Feeling Inspired?

What inspires you?

Is there anything that might make you inclined, for example, to shape concrete into life-size animals? More than once, even, until you had a full yard with horses pulling carts and cows suckling their young? It’s truly astonishing what people can accomplish, and the different things that drive us to spend our energies. I like reading memoirs quite a bit, so when I see a scene like the Wisconsin Concrete Park outside of Phillips, I start to build a narrative in my head about life that led to this point.

Wisconsin Concrete Park is on highway 13 just south of Phillips. Photo by Jessica Becker

As Michael Feldman writes in “Wisconsin Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, and Other Offbeat Stuff,” which we keep in the car and which led us to Phillips, Fred Smith isn’t the only concrete-bag toting artist to have created a scene in Wisconsin. It is a medium that seems to work for some inspirations. It wouldn’t work for me, but I can admit to having just made two owl masks from scraps of old clothing purely because I’m charmed by my daughter’s current interest in owls. Mostly it’s the way she says owl so deliberately it has two syllables. She is also very good at hooting. That is apparently enough to inspire me these days.

What about you? Are you inspired by nature? By history? By the things you’ve seen or heard? The people you meet?

What is the difference between inspiration and motivation? I’m not sure. They are not identical, and yet the go together to get things done.

Looking out over the proverbial landscape, people are doing an impressive amount. As I review submissions from authors and publishers for the 2011 Wisconsin Book Festival, I’m amazed by the writing of Wisconsin authors; the breadth, the depth, the diversity of voices. It’s no small task, to sit down over and over and over to write a book. It takes a lot of both inspiration and motivation. Some days, it probably feels like hauling bags of concrete.

Fred Smith was a retired lumberjack who was inspired to realize his vision "for all the American people everywhere. They need something like this." Photo by Jessica Becker

Dean Bakopoulos is an author whom I actually know, and I think he does on occasion haul bags of concrete (at least he used to do dirty work on a horse farm). He is the founding director of the Wisconsin Book Festival and he has a new book out called “My American Unhappiness.” He is spending this summer in Wisconsin and his latest novel is set in Madison. He will be featured at the 10th anniversary Book Festival, October 19-23. In an interview, he says “it seems cliche to say, but my two children bring me more moments of joy than I’ve ever had.” When I see him in October, I’ll ask if they’ve yet inspired him to sew owl masks.

By Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council

One Response to Feeling Inspired?

  1. I’m looking forward to reading Bakopoulis’ new novel. I thought his “Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon” was amazing. The humor alone was terrific. But even more impressive was his imaginative exploration into a community devoid of fathers, and the consequences that stem from that. I was impressed.
    – Nanette from Elkhart Lake

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