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What inspires you? I bet you can make a long list. I know I can. At the top I’d put things like: My kids, Montana, horses, really great writing, people who sing and play music, people who can speak more than one language, really great home-made bread. Try it. It’s a nice exercise, much like keeping a gratitude journal. I have a friend who daily keeps a gratitude journal. Just lists the things she’s grateful for—no qualifying or comparing or justifying. Just wide-open THANKS! In fact, add her to the list of things that inspire me: people who keep gratitude journals.
But what most of us don’t think about or even realize…is that we actually, quite possibly, have inspired someone else! Nah…we scoff and sniff. Me? Inspire somebody? That’s the way I fly, at least— in a pinch, I go into self-degradation. Even when someone tells me flat out that I have inspired them, my brain resists it. It’s something I wrote that inspired them. It’s my Haven retreats that inspired them. Not me. It’s like when people compliment me on my kids’ achievements. “It’s not me,” I always say. “It’s them!” But I’d like to give you a personal challenge here. Think of the things that you have created in your life. I’m not asking your ego to explode, I’m merely trying to help you claim what is yours so you can make more of it to spread around. Think of the traditions you have started or carried on. The things that you have started from scratch, whatever they might be: cookies, a fund drive, chicken soup, a letter to a loved one, a thoughtful gift, a verbal vote of confidence to someone you believe in, the way you put flowers in the windowsill or the fact that you picked up trash on the street when no one was looking. Well, take heart. People notice your good efforts and are, indeed, inspired by them, whether or not you meant them to be inspiring. You are not invisible. Your heart language speaks fluently in the country of humanity.
There is a writer named Bill Kenower who I met through the labyrinth of the writing life. He is a brother in words and heart and has compiled a collection of essays about writing that yes, INSPIRE me. Here’s his story. As you read it, I encourage you to ask yourself, “What can I create that will inspire others?” Because just by doing what you are already doing, just by being who you are already being…you are helping to make the world a better place. So take in a deep breath, and give yourself permission to be inspiring.
Share Alike, by Bill Kenower
I have just published a collection of short essays called Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, and you could say the book might not exist were it not for Laura Munson. The story of how Laura and I met is a story of social media. There I was on Facebook one afternoon when I noticed someone had posted a piece from the New York Times. I rarely read such things when they’re shared on Facebook, but for some reason I decided to read this one.
When I finished this essay about a woman in Montana who used her years of accumulated wisdom from the experience of writing and being rejected and writing and being rejected to weather a marital storm, I thought, “She’s one of my people.” I am editor-in-chief of Author, an online magazine that focuses on the intersection of creativity and spirituality. One of my primary functions is to conduct video and audio interviews with authors, and I knew immediately I should interview Laura.
It was a great interview, and Laura and I stayed on the phone after I had stopped recording and continued talking about suffering and happiness and doing the things you love. Yes, I thought again, she’s one of my people. Another of my functions at Author is to write a daily column – a blog if you must – which Laura stumbled on shortly after our conversation. I soon received an email from her that began with this sentence: “You inspire me!”
I did not understand until that moment that this was all I wanted to do in the world – inspire people. It was all I wanted because it was all I was searching for in the world itself, those songs, books, movies, stories, and people that inspired me, that turned my attention toward a steady voice that, despite any evidence to the contrary, forever said, “Do what you love. You cannot fail.” It was this voice that had guided me to Laura, the same as it had guided my to E. E. Cummings and Bob Dylan and Beethoven and the woman I married.
Laura and her story are inspiring, but there is something holy about being inspired that can compel one to deify those who do the inspiring. Growing up, I had no church or temple to attend, and so my sermons were stories, poems, and songs. It was there that I was reminded again and again why life was worth living, and why meaning always lay patiently beneath the noise of suffering. This seemed like a sacred job—reminding people why life was worth living—a job for which one must be anointed.
Which is exactly what Laura did, though accidentally. It’s silly, I know, but because she had inspired so many people, because her piece in the New York Times and her book had reached and helped so many souls, and because I had apparently inspired her—if only long enough to write that one sentence—and since she was one of my people and so not a deity, this job now seemed entirely doable.
A year later Laura was in Seattle and we met face-to-face for the first time. It was a bit like meeting a sister from which I had become separated at birth. She was full of excitement for writing and traveling and living, and over a bottle wine she told me, “Bill, you have to get paid for these essays.”
“But how?” I asked.
She laughed. “By publishing them in a book!”
“Oh, right,” I said.
So now they’re a book. Of course there were other people who helped as well, who said, “Bill, you really ought to collect these into a book,” which to me is the story of the inherent generosity of writing, writers, and life itself. Here is Laura now sharing this space with me, as she has shared it with you, her readers, these past months while she toils on her new novel. True generosity always teaches us the lie of sacrifice. If you share what you love and what you value – like a story, or wisdom, or a joke, or a kiss – nothing is sacrificed. Rather, you have increased the value of the world, which is only measurable in love. So share and share alike, you readers, you writers, you lovers. Share everything you wish there was more of, and as fast as you can say, “Thank you” there will be.
William Kenower is the author of Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine, an online magazine for writers and dedicated readers. He writes a popular daily blog for the magazine about the intersection of writing and our daily lives, and has interviewed hundreds of writers of every genre. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead. To learn more about William, go to williamkenower.com.