A Visit from my Muse

I started a new book called The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.  It was published in 1980.  I’ve been writing and thinking about muses/inspiration, and on page 3, Eco writes in the introduction to this historical novel, “There are magic moments, involving great physical fatigue and intense motor excitement, that produce visions of people known in the past . . . As I learned later from the delightful little book of the Abbé de Bucquoy, there are also visions of books as yet unwritten.”  A Muse strikes again!

Now this may sound weird and woo-woo to some of you, but if you’ve ever struggled to come up with an idea, for any extended period of time, and then all of a sudden that idea comes as a complete whole to you, you may know what I’m talking about.  And I’m not talking just about writing; I think this applies to any creative endeavor whether it’s writing, sculpting, quilting, drawing or even just imagining.  I think when we are ready for the idea and at a place in our lives where we can act on them, they come.  Let me tell you about my novel idea and meeting my writing muse.

About a month ago, we went to my Mom’s house, and I actually got to sleep in on Sunday morning.  A miracle happened and there were no hockey, volleyball, basketball, or Forensics tournaments on the schedule!  When I woke up, I dozed and lay in bed for another hour and a half or so. (It was heavenly!)  During that sleepy, half-awake, perfectly content state, I got an entire idea for a complete novel.  It was like my muse had arrived to tell me this story.  When my husband got up and headed for the shower, I grabbed my journal and wrote down the whole thing. It was quite exciting.  But now comes the hard part. I actually have to make a commitment to write the thing or as my teacher Janet Conner says, “earn my AIC (ass in chair) degree!”  That’s the whole self-reliance piece Emerson was talking about in 1841 that I mentioned previously – it still applies.

I’ve spent the last month beginning to research and fine tune my early morning novel download, but then I got stuck.  The devil on my left shoulder started yelling, “Really?  You think you can do this? Ha! That’s funny!  Everything’s already been written!  How could you possibly think of anything new and original to say?!?  Who do you think you are anyway?  Your responsibility is to your family and you won’t ever make any money as a writer, so why even try?  Live the dream and teach high school F-O-R-E-V-E-R” (said really slowly like the kid in The Sandlot).  I hate that little devil.

This blog is my giant broom sweeping him off and away F-O-R-E-V-E-R!!!  And hopefully, I’ll be writing and honoring the muses and inspiration that comes to me.

Where do stories come from?

This is an interesting question, one that I have been pondering for several months.  Now, at 3:00 a.m., God decided to answer this question, and I’m wide awake writing.  Apparently, inspiration comes at the most inopportune times, like when I need sleep.  On a more serious note, this is a cultural question as much as an individual question.  This past weekend, I watched Elizabeth Gilbert\’s Ted Talk on CreativityIt’s fascinating, and I strongly encourage anyone interested in the sources of their own creative process to watch it.  She discusses the Ancient Greeks view of creative inspiration as they relied on muses.  Creative Greeks believed that they were merely conduits to a message or artistic inspiration which they then relayed.  Even Homer opens The Odyssey with the lines, “Muse, tell me of the man of many wiles.”  He then relates Odysseus’ story through his poetry.  Homer takes no credit whatsoever for an epic poem that has survived some 3000 years – that’s impressive.

The idea of muses, or divine inspiration, still pervades American culture; it just has different names and forms.  For example, the lovely idea of muses has morphed into “THE LAW OF ATTRACTION” – if we put out our request for a great idea for a novel out there to the universe, the universe will provide states this law.  I think I like the idea of having a muse better than following “the law,” but to answer my original question, I do believe inspiration comes from both my muses and my continual pondering of ideas.  The challenge then, is to actually have the courage to trust our muses, act on the inspiration, and not disregard great ideas as idle daydreams. Ralph Waldo Emerson put this succinctly when he wrote, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.  Accept the place the divine Providence has found for you; the society of your contemporaries, the connexion of events.  Great men have always done so and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age.”  I need to trust in that creative spark and NOT conform to society’s expectations of me, but embrace an act on those creative impulses.  That is the gist of his essay “Self Reliance.”  To be great, we must live up to our individual potential and reject the parameters society has put on us.  However, divine inspiration does not mean that there is no work involved in creating; I’ve learned it’s often painful and difficult.

So what does this look like in my life?  Where do ideas come from?  They come from everywhere.  Our muses will answer if we ask.  This sounds awfully Law of Attraction-y, (and even a little on the woo-woo side), but I think that anyone who is the least bit creative will understand what I’m talking about.  Let me give an example to clarify.  This weekend, I felt compelled to watch a Ted Talk, and the first one I watched had to do with the question of creativity, which I’ve been pondering. When I woke up this morning at 2:30 am, I thought of Emerson’s essay, “Self Reliance.”  For whatever reason, I still have my giant anthology of American lit from college.  I probably haven’t opened that book since 1991, but there was one bookmark in it  . . . marking the essay “Self-Reliance.”  And, the quote I put above, was highlighted on the bookmarked page.  Call it serendipity, coincidence, inspiration, muses, luck, work . . . whatever, but I do believe that all the little pieces coincide to make a whole.  I clearly got the message over the past few days that my muses or God or Angels or the Universe (whatever you choose to call it) will give me what I need when I need it.  I just need to LOOK for those pieces both within and without, trust in them, and act on them.  That’s the part that is so difficult and sometimes painful.  For example, I like what I’ve written here, but I’ve been awake since 2:30 am and now I have to go get in the shower and get ready to teach all day.  It’s going to be a great day! Yes . . . it is!!

OMG! I’m writing a novel . . .

For the last six years or so of my life, I’ve known that I wanted to do something different career wise than teach high school students (my current J-O-B).  My big goal in life was always to be a college professor – think the wise old owl in Winnie the Pooh.  So when I was at home while my kids were babies, I earned my Master’s degree and as soon as my daughter started first grade, I got hired as an adjunct English professor at the local college . . . only to discover it was not the dream job I had envisioned.  After four years as a “Professor,” I found myself teaching English full time at the local high school.  While there are elements to my job that I truly love, there are others I despise.  For example, my students make me laugh daily and everyday is different,  but if I never grade another ninth or tenth grade essay or have to wait until a bell rings to pee, I will be a happy woman!

I’ve spent the last several years soul searching and journaling, asking the same question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?  What do I want to do?”  One answer kept coming up (as I was writing) – I want to write.  It took me a while to acknowledge that and not argue with myself that writing is too hard, or I don’t know enough to do that, until I finally accepted it.  But then I ran into the next question, “What the hell do I write about?”   I always thought the focus of my writing would be non-fiction since I love to research and put lots of details together into a cohesive whole, and I even outlined an entire non-fiction book, but it never felt quite right. Ultimately, after more soul searching, I finally decided on fiction (that story to come later).

This blog is the first step in my journey as a writer, and I’ve decided to write it for several reasons.  First, I’d like to document my novel writing journey for my own reflection on this process as I’ve never done anything like this before.  Second, I’d like to connect with other writers or even with other people who, like me, have spent years trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up (even though they may be like me, chronologically speaking anyway, all grown up).  This is scary but perhaps by recording my journey with the fears, struggles, and even (hopefully) triumphs, it will encourage them to follow their hearts.  And finally, I want to take ownership of the incredibly powerful sentence, “I am a WRITER!!”  In order to do that, I need to share my writing and “be” a writer.  The easiest way to instantly share one’s writing, to “be” a writer, is to blog.

So here we go.  I am a writer.  I am writing.