Yes, you read correctly. This is about perspiration. But not just any perspiration. No, no. The stuff of inspiration. More to my point, the sweat of inspiration. I’m not talking about sweaty armpits. I refer instead to the beaded brow of an artist slaving feverishly to convey the resplendent vision of an illuminated mind struck by . . . you guessed it . . . inspiration.
I am going to be uncharacteristically redundant, so please bear with me.
I tend to find inspiration in the oddest places: looking at the wall; washing dishes; listening to static; hearing bumps in the night; taking my sense of humor seriously; tuning out reality; watching dust float; resting my eyes; twiddling my thumbs; thinking idle thoughts; staring into space at my desk or actually anywhere; ignoring a mysterious creak; playing with my Poe, Dickens and Shakespeare action figures; walking the dog (if I had one); pretending I’m meditating; remembering to breathe (I tend to forget); procrastinating; remembering to drink water (I tend to forget that too); failing to stay focused while watching a movie or show, or when someone is talking; perhaps focusing on the fact that I need to come up with an idea on one of the occasional occasions when I have not been hit by a deluge of them like falling stars.
It isn’t Rocket Science. It isn’t an exact science, yet Science may creep into the vapor-spewing formula.
Neither is it brainstorming, barnstorming, even rain storming. Although I find rain to be the very best of inspirations.
And then again, the creative trigger, that elusive lightbulb switch, could be the sound of a chainsaw. A blade being sharpened. The wind howling my name. Crickets chirping. A siren. My ears ringing like a siren. The drone of a fly in my ear. Or a disturbing mental note.
My brain is a somewhat goopy glurpish bog in which there is much bubbling and churning going on, kind of like a volcano with indigestion that is never satisfied by the sacrificial offerings shoved into it.
Now that I have painted you a pretty picture, I will go on to say that an overactive imagination — like a volcano — can be inspired by just about anything. Or nothing. Nothing at all. At least mine can. It’s funny that way. I might feed it a steady diet of the macabre or unleash it to roam freely across eclectic pastures, down teeming lanes and boulevards, through stupendous natural splendors. And then again I might just sit in a corner pondering my inner sanctumonious periphery, head spinning like a carousel of leaping monsters, wrapped in a cloak of introspection. Sometimes it’s best to contain the delirium, confine the madness, keep it safely locked inside.
I believe inspiration to be a sacred thing. You cannot go back and erase or revise it if you have cause for regrets. Random or otherwise, an inspiration can nag and distract you. It can also vex and disappoint you . . . whether an author of fiction or nonfiction; a graphic artist, painter, sculptor, poet or songwriter. Yet it is there, or it was at the precise magical moment of conceivery; thus it becomes a part of you in that sense. It becomes a landmark along your path — the journey of an artistic soul. (Or, with me, a demented one.)
Now and again I have created verse and prose from a single word or title that popped into my head. I have also crafted poetry inspired by famous persons, a photograph, the painting “American Gothic”. I have composed pieces based on a specific poetic form, as well as in collaboration. Most of the time I give birth to poems that come from within and loosely or distinctly fit a certain topic. Likewise, I have written stories for anthologies and a novel for a contest incorporating a simple basic theme.
Inspiration can be a delicate balance. We are always influenced, however subliminally, by experience and the world around us. That is an integral part of the creative process. But to tell the truth, when writing fictional prose I prefer to maintain an isolated rather insulated perspective and do my own thing. Pull ideas out of my own hat. I love reading yet am reluctant to read the work of others when I am working on a story or novel, particularly something of a similar genre. It conflicts. I can do something else — watch a movie, listen to music, play cards or a boardgame.
Reading inspires me. It makes me want to write. I usually don’t need inspiration for that. And there are so many ideas floating around these days, it can be overwhelming. Daunting. Authors at any level face more competition than ever before, and it is a staggering feat to stand out and be noticed. I think the best way of doing this is by doing our own thing, not somebody else’s. That’s what makes us special.
I strive for originality as much as possible. Life may filter into what I write, but I prefer to maintain the integrity of my ideas and respect the ideas of others. Not everyone will appreciate my efforts to be different, let alone the preoccupation with balance and flow, my unconventional language and obsessive need to avoid unnecessary redundancies. Love or hate it, my voice is my voice; my style is uniquely mine, and I won’t change it because somebody else thinks I should. (It happens.) And then there is the fear of being copied before even becoming known.
That said, creativity must embrace a wealth of ideas and passions to remain creative. Just as the enraptured toils of talent are never misspent. Labors of love endure, a permanent thing removed from any source. The world of art is connected and held together by the invisible threads of those who inspire us. We can all inspire each other, which is a beautiful thing.
