Sing, O Muse

(Posted by Laurel Halbany)

I envy Jane Yolen. All right, yes, because she’s a prolific writer of astounding talent, and I’m a very beginning writer of questionable talent, that goes without saying: but also because her Muse is gentle and kind.

Backtracking: of course there is no such real, tangible (or even intangible) thing as a Muse. They’re a metaphor from Greek mythology, a way to describe the creative inspiration that seizes us, where an idea illuminates the brain like cloud lightning and says: Write. Draw. Dance. Do this thing, now, and do it this way, or it will possess you until you make it real.

The Greeks knew there was more than one Muse. There were nine, by their count, but I think there are more, and perhaps we all get the Muse we deserve. Jane Yolen muses on her Muse:

The Muse is an ornery creature and rarely comes when called. She wears feathers in her hair and birkenstocks on her feet and is often out in the woods when you are home at your keyboard.

But sometimes when you are writing, and are so concentrated on what you are doing that you pay her little heed, she comes into the room, looks over your shoulder, and breathes softly in your ear. It is a tickle, like baby’s breath, and could be mistaken for a shift in the internal wind in the room.

Mine is not so kind. She has a tendency to interrupt me when I have other things I need to be doing. She knows her power and she wields it as she pleases. I think when I struggle with what she wants, she finds it funny. She’s cruel and capricious and impossible to resist.

“Write about that Lesbian Avengers party,” she says, “not the real one, where you danced, but a different party where two women slip away for a very private meeting. Talk about what it’s like to kneel in front of a new lover and have nothing in your mind but bringing her pleasure.”

“I didn’t get laid at that party,” I say. She leans over my shoulder, her mythical and metaphoric breast brushing against me. She slides her fingers into the soft hair at the base of my neck, and yes, she breathes softly in my ear, her breath as warm and dangerous as the wind before a storm.

“Tell them,” she whispers, and I do, and “Girl Ascending” was bought by a real publisher and printed in a real book, for money, my very first professional fiction sale.

She sits in the imaginary office chair across from mine and curls her elegant legs up beneath her. She holds her long fingers up to make a square, like a director framing a shot. I pay attention: she rarely talks with her hands. “Here’s what you see,” she tells me. “There’s a man, handcuffed to a chair. He’s surrounded by other men, professional men, from the Mafia or something like it. He’s going to die. They’re waiting with him, because they’re not going to kill him. They don’t hate him, so they’re comforting him before the awful thing happens.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I say. “Why don’t they just shoot him? What are they waiting for?”

She uncoils herself from the imaginary chair and bends over me. I inhale, expecting perfume, but she smells like nothing at all. Her lips brush my ear.

“You know,” she says, “or you will know. Tell them.” And The Black Seal printed “Admission” it its fiction supplement, Five Million Years to Earth.

I don’t pretend she gives me talent or good language skills. Those are my department, not hers. Inspiration is her game. Sometimes she shows up when I barely have a minute to breathe; sometimes she goes away for long stretches of time, leaving me to spend my limited writing time putting commas in and taking them back out.

But when she deigns to drop by, I forgive her every time. “Tell them,” she whispers, and I do.