Inspiration key to success in all disciplines
By MATTHEW LOUGHRAN
Inspiration is a rare and fleeting idea.
One moment it seizes your brain and drives you to do so much more than you ever dreamed that you could do. The next moment it leaves you in an exhausted heap crumpled over the intended project with a furrowed brow and immense confusion.
It is a frustration and a tease. We need it to make our lives complete. We rarely see it and yet it is all around us.
The most innocent comment from a comrade can turn itself into an entirely different way of looking at a perplexing problem. An early morning nature walk can provide the isolation and clarity needed to break a block in your thinking.
Imagine how many of the world's great technological advancements would come about without some blinding flash of inspiration somewhere along the line. Do you think that anyone writes music without inspiration? Where do you think Thomas Hobbes and John Locke's political theories came from?
Inspiration for my column writing comes from political events, people that I admire or policies that I abhor. Inspiration for schoolwork, book writing and everything else that I do during the day comes from the people closest to me and from my desire to make them proud of me.
Of course, inspiration can be more obvious to the musician or the writer. I remember when playing bass guitar for a couple of campus bands that some members would be struck by a sudden idea that would develop into a full original song. Some of the things that people say and do around me make their way into my stories and book. Sometimes those same people will say something that will spark an entire story on its own.
Sometimes I will leave people and 10 minutes later be struck with a sudden fluidity of language and desire to tell their story.
To me, that is inspiration. It ebbs and it flows. When it is here, I am at my most productive. When it goes away, I never feel a more frustrating low. But it is what makes my life worth living. Now, between graduate school and fiction writing, I know that I will not be making a lot of money soon. But at least I am happy with my life and sure in which direction that I want it to go.
Inspiration is not only limited to the creative arts. Every discipline has its unanswered questions. Every science and art has a limitless area that has yet to be explored. In mathematics, you may be interested in the theory of chaos. In biology, you may be interested in curative research. Economics and government have ever-evolving theories of modern money management.
Every one of these fields, indeed in every field at the University, has its points of inspiration. You have an excellent opportunity to study absolutely any field that you wish at this great school and some of the best instructors to help you toward that inspiration.
Almost all of the sophomores have already decided upon their major. A few of the freshman have as well. If you haven't, don't worry. Try as many different disciplines as you can until you get that driving, exciting feeling that is the adrenaline rush of inspiration. If you have chosen a major and don't ever feel that excitement and desire to do it, you can always change. I know very few people who stayed true to one course of studies for their entire undergraduate careers. I know even fewer people that knew at the age of 18 what they would do for the rest of their lives.
Many of you have already registered for classes. Most of you haven't. When looking through the DART book, if you have open space, try to find a least one class that inflames your mind with the desire to attend it.
Overall, just try to find something that you cannot imagine doing without. You will feel the inspiration and desire to excel. It will give you the direction that you never had in life. If you want proof of that, look at the fact that I started out in Math 126 and with an idea that I might want to go into engineering courses. Then I took a literature class my sophomore year. I then served as the news editor of The Observer on my way to trying to become an author. Now I am working on a Master's of Liberal Arts, and I don't think that I would have been happy as an engineer.
Sure, inspiration will leave you dry at the most unusual times. But, as long as you stay around the people and places that you love and that stimulate you, it will be back. Then you can ride it until the next wave comes along.
Matthew Loughran is a 1998 graduate of Notre Dame and is currently working on a number of writing projects while a MALA candidate at Saint John's College in Annapolis, Md.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, November 17, 1999