Bottled Inspiration by Trevor Plumbly
There are only two options available when your brain isn’t producing anything worth writing about: you can, either (A) flag it and do something else, or, (B) seek inspiration. Being a stubborn sort, I decided that (B) was the way to go. But deciding to seek it and actually finding it caused a problem. Inspiration, I discovered, is bloody elusive. All sorts of important people credit inspiration for paving the way to their fame and fortune. But there’s the rub, they only do this after the event, publicly spouting “I owe it all to……. who/which inspired me throughout”. Great, but how did they find it? It’s obviously pretty potent stuff, essential to anyone who wants to leave their mark or make a few bob.
Throughout history, multitudes of luminaries, indebted to inspiration, have been pretty tight-lipped about its whereabouts; finding the source would ensure a literary future.
The first priority was to ignore the ancients because what would Plato know about writer’s block in Ponsonby? What I wanted was to find a common thread among latter-day notables and the easiest way to do this was to take the reason for their fame and work backwards. I decided I needed to establish categories. Now, all sorts of people get inspired by all sorts of things, some of them quite unhealthy and therefore unlikely to provide a palatable source of inspiration. So I would stick to the basics such as religion, love, fame, power, wealth and booze.
Religion is a bit tricky at the best of times. Whilst most of the people acting on its behalf seem calm and rational; others get a bit rabid about the true path. So it’s a question of finding someone who’s inspired by God, but not to the extent of topping everybody that doesn’t share their version of who or what’s up there. I diligently researched and rejected dozens of candidates, until bingo…..Cliff Richard! Now of course Sir Cliff, who was the boy wonder of the 1950′s (deservedly so in this writer’s opinion), is still rocking, albeit to a gentler, more biblical beat, still causing a stir in the loins of the ladies that senile decay hasn’t grabbed. Over 50 years, surrounded by sex, drugs and screaming bimbos, not a stain appears. Still the boy next door (if English mansions have a next door), treading past the fallen such as Hendrix and Joplin, with angelic ease, a true product of inspiration and a source of it to others. But not to me. I’m still staring at a blank screen, feeling, somewhat spitefully, that if Cliff’s inspiration was so all-powerful, I wouldn’t have got writer’s block in the first place. Apologies to the believers and the great one up above, but this one seems beyond his reach.
No doubt love can be a source of inspiration. History is cluttered with star-crossed lovers proving the point by dying at the hand of a rival or doing the job themselves. In bygone days it seems you could actually overdose on the stuff. The script today is pretty similar except for the ending; these days nobody famous dies for lost love, they just go out and get somebody else to praise for being their greatest influence. Inspirational truelove died some time ago, along with the $5.00 bodice ripper and the birth of women’s liberation. I concluded that inspiration cannot possibly flourish in equality! It springs from thwarted love, poverty and dashed dreams. Today’s swains place podcasts over poetry, their brains are so stuffed with the demands of technology, there’s no room left for the heady stuff of Heathcliff and Catherine. It’s all been watered down to the level of “I love your shoes” or “I love your house”. Shoes and houses for God’s sake! Hardly the depth of emotion that would have moved Tennyson’s pen. Sob-provoking, suicidal romance slipped out the back door years ago and took inspirational love with it. Rather than relying on today’s electronic alternative, I think I’ll go back to a blank screen.
Fame, fortune and power all go together. Powerful people are famous, generally worth a few bob, and interestingly enough, quite a few of them lack height, Napoleon, Hitler and Churchill for instance. The motivation is fairly obvious: everybody likes to be looked up to, and a bit of limelight and a fat wallet can add serious inches. Look at Napoleon, certainly not Basketball League material, but in historical terms, a Colossus! But even Colossi (is that a word?) can be vulnerable. He was inspired to invade Russia and look where that got him. Back to his normal height on Elba. Coincidentally Hitler tried that too, perhaps there’s a huge deposit of inspiration in the Soviet Union that everyone wants to get their hands on. Anyway, it’s a clear indication that inspiration can be a double-edged sword when it comes to fame and fortune. I prefer my swords single-edged, so it’s time to move on. Dictators don’t seem to be working for me.
