I’m building on a blog post from Unbolt Me here in which Tony Single is discussing the question of what the writer’s muse really looks like, and whether you can create your own, and whether you should trust the @#$%^&** muse anyway. I claimed in the comments thread that in the past I never got past the idea of the nine muses of classical myth. I claimed that the idea that I might have my own muse, a sort of personal creative guardian angel, hadn’t yet formed. Actually, that’s inaccurate. My muse was forming years and years ago and I throttled it for personal reasons.
Yet this week, again, it is re-forming.
To understand why I tried to kill the muse, you have to go with me back to college. I am reading Adrienne Rich’s poem “Snapshots of a Daughter in Law,” the lines of which have echoed in my head ever since, in which the young writer hears the ‘angels (her muse) chiding’ her:
“Only a week since They said: Have no patience.
The next time it was: Be insatiable.
Then: Save yourself; others you cannot save.”
In my mind, as an undergraduate reading Rich’s work, I thought ‘yes, yes, the poetry is good, but Rich’s husband killed himself after she left him. Her liberation killed him, Her muse killed him.’
The muse was telling her to destroy her family. But maybe I misunderstood.
Rich wrote of the struggle to be a woman of letters while caring for small children, one of the great paradoxes of our age, since there’s no reason these days you can’t be a woman of letters and a mother, it’s just the hour-to-hour process of doing it is so damn difficult and intimidating, it feels like sitting in the landing craft the night before D Day waiting to land on Omaha Beach. From the same poem, Rich encapsulates:
“Reading while waiting
for the iron to heat,
writing, My Life had stood–a Loaded Gun–
in that Amherst pantry while the jellies boil and scum …”
Back then, Adrienne Rich was telling me my life and it terrified me. Right away, in seconds, I rejected Rich’s rejection of domesticity. I asked, ‘how can we abandon the men and children to get time to ‘actualize’ ourselves; men and children do horrible things and become horrible things in our absence?’
Details on that will have to wait for another blog post.
Her muse was too close to my own, with whom, back then, I had written a novel about adultery which I then foolishly showed to my family, who luckily misinterpreted it as being about my parents’ divorce. But my mother-in-law saw through the hoax.
“This book isn’t very good,” she told me, giving me the eye of accusation. In her view it was worse than not good. It was subversive.
“That’s it,” I thought, terrified of what family and others might do to me if the rest of them realized what the muse and I were cooking up. “Now I will stuff my muse and all the impulses that led to the adultery novel in the secret bag, which I will hide under the dresser.” For decades. I did get away from the marriage and among other things my original mother in law, ultimately. But that muse was never allowed back out again. I had conflated her voice with all the disasters of those years.
But now, the idea comes to me: If I let the muse out again, now that I am (I hope) a stronger, different person, what would the muse tell me to do say or do this time? What would he or she look like?
More on the muse to follow. I’m wondering: how many other writers think about the muse?