Musing — by Sarah

Yesterday I answered a series of interview questions for Literary Lunes Magazine. This happened with a lot of other “business catching up” which had to be done before I go to Portugal, since there I’ll only have intermittent internet access, when I visit my brother’s house. My mom appears to think the internet is the work of the devil or something.

Anyway, among those interviews there was one I’ve never been asked, and which UTTERLY baffled me. “What is you muse?”

I had no idea how to answer that, so I went flip – which, you know, is what I do when I have no clue what people are talking about. I said if I had a muse, she’d wear a toga and lift aloft a clothes iron, because I do most of my ideation while ironing or doing other boring, routine tasks.

I’m still bothered by what they mean. Perhaps they asked “who” (I don’t remember) but that only makes it more baffling. When I wrote poetry, this was easy, since I usually wrote series of poems to someone, normally my crush of the time. (Sigh. Time is the enemy of us all. The young man I wrote 200 sonnets for between the ages of 14 and 18 is now completely bald and looks… well, nothing like he used to. This hurts more than aging personally. Who was it who said something about time making a mockery of our loves?)

But I don’t write poetry and I don’t write straight romance (I don’t write gay romance, either – I mean, as you know very well that I don’t write romance on its own, not as part of a bigger plot.) So the question of a muse doesn’t arise. Or does it?

Of course I fall a little in love with my characters, but not that sort of love. It’s more the love of parent for child, or the love of creator for creation.

Sometimes a book does center around one character, though. It’s not – I think – so much a matter of “love” or even “muse” but more a matter of following the pain. I write to the pain. I go where the pain is.

I think this is because I write to resolve pain – to resolve conflicts within myself that can’t be resolved any other way, starting, inevitably, with the fight between mind and body, but twisting to a lot of other things. And if you’re scratching your head and wondering what I mean by pain – to take an example, I know that I’m not the only one who left her native land behind. Half the members of the Mad Genius Club have. And I’ll admit I wanted to be here, and I’m happy where I live and with my family and friends here. But at the same time, every time I go back, I remember I severed a piece of myself and left it behind – a whole parallel history that was more likely to happen, the person I’d be if I’d married someone there and lived there. It hurts a little not to be able to be in two places at once, no matter how much you love where you are.

But I’m not alone. Even if you never left your birth place and your birth family, I bet the world has changed so much around you that your childhood is as irretrievably lost as my own. It’s part of being a physical, mortal creature caught in the coils of advancing time. No human being deserves that, and all of us live through it. And there’s no way to resolve it, to come to terms with it. Except through art. At least for me. And my art is mostly my writing (the rest being on the lines of a hobby.)

So I go where the pain is. I find the pain in the character, the situation, the world, and the tension that comes from that pain, and I go in and wind the plot around the pain till catharsis happens.

This is the closest thing to a “muse” I can admit to, and it makes me sound like I keep a closet full of whips and chains. (I don’t, though the cats sometimes make me wish for a whip and a chair. Yeah, I know they’d just play with the leather strips.)

So what do you think they meant by “muse”? It made me feel completely out of step, like there was an entire world of writing out there that I not only didn’t know, but couldn’t fathom. After twenty six years of writing, that is a pretty scary idea.

Does everyone but me have a muse? What is a muse in this context? Do you have one?

*Crossposted at According To Hoyt *


  1. Tch! This one should be obvious to your vast intellect. Your muse is undoubtably Calliope! The use of the name for a small, loud steam organ is purely perchance, no it was a reference to your beautiful voice, your wisdom, your assertiveness, and your liking for epics!

  2. Jeniffer Fallon tells the story of asking her accountant what is tax deductable for a writer. He asks in return “Where do you get your inspiration from?”

    “Well… Everywhere”

    “That’s fantastic!” the accountant cries. “That makes everything tax deductible.

  3. Urania is probably the proper Muse for Space Opera inspiration.

    I suspect that “I get my ideas while ironing clothes” was pretty much what she wanted, although she may have preferred “I have to have ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ on at full volume, and a dozen fresh red roses in a vase on my desk.”

    Me? I’d have probably said cold carbonated caffiene and chocolate in any form.

  4. Dave,

    After vast, you mispelled “waist”. 🙂

    Um… steam… yep, full of hot air, loud and screechy. Sounds about right. Or as I say, borrowing a line from (yech) Evita “She didn’t say much, but she said it loud.”

    1. No no no. Hot air… only provides lift (until it cools -at which point catastrophe – my personal muse- intervenes) and thunderstorms. Steam on the other hand does work. Lots of it. Calliope – the organ not the muse- would often run all the rides at the fairground as a sort of aside to playing loud music to lure the punters.

  5. Muse? I’d have to go with Fred’s imaginary friend. Fred is my primitive hind-brain that seems to wander off and play with his imaginary friends, then comes back and tells me about it… well sometimes he tells me about it, other times he just leaves stuff laying around my cerebrum that I stumble over now and then.

    I think I followed the uncertainty you’re expressing with this post. Good luck on your trip.

  6. Brendan,
    A lot of things are deductible to writers, though we try to keep it somewhat anchored: museums, zoos, lectures, even my art classes because I use them to draw stuff that DOES turn into writing — also, weirdly I learn writing techniques from art. Needless to say, also books, movies, music. And I’m now wondering if coffee is, when I go to a coffee shop to write?

    1. On the coffee, hypothetically you could call it a per diem meal expense…

      Not a tax preparer, nor do i play one on the internet.

  7. Pam,
    Too close to Urine…
    Actually I suspect they mean a person. As in “my husband is my muse.” But I’ve tried to make him stand around in musketeer attire, and he won’t even let me MAKE musketeer attire for him, so, no.

    1. 😉 cease and desist you two… before we get to double entendres about raising his sword in salute before the dual… duel. Duel!

  8. Being an avid member of the Nanowrimo community, I know lots of people who talk about their muses. They usually give it a name and see it as something outside of themselves which comes and goes as it pleases.

    I’ve come to think of my innermost self, the part that comes out during meditations, dreams and strange trances where I get many of my stories from, as my muse. Sometimes I think of it in the name of a character, but usually it doesn’t have a name of its own.

  9. I don’t have a muse. I have mews. Lots of them, particularly when it’s around dinner time.

    I also have a brain with an odd subconscious closet that periodically spits out weird ideas, but that’s taken itself off on vacation somewhere in the Bahamas with what’s left of my sanity. And doesn’t even send post cards.

  10. Diana,
    See, it’s things like this that make me think “Writing, I iz doing it wrong.” My subconscious is rarely that explicit. In fact it has an habit of making me noodle around for days in the middle of novels, trying to figure out where I should go next. If I have an inner self — doubtful — she’s of a retiring and bashful disposition.

  11. I have a muse, I actually have a new one, this one told me she beat up the last one but I think she may have done it in properly. My old muse wanted me to worship it . . . my new muse wants me to abuse it, she likes it when I call her a doxie and whip her into shape.

    Now while that’s true, neither muse directly helps the writing part much, they don’t increase my word count, or make me sit at my computer, the first was a total tease, leaving wisps of story lying absolutely everywhere, the new one, she’s much more in my face, but leaves me alone until she NEEDS my attention, then I get jumped, literally.

    Neither has a name, not the old gone/deceased one or the new vibrant somewhat scary one, I called the old one my doxie when I was upset with her and my new one my doxie cause she likes it, but it’s not their names. Maybe they’re really devils, or angels or bored space alien teens from an alternate dimension messing with my head.

    I think I would have been confused by the question too Sarah, while I definately have a muse . . . trying to describe my muse and my relationship with her to anyone else . . . just sounds weird.

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