Many great writers owe it all to booze. You’d be hard pushed to find many of the Irish literati who didn’t enjoy more than the odd pint of Guinness. Over the water, Burns and Scott scribbled acres of unpronounceable phrases through a haze of single malt and further south, gin and tonic no doubt spiked the creative juices of P.G. Wodehouse and company. Thus far, research has not turned up any literary figures fired up by white wine. I don’t doubt they’re out there, possibly hiding behind unpublished romantic fiction. Ireland, I decided, was the place to start. Taking hearty swigs from my first Guinness, I waited for the first tingle of inspiration. When it didn’t arrive, I drained the glass and opened the second can, fully expecting a flood of alcohol-inspired prose. After the third can, the old brain began to loosen up a bit. Creativity, or lack of it, had become less of a problem and more like a friend that I hadn’t seen for a while. By the end of the fourth can, I couldn’t have spelt inspiration, let alone made any use of it. Somewhat reluctantly, I switched off the screen, realising that the Irish answer to the problem involved too much time and liquid intake. If I wanted to crack this block I wasn’t going to do it traipsing in and out of the toilet.
The following night, I booted up the same blank screen and toyed with the cap of a bottle of single malt. This time I decided to unwind first rather than sit, fingers hovering over the keys, waiting for enlightenment to arrive. After all, good whisky should be savoured rather than just swallowed. I carefully arranged the bottle, the tumbler and the small jug of water close to the working area and cuddling a half-filled tumbler I sat back, ignoring the blank screen, clearing my mind to allow room for the anticipated flood of inspiration. After yet another period of inactivity, I decided that perhaps adding water might be diluting the potency of the stuff; maybe Burns and co. drank it neat. Undaunted, I explored that theory for half an hour or so, I think. Time tends to blend into the background when you’re chasing a Scottish muse. Just when it looked as if the keyboard would spend yet another night untouched, I wondered if Robbie and co. liked more than a “wee dram”, maybe they drank the stuff wholesale. Testing this theory I poured what the Americans call ‘four fingers’. After a couple of those, I’m pretty sure some sort of inspiration did visit but left before I could transfer it to the keyboard or commit it to memory. Finally, exhausted by hours of fruitless research, I slept. I woke in front of the usual blank screen with the Black Watch Pipe Band playing inside my head. Clearly, pursuing inspiration from ‘Bonnie Scotland’ constitutes a health risk. I will not review any of the Gaelic research.
English literature is a bit barren if you’re looking for someone with a bit of fizz in their bloodstream. I doubt Charles Dickens was ever seen at the local having a few beers with the lads. He lived a turgid, frugal life and as a result wrote turgid books about frugality, a sort of literary version of ‘you are what you eat’. Not much in the way of inspiration there. Time to move on.
P.G. Wodehouse had all the attributes I was looking for. A witty, clever man, writing nonsense about nonsense for over seventy years, toiling at the typewriter whilst half the world was trying to kill the other half. Much of his later works were written in New York and I suppose if you’re going to ridicule a country like England it makes sense to do it from a distance. In order to seduce the Wodehouse muse I prepared a gin and tonic (surely he was a G&T man), and lightly thumbed through some of his works. I found them surprisingly uninspiring and idly wondered if absorbing the never-ending exploits of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster could be co-related to the plimsoll line on the gin bottle. The endless antics at Blandings Castle drained me; there simply wasn’t enough gin in the world to breathe any new life into that lot. The ice melted, the lemon browned as if in disapproval of another blank screen. I toyed with the thought that the computer might have an anti-inspirational programme in it, or that my research wasn’t thorough, but the booze bill belied that theory.
So I am left with the conclusion that literary inspiration can’t be shopped for at will, it visits as and when it chooses. If it chooses me….I’ll write to you.