>> Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This happens to be my 100th post on this blog. So, I wanted to write something worthwhile. Part of me just wanted to write something goofy like this: “If I were to go head-to-head with Jesus Christ in a triathlon, I would TOTALLY beat him. He’d be DQ’d for walking on water.” But I decided to post these thoughts on inspiration that I’ve had floating around in my noggin for a while.

(Note: This post appears on both of my blogs. For those of you reading from my Triathlon Blog, you need to know that I am a photographer and a college professor by day. For those of you reading from my Photo Blog, you need to know that I’m a triathlete, and that I’m training for an Ironman Triathlon in September [under 3 weeks - yikes!]. There are pieces of both artistic and physical ideas in here, and I thought it’d be best to have it on both blogs. The following are a few issues that have been floating around in my head for years.)

Chuck Close, the famous American painter, recently said the following during an interview with Charlie Rose: “Some people wait around to be inspired. The rest of us just get to work.”

What inspires people to lose weight? To start eating right? To share their vision through photography, painting, sculpture, etc.? To go back to school and continue their education? To run a marathon? To compete in a triathlon? Are they external forces? Or are they all internal influences?

Why is it that on my way to making photographs, I need to listen to certain music? What is it about Dave Alvin, Johnny Cash, and a few no-name folk bands that place me in the right mindset to make my photos? It’s music and photography: a purely audio medium and a purely visual medium (before you even bring it up, I know we could argue the truth of this statement all day). What happens in my head when I connect certain music with my photography? What causes this link to occur that makes me crave a certain kind of music before feeling ready to make photos?

The problem is not that I’m not making enough photographs, it’s that I’m not inspiring myself in the correct way that will make me WANT to make photographs.

Maybe inspiration comes from carrying an emotion, a feeling, a thought, or an idea in your subconscious and needing to expel it. It’s our way of dealing with being bombarded internally for too long. It could be that inspiration comes out of us as a way of dealing with some internal conflict, as a way of venting.

I watched a random video on a friend’s blog on July 17th of last year. I didn’t know what it was about. The only text that accompanied it was “Puts things right in perspective, no?” I didn’t know what to expect, and my curiosity got the best of me. So I clicked the play button. It turns out it was a 4 minute video about Team Hoyt, who are a father/son team who do Ironman Triathlons, marathons, and all other kinds of races and events - they have nearly completed 1000 races together. The son had complications during his birth, and was without oxygen for quite some time. Because of this, he can’t walk or talk. For the Ironman Triathlons, the father pulls his son in a raft for the 2.4 mile swim, sets him on a seat at the front of his bike for the 112 mile bike, and pushes him in a wheelchair for the 26 mile run. They do all of this to try to integrate the physically challenged into everyday life by making people more aware of the issues that the disabled face everyday. It moved me to tears the first time (quite a ways past tears, actually). I watched that video 5 times in the first few days after discovering it. It was inspiring all times except for the third time. The first, second, fourth, and fifth times, I cried my eyes out. I’m talking about bawling. Salty rivers running down my check. Puddles-on-the-floor weeping. Those times it really moved me. But why not the third time? What made that time different for me? Now, I’m not saying that crying equals inspiration, but it has moved me many times. Was I so moved because the first time I watched it I had just completed my first official Olympic Distance Triathlon 2 days before? That was probably part of it. Definitely part of it.

That video not only inspired me to want to compete in an Ironman Triathlon, but it also inspired me to be a better person. It made me want to get off the couch, turn off “Big Brother 8,” and go make some photos. Or go update my resume. Or go out for a long bike ride. Or take a French cooking class. That video stirred me on almost all levels.

In case you’re curious, here’s the video (the original has been removed, but this one is quite similar). If this doesn’t do something to you, you must be dead:

Here’s a big issue inside my head right now: Does one need to be open for inspiration in order for it to strike? Do we sometimes live our lives closed to possible inspiration without being aware of it?

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I wish I could remember the exact moments: the moment that I knew I wanted to go to school for photography; the moment that I knew I wanted to marry Sarah; the moment that I knew I wanted to go back to school to get my Masters in photography; the moment that I made the crazy decision to sign up for Ironman WI. I wish I could remember what was going through my mind. I wish I could go back and feel the state of my body and soul when I had those revelations. Maybe that would give some insight into this little rant. The problem is, these thoughts and inspirations don’t hit me like a bolt of lightning. They slowly sneak up on me, hanging around until the time is right, much like a 45-year-old internet predator on MySpace. Inspiration doesn’t strike me instantly like a ton of bricks. Something may inspire me, and that seems to set off a chain reaction that may last a few days or a few months. After that, the inspiration has sunk in, and voilĂ , I have been inspired. I suppose you could say the manner in which I become inspired is a little uninspiring. Great...another hurdle...

