As part of a series, LiveWriteLive.com asked a few writers to reflect on the idea of inspiration as it relates to writing. The writers were given free reign to approach the subject as they wished. In this second piece in the series, poet Carmen Calatayud tells us of finding the creative spark in those who have come before and in the simple idea of possibility in our beautiful, brutal, ordinary lives.
Writing All the Way to the Moon
By Carmen Calatayud
I turn sideways to face the moon and smile, as though there is an angel sitting on its surface, waving at me. This was a vision I either imagined or had as a child.
The unbelievable, which is really just our lives—is what stokes my fire to inhale literature and my fire to write. When I say unbelievable, I mean the tragic, heinous acts that humans inflict on one another. I mean the magical events that are unexplainable except by some universal act of love. I mean the quiet exchanges between two people. I mean the loud frenzy of a crowd. The unbelievable, once written, becomes shared, believable and integral to the honing of our hearts.
As a high school senior, my World Literature class was given the assignment of reading The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. I was dumbfounded after the first few pages, absorbing the fact that Kafka’s main character, Gregor Samsa, was a cockroach instead of a man. He felt like a cockroach, chewed like a cockroach and was treated like a cockroach. Although I had been writing poetry, stories, and in a journal since I was eight years old, this was one moment I remember learning that I could do anything I wanted to as a writer. Anything.
If Kafka’s Gregor Samsa could be a cockroach, all bets were off—I didn’t have to keep trying to make logical sense. I was free to be surreal and challenging and force readers to excavate their emotions at the roots. “Yes, yes, yes,” I silently said to Gregor on the page. “I believe in you. You are more real than anyone I’ve ever met.”
My stomach flips as the memory of The Metamorphosis returns and wakes me up out of my so-called reality. Kafka’s story still gives me full permission to write. I am free to be an insect, a woman weeping, or a monk in the midst of war. As long as I’m true to the spirit of a poem or story and allow it to carry me, anything goes.
Most children know this: that imagination knows no bounds, that the fantastical or frightening is quite real, and that what we see in our mind’s eye or feel in our hearts is as important to express in words as any technical training manual.
What inspires me to write is the knowledge that I can return to this white space where I can write the outlandish, the inane, the painful, the insane, even when there is a need for logic. I don’t have to push my imagination underground. I can slip it in sweetly or loudly, depending on what I’m writing, but in the end, I can stay true to the surreal dream of my life and know that someone somewhere will understand it in her bones.
What inspires me to write is those who have gone before me: Kafka, Pablo Neruda, Lucille Clifton, Federico García Lorca, Rosario Castellanos, James Baldwin, Miguel Hernández, Angel González, Kelle Groom, and so many more.
What inspires me to write is my writer friends here in DC who are living and breathing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in the same space as I am, granting me the honor of sharing their work and reading mine.
What inspires me to write is the whispers of my ancestors and yours, and the crying of those alive and hurting who deserve to be heard.
What inspires me to write is that I long to connect with you, here and on the surface of the moon.
Carmen Calatayud is a poet, writer, and peace lover living in the Washington, DC metro area. She is also a psychotherapist with Body Mind Tranquility located in downtown Washington, DC.