Where stories for screenplays, ideas for books, or lyrics for songs come from is a mystery. Like asking a butterfly to land on your shoulder, creativity is not something that can be ordered like room service.
What the world calls genius–the original, unfiltered, simple yet awesome light that shines so undeniably in rare works–comes when it wants, not when you call it.
The best you can do is keep yourself open to it and grateful for it. Sources of inspiration, though, can be sought out and should be ever present. As creative people, we need the encouragement of exemplars who came before us to offer support during challenging times. If they did it, we can tell ourselves, I can do it. They made it, and so can I. They endured and prevailed, and I can do the same.
Many times, it is not only their work that we admire, but their life. Even if we don’t agree with everything they did or every choice they made, seeing the path they traveled makes it possible to draw parallels or even inspiration from them.
We recall eternal truths. Suffering is not a new thing. Perseverance is good thing. We are not alone. Others have gone before. And, in the end, it is the work that matters.
Oscar Wilde is one writer I admire. His Ballad of Reading Gaol is a favorite of mine. It has rhythm and power, tragedy and pain. I can’t remember if he wrote it before or after he did time in prison, but it resonates with authority nonetheless.
Wilde is equally noteworthy for how he lived his life. Flamboyant and outspoken, he ridiculed society and climbed the social ladder at the same time. His quotes and quips are legendary. His works stand the test of time. His conviction and imprisonment for gross indecency (having sex with men) in 1895 is a poignant reminder of how narrow-minded we used to be as a society…and perhaps how far we still have to go.
In our Instagram age, it might be easy to compare Wilde to a fame-seeking influencer: big on image, short on substance. Not so. Wilde was blisteringly intelligent. He learned to speak German and French as a child, won a scholarship to Trinity, another to Oxford, excelling in his academic pursuits at every stage. He lectured, wrote essays and a novel, as well as stage plays. He was, by any measure, very successful at a very young age.
As dazzling as his accomplishments were, his personal life was turbulent in equal measure. In no particular order, he married, had children, left his family, had affairs with men, went broke, went to prison, went into exile, and, at age 46, died much too young.
Still, he did his thing his way. He is remembered and admired for his individuality, even if he paid a steep price for it. He’s buried here in Paris, but I haven’t visited his grave yet.
I really should. He’s a source of inspiration, and not just to me.