Inspiration is a funny thing. Places where you never expected to find it, it exists. And places where you thought you would see it, you instead find that you’re coming up a bit short.
In the past two weeks, I’ve found inspiration in the graffiti on a freeway off-ramp. I may crank out a bit of writing this weekend with said graffiti at the center of the story.
The first time I saw it, it was merely something I read. The next day I saw it, there was a reply of sorts that had been scrawled over the top. Not an angry reply, just a reply.
I’m sure the conversation has continued for months, and that it’s only been because of my new route to work that I’ve caught on to the ongoing dialogue between at least two people.
I wonder what time of the day they paint their messages on the off-ramp wall. I wonder if it’s during the daytime and I just happen to never see them, or if it’s under the dark of night. I wonder if they know each other, and how many supplies they travel with. If they do know each other, I wonder why they don’t just sit down and have a conversation, or if they know that what they do has some sort of entertainment value for those of us who see the aftermath. I wonder if I’ve ever passed them in the paint brush aisle at Michael’s, and I wonder if they had to go through a trial and error process to find the best paint to suit their communication needs.
The intersection just off the freeway where this all occurs is a fascinating one. The first morning that I noticed the words written by a wide brush thick with paint, I also noticed a homeless man at the end of the off-ramp. His corner was thoroughly marked: a toilet seat was dangling by a looped rope from the street sign pole he was standing next to, and it was smeared with, well, brown stuff. The “stuff,” however, was completely dry and looked like paint, so I’m going to hope it was that. The next morning at the end of that same off-ramp, he was gone, and so was his toilet seat.
Something about this area each morning makes me sad. Right as I exit the freeway, I’m met with a shallow hill layered with the striking beauty of mature, lush ice plant groundcover, its electric purple flowers bursting from plump green structures. Then a second later, the graffiti and the dangling toilet seat. The simple beauty of Mother Nature juxtaposed with depressing human elements is sometimes too much. And yet with each passing morning, I find something new about the entire scene, and I vow to write about it.
Sometimes I look around at the world and wonder why there are so many things that yield nothing more than the emotional equivalent of a gloomy, dark gray cloud that looks like it’s about to open up and pour at any second. And then I realize that if my tiny existence feels the burden of a situation I’m not directly involved in, imagine what it would be like to live the situation day in and day out.
I think of people who have come from having very little in life to making something from nothing. I think of people who have overcome abuse, bankruptcy, addiction or incarceration. I think of these people and can’t help but believe that somewhere — in something, and at some point in time — they saw a tiny speck that stood out from the rest; a sparkle of hope and a glimmer of encouragement. I think that they maybe were finally able to hear the words, “You can” instead of “You can’t,” and that those two words were the ones that flung the door that was mostly shut — but not quite all the way — wide open.
And I sometimes think that maybe it’s the words of a writer or the music of a musician that could very well have been the vehicle to greatness for someone. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t want my words to be that for someone someday.
So when I wonder about all the gray in the world and all that brings me down, I wonder if it’s meant to inspire the exact opposite, and that the light that I can hopefully create by putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard may someday find their way into the hands of someone who needs a bit of sparkle in a life of darkness.
Tonight I am thankful for my random inspiration and for the lives of others who inspire mine. May my contributions someday inspire a part of their world, as well.