Perhaps it has to do with their alleged mythic origins. All through the ages, the Muses have been described as elusive beings, evocative of grace and inspiration, who must be coddled and protected, even nurtured. The fear of abandonment by one of these ephemeral creatures is often expressed by poets, artists, composers, and others suffering from related disorders. Even writers, the most afflicted of creative personalities (in my humble opinion) tend more often than not to speak of a Muse in hushed tones, as if concerned she might be frightened off by a careless word or a typographical error. I find all these fears – for all that they have ancient roots in the depths of myth and legend – quite baffling. My experience with a Muse has been – otherwise.
The Muse who was assigned to me by the Powers That Be is neither graceful nor shy, and is most unlikely to wander off and leave me in a creative muddle for any reason at all. Far from being a gentle, soulful mythic being, the Muse looking over my shoulder (and smirking) as I write these words is… Well, let’s just say she can be a bit insistent. Merely offering inspiration isn’t her favorite technique, although she has proven capable of such subtlety from time to time. This Muse has a work ethic, and she doesn’t take her work lightly. Other writers describe their assigned Muses in terms that make them sound like a cross between a fairy godmother and Tinkerbell.
Mine has more in common with Mae West and Lara Croft.
This Muse is a hard ass, plain and simple, a bundle of attitude that accepts no excuses when I find things to do other that write. She’s aware of all the potential stories and characters rolling around in my head, and of the pressure to escape they exert. As with all writers of fiction, the risk of cranial detonation exists, but this Muse will have none of it. “Not on my watch!” she likes to say. “How could I stand among the other Muses and hold my head up if I allowed yours to explode?” She has a good point, there, so on that level at least we do understand each other.
My Muse is not one of the originals, those nine daughters of Zeus and the unforgettable Mnemosyne. I don’t hold this against her, of course. She is a product of the Expansion Draft held at the dawn of the Renaissance, when the rapid increase in the number of artists and scientists stretched the original nine beyond the limits of even immortal beings. (As an aside, I once pointed out that it was curious that Tolkien also chose the number nine for the enumeration of the evil Nazgul. My Muse threatened to “inspire” me to write erotic sci-fi horror novels involving dinosaurs. I dropped the subject.) That Expansion Draft was designed not only to increase the number of available Muses to accommodate the great awakening of the Human Spirit, but to provide gainful employment for a host of mythic beings who were being forgotten, and therefore disenfranchised, by story tellers. There were many, many positions to be filled and, frankly, the Powers That Be may have been less selective than might otherwise have been the case. (And yes, I’ll pay for that one later.) Hippocampi, Panes, Sirens (for song writers mostly), Harpies, Kobaloi, and Furies (among many others – and yes, it’s possible Edgar Allen Poe’s Muse was, in her youth, a Gorgon) were all invited to try out. Some went in the first round and headed straight to the major leagues, of course. Sirens mostly, which explains many aspects of Renaissance music, come to think of it. Others, among them Furies and Kobaloi, spent some time in the minors, where they encouraged those who refined such inventions as the printing press and the other technological marvels of the age. As a result, they developed a rather different approach to the idea of inspiring the creative impulse, and my Muse apparently was part of this Next Generation wave of Muses that was finally brought up to the major leagues just in time for the First World War. I’m reasonably sure that was a coincidence.
When it became apparent to the Powers That Be that I’d need a Muse (and to be fair, the Powers did their level best to spare me such a fate – but I refused to listen), the first choice was Urania, the Muse of Astronomers. Unfortunately, she was still in therapy at the time. That episode with Percival Lowell and his imaginary canals on Mars apparently took a toll. This Muse who ended up assigned to me may have been a Harpy, once upon a time, but it’s hard to be sure, since among Next Generation Muses there is a strict “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Whatever her origin, she doesn’t so much inspire me to write, as goad me into it. She is relentless. If Muses were allowed to own firearms (they aren’t American citizens, so the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply), I fear she’d be standing behind me when I’m at the computer, pointing a weapon at the back of my head. “No surfing for you!” All kidding aside, anything I do that doesn’t involve stringing words together into more or less meaningful sentences is bound to arouse her ire, sooner or later. Cooking dinner, for example, is a process that prompts reminders that there are fast food options out there that would get the job done in a fraction of the time. Reading a book when I could be writing a book? For shame! Hobbies? Maybe when I’m rich and famous. Maybe. Fortunately, I often get ideas or resolve plot quandaries while in the shower, so that gets a pass. And the day job? Don’t go there. Please.
You might wonder how it works, having a wife and a Muse in the same residence. My wife and I have never really discussed the matter, but so far I get the impression they basically ignore each other. Or that my wife thinks I’m mad as a hatter. Either way, I have no intention of encouraging any change to the status quo. Just sayin’…