by Ron Hayes
It’s that time again. Hard to believe but, as they inevitably must, our days get shorter, nights get darker, the snows return, and we find ourselves contemplative at the close of another year. Time to take stock: How did we do? WHAT did we do? What can we do better?
While it would be easy for me to dash off a quick and dirty overview of all I’ve done and written, I want to change gears a little bit. See, I’m a little stuck right now where my writing’s concerned. I find myself hovering over my works in progress, hesitant, wondering where I want to go and, in some cases, stymied as to how I want to get to the places I do know where I want to get to. Which makes this post welcome in its timeliness. Let’s talk inspiration.
As years go, 2015 provided me with inspiration from a variety of avenues. Early in the year, I was fortunate to draw inspiration from our own Jennie Jarvis, whose challenge I accepted and who’s smart, incisive advice resulted in some unexpected, but very welcome, results. I was inspired to read more, focus my schedule, and buckle down–all of which I accomplished this year to some extent. Of course, I fell short of attaining all of the goals I set as a result of Jennie’s challenge, but, in being inspired to strive higher and better, I ended up having a great 2015, highlighted by the appearance of “A Soft And Fading White” in Nivalis 2015 – my first fiction publication.
As success begets success, inspiration begets inspiration. The success of “A Soft and Fading White” inspired me to reimagine the story as more than just a stand-alone; I now have an entire novella fleshed out and nearly finished – because of the success of one story, and all due to the inspiration I derived from a fellow writer’s challenge.
While most of this success unfolded over the first quarter of 2015, events through the second quarter slowed things down quite a bit. Late May and early June brought the end of my younger son’s lacrosse and high school careers respectively (two things that I firmly believe affected me more than they affected him!), and my wife and I found ourselves attending banquets and baccalaureates and graduation and grad parties. Naturally, the mixed emotions associated with championship games and commencement and college visits and summer led to a smattering of poem shells (what I call my unfinished poetry), but all in all, production fell. The gloss of Jennie’s challenge wasn’t shimmering as brightly in June and July as it had been in January. Still, I was able to find inspiration in what was happening. The Boy was leaving for college. Our Elder Son was on his own. We were impending Empty Nesters! Plenty of inspiration there. More poem shells. Novella progress. Summer. Life was good.
Then this happened.
Followed soon after by this:
In a span of barely two weeks, not one but three of my students were killed, each the victim of senseless gun violence. One of them was, there’s no other way to say it, executed with a shot to the head at point blank range. None had made it past his eighteenth birthday. Such a waste.
Truth be told, I can’t say I was close to all of them. There are, and have been, students to whom I’ve been closer. But each one of the three boys killed was a part of my life. I taught each one at some point over the past three years. Their deaths affected me. They still do.
Once again, emotion led to contemplation which led to thinking which led to poems. Uneasy poems. Disquieting work. I almost stopped. I mean, is it right for me to draw inspiration from things such as this? As writers, our stock in trade is our work, and our words are the “capital” on which we profit. Wouldn’t this mean I’m “capitalizing” on my students’ deaths? A big part of me feels it was wrong to mine my emotions for material at a time like that. A smaller part feels like deriving inspiration from such experiences goes far enough beyond the periphery of schadenfreude to border on sinful. Almost six months later, I’m still wrangling with this dilemma.
The last half of 2015 is nearly done. We’re twelve or thirteen weeks into a new school year and as my focus turns from my work to my students, I’ve come to a decision: this uncommon year of disquieting inspiration – ethical dilemmas notwithstanding – offers my heart a realization and my pragmatic brain an opportunity. Inspiration is a gift. Each one of my students, baggage and all, is a gift. And until I resolve the dilemma of how my inspiration can, does, and should inform my work, there’s nothing that says the work I generate from the inspiration of my students’ lives has to see the light of day outside my workspace. An old professor of mine once confessed that he has a drawerful of work that the executor of his estate has been instructed to burn upon his death. That work is just for him and he’s reconciled that need in his head. He’s okay with it. Why shouldn’t we all have that kind of drawer? The point is to write.
In short, inspiration can be hard to come by. We need to exploit that inspiration when it strikes regardless of where it comes from. My 2015 taught me that. I can’t wait to see where the inspiration of 2016 comes from. I just hope it’s a little less disquieting than 2015 has been. Happy Holidays and happy writing to you all! And thanks for hanging with 5Writers for yet another year.