Monday, May 11, 2009

Confused by the Muse

Muse (myooz)n.
  1. GR. MYTH. any of the nine goddesses who preside over literature and the arts and sciences.
  2. the spirit that is thought to inspire a poet or other artist; the source of genius or inspiration.
  3. RARE a poet.
  4. a musing; deep meditation.
muse (myooz) — v.
  1. to think deeply and at length; meditate.
  2. to think or say meditatively.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have a muse and those who are still searching for one. 

I'm a writer, right? An artist. So I'm supposed to have a muse, right? So, where is she — or he — or it? Where's my muse?

In my search, I looked back to high school humanities class and the nine classical Greek Muses of Hesiod's poem Thoegony. You know, those chicks with funny names, who are dressed for a toga party:
  • Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry — cool name, but not my muse.
  • Euterpe, the Muse of lyric poetry — somehow, Calliope sounds more lyrical to me, but maybe something gets lost in translation.
  • Erato, the Muse of erotic poetry — um, yeah, not my genre.
  • Urania, the Muse of astronomy — with Chicago's light pollution, I can barely see the stars.
  • Clio, the Muse of history — who needs all those dates?
  • Terpsichore, the Muse of dance — too hard to pronounce; besides I'm a klutz.
  • Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred song — I'm pretty sure she's busy inspiring our angel-voiced (sadly, outgoing) cantor Erin Frankel.
  • Mepomene, the Muse of tragedy — life's tough enough without her.
  • Thalia, the Muse of comedy — now that's a muse I could use.
Even before the big nine came along, a guy named Pausanias talked about three other muses:
  • Melete — the muse of practice;
  • Mneme — the muse of memory; and
  • Aeode – the muse of song.
While practice, memory and song seem more directly related to the kind of writing I do, these ladies still leave me cold. Maybe if they were half-naked Greek gods instead of goddess, I'd find them more attractive, but I doubt it. They would still be nothing but a bunch of marble stiffs.

So, what is it that inspires me? I could say my kids, which is sometimes true; but more often than not, it's the words themselves that get me going. I love to play with words. Just thinking about Muses led me to amused and bemused and museology, which I was disappointed to discover is not, in fact, the study of Muses, but rather the science or profession of museum organization and management. You have to admit, museology a pretty succulent word for such a dusty (albeit noble) profession. 

I've been reading Courage & Craft: Writing Your Life Into Story by Barbara Abercrombie, who tackles the Muse on the first page of chapter 1:  "Make up a new voice that will inspire you, a voice that will say whatever you need to hear and will drown out all the other, negative voices, both real and imaginary." That's when I realized I already have a Muse: Me. Well, the voice in my head, anyway, who sounds like me, only idealized in every way. 

The Me in my head is fabulously beautiful (thin, of course) and smarter than smart, with an IQ hovering around 200.  This Me speaks seven languages in addition to English, meets the world's most interesting and famous people (but graciously treats them like regular folk), and can sing and play a variety of instruments by ear. Did I mention ice skating (Olympic level) and dancing (practically professional)? More than smart, though, this Me is quick and witty, a brilliant conversationalist who always says just the right thing at just the right time. She's also charmingly, disarmingly modest — the kind of person you want to hate, but can't because she's just so darn nice.

It was about this time in my musings about Muses that I realized I have more in common with my literary hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald, than I ever imagined. Good old Scott once said: "Writers aren't exactly people … they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person."

And there you have it. A Muse is really nothing more than schizophrenia put to good use.

Click here to let us know how the muse inspires you. If you are a clinical psychiatric professional, don't worry, I'm mostly harmless. If you want proof, you can check out my much more grounded post on the Chicago Moms Blog called Set Summer Free


Cindy Fey said...

I love the idea of making your own inspiring and supporting muse instead of just waiting for her to float down from Mount Olympus!

Mary Driver said...

The muse for me is an elusive creature. My husband, Jerry, and I were discussing this very topic last night. Right now, he is in his most hectic, stressful time of the year as a high school English teacher, yet in the past week he has knocked out two excellent songs for his side career as a musician. This is more than he managed all of last year.
He and I agree that the Muse appears for us only when we are not directly seeking her. When we're wildly busy with other work, in the shower, driving, or peacefully drifting off to sleep, she'll dispense a treasure or two, then vanish if we reach out.

Molly said...

I love the picture at the top. I think it's the best one yet.

Oh, and, by the way: The study of muses is best translated as "Menology" (Men apparently being the prefix 'to think' which is where 'Muse' derives from). Go figure. I bet that's your problem. It's all about 'men'.

And F. Scott Fitzgerald is right again! Like he is about most things.

And don't worry about not being an Olympic skater / dancer / famous people meeter. We still find you interesting and inspiring. :) (Who wants to be one of those people that people want to hate but can't, anyway?)

Beverly Patt said...

Ok, I really laughed out loud at your schizophrenia definition!!!!
love it.


Shari A. Brady said...

I used to think the whole idea of "finding your muse" was ridiculous. Isn't it always there? But then I realized this muse thing is a two part proposition: Once inspired, the artist must then move the audience to tears with their talent.

Thanks for another thought-provoking topic.

Ciss B said...

My muse seems to flit in and out since I no longer write for a living...but when they are about the house I find myself writing until the wee hours!

Love the thoughts, and images here!

Lea said...

I have two muses -- what does that make me? I've always had muses, even when I was a child. I just didn't know I could write about them or have them be my inspiration! I'm sure it means I'm warped psychologically in some way, but I've always known that, too. At least now I'm old enough to accept it (or at least no longer have the emotional energy to care that I'm warped). I don't know how to tell others to find their muses -- I'm guessing many writers may not need them. I envy that.

2KoP said...

Hmmm, Lea, I wonder if this means you're bi-mused?

ChefDruck said...

My muse is the blank page of my notebook. She is buried deep within and helps me most when I ignore her and just arm her with a pen at the end of my fingers.

Great post - I'm sharing it with my writing group.

Nice to see a fellow SV mom get literary.

Magpie said...

Not that this has anything to do with anything, but besides being a muse, Thalia is one of the three graces (Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia). I am confused now.

Maggie said...

I was reading On Writing by Stephen King recently and he's got a passage where he talks about his muse - a surly guy who lives in the basement and perhaps grunts once or twice. I think of the difference between muse and inspiration as trying to figure out the difference between sublime and beautiful. Inspiration and beauty are easier to define - for me, my kids, the beach, a sunset - but like others pointed out here - muse is harder to put a name to.

Right now, for some reason, mine is a one-hit-wonder former rocker chick version of me. I have NO idea why, but here she is!