We live in difficult, challenging times (and, boy, did it get that way fast). The unemployment rate is scoring as lay-off notices seem go out by the thousands every week. Foreclosures are forcing families into the streets. Raises – or good ones anyway – don’t seem to be in the cards for this year for those still working. Most communications people are in survival mode.
It’s times like these where it is important to dig deep. The best way to find the fortitude to move forward – and not to be overcome by the bad news and negativity – is to find inspiration. With the risk of sounding like a Hallmark greeting card, most of us find inspiration in family and friends – or even a mentor. But inspiration came be found everywhere – and sometimes in the most unlikely places. Here are three quirky places that I use to draw inspiration from when I’m feeling low.
I read a Dickens novel each year (this year “The Old Curiosity Shop” is on deck. Last year it was “Our Mutual Friend“). There are few novelists that have created such complete universes and packed them with such amazingly quirky, larger than life characters. Dickens was a classic Victorian novelist – and while he can be criticized for being overly sentimental at times – his social commentaries about the divides between wealth and poverty and good vs. evil strike a powerful chord. What better place to draw inspiration than from characters (like David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, John Rokesmith and Pip) who have struggled through so much yet end up in triumph because of their kind hearts, moral fortitude and plucky determination. It’s also a bonus to read about despicable villains like Uriah Heep, Bradley Headstone and James Steerforth getting their comeuppance.
(The best advice I ever got about reading Dickens comes from author Norrie Epstein: “Take a Zen approach: the destination doesn’t matter, it’s the journey that counts. Savior each word; don’t rush. And don’t try to think logically! You are entering a different universe, where people are the same and yet not the same. And remember that truth is not always literal.”)
The Last of the Mohicans
Not the 19th century novel by James Fenimore Cooper, but the 1992 movie directed by Michael Mann and starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. The movie is a throwback and (dare I admit this) a sappy romance. But in defenses of myself – it’s also visually stunning and packed with manly action.
But the scene that always gets me is when Day-Lewis (playing Hawkeye) and Stowe (Cora Monroe) get trapped in a cave under a waterfall as they are being pursued by a large war party of Mohawk Indians. When they are discovered, the war party closing in on them, Hawkeye realizes he needs to escape by jumping out of the cave and into the waterfall. But the jump is too dangerous for Cora. Hawkeye takes her in his arms and with a furious passion, he tells her that she must let herself be captured and submit to the Indians:
“You be strong, you survive,” he shouts over the roar of the waterfall. “You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!”
And then he runs and jumps into the cascading water. Gives me chills every time. How can you not be inspired by that passion? By his love for Cora and his determination to save her – no matter what.
The Grateful Dead
I was lucky enough to see the Dead last month in Worcester. It had been almost 20 years since I’d had the pleasure of going to a Dead show (an event in and of itself). I’ve always enjoyed the Dead’s music. Some of my favorites songs include: “China Cat Sunflower,” “I Know You Rider,” “Fire on the Mountain,” “Tennessee Jed” and “Althea.”
The Dead gets a bad rap in many quarters as a “druggie” band. It isn’t a fair label. The Dead’s music is an amazing blend of folk, bluegrass, rock, gospel, country, jazz and reggae. I find it difficult to listen to the Dead without letting my troubles go. The experience is freeing. The Dead’s music reminds me not to take myself so seriously – to lighten up.
That’s a important reminder in the instant age we live in. Deadlines loom. Business moves at lightning fast rate. We sometimes forget that there are real human beings at the other end of an email, a tweet or a IM. The Dead’s music slows things down for me. They remind me to relax, to take a deep breath, and to remember about the truly important things in life.
So what about you? Where do you draw inspiration from? What people, movies, books or music give you the extra kick you need?