Finding Balance on the Internet: Reclaiming Inspiration, Creativity and Connection

About twenty years ago, before there was the Internet, before I owned a computer, I had rich, complicated and sometimes frustrating friendship with a woman named Barbara.  I have no idea what happened to her in the years since I knew her, and appropriately enough, I cannot find her online anywhere. Back when I knew Barbara, I was a struggling, somewhat lost and plenty broke twenty-something who’d majored in art and was trying to figure out what to do with my life. She shared a lot of her life wisdom with me, since she’d been out in the world much longer and possessed the rare combination of rich life experience, deep insight, and the ability to articulate about both.  During that period, I was bursting with artistic and creative inspiration, and would often tell Barbara about my ideas for various projects and endeavors.  One day she said to me something like this: “Elyn, I feel like you tell me about these ideas you have and then the telling somehow deflates the ideas. I think that if you didn’t talk about them, they might turn into art. By telling me about them, you give them away and they never turn into anything.” Something about this struck me as true and important, so I decided to let it sink in.

One day shortly after this conversation, I was buying groceries and I picked up a sweet potato. I was wearing my favorite hoodie and this sweet potato was shaped as if it were wearing a hoodie, too. I asked the cashier if I and the sweet potato looked alike and she said yes and we shared a giggle with the man in line behind me.  We got into a conversation about spiritual enlightenment resembling a lumpy potato more than bright white lightness.  It was a connected and silly moment with strangers.  I felt a strong urge to call Barbara and tell her about it, but decided that there was something creative about this sweet potato and I would heed her words and not talk about it.  I started heating oil in a pot for soup.  I left the room and came back to discover that the pot was on fire.  Big flames were coming out of the soup pot like a gorgeous, brilliant, strange and somewhat frightening art installation.  I resisted the urge to call Barbara.  I cleaned the pot, started over, and went into the bathroom to wash my hands.  When I looked in the mirror, I noticed that with my hoodie off, my hair had taken the same exact shape as the sweet potato.  It was sticking up as if it were its own hoodie, and I brought that potato in there with me and laughed for quite a while at the image of the two of us in the mirror.  Then I cut the sweet potato up and made a delicious soup.

Again I resisted the urge to call Barbara, and instead I decided to make a little coloring storybook about the whole event, titled “The Sweet Potato of Perfection.”  This turned into a huge project for me, where I made dozens of these little books and gave them to friends and strangers.  Different friends colored the books in different ways, some added drawings to it themselves.  The one copy I still have is one where a friend added an entire picture story line with a little alien flying around in the background of my story.  I gave one of the books to the cashier who’d been there in the first place.  She responded by making her own coloring book about more of the produce in the store, called “The Dreaded Lemon.”  The main character was a lemon with dreadlocks.  So much inspiration, connection and fun grew out of that little moment with the sweet potato, and Barbara was right: if I had told her about my sweet potato, none of this would have happened.  If social media had existed then, the moment would have ended in the grocery store.  I am sure I would have taken a selfie with my doppelganger potato and posted it online, and people might have clicked “like” or made funny comments, but within a short time, it would be buried under some other Facebook moment.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing moments of inspiration online, but I believe that many moments get shared before they’ve had time to incubate and occupy their full potential, and then they get lost.  Instead of giving inspiration away on social media before it can grow, I wonder about exploring the urge to share that moment with others, instead mining that inspiration to see what it holds for us, letting it grow fully before giving it away.  If we see a good looking recipe, why not wait until we make that food before posting the recipe on Pinterest?  That strong urge to share the recipe, if we let it grow, could be turned into an invitation: why not invite a friend or neighbor over to cook together or to try the meal?  I’m sitting here writing about this while sitting next to a window where I see a ton of birds in the yard.  Some of them are comical in the way they interact with each other.  I am resisting the urge to take photos of them or even to talk about what is comical about their interactions, because I think it might be time for me to make a new coloring book.  What do you feel inspired to do?

For more posts about finding balance on the Internet, go here.



Share if you are inspired.