I present three poems that were conjured after viewing an artist’s paintings, in addition to a piece about meeting an actress, a spoof of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and verse inspired by “inspiration” itself. I hope you will enjoy these perspirations.
Inspired by the Klarissa Kocsis painting A PUPPET AND HIS GIRL
Tufts of hair rode the crest of a make-believe wind
On an adventureless day after Mischief had grinned
And they spinned weaving caps of gentle cloud swirls
In a sweet giddy dance of I-can’t-be-still curls . . .
The girl squirmed at the table unable, unable
To rein in her spirit like mares boxed by a stable
That yearned to chase coltish over hillocks and plains
Past fences and restrictions, a gush of streamed manes
Knee knobs and elbows angled, a tangled rush of free will
Yet she was parked on a wood chair, bored senseless until
The nimble figure gestured, hung upon a hook
The gamine-cheeked girl rose quietly and took
Him down from the peg then hugged the lively doll
Who did a happy jig, unbridled of the wall
Hair pale and sprouting waves like a turbulent sea
Much as the girl’s mop spilled exuberantly
In a roundabout fashion as she jiggled her hips
The clown smiled with wild eyes and red painted lips
How they pranced hand in hand, a frolic of fun
While a circus unfolded neath a flower-rimmed sun
And the pointy-chinned puppet stood on his head
Wiggling toes with a giggle, then the sprite gaily said:
“Let’s pretend we are twins, for we look just the same!
We shall play on the trapeze as our little game.”
Climbing high, they perched side by side upon a wide bar
To hide from disapproval, swinging on a star
Laughing at the spectacle of acrobatic monkeymen
Stacked tall in swaying columns, then doing it again
But the clatter of tipped toys would lead to double trouble:
“I asked you just to sit there! Your mind is in a bubble,
Running off on fantasies instead of doing what you’re told.”
The voice had grown impatient; its tone was raised to scold
Mischief sadly returned to dangle from a very rigid hook
And the girl would sit obedient with a slightly wistful look
A secret smile that knew the truth of magical daydreams
That everything you see isn’t always what it seems.
Inspired by the Klarissa Kocsis painting SAD BOY
Waiting is torture to the very young
Who have all the time in the world to spare
Yet lack the patience that comes with age
And the peace of mind not to fret or care
For it is not their luxury to be in charge
Everything seems designed too big, too tall
It’s a giant’s world to the likes of a child
No room for the intricate details of the small
Those miniscule treasures, the innocent pleasures
Life loses intensity and may become a bit bland
The perfection of a moment absent weights and measures
As we stretch and develop from the time we first stand
Even fidgeting grows old with an eternity of practice
Sharp eyes have turned dull from a keen-edged gaze
The tantrums and sulks might only be a phase
Yet our freckled youth can get lost in the haze
A kid can turn moody, restless and unruly
Dragged here or there like an afterthought
Forced to bear witness to long conversations
And every single item of a list that Mummy bought
“Be good.” “Behave!” “Be quiet. “I’ll just be a few minutes.”
When a case of the Squirmies sets in, it’s no use
A kid is a kid, there’s no getting around it
So don’t flip your lid when there seems no excuse
For Tommy’s rambunctiously monstrous outburst
Or Sally’s ungodly demonic possession
When they’re forced to sit still and react at their worst
Do not scream and yell or demand a confession
Else soon you will join them in the silence of sulking
Faces frozen to fierce and permanent scowls
Raptly staring with the tempers of angry screech owls
Given on a full moon to shuddersome howls!
Inspired by the Klarissa Kocsis painting MASKS
There is much artifice in the masks we don
Like crimson marks to pretend bugs are deadly
Humans strap on an expression they don’t really feel
And disguise genuine sentiments rather infraredly
For we never know what another is thinking
Even upon the brightest of days
They could conceal opinions out of politeness
Or deceive us in so many ways
There are those who use flattery, a friendly smile
To gain our trust or win affection
Like a dance of posers holding faces on sticks
Polishing their acts to sterling perfection
For you can meet anyone at a masquerade ball
The jealous, the envious, the bitter and spiteful
The ambitious or greedy, the backstabbing or creepy
And then again, perhaps someone delightful
Do not be afraid to get swept away
But take care that your partner won’t step on your toes
And brace yourself when the mask comes off —
There may be an even bigger nose!
Women paint veneers to enhance their beauty
Like brushstrokes on canvas, a creative invention
Whereas clowns put on a more comical visage
To make people laugh, quite another intention
Wouldn’t it be interesting if the facades people wore
Should reflect their moods, what lurked inside?
