrepreneurial drive.

(A can of Red Bull makes for a moderately successful pattern weight! It was purchased by mistake. I can't remember who we eventually pawned it off on. Also: sunscreen.)

Anyways, I like to read profiles because, as a writer, I find it easiest to dive into a new subject by learning as much as I can about it. The technical details, yes, but also about the emotional landscape. I love coming across those pearls of wisdom or drawing inspiration from other people's stories about perseverance and overcoming setbacks. It also reminds me that though I may sometimes feel lonely in my pursuit of this alternate universe where everybody celebrates handmade and creativity and appreciates the small moments in life and steps off the materialistic treadmill to strengthen our relationships and overall sense of community, others have gone through something similar. Maybe it's oriented around building a business (or non-profit organization) or bringing their art to a new level, but the struggle is the same. The impulses are the same, the lessons are universal.

I'm going to be starting a new job soon (yeay) and one which will require a really long commute, at least initially, and I was thinking that it could be good to gather up some of these inspirational materials as I commit 3-4 hours each day to public transportation. While I knit, you know? Podcasts, memoirs or biographies, magazines, whatnot (I suppose if I really wanted to haul my laptop around, movies would be on that list too). Do you have any suggestions for me? For example, I recently discovered* that Fresh Air on NPR sometimes airs interviews with artists. And occasionally I like to tune in to TED while I sew, because they have all sorts of fascinating people giving short talks. Or where do you go when you want to hear about people who are doing something interesting?

*Funny story there - I was telling my brother about one of my many crackpot dream jobs which was to profile people doing interesting work in social service, you know, instead of constantly talking about all the problems in our world lets talk about some of the solutions that people have found! ... and he recommended the show because he likes Terry Gross' voice. "You could be the next Terry Gross!" I'm guessing that means I'll need voice lessons to make my voice sound pleasing enough for radio. In addition to learning how to be a really, really good interviewer.


Antoinette said...

Sometimes I think that you and I, who have never met in person, are linked somehow in a mental kind of way. I was "theming" my next blog post around creativity in sewing and in business. Cool times! BTW I think I have some catching up to do with your previous blog posts. Hope all is well for you this fall!

Ali said...

Congrats on your new job!!!! I echo the NPR love, I particularly love StoryCorps and This I Believe for very short, wonderful stories and I've just been referred to This American Life. They're not so much about artists or entrepreneurs (but they don't exclude them), but they always inspire me to remember that ordinary people do extraordinary things every day.

I also like going to the library and loading my ipod up with audio books. Most recently, I've been digging Zadie Smith's "Changing My Mind," a series of essays she did (a form I love!), which range from literary criticism (boring for most, but she does such a good job at being accessible, discerning), writing craft, and journalism. xx

Sigrid said...

I don't have any suggestions for inspiration. I do love the link you made between creativity and entrepreneurship. Good luck with the new job.

Zonnah said...

Grats on the new job!!!

Jamie said...

Hey, congrats on your new job! Love the green sweater in the next post. This was a very interesting post. Miss you!