Muse, American marble statue by unknown artist (c. 1850). Part of the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I know writers who can use their craft to escape what is most immediate, vexing or insoluble in their lives.
That’s not how my muse works. My muse is blind prophet peppering me with truth-telling riddles in the night. Riddles whose answer is in the details I don’t yet know. My muse is a two-year old who asks the same question over and over again. While I’m writing about application of standards and guidelines in adult learning, she whines, “What about that thing you wept about this morning? How does that fit in? What about it? How about from this angle? And how does it fit in here?”
My muse is a four-year old who tilts her head sideways, squinches her nose and crinkles her eyes before saying the one thing I’m avoiding: the thing that brings me to my knees.
My muse is a bitch.
When I’m in the throes of not knowing – whether it’s not wanting to know or inescapably in the window of groundlessness – my muse ties my arms behind my back. Try typing like that. Even if I can unbind and bring my fingers to the keyboard, they are mute. Or worse. Clinical. Cold. Channeling a wasteland of insight. When I’m going through something private, all she’ll do is scream. I want to work on that Chart Review project, but everything seems like a commentary on the thing that I’m keeping to myself. I want to work on that personalized yoga class subscription plan, but everything I record is really all about my thing. The thing. The one she wants to scream.
Maybe she ties me up because I sush her. Shhhhh… there’s something bigger, behind that word you’re itching to say. Saying it won’t make the thing it refers to hurt less. Saying the word won’t bring you control. No, it won’t make you feel better or bring you release. Shhhhh… for once, the word isn’t important. Yes, we live our days in universe of words. Yes, I believe in the power of the word. But that power comes from letting the word arise, not from slapping it on. This one’s going to take time. Shhhhh… let’s listen to the sounds of the garden.
How do you go about your day with a 4-year-old who knows all your secrets and wants to tell the check out guy at the grocery store – the one who is kind and observant and means you no harm – all about the sadness she sees you carry when he says “Long day, huh?” And you half smile and say, “Long week.” How do you balance the guilelessness and innocence of her warrior like openness with your own hard-won knowledge that some sadness doesn’t fit into a five sentence exchange.
Do you tell the sweet garden lady who begins an unbidden dissertation on the colors of Echinacea they have in this year that you’re here because you’ve taken time off work to draw comfort from the soil of your garden for some wordless devastation you know the common name for but can’t bring yourself to contain in a cold and sterile word? And that you really could not care one jot less because you really just want the purpurea and though you see her mouth moving you haven’t heard a word.
Or do you look them all in the eye – the casual noter of your weariness, the excited sharer of trivia, the numb querant of “How’s it goin’? ” – “Poorly, very poorly. Something terrible that I can’t control is happening and I don’t know how I’m going to live out the day, though I know from prior experience that I will. How are you?”
The truth is that saying the seemingly true sentence isn’t always the truest thing you can do. Sometimes truth is only told through silence: silence that isn’t sterile, but rich with everything unearthed by that thing you couldn’t control barreling through your very thoughtful and dependable life. Sometimes the best thing to do is close up shop, buy roses and honeysuckle and compost and seeds and find yourself covered in earth. Loose yourself. Loose your muse. Don’t worry; she’s a junkie, she’ll be back. A little stronger for her stay in the garden of rehab. Her word detox. Having her supply cut. Bitches are tough. She can take it.