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12+ Things That Bring Us Inspiration (Or, Inspo Inspo)

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Julia Says…

Musicians/Songs: Lately, I’ve been listening to Ruth B quite a bit, particularly the song “Lost Boy“. I am a sucker for indie singers who write their own songs and croon in a register I can hit without resorting to falsetto. “Lost Boy”, a song about Peter Pan, for me is just the perfect storm of sound and subject matter, and has the quirky origin story that gets my writing fingers itchy to start a project. Stories like hers remind me you never know where an idea will lead. Honorable mentions: Hamilton soundtrack (respect) and just about anything by Ingrid Michaelson.

Book: There are so many different books I love and find inspiring, I don’t know how I’d ever choose one, because I’d hurt the feelings of all the others I love just as much. I do have a large coffee table book on how to make paper flowers that I adore when I feel like I need inspiration. The arrangements, the color palates, the neat and tidy organization of material lists, directions and patters all laid out like little paper-based recipes always perk up my creativity and get me thinking about the projects I should be working on. Have I actually made any of the paper flowers from this beautiful book? Well, no…not yet. But I totally can. Eventually.

Movie: I f I’m ever in a creative rut, I love to watch Stranger than Fiction. Firstly, it’s one of those plots that is so charming, I wish I could have thought of it myself. Secondly, I love the characters, the locations (that bakery! her apartment!) and Emma Thompson’s soothing voice narrating over several scenes. Mostly though, each time I watch, I marvel at its cleverness, and both the simplicity of the idea and the grand lengths to which it can be taken. It reminds me when I’m stuck, to look at something from a different angle, thereby, usually, discovering something I had not seen before. Honorable mentions: Dream for an Insomniac, Midnight in Paris, Penelope, Shakespeare in Love.

Indoor PNW Location: Indie Bookstores. There is something particularly special about independent bookstores. They are usually cozy, well curated, and have a just enough personality for me to wish they were an actual person I could have a conversation with. My current favorite is Phinney Books in Seattle. Practically every book on their shelves is one I’d want to read. It makes me want to sit down right in the middle of the shop, pull out my computer or sketchbook and get to work.

Outdoor  PNW Location: There certainly is no shortage of places to be inspired in the Northwest. There are the mountains, the lakes, the ocean, the parks! If I had to pick a favorite outdoor location, I’d go for nostalgia, and say the Seattle University campus late at night. There is a little garden just off the quad down from the Fine Arts building called the Shakespeare Garden, which is not only beautiful verdant and leafy, but also contains many plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. I remember the first and last days I spent on the quad, and what the years attending that university meant to me, and it never fails to get me to pull out a pen and paper and start writing or sketching. Honorable mention: anywhere out on the water.

Wildcard: Inevitably, if I am in a rut in terms of inspiration or motivation, my best course of action is to try something new. Whether it’s a creative activity or just diving into something I’ve never done before, the act of learning itself helps get me back on track. Some things go well, and others…less well. Past endeavors have included archery (I’m hooked), ukulele (also hooked, but coming to terms with the idea that I will never quite be Ingrid Michaelson), a brief stint a while back in fencing (the kind with swords), gymnastics (as an adult, the beam is a very different beast), and most recently, trying to learn all the words to the opening number of Hamilton, just to see if I can. Honorable mention: flower shops. All. The. Flower. Shops.

Dena Says…

Musicians/Songs: if you twist my arm and make me pick just one,  Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” would take the cake, since it’s literally about a young kid realizing their dreams and then pursuing them. For other favorites that are spot-on with their message but contain a vibe that brings me energy, then I’d say anything by Marianas Trench often does the trick. I also like early Matt Wertz and Dave Barnes, and specific songs like Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity“, “Minstrel’s Prayer” by Cartel, and Alexz Johnson’s “Give Me Fire“. And, if we’re going to go with what kind of music I actually like to work and write to, I need music without lyrics to really help with concentration. So, Lindsey Stirling, or other modern classical work with strings and/or piano.

Book: Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep or American Wife, because Sittenfeld is brilliant and anyone who says otherwise is no friend of mine. Seriously though, something about her writing syncs with how my brain works, so reading her characters totally renews my belief in the power of writing and storytelling as a crucial and powerful way for people to understand each other, because she manages to convey so many relatable emotions…Plus, they’re entertaining.

Movie: I mean, pretty much any movie when a character’s dreams come true. I’ve cried at ridiculous parts of ridiculous movies including but not limited to: Coyote Ugly, Julie and Julia, La La Land, and Pitch Perfect 2, so my threshold for this kind of thing isn’t exactly high. However, if I had to single out a specific movie that’s had an impact on me, I remember sometime circa 2009 when I was watching my DVD copy of Under The Tuscan Sun, and Diane Lane’s character introduced herself as a writer. It’s not even a particular poignant part of the movie, but for some reason it struck a chord that day and  turned me into a mess in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment I shared with husband at the time. The fact that just had the ability to say “I’m a writer,” with confidence, and on that particular day, I faced the fact that I wanted to be able to say the same thing.

Indoor PNW Location: Auntie’s Bookstore, in downtown Spokane, Washington. It’s an independent bookstore in the heart of the city, with tall ceilings, packed with new and used treasures. I like to imagine what my own books will someday look like sitting on their shelves.  Editor’s Note: no, we did not plan to both name independent bookstores for our indoor locations, but great minds think alike, I suppose. 

Outdoor PNW Location: Deep Lake, Washington. I have family members with a house on this lake, and there’s something that’s both relaxing and reinvigorating about staring at the water through the trees. Perhaps, in particular, this spot inspires me because of its consistency. I’ve lived in six different homes since the first time I ever visited, but it’s stayed the same. It feels timeless in some ways, and like I have permission to leave everything I don’t want to think about back in the city. The fact that there’s no cell service there probably helps with the peaceful vibes, but still, it makes me want to camp on the back porch with a blanket and my laptop and draft something epic.

Wildcard: At the risk of sounding cheesy, I’ve got to be frank…watching my spouse’s career pursuits have been a huge inspiration for me over the years. I mean, we all knew know someone who wanted to “work in movies” when they grew up, but how many actually do it? So, I didn’t take it too seriously when he said something similar to me shortly after we met. When we started dating a few years later though, I realized he was different, and he actually meant it. I watched him pursue and get jobs with local media, co-develop a regional TV show, earn his MFA in Film Production, make a living as a freelance film editor and motion graphics artist, see his work appear in film festivals all over the country, direct a feature-length documentary, and eventually start teaching Film Production full time at a state university (while still using his breaks for side projects, of course). I know, I know; as his wife, of course I’m going to be extremely biased. Still, I’ve also seen first hand the work that’s involved, and how creative careers truly are possible. Watching him navigate his has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration when it comes to pursuing my own writing-and-web career that’s still (and will probably always be) a work in progress. But, if sharing a home with a creative person has taught me anything, is that if you keep at them, works in progress eventually become a body of work (thanks, dear).