Let me tell you about my muse. Muses, actually. Being a classicist, and greedy, I have more than one.
Actually before I tell you what my muses are, so that we are on the same page (there is considerable muse-based misinformation on the Interwebs), first let me tell you what they are not.
The muses aren’t a disease, even though they sound like it. Some weird and unsavoury disease that writers get, probably transmitted by imaginings. Dirty, filthy, unwashed imaginings being passed around and shared in perverse and unsanitary ways.*
Muses aren’t special magic fairies either, despite the manner in which they are occasionally discussed by wordsmiths having an attack of the poeticals. The magic muses do not buzz around my ears like sparkly mosquitos, stabbing the story ideas into me with their tiny twinkle swords. There is no known spray that will repel the muses to offer a good night’s sleep**, and you cannot buy an anti-muse net from your local supermarket.
My muses are people shaped. I suspect this is the case for most writers when it comes right down to it, but even with that established things can take a dark turn when the poeticals are deployed. Writers describe themselves being visited by a muse, or touched by one. If you listen too much to us writers talking about those muses then you probably imagine that a muse looks like the sort of uncle who doesn’t get asked to babysit, or the bad kind of Catholic priest, or your pick of BBC radio DJs from the seventies.
I can confirm that my muses have never touched me without my consent.
Alas, the bare truth of it is that muses are not just people-shaped, but actual people. Sometimes a writer’s muse is the obvious person – lover, spouse, best friend, person the writer stalks in real life and online and who they have been legally banned from approaching – and sometimes that is just the start.
My muses are the people that make me want to write. Real people in my life, who give me the desire to tell stories. I don’t write to please them, not exactly. Any writer who tries to please anybody but themselves, at least in the first instance, is asking for trouble. Rather, my muses are a handful of people who pop into my head when I’ve finished a story, whose expressions I most want to scrutinise as they read the work (though in truth I’ve never had a chance to do that). I want to see if they smile at the right bits. I want to know how easy they find the story to put down, and whether they leave the world behind when they start to read. It’s their opinions that I most yearn to hear in the aftermath, and very often I don’t really feel like I understand what I’ve written in full until I’ve seen it though their eyes. My muses, entirely by accident rather than intention, help me to see what I do and give me a strange sort of permission to carry on doing it. They inspire me by being who they are, because in so doing they fill empty parts of me to the brim.
I have more than one muse, because I do not like to put all of my eggs in one basket. They don’t know how important they are to my inner writer – that they give it spark and purpose – because that would be rather too much responsibility to put on somebody who really just wants to share in the excitement of a story. I don’t see them very often, because for the most part they have chosen to live in far flung places. This is for the best. I suspect that muses function better when they are just out of reach and so cannot be taken for granted.
When I do get to spend time with one it begets the strangest, most compelling feeling. It’s a bit like going home. Things click into place. Missing jigsaw pieces I didn’t know were lost are found. Everything feels right.
It’s like a shot of adrenaline to my storytelling bits.
June was a good month for the muses, and I’m more grateful than they will ever know that they are out there.
The world has been a horrifying place of late, unsettling enough to make a lot of people quietly question what they thought they knew or who they thought they were. Identities and principles are being tested wherever you look. It’s a good time to look around and know who the people are whose grace defines you. There is enormous assurance to be had from that, and I recommend that (wherever in the world they might be) you identify who those people are.
You may or may not write stories, but that doesn’t stop you from finding your own muses and letting them make you more you.
Thank you muses.
*At least, I hope that my muses are not being passed around and shared in perverse and unsanitary ways. If they are then I hope that it is with their consent, and that this is some experimental phase that they will recover from without any long term repercussions.
**Well, that’s not true is it? I could spray my muses with MACE, right in their pretty eyes, but I’m reasonably certain they would not thank me for it.