It won't amaze you to know that I'm suffering from typically acute insomnia at the moment. My body's tired – I can feel my eyelids wanting to close, my eyes itching and my limbs becoming ever more leaden – and yet my brain doesn't want to switch off. I close my eyes to sleep but endless permutations of lighting setups, poses, camera tricks and overdone stagings of outlandish concepts fly past behind my eyelids, like I'm riding on a flatbed truck down the motorway at a hundred miles an hour, the lights a blur in the night above my head.
Were I a writer of comics I would anthropormorphise my insomnia, give him a doctorate and make him the nemesis of my protagonist, whom I would call Morpheus in an obvious but pathetic attempt to cash in on the fading glory of The Matrix, whilst to the cognoscenti I would also be invoking Gaiman and Greek mythologies of the dream lands that I, thanks to the evil Doctor and his cunning plans, can not inhabit, at least for these few hours of the deep morning.
It is at this point, dearest reader, that you'll probably be wondering if I've taken any drugs to help me sleep, because heaven knows I'm starting to write as though I have. The answer to your unasked question is no, I haven't. The proposition remains attractive, but since the only substance available to me in any quantity is Cocodamol, and since that only serves to give me a vaguely floaty feeling, I'm so far avoiding venturing down the road of adding anything to my body which it doesn't actually need to have.
So, to while away the time between now and sleep, I'm going to talk to you about inspiration.
Two books that I've been reading recently (long time readers will know that I scatter half-read books around the house in rather the same way that a squirrel buries acorns) have given me a massive amount of inspiration, so because we're here and you're listing, let me tell you about them.
The first book is David duChemin's Within the Frame. It's my wish list for some time, and I finally bought it a couple of weeks back after reading a recommendation from Zack Arias. It's changed the way I view my photography, and every time I feel low and the little voice tells me what a waste of time my trying to be a photographer is, that I should put the gear away and sell it and take the money and do something I'm actually good at, I find myself coming back to Within the Frame and taking away from it inspiration and confidence that I never thought I could have.
It's the kind of book that I can only read in small chunks. Not because the text is particularly dense or technical, but because the concepts explained in it are so fundamental that I need time to digest them. Often, they're also pretty obvious, or at least I think so after having read them, and I need time to go away and to stop kicking myself for not having recognised them sooner.
The second book, and the one that sings in my head every time I pick it up is Phillippe Petit's To Reach the Clouds.
For the benefit of the link-averse, a quick explanation of why this book matters at all. Phillippe Petit is the French high-wire artist who, in August 1974, walked a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It was a feat of skill, yes, and daredevillry, but most of all to me it was a feat of imagination, of an artist finding the ultimate way to express himself.
Reading Petit's book is a frenetic experience. I bought it after seeing the film based upon it, Man on Wire, earlier this summer, and I remember being glued to my seat as watching this madcap Frenchman explain poetically, frantically, how he and his friends had come up with the plan for "Le coup." The book is much the same, except that Petit's rapid fire, lyrical way of talking is so much more obvious when printed. It carries you along, singing you this tale of derring-do that could never happen in a modern, security-gone-mad world.
And the reason the book resonates with me is that Petit had so many crises of faith on his way to that walk amongst the clouds. His faith in himself, in his ability, in the abilities of his friends and co-conspirators all wavered and waned and crumbled at some point. And yet he kept going.
These two books have proved invaluable to me over a difficult couple of weeks, creatively speaking. DuChemin's because it explains that all photographers doubt themselves (in the same way that all writers doubt themselves and all Launchpad developers doubt themselves, I've no doubt) and how to deal with those doubts, and Petit's because he draws you into the real, visceral nature of those fits of self-loathing and disappointment and shows you, in a mirror, the little voice inside yourself that tells you you're no good, before kicking the little voice in its gentleman's area and getting the hell on with it anyway.
And that's what I need to do. Get the hell on with it. Keep buggering on.
And maybe, just maybe, if I'm very, very lucky, I'll get some sleep whilst I'm at it.
Thanks for reading.