For many years I disdained using make-up
Being a straightforward person with nothing to hide
I now adorn my face like putting on a hat
It’s a matter of image, though I am still not afraid
To be seen as I am without the embellishment
Despite the changes that Time has made
And yet I wonder about the aspects we apply
These public versions of a more truthful claim
What if the masks one day matched our features . . .
Whose faces would still look the same?
A Whatzit once wandered into a museum
And nobody knew what it was
It wasn’t even sure of the answer itself
There were stripes, lumps and mumps growing fuzz
It had ruffles and ridges and smidges and spires
Crumples and rumples and wrinkles and whatknots
The thing wasn’t a thing yet it wasn’t a nothing
What it was was a mystery covered with spots
The poor dearie appeared to belong to no species
And could not be classified, pigeonholed or labeled
Know-It-Alls scratched their heads in perplexity
And deemed further argument tabled
So they stowed it on a shelf in a dusty backroom
Confined to storage, mothballed and tagged
A big red question mark on the middle of its forehead
According to the experts the matter was bagged . . .
Whatzie languished obscure behind the scenes
Until a lowly curator needed some fluff
A little this and that, a bit of something or other
To fill an exhibit that did not have enough
Stray objects and nicknacks were dumped in a box
The Whatzit included among these doodads
Then arranged in the background of a large display
For Mesozoic swamplings, naiads, dryads and zoonads
Nobody noticed the out-of-place window dressings
And a peculiar sweet nothing finally made some friends
In the midst of a random miscellaneous assortment
The Whatzit felt at home with the odds and ends
There’s a moral in this story to never give up
When you’ve lost your element, taken a wrong turn
And find yourself in the middle of nowhere
Just head for a museum and pretend you’re a fern.
The Moon’s Smile
On meeting actress-singer-dancer BarBara Luna
The face is familiar due to a lifetime of views
On so many eventides and moons ago
Contours carved by the gods with care
Still luminous in Twilight’s glow
Mirroring the sun, rising like a balloon
The night sky her stage and screens
A black velvet curtain that drips with diamonds
The big valley of kings and queens
Her course has voyaged a trek of stars
Avidly charted by Lunatics
On a ship of fools across the heavens
Through a creek of fire to the outer limits
Where angels dance and spin new sparkles
That inspire the cosmos to create
Her visage is an icon transcending the dark
Enigmatic features, moods that alternate
Winking, turned away, an exotic enchantress
She is not as untouchable as many stars
Who consider gazers almost invaders
And float on a fantasy isle with invisible bars
Over the South Pacific, perhaps Hawaii
Trapped like a jungle cat pacing at the zoo
No, meeting her is not a mission impossible
For she comes down to earth like me or you
The Moon hides behind no mask like Zorro
She has swung with Tarzan from astral vines
And danced on the West Side with the Devil
While kicking her heels up in chorus lines
It is a myth she only comes out at night
And wears a lofty masculine face
In the daylight I met the August Moon
A goddess personified in humility and grace
Up close it is clear they had it all wrong
For the Moon isn’t made of ice or cheese
Luna’s heart seems as radiant as her smile
And moonbeams are among her legacies
Rain or shine, the Sun aims its spotlight on her
Along with the cow, the dish and the spoon
To a lady with the brightest, the widest of grins
Who beat the odds and was cast as the Moon.
On a twilight bleak and rather bleary
In a burg between neither here nor there
Was born to the world a hideous oaf
For whom none could give a single care
His mother ran screaming from the awful sight
Three lads named Frank propped against her door
The boys cobbled his body from a pile of spare parts
They had found on the undertaker’s floor
Next they wired him to a tractor’s motor
That they hooked up to a windmill’s volts
Being generated by a northern gale
The weather threw in a few lightning bolts
The woman returned to coax an ogre inside
Where he broke the furniture then gulped her food
A solitary soul, she invited him to stay
And treated him like her very own brood
The six children she kidnapped had long run off
Many years before the monster’s construction
Perhaps because she was fattening them
To feed to an appetite for destruction
She loved to maim and tear things down
To burn and slay what she could not stand
Which was anything nice like flowers and kittens
Little girls especially were in great demand —
“They’re too pretty and pink!” the mad spinster railed.
“I want you to crush them!” she bade Frankenschnickle.
But even a monster has limits to horridness
And this one balked, resulting in a pickle
If his heart was soft, she would have to replace it
No son of hers could possess a kind streak
So she plotted to snatch the heart of a scoundrel
The worst varmint a life of violence could wreak
In her favor, the prison became a bloodbath
When a riot erupted in the midst of its brutes
There were corpses galore of killers and maniacs
The witch sputtered with glee as if in cahoots
Instead, by mistake she stole a lamb’s ticker
A docile critter with no menace or harm
That was intended for the mortician’s plate
Purchased that morning from a local farm
“Now, my Schnicklefritz,” the madwoman crooned,
“You are a devilish imp and we’ll have us some fun.
