Where Inspiration Lives

by Randy Haberkamp

When I was very young, I thought inspiration was something that struck you like lightning, that fell from the sky, or that hit you like a ton of bricks.

Inspiration came from super heroes, divine beings, geniuses, through sheer luck or by accident. Even now it sometimes seems that way. It’s certainly easier to think of it that way.

Later in life I looked to revered words of wisdom, or favorite movies, world leaders, historical figures, celebrities or even the amount of money involved, or (gasp!) awards received.

As I’ve grown older I’ve realized inspiration is much too complicated for any of those things to generate it on their own.

I believe inspiration cannot be forced.

It cannot be purchased.

It cannot be sprinkled around like pixie dust.

It cannot be reproduced or imitated.

It must be genuine.

For me, true inspiration is a collective experience, not an individual one. Even though it can seem very private, its origins are not.

When inspiration seems to “hit” us over the head, it has often required much preparation. We need to be quiet, we need to listen, we need to be open, we need to be patient, and we need to be consistent even while being open to spontaneity.

What may seem out of the blue is actually an accumulation — a culmination of a journey.

Quick solutions or emulations from books, media or lifestyles of the rich and famous are not inspirational, but rather diversionary, a stray path that may require years of effort to correct course. The ingredients of inspiration must be gathered like the makings of a gourmet meal, determined after years of practice or experience.

Inspiration may not be immediately apparent. It can be easily disturbed, distracted from or thrown into dormancy, but never truly destroyed.

It may be something you realize years later. It may be something you originated yourself days, months or years ago, and at a certain point is suddenly reflected back to you in the words, face or actions of others.

It may be a seed someone else has planted, that does not sprout or grow until you are ready for it.

It is often very small, very quiet…almost imperceptible. It rarely appears fully formed, must be nurtured, considered, and built upon. It is rarely one person, one thing, or one moment, but usually formed from many parts, many voices, many experiences, many opportunities.

It has no ego, and is often misidentified. Sometimes it is like a pinball machine with the source batted about until it has been transformed into something larger and virtually unrecognizable.

Inspiration is often mistaken for being an idea.

Ideas that may seem inspired can die and wither if not nurtured. Ideas can show promise, but lead nowhere. Ideas are one moment. Inspiration gives ideas their lifeblood, their value and allows them to survive and flourish.

I’m often confronted by inspiration in the smallest of details, the slightest of moments. Something as simple as my dog’s tail wagging or even just twitching slightly when he first sees me. The illusion is the moment, the reality is years of affection, years of behavior observed, years of ignoring distractions, and a moment of focus, a moment of appreciation. Inspiration that can then be accepted, transformed, shared, and grown.

I have lived my life enveloped in movies, movies I have often thought of as inspirational. But these so-called inspirational movies and our appreciation of them also depends on our collective experience.

George Bailey being showered with gifts and money from his friends and family at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life is not about him getting the money he needs. That’s a mere plot point.

It’s about his life having been a series of events and deeds that allowed that culmination to be possible, the seeds that were sown.

It’s also about Jimmy Stewart, Frank Capra, Donna Reed, the writer, the cameraman, the producer, the extras, the Christmas tree, the bell ringing, Auld Lang Syne, and the mythology of angels.

Further, it is also about my parents, my upbringing, my Sunday School teacher, my banker, my Christmases.

Still further it is about our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our nightmares. It’s about all movies, and one movie. We look to movies to reveal the inspiration in us because, in the end, that is where inspiration really lives.

Randy Haberkamp is the Academy’s Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs.