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We are focusing on building a community, bringing the Mortal Muses photographers together, and making the world a bit smaller. On this page, you will find mission: MUSE, muse university and special features.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

what inspires you? - cara lopez lee

mission: MUSE - "what inspires you?"
by guest muse writer, editor and photographer
Cara Lopez Lee of Girls Trek Too and Writing by Cara



I’m feeling uninspired today, so my first inclination is to avoid the subject of inspiration. But what better time to write about it? Some writers who lose inspiration suffer from writer’s block. I’ve never come down with that particular malady. Sometimes I do write tripe, but the words keep coming. This may be because my early training took place in TV newsrooms, where writer’s block wasn’t allowed. Reporters who miss deadlines get fired, so I developed the habit of writing whether I felt inspired or not.

I find inspiration in myself - even when I'm feeling blue for no accountable reason.

Yet sometimes the words are hard to come by. When I’m struggling, it helps to go back to basics. That’s when I write “Dick and Jane sentences,” ie: “See Dick Run. Run, Dick, Run!” If I can’t tell a story creatively, I tell it un-creatively: “A family’s house burned down. A little girl stood outside in her nightgown and cried.” If I write this way for a while, soon the logjam breaks and the words flow again. Later, I go back and rewrite the beginning: “The little girl stood outside in her nightgown, staring at the place where she used to sleep. She cried, no longer having a room where she could wake up from a nightmare and feel safe.”

Inspiration sounds joyful. But in the case of writing about a girl who loses her home, inspiration is not a happy thing. Still, for the writer it is there, fueling creativity, just as oxygen fuels that imaginary house fire. What is this inspiration composed of? My experiences, even if the experiences are sad or confusing. So to be inspired, I must seek to experience.

This is as true of life itself, as it is of creativity.

A few friends tell me I inspire them, and sometimes it embarrasses me. The Dalai Lama is inspirational: a spiritual leader banished from his homeland who continues to teach love, peace, and patience. Temple Grandin is inspirational: an autistic scientist who became a pioneer in the humane treatment of livestock. As for me, only two tiny things set my life apart in any way: 1) I don’t let fear stop me from doing what I want, and 2) sometimes I want different things from other people. I love to travel, so I travel, even when I fear the unknown. I love to write, so I write, even when I worry that I’m not up to the task. It doesn’t take much to achieve that level of inspiration – just a willingness to reach out for yourself, and to reach out to others.

I recently worked with a young homeless woman on a film project, and a few weeks later, she vanished. 

I recently worked with a young homeless woman on a film project. We learned a lot from each other. A few weeks later she vanished. I spent an evening looking for her, phoned a few times, and then moved on. Soon I’m going to teach a writing class for middle school kids. I wonder if we’ll inspire each other. I wonder if any of them will disappear. Either way, I’ll keep moving on. Is this all there is? Discovery, inspiration, loss, new discovery? Perhaps. But the inspiration remains.

My memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands, comes out next month, a goal I’ve worked toward for years. Yet when I contact bookstores, literary organizations, and the media to set up events and reviews, most have no idea who I am, and some find my calls a nuisance. I’ve always known that life isn’t about the destination, but the journey. Yet I see now that this doesn’t just mean the destination is secondary – rather, the destination doesn’t exist. It’s like the horizon: a distant line beyond which I cannot see, and which recedes as I approach.

For me, it’s not in looking forward, or in looking back, that I find inspiration. It is in looking next to me and seeing who is there, learning who they are, and discovering what we can offer each other. I find inspiration in everyone who is part of my life: the husband who travels with me, the homeless woman who vanished, the school kids I have yet to meet, and in myself – even when I’m feeling blue for no accountable reason except that I’m entering a new phase in my life and don’t know what comes next.

I find inspiration in the husband who travels with me.

I live between yesterday’s losses and tomorrow’s horizon. So, as a writer, I write from that place. It’s the emotional weather of day-to-day life and love that fuels my characters and scenes, whether they’re fictional or real.

Although I see inspiration in the world around me, the ability to see it must flow from the wellspring of self. It flows from the part of me who believes that from nothing I can create something, even from moments of ennui or depression. Ultimately that ability will lead me back to joy. Creating from my soul always has. I count on it.

I leave you with this question...  "Imagine you have no fear, what adventure would you begin?"  Leave me a comment and one giveaway winner will receive a signed copy of my new book.

Thank you for inviting me to muse with you. - Cara


Cara Lopez Lee is the author of They Only Eat Their Husbands: A Memoir of Alaskan Love, World Travel, and the Power of Running Away, coming November 15 from Ghost Road Press.

She's also the creator of the Girls Trek Too blog, dedicated to inspiring women to approach life as an adventure.

Writing by Cara - If you need a hand in telling your story, you can rely on Cara's 20 years of professional writing experience. With Cara's help, you will achieve your creative vision, clearly communicate who you are and contribute to others, through the art of simple and eloquent writing. Everyone has a story... Let Cara help you tell yours.


  1. This was such a wonderful post. I take photos every day, and there are definitely days when I am completely uninspired, yet pushing through that keeps me on track, continues the learning process, and sometimes those days I produce some of my favorite photos.

  2. Holly { Soupatraveler }October 26, 2010 at 8:19 AM

    Cara, you have touched me! Your lesson on inspiration rings so true. I couldn't agree more with your travel philosophy too, : ) hmmm, if i had no fear, i would probably be happy all the time. good thing to think about.

