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.