The Muse–Fact or Fiction?

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought to whether The Muse™ is a real thing; a little fairy in diaphanous Grecian garb who plunks herself down on your shoulder and dictates all your best ideas while you loll, helpless and half-conscious, like some Delphic oracle mad on fumes from the underworld.  Or perhaps it’s just a prosaic source of prose that emanates from some intuitive area of the mind we can only see with a stealthy peek out of the corner of our consciousness.

Thalia, Muse of Comedy

Certainly, ideas do seem to pop out of the ether, whether that be ethylene-induced, absinthe-derived, or pulled right out of the proverbial arse.  I do experience that “it came to me in the shower” phenomenon so many writers describe.  (Which may suggest the muse is a bit of a perv.)  Characters, plot points, jokes and denouements all pop out on the page without me deciding anything.  Now, far smarter folk than I have investigated this topic exhaustively, though I don’t think I’ve heard a comprehensive explanation that quite covers it for me.

Product of the unconscious mind? Sure, I can get with that. But until philosophers and neuroscientists map that out, we have no idea how that works or even what to do with that information.

So shall we go with Grecian demigoddesses, metaphorical though they be?  Why not.

All’s I know, as they say, is that I’m not always in control.  Sure, a lot of the time I’m writing consciously, making decisions like, “Okay, where is blah-blah standing when she gets a face-ful of llama loogie?”  It’s me shoveling in the exposition and me smoothing out the linguistic linguine.  But where, for instance, did the Back Room Babes from my novel BLISS come from?  Beats me.  One minute I’d never heard of them, the next a dozen raw, brash women tromped into my chapter and became a major theme of the book.

Okay.  Cool, I guess.  I love all my BRBs, regardless of them poofing into being without a by-your-leave.

But, given the assumption of inspiration from outside the realm of everyday consciousness, my next question is, can the muse (goddess or neuronal gift) be summoned?

I struggle with that. Certainly, a suitable tribute to her–a summoning ritual if you will–seems to be the ceremonial planting of the tuchas in the chair. She can’t come if she hasn’t got a landing strip to make a touchdown. (Christ, that’s about forty too many metaphors.)  Sure, she may slip in and out of your shower or whisper a brilliant goodnight idea as you’re drifting off to sleep, but unless you’re ready with pen and paper, or fingers and keyboard, she’s ephemeral and her gifts may be squandered.

So.  Assume heinie in hot seat.  What’s next?  Shake some maracas, burn incense, sacrifice virgin?  I think of it as a sort of “lay back and think of England” experience.  You have to accept that you’re not the brilliant one, the decision maker, and just see what happens, maaaaaan.  You dig?

But what if you don’t want to be possessed?  What if you’re a control freak, like little old me, and you don’t want to wait for something, depend on Tinkerbell to arrive with wand in tow and great ideas twinkling in her eye?  What if you hate the helplessness of never knowing whether you’ll be blessed that day or just peck out workaday words that have no pizazz and will probably have to be tossed anyway?

I personally find myself unnerved by the whole experience.  I sit there, trying to open a channel from my brain to my fingertips, my fingertips to the divine, or the mysteries of the human brain.  And when it comes, on those occasions it does deign to, it’s like being kidnapped from your own decision-making process and possessed by someone funnier, smarter, and more gifted than yourself.  Quite a rush.  Yet also, just a little bit of a violation, if that makes any sense.  Most writers seem to love these visits, or possessions, or whatever they are.  Don’t get me wrong–I do as well.  It’s a sort of drug-free (although not precisely hangover-free) high, a manic ride down a literary log flume into the creative soup.  Yet still, there are times when I’m not up for such an alien abduction.  When I am terrified of what’s happening to me.

Those are the days I watch Dexter marathons and eat too much popcorn.

I wish I could come to terms with the creative process.  Stop fearing it, stop resisting it.  Accept that it’s not ever going to be totally logical or predictable, and appreciate that it’s given to me at all.  Because I know that it’s a gift; perhaps the best gift I may ever be given.

Anyone out there have any muse-ical musings they’d like to share?

One thought on “The Muse–Fact or Fiction?

  1. I have a muse. Her name is Megan, and she doesn’t so much tell me what to write as gives me ideas and will discuss the plot with me. She knows more about my characters than I do and she won’t answer stupid questions.

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