  3. I feel energized after reading this - I'm looking at those valleys of creativity in a different light. So powerful

  4. If I had no fear ...at 60 I might talk my husband into traveling around the world with me...but maybe I might just talk him into taking dance lessons with me:) Your post and blog are very inspiring!

  5. wow such powerful insights! if i had no fear, i would probably want to be a mommy soon. but i don't think i'm ready yet, so i am a patient person.

  6. Thanks, Chelsea, for sharing that sometimes you, too, have to push through lack of inspiration to rediscover inspiration. When I used to take the martial art of aikido, a sensei told me that the days we show up to train though we don't feel like training are sometimes the days that teach us the most.

  7. What a wonderful take on having no fear, Holly. I suppose sometimes people are afraid to be happy, in case it might be snatched away. But that's what makes all good things so precious isn't it, that they are temporal? As a fellow-traveler, I'm betting you regularly do whatever you would do if you had no fear.

  8. In turn, I feel energized by your comment, Jamie. Thanks. It's so fulfilling to connect to another mind and hear that little click of understanding.

  9. Ah, you peeked at my alter ego, Oliag. May I suggest trying the dancing first, you don't have to spend as much time saving money for it as you do for a global tour, and dance provides instant gratification. It's all about connecting with others and living in the moment. What could be more inspiring than that?

  10. It doesn't sound like fear will hold you back from the goal of mommyhood, Blue Elephant, only the wisdom of choosing the right moment... or of letting the right moment choose you. Thanks for your kind comment.

  11. I love that part that says "I live between yesterday’s losses and tomorrow’s horizon." It's the space between that keeps us coming back for more.... (all the credit to Dave Matthew's Band on that last bit!)

  12. Thanks, Ann. I always get a kick out of hearing the bits of my posts people like, especially because it always comes from an unexpected part of the writing. And I feel so tickled to be linked to a Dave Matthews quote. He's a big favorite of mine.

  13. Wonderful post. I'm just beginning to know how to use fear. Not to fear it, but recognized it for what it is. Usually an arrow pointing to the very thing I need to work through. That's usually where growth happens.
    Thank you, Cara, for musing with us today.

  14. These words really struck me:
    "Although I see inspiration in the world around me, the ability to see it must flow from the wellspring of self. It flows from the part of me who believes that from nothing I can create something, even from moments of ennui or depression. Ultimately that ability will lead me back to joy. Creating from my soul always has. I count on it."
    What inspiration. Fear is what shows us our current boundaries. It is always interesting to run up against them, when we can recognize that's what's making us run away.

    Thank you so much for your post!

  15. I'm grateful to hear that you felt inspired by reading this, Kat. As it turns out, it was YOU and all the commenters today who inspired ME. As I think I said in the post, it is in connecting with those around me that I find my greatest inspiration. Knowing that our creative work makes a difference to others is a profoundly humbling gift. I can't thank you enough.

  16. Before I say goodnight, I want to thank all of you talented Mortal Muses for inviting me to be a guest on your blog today. I'm humbled to be included in the company of such exceptionally creative, smart, and kind people. Many many thanks. I love this gorgeous and meaningful space, and I'll be back.

  17. Hey Maureen, I'm a bit fuzzy with a sinus infection today, so please forgive me for not spotting your post before. I really appreciate what you said about fear. So true. Facing those challenges I fear most is frequently how I achieve the greatest growth. Thanks for the reminder.

  18. Wow, that is exactly what I needed today! Thanks so much for writing so well what is a problematic situation for all of us, in one way or another. The only thing I like about being uninspired, is that I know it will at some point, come to an end!

    I'm looking forward to following your blog!


  19. Thanks, Andree. It's good to know that my instinct was right: to simply follow my thoughts in the direction they were going. It's helpful to me as well, to be reminded that we all face these hurdles now and then. I look forward to seeing you at the Girls Trek Too blog!

  20. Cara, I love that you base your inspiration on your experience -genuinely being who you are. Great post.

  21. Thanks, Mamatronic. I tried being someone else, but then that imposter either mucked things up or had all the fun without me. :)

  22. Such wonderful, dare I say, "raw" emotions in your writing. Like an onion, sharing with me its thickest and toughest layers, only to reveal those tender and sheer layers beneath...glorious...

  23. I absolutely love your post. Your truth and honesty about yourself and your experience is evident. I have spent the last few years appreciating those honest moments in my life and appreciating what each experience brings and takes away. When I stay in the unknown and face my fears, I inevitably and eventually experience my joy in being. Thanks for sharing! <3

  24. Thanks for your comment about "raw" emotions, Marie. It's good to have a new way to think about how to approach my work. I've always told myself that I must be "naked" when I write, if I want my words to be valuable to others and to myself. But raw? That's a whole new level!

  25. Kari, It's heartening to hear that the idea of finding value in all our experiences resonates with you- those that seem "good" and those that don't. And I'm grateful for the reminder that I've found a profession in which honesty is important. In some places too much of it can get a person into trouble. :)

  26. Great post. If we waited until we were inspired to write, not much writing would get done - at least, not by me!

  27. This is lovely, Cara. I often find myself uninspired and finding anything and everything to avoid writing. I don't know why it's such a love/hate relationship for me.