Sisyphus and Shakespeare – A Writer’s Perfect Pair


As readers began to ponder some of the life choices I’ve listed on my About Me pageand compared their own choices to mine, one very sharp lady refused to accept the premise.  Rather than choose between mountains and ocean, she asked, “Can’t I have them both?”  Since I’m also the person who chose both/and over either/or,  I became the one left with no choice.  She got her mountains and her ocean, and this morning, I’m opting for Shakespeare and Sisyphus as I continue to chart my course.

For a writer, Shakespeare is pure inspiration.  The beauty of his structures, the elegance of his chosen words  and his provocative insights into the condition of the human heart never have been surpassed.  His work has penetrated so deeply into our culture that lines and phrases pop up in conversation daily.  Even better, Shakespearean Rap and HipHop is a coming thing, and the purists had best turn away.   Bill Shakespeare would have loved this rendition of the moment in Act II of Midsummer Night’s Dream when Puck gets recognized and begins to brag a bit about his exploits.  I’m no lover of the new musical genres as a rule, but Shakespeare’s words are better spoken than silently read, and they translate beautifully into the HipHop age.

As for Sisyphus, he is all about perseverance.  The fact that he has been condemned to his fate may or may not be analogous to the writer’s lot in life; there are arguments to be made on both sides of that proposition.   But the image of persistent effort has power across a multitude of disciplines.   Persistence helps to provide necessary structures for the content of thought,  damming and channeling and controlling  the flow of inspiration in positive and creative ways.

Inspiration and perseverance belong together.  Without persistent effort, even the most incisive thoughts, exquisite images or shattering metaphors remain diffuse and unfocused.  Without effort, the right word remains the “almost right word”, an unhappy circumstance Mark Twain acknowledged when he said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

But inspiration is the raw material upon which persistence works its magic.  Without inspiration, writing (or research, or painting or any of the arts) remain pedantic: interesting, perhaps salutary, but incapable of touching the soul or freeing the heart to sing.  I knew a woman, years ago, who was determined to be a poet.  She wrote hundreds of poems; she was the most diligent and persistent creature on earth.   Her poetry was structurally beautiful, and utterly dead.  As one of her own children said, “The best thing about Mom’s poetry is its power as a negative example”.   That is not a legacy one would choose.

There has been a tendency among writers to regard inspiration as mysterious and magical, arbitrary and capricious, willing to take up residence in one psyche but not another for no apparent reason.  I no longer believe that.  The world is available to all, and the Muses are not so stingy.  A clear eye, an open heart, an appreciation for new trends as well as old verities, and an acceptance of the differences among people and their experiences all help prepare the ground for inspiration to take root and grow.

To paraphrase a well-known line from the movie Field of Dreams, if you prepare to be inspired, inspiration will come.  When that happens, the only question that remains is how much persistence you are willing to devote to shaping the gift of the Muse.



Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXVIII – A Way of Seeing Perseverance

 Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts–from far where I abide–
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.


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