Recently, I was introduced to a rather interesting new person whom I think I might like to be friends with, and invited them for a walk. One of the unexpected pandemic routines is the walk invitation. I've spent considerable time in the past meeting people for coffee, for lunch, for a drink, and trying to make dinner reservations at a time and place that worked for everyone, but until 2020 I’m not sure if I’ve ever asked anyone to go for a walk — especially not a person I’m just meeting for the first time.
Over the last few years I have thought a lot about how to stay inspired, and the responsibility of finding inspiration, and am now thinking what that looks like in the time of the pandemic. I know for general happiness, among other things, I need sleep and inspiration. I can find inspiration in many places. I can see a really good outfit on someone at the grocery store and get a lift. A good room is inspiring. Simply stepping onto a plane seems to help connect the dots on ideas I’ve been puzzling about. A conversation with a friend, live music, art galleries, and a good dinner party are all inspiring. About three years ago, after thinking I was not the conference going type, I attended several conferences, heard ideas I still keep in mind and met some fabulous new people I am regularly in touch with.
It’s harder now with the pandemic. I have decided to spend a year during this great WFH period in the mountains, so in some ways I have to work twice as hard at my quest of finding inspiring things. It’s harder because you don’t have the ability to walk past great architecture or browse a well curated newsstand, and with a lower density of people, you are less likely to overhear a thread of a conversation that gives you something. On the other hand, it’s easier because the mountains and nature offer a different kind of inspiration. Being here is a novel stimulation in itself, and there is talk that nature is excellent for mental health. I know that finding additional human inspiration is on me, because it's probably not going to come on its own up here in a small town in the mountains.
I’ve been exploring what can be inspiring and stimulating closer to home and how to be more intentional around the whole notion of inspiration, and I’ve now come up with a few themes.
I remember it was about a month into the pandemic and, being a mix of freaked out and shut in, I talked to a new person, a friend of a friend with a startup in a related field, and how refreshing that was. I had gone a whole month without talking to a new person! She was facing the start of the pandemic in Canada and it felt so good to meet someone new and hear a new perspective. Meeting new people and hearing other people’s stories in the pandemic stills feels especially rich. I won’t take the ease of meeting new people for granted again.
Experts are fashionable these days. I just saw a meme that says not everyone needs a podcast. This is probably true but right now I have found I am enjoying well thought out podcasts from favorite writers and thinkers more than ever. It feels like eavesdropping on long conversations with really smart people.
There is an argument that the reason politics, etc is so divided is because of the increase in tweets and the decrease in long form articles by people who have done their research and make a nuanced written argument. It seems to make sense to make an effort to read more long form content and more printed content. I have even contemplated giving up online news and only read printed news like Fran Lebowitz does.
Reading a large number of books in a year is stimulating. Preplanning a reading list for the rest of the year is one way to be intentional about our book consumption.
I miss serendipity, the act of catching a glimpse of something unexpected, running into friends, roaming bookstores and cities. Now, it seems, it’s about being selective with how time is spent and finding inspiration by being intentional and considering the source in advance.
The unexpected bit of all this is the urge to get outside no matter the weather. It seems to be the time where all the new information from conversations, whether in person or by Zoom, or something I read or saw makes sense in my mind. This still happens other times, but a walk towards the end of the day seems to be the time where I’m able to discern the value from the noise.
In our current circumstances, we can’t leave the serendipity of inspiration to chance; we need to design and plan to make it happen. Maybe ask for a walk? You never know what you may find.
ILLUSTRATION BY RIMA STUDIO