So I’m watching my daughter’s swimming lesson at the local pool today. When I say “watching”, I mean periodically glancing up from my writing notebook, where I am frantically scribbling random ideas and brainstorm notes about my novel-in-progress as I try to work out a tricky plot conundrum. Near the end of the lesson the pleasant, vaguely earnest woman whose son shares the lesson with Ella turns to me and asks gently, “Do you need wisdom?”
“I beg your pardon?” I stutter. She smiles. “God just told me that you need wisdom over a particular issue that’s troubling you. And he’s told me he’s going to give it to you. In a dream. So keep your notebook by your bed handy.” And she leaves. She doesn’t know me. She couldn’t see what I was writing. And she had no idea that the particular plot conundrum I was addressing today involved God…and a dream.
I’ve got two words to say to you. Shivers. Spine.
Actually, I’ve got a few more words than that.
I’m a tad cynical when it comes to pronouncements of divinely ordained success without even trying. Actually, divinely ordained anything. And you couldn’t accuse me of ignorance; I’ve done my pentecostal dash. Spoken in tongues. Prayed on my knees and raised my worshipping hands heavenwards. Toured New Zealand for a year in a Christian band when I was 17, singing bad Lionel Richie covers, spreading God’s word (which, apparently, was Masturbation is wrong – woops, that’s three), and converting dozens of confused teenagers. Been there, got the bumper sticker.
But now, at the wise age of forty mumble mumble, the rose-coloured glasses of impressionable youth now scratched and cloudy and well and truly sat on numerous times, I know better. I think.
I felt like saying to this woman (after a few seconds of gobsmacked silence): “I appreciate the sentiment, but you know what? A. I don’t really subscribe to the “Just let go and let God” belief system, and B. I’d rather work it out myself, thanks.”
And then I thought again. And I found myself thinking that throughout literary history, writers have always referred to divine inspiration – celebrated it, in fact. That glorious Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (on whom I wrote my Honours thesis, as a mildly interesting but ultimately useless aside) called it “Intellectual Beauty”: that “zap” that appears to come directly from Heaven, catapulting you from the gloomy limbo that is writer’s block to the paradise that is writing 1000 words in two hours.
He even describes how it feels when it happens in his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty:
A little extreme, perchance, and perhaps not fitting for a public swimming pool at 4pm on a Wednesday. But you get the picture. Call it Intellectual Beauty, call it your Muse, call it God, call it Luck. It is what keeps me writing. Today I was reminded of it, and for that, vaguely strange woman with the big teeth, trailing behind you towels and the lingering aroma of pentecostal fervour, I thank you. God Bless You.