Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Inspiration Project

Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

It all started with a visit from a man who lives in our neighborhood and who, when it is warm, walks his dog, a beautiful collie, by our house.  Normally, when he used to come by I would be sitting in the front yard, reading, with my dog, Flick, a large Brittany spaniel.  From across the street, on the sidewalk, he would yell to me, “Get that inferior mutt away! It is interfering with the glory that is my dog!”  Every time when he came by he hurled funny insults on my dog from across the street.  One afternoon I was sitting alone in yard, not reading, just thinking, and he called to me, “Where is your mutt?” I told him that Flick had died and he stood on the corner and cried. He said, “Oh my God, Tom. You lost your best friend, didn’t you?” I teared up. “Yes, Clare, I did.”

When we got Lexi, a pure American Bulldog who was on her way to a shelter, our neighbor came by and walked up to where I was sitting in the yard, yet again reading, with her on my lap.  His dog and ours started playing. He said, “So I see you got yourself another alley mutt…although, I guess she really is a very pretty dog.”  I said, “She is very affectionate to everyone and likes all people until the girls get home and then that is who she wants to be with. Flick was my dog but she is everyone’s dog; mostly Karen’s and Meredith’s.  She sleeps with Meredith every night.”  

As we sat and talked, watched the dogs run around, he asked, “You know my daughter, Katie, right?” I said that I did. I have known Katie since she was a little girl. He said, “Well, she just got out of college and is looking for an internship.  She wants to do event planning and I know you were in Marketing for a long time, so I thought you might be able to help her to find an internship.”  I nodded and said,. “Have her come by sometime and bring me her resume.  I’ll see what I can do.”

A few days later Katie came by the garage studio. She said, “Mr. Sharpe, I sent you my resume but I’m not sure you got it.” I said, “Katie, I don’t check my e-mails as much as I should.” I went on my computer and found it. “OK, here it is. Let me print it off and I’ll go through it. By the way, don’t call me Mr. Sharpe anymore. You’re old enough now. My name is Tom. Make yourself at home out here.”

I went into the house to get the paper off the printer and when I came back out into the garage I found Katie walking around, looking intently at all memorabilia, Pez dispensers, clocks, and pictures I keep in my studio. Katie is a very complex, interesting, and nice girl. Her whole life she has had to struggle with physical, cognitive and speech problems.  She was in the hospital a lot when she was younger. Despite that she was never stopped from doing what she wanted to do as she grew up.  While Katie was  exploring things, I sat at my bench, read, and edited her resume. It was quite fine, just needed a little work.

At one point she stopped and asked, “Tom, what made you do this?’ In return, I asked, “What do you mean, Katie?”  She said, “I want to know what inspired you to build this. I want to know what inspires you to do your art and what inspires you to do your writing…Dad says you’re a good writer.” I thought for a moment and then I said, “I don’t have an answer to that right now, Katie. I don’t know that I really understand what drives me or why I do what I do. I love it but I have never questioned it.”  She shrugged her shoulders. “OK. What do you think of my resume?” 

\I gave her my edits, advised on some reformatting, and we went  through it so she would understand why I suggested the changes I did. When she was leaving she again said, “Tom, I want to know what inspires you. Next time I see you I want an answer.” She gave me a hug and walked away towards her house.

Katie’s question preyed on mind for a long time. On a long winter’s night, after I saw her walking the dog down the street n the afternoon, I thought, “I really do need to get on top of this. Katie deserves an answer.” I didn’t have a clue, so what I did, being a marketing research kind of guy, is to put that simple question, “What inspires you?” out on social media and then I started randomly talking to people about it. The responses I have received thus far are amazing.  Here are some of them.

My friend from school, Venus, said, “When I was younger the only inspiration I had was survival. It smothered me in so many ways. Having "survived" the world inspires me through nature and creativity. My kids inspire me to be a better person at all times, not just when people are looking.

Another dear friend, Bridget, said, “Anyone who overcomes adversity to accomplish a dream, goal, etc. Those who “believe” despite naysayers, odds, etc. They all inspire and affirm my belief that the greatest power in all of us lies within...

A guy I have known since I was 8 years old and who works in body shop, Todd, told me about his passion for rebuilding classic cars. “It's one of the only hobbies where you can do some of the work, drive it around, and show it off. It seems to go a long way with me, and keeps me somewhat motivated.

My geometry teacher in high school, David, who is now a successful playwright, responded, “Much of my inspiration comes my personal search to discover  how to maintain my individuality and survive in a society that demands conformity, and what happens when that conformity isn't possible. This may be summarized in one word; Emerson.”

Matt, a kid of exceptional talent, who lives in New Hampshire, writes and plays music, and also makes his own guitars, had this to say, “Yeah man. I think I owe a lot of inspiration to Terry Kath [Chicago front man] of course, but otherwise, I think it's this constant drive to just write a better song than the last.

Melissa Marie, who is a very compassionate counselor and social worker, wrote me a very long answer but her opening line is what I like best. “My first thought is humans. People inspire me. I don’t think I could do the work that I do without holding this tenant.”

Coralie, the breeder and shower of dogs, gave me this. “A beagle in a flat out run, voice sounding off, tail up enjoying the outdoors, sunshine or snow, never matters. Then they come back to you so tired they can barely walk...you pick them up and they lick your face half off, happy that you love them, grateful as you carry them back to the car to go home.

During this experiment I heard from so many people from all walks of life that were willing to answer my question. I just wish I had room to share them all in their entirety.  Stories of love, faith, overcoming adversity, passion that drives their inspiration. All of them are inspiring in their own right.  I think I’m going to have to build a website soon.

I think one of the best things I heard during my project was from the Indian man who runs the convenient store by my house. Ivor said to me, “If I am not inspired by everything than what else?...Only despair.”

Katie got her internship last summer and did very well. She stopped by the house the other day to have me look at her resume again and to ask me for a referral. It’s something I was happy to do. After we were done editing her resume again, I said, “I have an answer to your question from before…the one about inspiration, Katie.” She smiled and said, “Tell me, Tom.” This is my answer.

“I firmly believe that God gave me a gift to write and to do art and I should not squander that gift.  What inspires me is my memory of where I came from and the experiences that made me who I am. I also am inspired by my imagination of what the future might look like. What mostly inspires me is watching and listening to the world around me, here and now. There are a lot of people with a lot of interesting stories and I like being a conduit to share them in some way or form…especially if those people can’t do it themselves.  I can’t  live without writing because it would be like losing a lung to me.”  

Katie picked up her folder and put on her jacket. “I like that answer, Tom.” I opened the garage door. She gave me quick hug and walked down the driveway.  Over her shoulder she said, “Tom, your clocks are all dead. Time to put in new batteries and reset them. It is spring now…We move ahead.”

Inspiration.   Stay tuned.