The Photographer’s Dilemma
At the beginning of September, while the smell of summer BBQ was still in the air, I took off for Sardinia. Far from the famous northern tip at Costa Smeralda where Berlusconi and his friends enjoyed testing the bounds of fiscal responsibility with underaged “dancers,” we were headed to a small town tucked into a southern cove outside of Villasimius. This was our third time back to Sardinia, where we unplug, disconnect, and recharge our human batteries. What do human batteries run on? Well, in Sardinia they are fueled by a mixture of sun, relaxation, local vermentino wine, and a complete lack of cell service.
Surrounded by the soundtrack of lapping waves and the hum of Italian beachgoers, Sardinia offers a break from everything. Long gone are the to-do list and deadlines because, tucked into the mountain side, the only “service” you can find is the local lifeguard who will pull you out a lounge chair and the bartender who will gladly get you “Un’altra…” when you want another beer.
Taking time to yourself can be a challenge. Whether you are juggling company holidays or stepping away from your own business, it’s not always easy to design downtime. It always seems to feel that if we stop, something might go catastrophically wrong. But what happens if we keep our foot on the gas all year long? Aside from the obvious health and happiness issues that come from overwork, there are other consequences if we forget to spend a little time with nothing to do. We can and often crush any available space for our very own endangered species known as Inspiration.
What does inspiration look like and how can we find something that is so difficult to see, but so easy to feel? Finding inspiration can be a serious challenge, and one that plagues everyone from the enthusiast to the seasoned professional.
In an ideal world, we might like to pack a small, carry-on approved, bottle of inspiration with us at all times. As a small pick-me-up, it would get us over those endless hours of frustration and drive us back into the saddle of creativity. But for all of the efforts of scientists and crack dealers, there is no magic serum for inspiration. It is a quiet creature that only comes out when we clear our minds of the chatter that makes up most of the day. And while plunking ourselves on a Mediterranean beach is not a guaranteed way to find our next stroke of genius, it does leave open the chance that inspiration will find us.
Trust your Gut
We are all highly creative beings who are fueled by inspiration. All too often though, people get down on themselves for not being creative enough and not feeling inspired. In the worst cases, these dry spells of inspiration begin to feel like a permanent condition. In reality, all that is happening is that inspiration has not been given enough space to grow. It might be time for a long weekend or better yet, a week off.
The main reason people struggle to find inspiration is that they do not take time to be alone or do nothing. Doing nothing does not mean mindless flipping through an iPad or catching up with a TV series on the sofa. That is doing something. Doing nothing is what happens when our everyday, problem solving brain takes a break. In the space between thinking and feeling lies inspiration. And only when we give it room to breathe does it begin to show its face.
Sadly, much of the way inspiration is approached has been polluted by the way we work. What people mistake as their of lack of imagination, is nothing more than being overworked. As much as we would love to sit down and “crank out” new sources of inspiration, it won’t happen. Artists have known this for a long time. It is why they often look like they are sitting around, doing nothing. It’s not because they are lazy. They understand that in order for ideas to flow, they have to get out of their own way.
Given a choice, a house with a view of the ocean and a terrace for drinking coffee is my ideal recharge space. But we don’t need perfection to recharge…we just need free time and a little space. For as long as I can remember, water has been therapeutic for me. I can not explain why. Maybe on a psychologist’s sofa we could figure it out, but the mechanics don’t interest me much. All I know is that being by the ocean, even for a short period of time, produces ideas. It does not need to be any beach in particular, the water does not need to be warm and blue; in fact, it just has to be quiet enough for me to just hear the waves. I could spend the rest of my life wondering how and why this all happens, but it’s not a necessity. It just works. This year it happened in Sardinia and again in Venice. In between travel, I take morning drives out to surf in NJ…certainly not the most glamorous of spots, but it does the trick.
- Make a list of the last few times you felt inspired…maybe you were driving late at night or walking the dog around the block. If you look at where you find inspiration, patterns will emerge.
- Give yourself an hour a week solo, just you and your thoughts (don’t worry, this will not be fatal, I promise)
- Keep things in perspective by reading about other artists’ approach to inspiration, I’d recommend Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Society and Solitude.
You might not be jumping on a plane tomorrow and that is okay. Finding time for inspiration is like preparing for a marathon…it is a process. No amount of cramming will get you to the finish line. It starts one mile at a time. The challenge is keeping up a small, but sustained, effort with all of the responsibilities and distractions that pull us around.
This year, my bit of relaxation was in the form of a small beach in Sardinia. There were no super yachts, nothing fancy, just a small spot where the cell phone doesn’t work and my laptop was a coaster for a wine glass that won’t rest flat on the wicker table. By putting technology in its proper place (second to experience) I was able to feel my way through a project that refused to come together back in NYC. So whether you find yourself next to a fire or on a windswept coast line, just remember that inspiration is waiting for you. All it asks is that you give it your full and undivided attention for a few days and it will fuel you for the year to come.