My dear scalawag, you will do as I say . . .
Go and step on the girls! Do not miss a one!”
The crude Frankenschnickle, who had other designs,
Wasn’t evil to the core but a humble sheep
So he kissed the girls and made them cry
Afraid of his scars, a patchwork creep
This made him sad and he lumbered home
To tell his mean mother the tragic tale
She cursed and clubbed him for being meek
Then blamed herself in a high-pitched wail:
“I didn’t beat you enough, my Schnicklefritz!
You’ve had it too easy!” the woman vowed.
“From now on I shall chain and whip you daily!
No more Mister Nice Guy will be allowed!”
The creature let loose a resonating “Baaahhh!”
That expressed a depth of lamentous yen
Wrapping the witch in her own iron links
He departed to never be seen again.
Oh, the scads of termite notions that nibble my thoughts —
I am besieged and bewildered by the wretched wroughts.
In a hand-wringing flimsy and mimsy of cold spots,
The flesh tends to waver; the stomach twists to knots.
And what, you may ask, has inspired these qualms?
I would tell you could I read the sweatstains of my palms,
If hearts could revive aft the mortician embalms,
Or if storms would be followed instead by their calms.
Yet with perilous dread I should tiptoe away
Lest this terror increase to the height of dismay
And my lips turn to frozen, my skin ashen gray,
Brittle feet shedding bits of each step toward decay . . .
While shiverous syllables splinter off an ice tongue
To strike the ground tinkling as if chimes have been rung,
Or a line of dead pigeons toppling frigid, unsung,
Claws rigidly curled from the wire they had clung.
My muscles gone wooden, knees softer than soup,
All backbone has fled — a bandit humped in a stoop,
Pulse skipping, head tripping, as audacities droop;
I must find a safe corner in which to recoup
From the nameless terrors that can torture a mind
Huddled with oneself in the dark as though blind,
Nerves jangling, tension dangling, the shadows unkind,
While descended to a primal state once far far behind.
A compulsion it is, there’s no doubt about that!
There are fans of most anything whose hearts pitter-pat.
Sure, it might not seem healthy to be scared as a cat,
To go pale as a sheet and flutter like a bat . . .
A meltdown of stamina, my composure’s demise,
Apparent from the starkness betrayed in the eyes;
A pureness of panic, the shriek of surprise
That accompanies the reveal of a sinister guise.
Why oh why do I do this? I know better by now
Than when I was younger, too small to allow
A child to stay up watching the Late Shows but wow,
I read chillers by flashlight past bedtime anyhow —
And the mellow exhaustion that was left in its wake
Was well worth the shock of an adrenaline stake
Plunged through my heart for Horror’s sake.
Yeegads, I won’t sleep a blink until it’s daybreak!
A fog-laden midnight in a frightyard of bones
Like a horn’s deep bellow beyond a broken shore
The face of a weeping window on a precipitous day
The rainy batter of teardrops can make a heart soar
Glimpsing the world draped in black and white
Like a widow in a veil hunched before a bleak stone
Or uncovering a sculpture only halfway carved
A canvas abandoned on an easel alone
I know well the frustration of work pushed aside
Inspiration comes and goes, a tentative dance that I do
In a scrabble for genius amid the fleet swirl of demons
The muse of a shadow partner waltzing askew
It can flicker and fade like a taper’s dim glim
Tangos with the dark in ballrooms of lost hopes
Each day spent climbing from the last one’s wreckage
Minutes bleed through fingers that clutch at last ropes
With deathgrips and seizures, the nails fissured and frayed
Like straws toted by camels collapsed in the road
Tongues licking the dust as if for a drink
Too weary to bear such a burdenous load . . .
I have known the derides of spiritless tides
When inspiration recedes like a sea with no heart
That toys and trickles and skips just beyond
In cruel taunts and jigs, it can dangle then dart
Flinging droplets and froth, the foam of a thought
As I’ve stumbled in its wake on an oceanless shore
Abiding, dependent, at its mercy and whim
Anticipating and waiting for a little bit more
Unprepared for the suddenness a mood can change
And spill on my head in a thunderous gush
Of too many ideas for two hands to record
Drowned by inspiration’s mercurial rush
The crash of an epiphany cascading all at once
After hanging above like a curled arm and fist
The hand waggling digits in an ominous manner
Ere delivering the brunt of enlightened gist
I may dash with a squeal, wade barefoot through sand
In a slow-motion flight of giggly jubilation . . .
Or breathe a whiff of the salt draft that teases my brow
Pearled as if by divine perspiration.