Why do ideas, so brilliant when they first inspire us, appear deadly dull when we return to them?
Ideas of things to do are like fireworks when they first come to mind. As each one appears, I can hardly wait to pursue it. I quickly jot it down, looking forward to taking it up when I have more time. Trouble is, when I again pick it the idea, its brilliance has faded. What had embodied delight has become a drudgery, a tedious task, no longer a wondrous possibility I am eager to explore.
What happened? Why does the spark die?
This morning, once again, I put TLU on my list — Things Left Undone. Once again I felt inspired to pick up this decades-old book project, to write a book about things done and left undone, about the birth of ideas and their pursuit. Now, in the afternoon, I look at my TO DO list and do not find a string of firecrackers going off. My formerly bright ideas have fizzled. They no longer go BANG!!!
That said, here I am (after a nap) pursuing my book project, doing something I have never done before: wondering how it is that an idea, when first conceived, can fill me with energy and the eagerness to pursue it, only to sit inert before me when I look at it later.
Some of this might go to what I call the price of incarnation. It is as though ideas were from a separate world and do not take root and grow in this world easily, not without a struggle. But I know, too, that this is not always true, though many say that steely-eyed determination, hard work, and discipline are the only way to get anything done. Me, I want the enthusiasm to carry me, to do the work for me, so to speak. Am I a fool?
How is it that ideas lose their motivating power once I return to them? Perhaps they are tricksters. When they appear, I seem to be full of enthusiasm, but perhaps it is false enthusiasm, if inspirations can be categorized as true and false.
I don’t think so. The enthusiasm I feel is real enough, true enough, but it is not sustained. It is does not persist. What I want is to go back to an idea and once again find myself enthused. I have long lists of ideas I was eager to pursue at one time or another but, returning to the list, I no longer feel energized. The excitement, the fireworks, are no longer there.
Inspirations often come in droves just after I wake up in the morning. Perhaps the energy, the excitement, the fireworks are more part of my general well being at the day’s start. Perhaps I should get more rest and exercise, or prolong the waking hour, or drink more coffee, or take to other stimulants if I want to find enthusiasm in ideas, in lists of things to do. Others have chosen that path. Too bad I am allergic to caffeine!
Maybe enthusiasm cannot be found in the ideas themselves, though that is where I have been looking. When they first come to mind, that is when I experience enthusiasm. The one follows the other: idea in mind, energy in body and soul. Very pleasant! And so I write down the idea, not wanting to lose it, wanting to somehow hold onto the enthusiasm that went with the idea.
Am I getting close to the center here? If so, it is not so much that ideas fool me or that the enthusiasms I feel are false or shallow or short-lived as it is that what I want is not the incarnation of the idea as it is that I want the experience of enthusiasm. I tell myself that I want to write a book about Things Left Undone but what I really want is the pleasure of pursuit and inspiration, which the idea cannot sustain except in brief moments. Is that how it is?
If this is true, what I enjoy is the fireworks display of ideas, the pleasant contemplation of so many wonderful projects I can pursue. If this sad understanding is true, I have little loyalty to the ideas themselves. I don’t really want to see the ideas become reality. What I want is to fantasize, to dream, without holding myself responsible, without doing the work incarnation demands. A humbling thought indeed!
But wait! There is another room to explore here. What was it? We passed it just a minute ago. Here it is . . . .
Ideas worth pursuing give us the energy to pursue them.
NEXT: I will explore that room.
Photos of a fireworks show at Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware, copyright 2010 by Danny N. Schweers.