Sunday, September 09, 2007

feeding your muse

Alfred Brooks thought he’d found her for-hire in the very bossy and money hungry Sharon Stone*. Ernest Hemingway apparently found her somewhere between the rim of a martini glass and the bottom of his fourth, fifth, even sixth bottle of wine or quart of whiskey.

And, too many to mention here, claim mental illness lifts them from the dullest of personalities into the occasional creative genius.**

In fact Kurt Vonnegut once said he’d be willing to suffer like Van Gogh to paint like Van Gogh … but not to paint like Gaugin.

So who is this Muse everyone talks of? What is she and where does she come from? And sometimes, we ask pulling our hair, why is she so elusive?

The word Muse means the one who remembers. In Greek mythology, Zeus and Mnemosyne—the personification of remembrance—had nine daughters.

All virgins, they each had a specific science or art to protect.
  • Calliope protected elegies
  • Melpomene, the tragedies
  • Euterpe, flute playing
  • Erato, love poems
  • Tepsicore, choir lyrics
  • Thalia the comedies
  • Polyhymnia, dance and music
  • Cleo (image above) protects the stories of heroes and history
  • Urania, astronomy

Today, we less often rally a specific muse. We typically refer to 'The' Muse as an omniscient embodiment of all artistic creation and inspiration. And over the years, many have called upon her, hoping she’d bathe them in a sharp white floodlight of brilliance and creativity.

But as I padded up and down my studio in the dark hours one night, bare feet on bare boards, deadline looming, I realized, ‘nope’ … nine or one, there’s no Muse hiding here tonight!

I paused by a bookshelf, closed my eyes and softly trailed my fingers across the spines of the neatly arranged books on the second shelf. My pinkie snagged on a small paperback.

I tugged the book off the shelf and opened my eyes: Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing fell open to page 35: “What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.”

That’s it! The Muse is our own subconscious.

Bradbury goes on to say that we must feed our Muse, to keep our Muse, and asks:
“How have you fed yourself over the years? Was it a banquet or a starvation diet?”

He’s not talking about food, but of senses and experiences; of looks, and sounds, and smells, and tastes, and touches.

What and who are we drinking in? How are we exploring and growing? Where do we spend our hours? And with whom? Who are our friends? Do they believe in us? Or do they stunt our growth with ridicule and negativity?

“These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows …” Bradbury writes.

To feed your Muse, you must have been hungry and thirsty about life since childhood. And if you weren’t, haven’t been, and still aren’t—it’s never too late to develop your appetite and start feeding the Muse!

* The Muse, 1999 co-written and directed by Alfred Brooks.
** While many claim mental illness boosts their creativity above that of ‘normal’ people, many valid studies show this claim to be untrue and without merit.

Picture: Dr. Vollmer's Wörterbuch der Mythologie aller Völker.Stuttgart: Hoffmann'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1874.
Book: Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury.


Ant said...

Interesting - I always thought 'The Muse' was supposed to be a human agent, typically a lover, that would inspire all kinds of creativity. But I suppose it could just as easily be the love anything that inspires...

Suppose it doesn't have to be love either. Fear, mental illness, conflict can all produce the best art. A love of mental illness?

Nice post. Thoughts have been provoked...

Anonymous said...

We've always viewed the muse as a gift from the Gods, but for me it is anything or anyone that sparks creation and does not have to be attributed to a living or mythical being.

Nature is a muse for me. As are my granchildren. I want to do great things and leave great legacies when I'm around them. I agree with Ray Bradbury's take on living life to the full. Can't create if you don't live!

Great post Bibi.

dinahmow said...

A few years ago, I wrote:
"I call on my Muse to aid me.
Terpsichore, only, answers...
And a fat lot of good she is
When I want words, not dances!"

In essence, what you and Bradbury are saying is: use it or lose it, yes?

Another fine, brain-stirring post!

Becca said...

Great post! I have to agree with Bradbury - our deepest thoughts and feelings are the spark for all those ideas. And I like the idea of "feeding the muse." It's kind of the "garbage in, garbage out" kind of thing, isnt' it? So when I'm zoned out in front of the TV, my poor muse is being stuffed on junk food!

kj said...

bibi, here's what happens when i read your posts:

i find most so relevant and fascinating and helpful and thoughtful that i almost always want to think instead of comment.

i just wanted you to know.


Pamela said...

I thought it was the stuff that Inspector Clouseau put in his hair.

(I think mine comes from sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, and feeling happy. When I'm depressed I can't write my name)

Cazzie!!! said... :)

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I have a Muse.

She inspires pretty much everything I write in one way or another - in blissfull ignorance that she orbits my world.

Chris Benjamin said...

and once your muse is fed, you gotta go at writing with the conviction of a benny adict, to paraphrase kerouac.

i think it was gramsci who did most of his writing from his sick bed. illness was his muse. i used to want that until i found someone to be healthy for. now she's my muse.

Kiyotoe said...

My muse has a name and it's "Niobe", pronounced nye-oe-bee.

Do many writers name their muses or am i nuts?

It's okay, I can take it.

Bibi said...

Ant, yes ... I think most people today think of a muse as a specific person or as love personified.

Anon, nature does it for me too. Anyday of the week!

Dinahmow ... I love it! Hysterical. I was surprised by the muses different responsibilities. Use it or lose it fits the bill.

Bibi said...

Becca, thanks and I know the zoned out feeling only too well. Although maybe I shouldn't admit that ha ha.

KJ, I appreciate you stopping by and if you don't want to comment that's perfectly fine. I've been absorbed with a new project and have made very few comments myself. ;-0

Pamela, you missed your vocation. Comedienne comes to mind, n'est pas?

Cazzie, I'd highly recommend it!

Ultra toast, well you're lucky! No name??

Benjihopper,yes! Putting in the hours still ahs to happen. I am so glad you found your muse to stop you giving in to the 'artists have to be crazy' theory. ;-)

Kiyotoe, no ... I would think if one has a muse, one would want to call it something. And Niobe sounds rousing!!

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...


Most definitely not.