“The muses in Greek mythology were the goddesses of the fine and performing arts. The word derives from the Greek ‘Mousa’, which translates to ‘thinking in silence’. The Greeks saw their muse as embodied spirit goddesses.”
Father sat on an antique, curved wood bistro chair… a remnant from his childhood home. A green satin pillow covered the worn-out canvas seat. He sat at a small desk in the bedroom, cluttered with newspaper clippings, books and piles of paper. This was his chair and desk. It was a sanctified space, not to be touched, not even one paper or clip removed. He would face the window to catch every ray of natural light as the pen he held between his fingers wrote words that ran into sentences sprawled across thin sheets of paper. Sometimes he would stop to rub his ink-stained fingers, which matched the ink stains on his shirt pocket, raise a fist to his lips as though contemplating a thought, only to put his head down again to produce another stream of words. Then there were times when he would stare out of the window as though he was in a trance waiting for a divine spirit to nudge him, inspire him, get him to “think in silence” about words and ideas that came to fruition from his own thoughts.
If I happened to mention a coffee break, he would smile and let out a little chuckle. Sometimes he would take his coffee at his desk, but most times he would take the break saying his “Muse would wait.” I never really understood that. Dad was an individual who maintained an awareness of the environment beyond the level of most people. I’d like to think that father found stories in what he saw, what he heard, experienced and imagined. I’d like to think that neither the chair nor the desk had an extraordinary ability to summon the “Musa” (Muse) for his stories and writings. Yet, once he put his butt in the chair, his “Muse” magically summoned the creative juices to flow as a lamp summons a genie.
If it were really that simple, of course, everyone who wanted to write or create would simply do it. But my Muse has a life of her own. She comes from the spirit of my generation and generations past. She comes from the moments I live. She comes from tangled dreams I have at night, or from a film or documentary I watch. She comes from the lady walking her dog, the homeless person who mumbles utter nonsense rummaging through trash. She comes from the book I read, from a lecture I hear, a feeling I experience when visiting family, my homeland or town, from the food I eat, or that extra glass of wine I drink. She runs through me like an electric current that thrashes my thoughts.
Anything can be a source for my writing. It may be a fragment of a conversation, the way the light falls through trees, a breeze that picks up a scent, how a wine tastes or the feel of fabric on my fingers. I use my senses to absorb information, both passively and actively. I’m not an eavesdropper but often I’ll direct my ear backwards and listen and jot down notes on a conversation that I am hearing behind me, or I may be talking with a friend and catching sight of a child at play. Whether or not I am consciously aware, as a writer I’m taking in what happens around me, and my Muse suspends all judgment and expectation and allows the creativity to flow at any time. Until recently.
I’ve lost my Muse, and I’ve made her vanish because my Muse came to me at the worst possible times. She arrived when I couldn’t possibly listen to her because my world would fall apart if I didn’t finish the big work project/get another hour of sleep/annotate the notes for a meeting right then. She arrived late at night when I was tired and cranky and I didn’t care about her amazing creative insights. She came to me just as I was biting into a grab-and-go croissant. She arrived with crumbs still falling down my chin while I burned my palate on a sip of steaming coffee…because the Muse had a brilliant idea for me that couldn’t wait. The Muse expected me to drop everything and listen to her inspirational comments. So, I lost track of her because I’m a grown person with a bunch of things I must attend to that do not allow me the perfect time to put my butt in a chair and write.
My sister reminds me there is no perfect time. “Perfectionism hampers creativity,” she says. “Learn from dad. He never waited for the perfect moment. He wrote because he wanted to write despite everything. Remember, life is messy. Creativity is messy. Write when your muse is acting up, and you must do it when you’re cranky, and you must do it when you’re busy.”
I don’t have a magical chair and desk. I don’t write in a trance or a sacred space. I write in the car stuck in traffic. I write in the dentist’s waiting room. I write on a pharmacy receipt, at the market shopping for fruit, I write on the back of my hand. I write in the back of my mind. I write in the splinters of time I can find amid my obligations. I write in the early hours of the morning and much as I would like to go back to sleep, my thoughts begin to whirl and spin out of control as fragments of my world break the silence inside my head like an ecstatic dance. “She’s back,” I say. “My MUSE is back!” And I give in to her.
“When the muse comes, you must go with her, and let her take you far.” (Yerbar)