I play the guitar, and a few years back, I went to the local music store to find some new books or something to push me in a new direction. I've played for (gasp) close to 40 years and at that time had kind of plateaued. To get me out of my rut, I was looking for some inspiration, and I found it that afternoon at the music store.
While I was looking at the guitar books, there were a couple of girls who were about 13, trying out some of the guitars hanging on the wall. While I was on my quest, I wasn't really paying attention to them. I looked at different guitar methods and theory books, looking at the merits and deficiencies of each one, but I had trouble concentrating because the guitars were right beside the books and the girls were trying every single one of them.
I started listening to them while looking at the books, and they played the same riff over and over on each instrument. It was that opening bit of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles. I think they had just learned it at school, and then got on their bikes to try it on different guitars at the music store. They tried it on dreadnoughts, on nylon steel guitars, and on electric guitars. One of the girls realized she could use the same fingerings on a ukulele. The other one was less successful using a bass. They both picked up 12-string guitars and played together. Just like with their other experiments, they said together, "That sounds SO cool!" In my head, I agreed with them.
I ended up going to the counter, not with books, but with a couple of sets of strings. As the clerk rang them in, I thanked him for giving those girls so much freedom to play. He just kind of smiled at me as in, "Isn't that the idea of a music store?" (In some stores, it definitely isn't).
I left the store very inspired. I didn't have a new book; I had a new outlook. Those girls only knew one song, actually one part of one song, and I know hundred of songs, but somewhere along the way, I lost the passion of just playing. Those girls didn't have the skill I had, but they had everything I wanted: enthusiasm, the joy of creating, the wonderful curiosity of using what they had in different ways, and a thirst to learn more (I can't see most girls that age getting that jazzed and riding their bikes to go do some more math, for example).
A similar experience happened to me this summer. I was at the Blackberry Festival in Powell River with my family. There was this great jazz band made up of early teen boys. They really swung. I have never been able to play jazz on my guitar well, but I was inspired by these young guys. I've been playing for longer than they have been alive, but they could do circles around me in terms of jazz. I realized my inability was not in time spent, but in approach and attention. So when I got home, I dug out my jazz books and started to pay attention to new patterns I hadn't recognized before. Little by little, I am starting to get it, and I can feel that I am getting it.
I spent this past Sunday with my buddy, Kevin. He surprised me when he told me he has taken up painting! When we got to his place, he showed me some of his work and I was blown away. In a short time, he has picked up some great skills, but more importantly, I could see the passion he has for painting. I asked him how he got started, and he said something interesting. The tipping point was when someone casually asked him about his hobbies, and being the busy guy he is, he realized he didn't have any. Inspired by his 94 year-old dad who is dabbling in painting, Kevin picked up an acrylic paint set that was at a general store he was at while on holiday.
I love this pattern: a little grain of sand of a problem is irritating our clam at the back of its shell. Through time and series of seemingly random occurrences, the a solution presents itself, producing a beautiful pearl of inspiration. Inspiration, like learning, is all around us. We have to be aware enough to recognise it and go with it. And sometimes that means going back to the beginning.