“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Where does inspiration come from?
When I launched this column eight months ago, my biggest fear was running short of ideas. I worried I would hit the wall, exhaust my list of topics, run short of ideas and realize my life wasn’t all that interesting.
I shouldn’t have worried. My idea list continues to expand … enough to keep me writing for quite some time. And, the list is constantly changing as new experiences and encounters push their way to the top of the list.
What inspires these ideas? I once believed my most inspirational moments occurred during quiet times.
Slipping away from the distractions of the newsroom, I often find myself in a corner table at Brady’s Coffee Shop. There, laptop unsheathed, indulging in a latte and sweet roll, I dive into next week’s column. But Brady’s — while intimate, laid back and friendly — is anything but quiet. The conversation of regular customers can be constant and entertaining, and taped choral music fills up the rest of the listening space.
I also like the “quiet” of my favorite catbird seat in the window at Bistrolls Sushi and Coffee House downtown. I don’t do sushi, but I enjoy the coffee and the view out onto T.B. Butler Fountain Square.
But, like Brady’s, quiet is elusive. The flat-screen TV on the wall alternates between Nancy Grace and World Cup. Easy-listening and pop-Christian music comes from wall speakers in the back. Customers come and go, mixing, mingling and relaxing … exchanging greetings with Johnny as he preps his special entrees.
I’ve sought out other quiet spots to pull out my laptop… amid the aromatic beauty of the Tyler Rose Garden, on those unbelievably uncomfortable benches downtown and at my kitchen table waiting on the coffee to perk. I’ve even tried stringing words together in the terminal at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, in the waiting room at the eye doctor and with truck windows rolled down in the shade of the awning at Sonic.
Sometimes I find quiet. Usually I don’t. But it’s not the silence I crave. Sometimes that lack of noise generates few new ideas, and random thoughts simply echo around inside my brain.
Inspiration, for me at least, arrives most often amid activity … during those times when my mind is engaged and free to observe, analyze and create. Sometimes the best ideas are generated amid noise and chaos.
This day, looking out on the downtown traffic, I grimaced as two drivers in half an hour attempted to turn right onto Erwin and head west into the face of one-way traffic. I watched packs of dark-suited lawyers pull wheeled briefcases back to court following the noon recess. I marveled at the buzzards wheeling in the updrafts above the black bank tower.
On other days, I’ve held my breath as a truck drivers maneuvered long trailers down College Avenue to deliver concrete spans to a parking garage construction site. I’ve watched downtown loft dwellers walk their dogs, homeless couples holding hands beside the fountain and women clad in multi-colored leotards hurrying to Michelle’s Pilates class. I’ve seen parking tickets written, arguments settled, friends united and strangers sharing umbrellas during thunderstorms.
Those observations won’t necessarily make it onto my story list. I probably won’t write about the woman in the leotard, but the soaring buzzards might find their way into a story. My reflections on the trivial allow me to focus on what is important … people I’ve met, places I’ve been, things I’ve experienced. And that can be fodder for a column.
For instance, sitting here reflecting on what I’ve seen and done in just one month, I have to admit my life is pretty full.
On a recent visit to Watkins-Logan State Veterans Home — my fourth — I was pleased to see my photo hanging in the entry. Taken at the Vietnam Wall, it’s called “I’ve Got Your Back” and prompted one of my earliest columns.
In Lodge K, I visited Allen Brown, a Navy veteran who served aboard submarine chasers in the Pacific during World War II. We talked about a book he is writing about growing up in Panama before the war. His friend, Robbie Davis, a Vietnam era veteran who lives in the apartment next door, introduced me to his wife, who once worked at the newspaper.
Heading back, I responded to a wave across the drive and stopped to chat with Chuck Bice, a former combat engineer and Normandy Invasion veteran. I hadn’t seen him since we flew to Washington together on a 2012 Heroes Flight.
A week before, I sat in the auditorium at the Reserve Training Center, invited by Capt. Kenneth Rice to observe a change of command ceremony for the 136th MP Battalion. The next day, I explored the oilfield display outside the Oklahoma History Center, photographed the amazing sculptures of Allan Houser, and sat quietly looking across the reflecting pool at the lighted chairs — large and small — that represent the 168 adults and children who died nine years ago in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
I flagged down a man named Eldrege, who makes his living hauling — and sometimes repairing — other people’s stuff. I called 911 to report a house fire after a rural home near mine as struck by lightning. And I spent part of a Saturday talking with Palestine Vietnam veterans guarding the traveling display of the Vietnam Wall at the Texas State Railroad depot.
My wife and I shared a nice lunch at Rick’s with Sue and Ron, a retired AP photographer, who presented me with three boxes of antique cameras to add to my already large collection. And Thursday, I set off a burglar alarm inside Gallery Main Street while trying to find where to go to judge the East Texas Symphony’s apple pie contest.
There might be a dozen or more stories and columns in just those experiences.
So, where does inspiration come from?
It comes from experiences. When you stop to reflect on all you see and do, life is full of those experiences.
Inspiration doesn’t come from silence. It comes from a quiet mind. It comes from observation, conversation and being open to what’s going on around you. It comes from getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing new things.
Oops, there goes another car turning west against the one-way traffic. Guess I need to write about that. But first, I want to tell you about learning to water ski amid the whitecaps, learning to fly on the tractor and the smiling girl, whose face is on the fence in Oklahoma City. I promise you’ll like her.
Dave Berry is the editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His column appears every Wednesday on the front of the My Generation section.