This week, I’ve been thinking a bit about inspiration and where it might come from.
This train of thought was initially sparked by listening to an interview with Martin McDonagh. In it, he was explaining how he had been travelling around on a Greyhound bus in Missouri when the bus drove past a series of angry billboards. He told how the billboards were just a momentary flash in his peripheral vision and then were gone. Just a flash yet, years later, a screenplay emerged and, still more years later, a celebrated film.
My train of thought was given a few more rails to ride on by another story I unearthed. This one about Irish songwriter Jimmy McCarthy and the way he wrote one particular song. A while ago, I was browsing through Jimmy McCarthy’s back catalogue and particularly the way Mary Black sings them. I reminded myself of one particular song called, ‘As I Leave Behind Neidin’. You probably won’t know this song but it is remarkable in the level of longing and ‘ache’ it manages to impart. When I heard it again, it made me wonder who (or what) Neidin was, to create such a level of emotion. Was it a person, was it place? For a while I thought it might be a donkey and that's when I decided I had to find out. I went and looked it up and the story was interesting, to me at least.
Neidin is the Irish name for Kenmare, an idyllic small town in County Kerry. Some people might have the name in the back of their minds because Kenmare was one of the teams in the Quidditch World Cup in that Harry Potter book… but I digress.
The story I found online describes how the songwriter Jimmy McCarthy was on a drive with a friend from Kerry to Cork. The friend was quizzing Jimmy about where he got his song ideas from. Jimmy decided to show the guy by writing an impromptu song about what he could see. Jimmy looked out of the window and noted he was driving out the far side of Kenmare. He noted the Irish name of the town on the sign and that the sign was surrounded by colourful Rhododendrons. Thus, as a sort of demonstration of how inspiration can be all around us, the song was born.
It is amazing how much feeling can be instilled into a thing so mechanically born. That in itself is a lesson in inspiration, I think. That inspiration so rarely arrives fully formed, it is a thing to be nurtured and developed. But first it is a thing to be recognised.
In thinking about inspiration and in trying to put some kind of expression on my thoughts, I came up with this. People seem to think of inspiration as a sort of a seed. A tiny thing that lands on you and sparks something inside of you and grows and becomes something in its own right.
I think of it a little differently now. I think there are millions of seeds all around us all of the time. Inspiration doesn’t come from the seed, it comes from the fertile ground where the seed lands. I think we spend too much time hunting for the elusive seed of inspiration when perhaps we should be opening ourselves up to see and hear as much stuff as we can and to be a warm damp place where at least some of the seeds can prosper and grow, when they land there.
I know, I know, pretentious, moi?
But Neidin is a nice song. Have a listen to Mary Black singing it and feel the longing in her voice.
And I haven’t managed to see ‘Three Billboards’ yet but I will, very soon now, and I’m very much looking forward to that.