When I see an exhibition of great photographs, I’m inspired to go out and make photos. But each time, I’m inspired to go make photos close to the same style of the photos that have just inspired me. After seeing the Diane Arbus show at the Walker, I wanted to go make photos of "freaks" and transvestites. While viewing an installation at the International Center of Photography in New York, I wanted to be a mixed media artist. While cheering on Sarah at all of her marathons, I’ve been inspired to train for a marathon (although I haven’t). Watching Sarah and all of her new blog friends compete in Ironman WI last year absolutely moved me to want to train for Ironman WI 2007. It always seems to go hand in hand: I see it, I’m inspired by it, and I want to do it myself. Is this a normal form of inspiration, simply wanting to copy something else? Is inspiration in league with imitation? Is there really that much difference between the two?

So why is it the Team Hoyt video inspires me on many levels? That video has (obviously) helped inspire me to train for my first IM triathlon (I’ve turned to this video a few times in the past months when I’ve wanted to quit training). But it’s more than that to me because of the father/son bond that is in the forefront of their story as well. And that idea that they are doing something for "the greater good" and not just for themselves. They inspire me on many levels because they are touching me on many levels.

I’m not trying to write a ground-breaking essay on this subject, and I would question anyone who has claimed to. These are just a few of my thoughts (many of them cheesy or corny), and I hope you’ll add your views. Do you have any insight? Thanks.


Wedgie 11:51 AM, August 22, 2007  

I wish we were neighbors... I think we would be good friends.

ShesAlwaysWrite 12:51 PM, August 22, 2007  

I don't think it's that those of us who are inspired by these things are moved to "copy" them, I think it's that we're sometimes afraid to admit (or perhaps don't realize) we had them inside us until something comes along that flips whatever mental switch was holding us back that makes it ok for us to go after it ourselves.

Spokane Al 1:32 PM, August 22, 2007  

Wow, what a terrific, inspiring post. Each of us are motivated in our own way, by different forces. You have obviously found yours. Congratulations and thank you for passing on that wisdom to the rest of us.

xt4 1:46 PM, August 22, 2007  

That was awesome.

I think a truth about Ironman - and about artisty and personal expresson (of which I'm also familiar) - is that they are an effect of some deeply personal, esoteric cause. Last year I described Ironman athletes as "haunted" - that there was something, maybe prolific, maybe seemingly benign - that existed within them that drove them to want to wager against the impossible. I don't know today of "haunted" is the right word, but there is something mysterious that not all individuals want, or are able, to tap into - that desire to explore something outside the ordinary. So to that, it's not just about what inspires you to take pictures...but what inspires you to take the photos that you do? Why the hind end of a horse at Wal-Mart? (I'm not making a joke there.) I think probably these are some of our most primal and emotional instincts; the video probably in some way caused you to consider your own relationship with your Dad (I know it did me), and so that was part of the lens through which you saw Ironman, and became inspired to it.

Anyway, I'm hijacking your blog here (sorry), and that might have been a big paragraph full of nothing much. But - I hear you, and ask the same questions each day, and it's the asking - and not the answers - that drive me not just to the finish line, but to the starting gun.

TRI Vortex 11:02 AM, August 23, 2007  

I knew about Team Hoyt before I started doing triathlon last year. Then guess who has at Bonelli Express #1 in San Dimas, CA. I saw them setting up the transition, but what hit home was when they FLEW by me on the run. What a team and story. That's when their story hit me, the same time those wicked hills did, and they tood everything in stride. Amazing.

Gordon 12:52 PM, August 23, 2007  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon 12:54 PM, August 23, 2007  

I don't think you're alone in questioning how, and why, inspiration takes form. I think Chuck Close's comment is pretty dead on, and you touched upon it in your post. Inspiration rarely is something that smacks one upside the head, but instead, is a slow and gradual understanding or interest in an idea. For me, this usually comes about after pushing ideas around and mulling them over for quite some time.

As for being inspired by something and feeling compelled to create something in the same vein? You're definitely not alone here. I think it's natural to see something that pushes a boundary you hadn't yet crossed, and then want to emulate it – not in the name of copying, but to prove to yourself that you are capable of it as well.

In any event, I suppose it's back to work for me too.

RunBubbaRun 6:30 AM, August 24, 2007  

I think alot of things inspires us, we find words, little messages that gets us through our days..

Never expected but seems to be always at the right time when we need it.

A little bit longer and we will be with all these other crazy inspired athletes towing the line.

See ya out there soon.

ps. I must say you haven't inspired me to shave my body just yet thou.

Unknown 3:48 AM, August 28, 2007  

I'm late getting here, but great 100th post, Steve.

Herself, the GeekGirl 9:53 PM, August 31, 2007  

They showed that video on the first day of inservice this year. The comment made was that dad WOULDnT do it without son, and son COULDnT do it without dad. Dad was the body, but the son was the heart. I'd seen it before but none of the other teachers had. They were sniffling too.

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