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 *