Thursday, June 30, 2005

When One Muse Goes Out The Door, Another Sneaks In Through The Window

A muse, as defined by the American Heritage dictionary, is "a goddess or power that inspires a poet." The best writing, or any art form, is not merely a byproduct of technique, study or even talent. It's always an emotional non-sequitur, an ethereal conjuring of inner joy or turmoil that somehow translates to enduring, or at the very least, interesting art.

Biographies of W.B. Yeats always mention his muse Maud Gone. Sylvia Plath wrote a poem called “The Disquieting Muses”, which has led many students of her work to wonder who were these muses, really? Her mother, her father, Ted Hughes? Even the marginally talented writer can be spurred to great things by a muse. What’s the difference between inspiration and a muse? Muses seems to have a longer shelf life. Some people naturally procure significant others as muses. Seems like overkill to me. You’re gonna live with someone, cook their dinner, shag ‘em, and use them as inspiration for your stories? Some writers like to keep their muses at a distance, which is probably safer and more productive in the long run. After all, more pop songs are written about the person you can’t have than the person who helps you raise the kids and pay the bills. A muse works best as a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. Music is a divine driving force for creating. Athletes use certain songs to get adrenaline pumping before a game, and writers have different background music to inspire different stories. An erotic story will take on a different tone with Motley Crue songs blasting in the CD player than it will with "Barry White’s Greatest Hits." A fellow writer once commented about a female singer, “I love her nose. I create to her!”

I haven't had a proper muse for over a year now. Even rock stars don’t do it for me and that’s pretty bad. Everything that provided inspiration in the past seemed repetitive and blah and it effected my writing and even my desire to write at all. I had no idea where to look for a muse. “I dunno. Go to the bar, pick up some boy-toy?” a friend suggested. “He could be a muse.”
“No!!” I stammered, “I mean a real muse, not just inspiration. Anything can inspire you - a guy working in the sewer can inspire an idea. I don’t want some cheap, throwaway muse you use for one work and then toss away like a gum wrapper. I mean, a hardcore muse one that will lead to more ideas and even other muses-sort of like the original Greek muses-one for tragedy, one for comedy, one for song. I want the whole package.”

After much delay, I tackled the “to be reviewed” pile on my desk. I looked at the back cover of a DVD I had avoided watching for months. “Do I have to watch the whole thing? This is too much for me to handle right now,” I groused. Begrudingly, I slipped the DVD in the player and started scribbling impartial notes like a good, semi-professional journalist. Then, as I watched, something happened.

I put my pen down. You know, when you not wearing a helmet, a ton of bricks can really hurt the noggin’. I had my muse. Of course, it (he?) had always been there, sitting unopened on my desk for three months.

You don’t choose a muse. A muse chooses you, no matter hard you try to avoid it.