While reading my free copy (Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week) of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison, I came across this lovely description:
“The sky is oppressive: slate gray and inching eastward. Not a sky for dreamers. A sky for people just trying to get by.”
I paused. Reread the lines. Looked up at my own sky, filled with the shrieks of the neighbor’s kids, settling birds, and that rare Sistine Chapel blue that makes Seattle-ites drunk for the kind of long, languid summers that never happen. Fumbling with my iPad, I highlighted the little gem and emailed it to a writing friend. Tim would certainly know exactly what it meant.
Mind you, I had just consumed one tall, freezer-chilled glass of Diamond Knot IPA, so my reading brain was just beginning to absorb words in that wanton, screw-the-real-world kind of way. A couple more glasses and I’d be ready to channel my inner Bukowski, maybe even attempt to echo my Hem. But right then, those lines were just perfectly simple and true. And then my Muse sighed lazily from far back in the recesses of my writing soul.
We haven’t had a good relationship for a long time. In fact, I’m not sure Muse and I have every really understood each other. Aside from high school creative writing class, when my hormone-driven self could pen pages of perfect cursive missives, Muse stays pretty quiet. Wait, that’s not quite accurate. Muse may have some form of Tourette’s or other condition, that causes her to blast ideas at me in moments when I’m exhausted, when I’m driving, when I’m in the middle of a numbing day of completing forms, dealing with egos and endless meetings. She will dance across my space, with a snippet of inspiration:
“And then, in that story I was telling you about last week? You know, the one where the girl throws herself off the side of the boat? Well, how about she is actually a refugee running from the main character’s homeland? And what if she was a princess in her tribe and the fact that he didn’t save her from her own hand makes him responsible. And then what if…..”
“Yes, Muse! Yes! Ok, remind me of that later and I’ll get right on it This will be a NY Times bestseller, Muse! Maybe a blockbuster movie. I just know it!” And for an instant, Muse and I are tight. And for a longer moment–maybe even hours–I don’t dread the next problem to cross my desk, I don’t stare quite so glassy-eyed at a computer screen of emails. Because I’m going to write a screenplay! Muse has got my back. My real life is coming!
But then, later, when I have 17 minutes during my ferry commute to jot the brilliance in my notebook, or when I have 30 minutes before the man of the house arrives home and domesticity begins, Muse is no where to be found. And the story isn’t quite the same. Does this princess jump overboard but is saved by some guys in a shrimp boat? Hmm… No. Was the main character some average dude who doesn’t realize he was a prince but ends up saving the girl? No. Hello, that’s already been done.
Goddamnit, Muse. Thanks a lot. Now I’m really tired and am just going to forget this whole writing thing. What’s for dinner, anyway?
I can see why my favorite men were always drinking. This Muse relationship stuff is hard. Beer or rum on a more frequent basis might dull the pain, the nagging, the disappointment. The subsequent failures with loving real humans and keeping a healthy liver would be little sacrifice for becoming a literary genius.
That’s what I think on most days, when I’m traveling the one-and-a-half hours each way to my job. The days when I wake up and feel my Muse there, smiling, gently urging me to let my voice out the way it seems to really sound. It happens when I listen to podcasts of Snap Judgment on NPR. Or when, stepping out the door at 6:00 a.m., the morning chill sets me with some phantom, happy purpose. Yet soon after, the rush begins, bills must be paid, appearances kept, responsibility maintained. And so I end up with the pouting, passive-aggressive, fair-weather friend Muse has become.
At least that’s what it seems like. Deep down, there is the honest, guilt-driven part of me that understands Muse to be only reflecting what I give to her. I haven’t made her a very important part of my life. I’m a user, letting her fill me up with momentary surges of hope, just like the warm weather. Muse, I declare, we are BFFs for life! I will write until my hands cramp. Me and you, letting the words, the characters, just fall out of us!
When I ignore her, she tends to disappear for a long time. It’s interesting–she is a bit like me in relationships. On occasion, the man of the house has gently reminded me that when I don’t say what is in my head, when I keep it in, press nobly on, I get further away from what we are together. It takes time and effort to pull back in, to engage and allow myself to just be.
It’s not Muse’s fault that I can’t find my stride or the courage to move more fully into the writing life. She cannot change my calendar. She cannot put more hours into a day or backhand the cynics, the distant friends, the demanding bosses. Muse can’t do the work for me. But despite our disconnect, I believe she will be there when I create the time–the reality–for us to make a masterpiece.