Saturday, December 25, 2010
Hey Muse, Can't You See I'm Driving?
Sometimes the best and most brilliant ideas have the worst timing.
The best time of course would be when I sit down to write. My muse and I both know ahead of time that I'll be showing up, but I have no clue what she'll be doing. She seems to have no consideration for keeping appointments, or for warning me when she's going to take off on long vacations. I wonder if she even knows herself. "Hey, I think I'll leave this afternoon for Alaska and stay as long as I feel like," she says to herself. She's done it before. She's always been that way.
But just as bad is when she shows up uninvited.
Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed the musician Tom Waits once, and he related to her a story like this. He's driving down the freeway in Los Angeles, and a fragment of a melody comes to him. He doesn't have a piece of paper or pen, and he sees that he's going to lose track of the inspiration before he can write it down. At first, he thinks he'll be haunted by this song that slipped by, gone forever. But then he stops that whole tormenting line of thought, looks up at the sky and shouts, "Can you not see that I'm driving? Go bother somebody else today. Or, if you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune time."
The creative process does not behave rationally. Sometimes I think of my muse like a two-year-old. Unpredictable, irrational, always doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Your two-year-old sings pitch perfect ABC's for weeks on end, driving you mad, but the second you boast of this skill to a visitor, they clam up and get saucer-eyed. They behave like a mouse at an amusement park but like a hellion at a restaurant. It's like they can sense the pressure to behave a certain way, and then, to test you, do exactly the opposite. It's that age old game, "Will you still love me if..."
My muse played this dirty trick on me, and I wonder if it has something to do with her testing my devotion to her. She refused to show up for months. Thousands and thousands of words that never came together, never worked, never had that special sparkle only a muse can produce. Then, the week of Christmas, when my muse KNEW she should not get priority, when family and cookies and trees and wrapping should first, that's when she decided to appear with her glorious gifts.
Here I am! Throw everything else aside and dote on me. Aren't I wonderful to be lavishing you with my presence and this awesome story idea?
You are not wonderful, muse. I nearly ran over a metaphorical pedestrian trying to scribble your stuff on paper while driving in the holiday lane (the busiest of all traffic lanes, btw). Can you not see that I am driving? If you want to exist, come back later when I have time for you.
Muse got all huffy and left with a pout. She'll probably sulk for several days and not even phone me.
My problem is this is not new for my muse. We have a history of this kind of behavior. When I sit down with a keyboard, nothing comes. The pressure mounts. Ideas scatter. The mental stump reigns. I get frustrated and distracted.
But in the shower, behind the wheel, on a walk, sitting at a dinner with extended family, all the places I either cannot write or don't have the tools to do so, that's when the ideas start pouring out. So I have to wonder. Is it me? Am I scaring off my own creativity with heavy-handed expectation? Is it coming back with a vengeance when the pressure's off precisely because I don't want it at those times?
Passive aggressive muse. What is your problem?
Maybe I shouldn't be shouting to the heavens when my muse shows up while I'm on the freeway. Maybe, instead, I should be mimicking the low pressure mindset of a freeway driver while I'm in front of the keyboard.
No pressure, brain. In fact, we can pretend it's Christmas again next week. I'll pretend I have no time to write, and you come barreling in with supposedly untimely and intrusive yet brilliant ideas, okay? I can tell you again 'if you really want to exist, come back later,' but next time, I won't mean it. I'll just say that to maintain that no pressure atmosphere you love so much while I scramble to my laptop.
You're an enigma, muse. A weird and complicated creature. But I'll figure you out yet.