Uninspiring inspiration

Over the past few weeks I’ve made an effort to sync up with the WordPress poetry community. I’ve started submitting poems for blog that showcase creative work. I’ve started following poets that like my work to study their forms and as a matter of courtesy. Each night I look through the (huge) feed of all WordPress poetry and comment on a couple specimens.

What I’ve run into is a split- blogs that showcase original work (that is, by the person that runs the blog, or with their consent) and “inspiration” blogs that showcase images, quotes, and poems not of their own creation.

Now, positive thinking, inspiration (of generic and Christian flavors), and self-help are not new. In fact, the post-war United States has become in some sectors dominated by an industry and media empire dedicated to getting people amped up and ready to tackle the world. The fact that it has persisted indicates that people use such writings as a kind of well. You go out, get discouraged, than come back.

Tom Lehrer sarcastically called early positive thinking guru Norman Vincent Peale a “great philosopher.” I find all these books, tapes, television shows, and wall calendars thoroughly uninspiring. Perhaps not the scam that affiliate marketing and reverse mortgages are, but just…vapid. Inspiration came to great individuals because of long contemplation and historical context. Buddha did not become enlightened when he felt like it- it took many years, experiences, and evolutions to become the near-legendary teacher we still remember two and a half millennia later. When a great orator like Eugene V. Debs gave his spine-tingling statement to the courtroom that sent him to prison, it is given power by the context. Why was he sentenced? For speaking against American involvement in World War I. Why did the United States care? Why was he willing to go to prison? I feel empowered to change the world through in-depth knowledge, not a post of a sunset with a quote by an author that shows up on my Facebook feed.

I don’t want to denigrate the inspiration industry, or those that find it useful, but it just seems to be…tired. There are only so many quotes that energize people without context. Only so many beautiful sunsets before it all blurs a bit. Selling inspiration as a commodity just seems…uninspired.