I often feel the fervent need – a compulsion, perhaps – to pour out several hundred words and then abandon them, convincing myself that stepping away from the draft for a few days will lead to greater clarity. Days turn to months, and I currently have 27 draft posts sitting in digital purgatory, gathering pixelated dust from as far back as July 2012.
In hopes of revitalizing my perspective on the brain fart known as Kunjulam, I’m giving some of those musings a second chance. Here’s a piece I began working on Sept. 17, 2012.
The word “inspire” is losing its meaning, and there are two major entities that we can credit this problem to:
1. The superstore home goods industry
Before there was “keep calm and carry on,” there was “live, laugh, love” and “dream, imagine, inspire, create” and its derivatives. Plastering any of these on your wall, writing them in the “about” section of your social profile, or, worst, getting them tattooed on your wrist is the equivalent of wearing a sign around your neck proclaiming that you lack the ability to form your own opinions about what is “cool.” I said it. Refined taste may be something you lack.
If you dream, truly dream, whittling away hours in a land of possibility and myriad outcomes; if you create, building something of your own, fostering a ripple effect of brainstorming amongst your inner circle – then perhaps you do inspire. And you don’t need trite, manufactured sayings to remind you of your ability to do so.
Rather, you find true models in those who became architects of their own dreams, regardless of how you encountered them. Those who did so with calloused hands, wrung-out paychecks and seemingly endless founts of motivation. We often refer to these perpetually bleary-eyed people as “hustlers” and, believe it or not, not all of them exist on the internet.
So if you want the dorm furniture set from Ethan Allen and the decor from Pottery Barn, original stickers and how dare I suggest you peruse the local consignment store for like-new items, gosh, other people use those things and who knows how dirty they are? Pin to your “cute quotes” and “I wish I was crafty” boards on Pinterest … It’s “I wish I were crafty,” idiot. Reading “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “Eat, Pray, Love” wondering why you can’t just pick up and travel to Greece or something, and wouldn’t it be great to just fall in love? Aren’t cake pops just the neatest little things? Zumba? Bows?
This is your fault. And, I might add, this blog is not for you.
Take a quick look at the about pages of individuals who maintain visual arts-oriented blogs with only images and no insight, interior designers who offer Pinterest Pick Sundays or something similar, and “personal style gurus” who need to tell the world about their recent outing to a trendy little coffee shop, where they decided to wear these “studded wedges TO DIE FOR, just because” – go on, I’ll wait. Nine out of 10 say something along the lines of, “I created [this blog] as a way to document the things I love and inspire others through my [keen eye for design/unique sense of style/love for all things chevron and monogrammed [shoot me!]/stuff that you like if you’re into J.Crew bubble necklaces and red velvet everything … ”
Describing oneself or ones brand as inspirational just doesn’t make sense most of the time, because so many curators (really, that’s what they are) are merely sharing, as opposed to offering reflection on the article’s value. Doing so encourages others to take action and develop their own association to the work. It enables discourse.
Show me history, tell me a story, make me uncomfortable. Act. Make me react.
We must, we must, we must assess and process. It’s as simple as replacing the auto-imported caption on something you’re about to pin with a hashtag or statement of your own. Admittedly, I don’t do this all the time. But the more I consume on the internet, read, retweet, share, bookmark and rip out to stuff in my datebook and tape to the wall when I get home, the more I realize that I must.
Let’s examine Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word inspire:
to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration
b : to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on inspired by the Romanticists>
d : affect
inspired him with nostalgia>
a archaic : to breathe or blow into or upon
b archaic : to infuse (as life) by breathing
a : to communicate to an agent supernaturally
b : to draw forth or bring out inspired by a visit to the cathedral>
: to spread (rumor) by indirect means or through the agency of another
Lately, I’ve been pondering the notion of experts and authorities in the mediated world (mediated as in influenced by the media). Finding truly amazing sources of information is a daily effort: I’m on the NPR diet, several servings of news and culture a day keep the ignorance at bay. I slash tired blog URLs from my bookmarks list every couple weeks and add new resources as I find them. I scan the nearly 2,000 people and organizations I follow on Twitter every few hours. A good deal of the content overlaps, and I certainly have my favorite providers, but it is interesting to see how each one spins the same story.
Remember that scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” where Meryl Streep’s character rips Anne Hathaway’s a new one for making a flippant remark about two shades of blue looking basically the same? She drops some knowledge, telling her:
Andy Sachs: No. No, no. Nothing’s … You know, it’s just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. You know, I’m still learning about all this stuff and, uh …
Miranda Priestly: ‘This … stuff’? Oh. OK. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select … I don’t know … that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent … wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.
It’s … that’s it. I want someone to slap me in the face with lessons like that every day. For young creative professionals, what we read, watch, see and discuss is as important as what we do. It’s imperative that we constantly explore information in live, print, digital and social sharing formats. And if you’re like me in that you’re still not entirely sure what you want to make a career of, you will serve yourself well to keep your list of sources wide open.
It is wonderful that online forums provide a totally democratic platform upon which everyone can disseminate their ideas and discuss those of others. But so many eager voices turn the whole conversation to white noise. To some degree, I think we need authority figures in the media. We need impassioned individuals to remind us of why we should care and to send us straight to the source. Why should I read five bloggers’ opinions when I could just play the damn album and decide if it reaches my own standard of classic? Conversely, why should I write about it after the fact? What can I say that hasn’t already been said?
The bottom line is, you can’t let someone else tell you what you should be inspired by. You can’t pick up a mass-produced poster, like you would pick up a carton of eggs, and say, “This really defines who I am.” You can’t follow someone else’s do-it-yourself instructions to a T and then pat yourself on the back for being creative.
Yes, you need fantastic examples to give you something to aspire to. But you must also have a vision of what you want for yourself.
(image via Society6)