The seed of inspiration is sometimes so tiny you can’t even see it. It settles into the loose soil of your mind and begins to grow, feeding off the attention you give it. For a long time it might remain almost hidden amongst the other mental flora, growing slow and steady, until one day it peeks up above everything else. It’s that day when the seed from weeks, months, or even years earlier becomes the center of your focus.
20 years of Planting
When I was in my early 20s I worked for an older couple in my small hometown who took a big trip almost every year to some far-flung place on the globe. They were childless, a rarity in my world, and they lived what I considered to be a very exotic life, throwing big parties a few times a year and pursuing unusual hobbies like sculpting and restoring antique carousel horses. They were like no people I’d ever known, and their impact on me was huge. My boss once told mer her favorite country in the world was Portugal, and I’ve remembered this fact for 20 years. It is no accident our final European destination on the Eurasian Adventure 2012 is Portugal, and I know I’ll be thinking of my mentor Ann as we arrive.
The people we are most drawn to have something to teach us.”
Later in my 20s, I did some work for a doctor and became friendly with his wife. They were from Tel Aviv, and Ada didn’t like staying in her house alone on the nights her husband worked at the hospital. She said it was too isolating and scary, so unlike the big city and shared apartment walls she was used to. Vast spaces made her nervous. Having grown up with only vast spaces, I found it fascinating that less space and more people would make her feel safer. How could we be so different!? Now that I’ve visited some of the biggest cities in the world, including Beijing with 20 million people, I understand exactly what she means.
Different realities cause us to see our own in a new light.”
When we stayed with our friend (also named) Betsy in Seattle after we sold our house, Warren helped her organize her basement. As they were going through boxes, she pulled out a notebook and tossed it to Warren, saying he might enjoy reading it. It was a transcribed copy of a great aunt’s journal from her voyage around South America in the early 1800s. We realized upon reading it that our upcoming journey was going to be easy in comparison, what with airplanes and Skype and the internet. It put what were about to do in context with travelers before us, and it made us realize we could do it. It also put the seed in our minds to travel by sea, and less than one year later we were crossing the Atlantic from south to north.
The past can put the present into perspective.”
At a month-long house sit in Brussels last year, we discovered the Conn Iggulden series about the line of Ghengis Khan. The books are absolutely riveting. His descriptions of the Mongol people, the tribal way of life, and the vast open plains under blue skies made us long to see it. We added it to our mental list of desired destinations, never dreaming we’d actually be going there just one year later. As I write this article, we are less than 24 hours from departure.
Books transport your mind to distant places and introduce new ideas, and sometimes you’ll want to experience both.”
Russia has always been fascinating to me, probably because during much of my early life it was off limits as our country’s foe in the Cold War. I devoured books by Dostoevsky and modern tales like Gorky Park. We watched movies like TransSiberian and The Bourne Identity. Then in Thailand earlier this year we became friends with Russ and Michelle, who both love to read as much as I do. They recommended the Edward Rutherford books, among them Russka. This book shed light on how the country first came to communism as well as how the different ethnicities in it got along (or didn’t, as was the case much of the time). The book got me as excited to see Russia as Diana Gabaldon’s books on Scotland did before our visit there. At the time we weren’t planning to go to Russia in particular, but as we began thinking of going north after Thailand, the seasons sort of lined up and it became a real possibility. We now have Russian visas in our passports and will arrive in just a few weeks.
The forbidden fruit is always most tempting.”
The tiniest seed of all, however, was the movie The Matrix. When it came out in 1999 it was revolutionary in terms of special effects (you may remember Neo dodging bullets in slow motion). You see that kind of thing all the time now, but back then it was cool stuff. But the movie struck me in a much larger way.
At the time I felt like I was living a life that wasn’t my own, abiding by rules I didn’t want to follow, and heading for a destination that wasn’t appealing. The movie made me imagine finding my own Morpheus, breaking free of the confines of a life that didn’t fit, and challenging the Matrix that controlled my life. It excited me like no other movie, and I became a little bit obsessive about it. I’ve watched that movie so many times I could quote it verbatim. (You may have read my recent post on flying your freak flag; this is mine.)
A seed of inspiration is still just a tiny seed, though, and it needs attention to grow. As time wore on and I began making jokes about living in “the construct” and privately calling my overlord at work Agent Smith, the seed began to take root. Why couldn’t I question the world I was living in? Who did my conformity serve (because it certainly wasn’t serving me)?
It was just over a year later I decided to find out what was available in the real world, moving 1500 miles away to start over, questioning everything and making just as many mistakes as I did improvements. It was terrifying, but the seed was strong and it kept me going – all the way to now, living the life of my dreams with Warren.
Nurturing Your Inspiration
There is no way to know what kinds of things will inspire you or where you will find them:
The only thing you can do is nurture them as they grow, remaining open to the opportunities and experiences that come to light as you move through your life.
As my friend Melissa Wadsworth says, “What you notice matters.” It may feel silly to admit what inspires you when the seed is small – quotes or movies or even billboard signs – but examining why something sticks with you is the key to figuring out what you want most in life.
After that, it’s simply a matter of harvesting what you’ve grown.