Inspired by Deadlines

Happiness for most interpreters is seeing a school bus leaving your interpretive site. Other interpreters and interpretive designers find complete happiness and satisfaction in their work by coming up with an original idea, working with it through the development process, and creating a program or piece that communicates the intended message and works effectively with visitors. I find happiness in sugar-based cereal, my children sleeping, and discussions about letterforms. Oh yeah, and being married to a wonderful woman.

I recently have found myself working from deadline to deadline with very limited amounts of time to dedicate to important projects. This is not how I like to work, but it is where I find myself. Working in this form and fashion does not allow much time for finding inspiration.

How can one become inspired? If we are in the business of inspiration or inspiring others, should it not come easy for us to be inspired? David Larsen in Meaningful Interpretation writes, “Interpreters must channel their own understandings, enthusiasm, passion and love for the resource so that their audiences can form their own understandings, enthusiasm, passion and love for the resource.” As interpreters know, this is no easy process and we must constantly work to develop programs and products that assist this process in taking place.  The best interpretive products, personal and non-personal, ever developed were led by inspiration.

There are many ways to become inspired. Most people in careers outside of interpretation believe that interpreters have the best jobs in the entire world. They think about how great it would be to work in that park, museum, aquarium, historic site or nature center. This happens to be one of the first things that interpreters forget about at work. They forget what brought them to the field of interpretation in the first place. I came to interpretation for the guacamole (if that makes no sense check this post out). It’s easy to do. Budgets, staffing, groups, visitors, emails, discussions about baseball, meetings, phone calls, and many other elements of day-to-day operations cloud the view of where we work.

The first thing you can do to help improve your inspiration is remember the resource. Get out in or bury yourself in whatever resource is at your disposal and be inspired by it. If you work at a zoo the latter part of that suggestion may not be the best idea, but draw colors from what you see, extract shapes from what you find, take textures and turn them into products, and finally develop meanings and relationships from what you love. Freeman Tilden referred to this as the “priceless ingredient.” This ingredient is something we hold that others would love to hold. Take advantage of how close we are to that resource and love it. Tilden wrote:

If you love the thing you interpret, and love the people who come to enjoy it, you need to commit nothing to memory. For, if you love the thing, you not only have taken the pains to understand it to the limit of your capacity, but you also feel its special beauty in the general richness of life’s beauty.

Remember, to find that first love that you had with a site or subject and inspiration in that area can be expected to follow.

Some find a steady flow of inspiration through thought and study. Immersion into thought is difficult to many designers and creators since it can be difficult and exhausting. Some of the greatest composers in the world speak to how fatiguing the thought process can be before creating. Freeman Tilden writes, “Except for the rare instances of inspiration, I should guess that the adequate interpretive inscription will be the result of ninety percent thinking and ten percent composition.”

The largest factor contributing to unsuccessful thinking is the demands on our time (and for Paul the digestion of sausage). There are always deadlines and to-do lists that are in the back of our minds blocking the creative flow. That is where thought or study through collaboration can be a great friend.  By joining forces when the blocks hit can allow developers to move forward in the creative process. Another set of eyes or cerebral lobes can bring out small elements that spark the imagination leaving you saying, “I didn’t look at it that way” or, “That’s a good idea.”

Back-up plans also include copious amounts of caffeine, frustration-driven design and finding a job where you can make real guacamole…like a restaurant. No matter how inspiration is discovered, remember where it came from, so the next time it is needed you can draw from the same source or use it to inspire new sources.