Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The room was silent when I asked the question. No one had said anything for a minute or two - the quiet was reaching into my ears and making me squirm, making me feel like SOMEONE NEEDS TO SAY SOMETHING, RIGHT NOW. So I asked a question. An uncomfortable and personal question, but a question that I was curious about nonetheless.

"What inspires you?"

He'd told us that he was open for questions, that he was ready to talk to us. So I asked. I wanted to know. I really did.

It didn't matter to me that he was the CEO of a very large retail clothing company. Well, it did matter to me - but not in the way you think. It mattered because I really did want to know what inspires a person like that, what drives someone with that much vision, with that much influence, with that much power. I wanted to know something about this man whose decisions could make or break thousands of employees' futures. I wanted to see if I could learn something from this man.

My boss stood across the room and caught my eye briefly in the moment of silence after I'd asked. I think he wanted to die. Right there, he wanted to die. Because it seemed like I was being cheeky, when in fact, I was being totally sincere.

I stared at the CEO as he took in my question. I will never forget how he stopped and just ... blinked.

"What inspires you?"

He asked me then who I was. I'd actually met him a few times already, but I don't usually count on people to remember, so I told him. I knew his assistant, in that assistant-to-assistant underground network way.

"What inspires you?"

It was the first time I'd ever asked that question. But it wasn't the last. I've asked other people, people I admire, people I am curious about, people who have something to teach me. I've asked people to see if they'll give me a real answer or to see if they'll make something up (I can usually tell). I've asked the same person over and over to see how their answer will change. (It does... and then it doesn't... it's strange that way.)

It's a question I ask myself from time to time because I think it keeps me honest. If I can't answer, then I know I've temporarily misplaced my muse and I need to find it again.

"What inspires you?"

It took place ten years ago, but I remember the room - a gray blue conference room with nubby fabric on the walls. I remember the windows on the left side, how the afternoon sun was streaming through the blinds casting long yellow rectangles on the carpet. I remember that the CEO was standing out in front of the podium. I remember him looking out just over the tops of our heads for a moment, his hand cupping his chin. I remember him pursing his lips and taking a deep breath before he answered.

I do not remember his answer.

I remember everything about the moment, but nothing about what the man had to say. I'm not exactly sure what that means. I suppose he didn't have anything to say that inspired me. But I'm glad I asked. It reminds me that there's nothing wrong with surprising someone, with saying exactly what you mean. There is something so wonderfully simple about asking a question that makes someone think. A question that can make you think. A question that gives you a chance to learn something bone deep about a person. And like I said, I ask myself when I'm feeling particularly UNinspired, because the answer will help me to get back on track. Every time.

So I'm asking the question today, of myself, and of you. Tell me: What inspires you?


M said...

I realized this in the midst of the hassle of travel. I need different places and different people to agitate my mental soup and bring out different stuff. All the variety, the stirring of my mental pot, makes me think and write better than when things have been stagnantly simmering for too long.

I wish I could have seen his face, though.

Swistle said...

I can't even think, because I HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HE SAID.

Okay, what inspires me: colors next to each other, good questions, new possessions, long showers.

Also, unrelated: I finished Iodine, and I think I liked it but it's hard to say. I think I'd have to re-read it to know for sure.

Amanda said...

My children of course.

Someone else's inspiration - it's contagious.

Other's stupidity - reason to get myself moving either in the other direction or to educate them further.


A moment, I'm inspired to treasure it.

A craft I can envision myself being able to do.

Changing seasons.

Sometimes - nothing inspires me.

wandering nana said...

What inspires me? So many things run thru my head..
People... so many amazing people are in this world. I am inspired when I see people with challenges in their life yet they continue on with life.
Mother Nature... I wish I had the talent to put into words how the the beauty around me makes me feel.
There are others, just depends on the day. Thanks for inspiring me to think. "} (half-way thru the book)

KAY said...

You remember nothing of the CEO's answer?!? Well, not everyone can be inspirational.

What inspires me:
- The next day after the rain or the big Santa Ana winds.
- Creative crafts
- the IKEA catalog (I get to imagine my house being a different place until I start checking dimensions)

Amy said...

Mmm...Ikea. I like that answer!

Being outside inspires me. A beautiful day can change my whole outlook on the day, life, etc.

Who Nate views the world inspires me too. He takes in the little things (which are big to him, I'm sure) that I'm used to overlooking. It's the dandelion in the yard or how he picks up acorns and hands them to me like a special treasure. If it weren't for him handing them to me, I probably wouldn't even notice them on the ground.

People's lives inspire me. Much can be achieved by sheer determination. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I feel like I'm just along for the ride. It's a great ride, but what if it could be fantastic?

Amy said...

That should be HOW Nate views the world, not who! :)

Eleanor Q. said...

Aren't you asking the million dollar question these days. I'm afraid I don't have a good answer (which has been the source of much consternation here in the Q. household)at the moment. I wish I had a better way of finding the answer, I could use a little inspiration right now.

Spadoman said...

I've been out of town for over a week. I read the post above this one about how you are inspired. Then, I scrolled down and see where you're asking us how we are inspired.

I speak out loud about things. Speaking to someone is actually speaking to myself, reinforcing what I need to tell myself. If it helps another person, that's good, but the main thrust os to motivate and inspire myself by my own words. t works really good when in conversation with another human being, but it works just saying what needs to be said. Speaking the honest, brutally honest truth, about what it is that is on my mind.

I hope my writing reflects that as well. Like I'm talking to you, through myself, at myself, inspiring myself to walk the walk.

In the meantime, peace to you and all you hold dear.