Every Childlike Author needs a Playground.

The Muses, and How They Amuse Themselves

Image Courtesy of the Painter-I-Didn't-Look-Up

Here they are, amusing themselves. Hold on a moment while I curse them under my breath.

Inspiration is a strange thing, and powerful. It’s so powerful that the ancient Greeks deified it. Well, not it exactly, but them. Those awful, wonderful creatures.

I’m referring to the Muses, of course.

If you write, you will recognize them immediately as the important personalities that always seem to go missing the moment your writer’s block begins to unfurl its overwhelming presence. And then you curse them under your breath because you must go looking for them, and everybody knows the Muses can’t be found unless they reveal themselves. When they do decide to reveal themselves, it is, almost by rule, when you do not have pen and paper. You will search frantically about for something to write with, and succeed in finding a broken pencil in that cluttered drawer which only opens half way, but by then your Aunt Gertrude will have interrupted you with a question about your mismatched socks and you’ll forget what inspired you in the first place. You’ll look around, trying to remember, only to discover the Muses have vanished again.

Which makes you curse them under your breath.

On the other side of the golden drachma, once in a blue moon (does that ever happen?) the Muses will grace you with their presence (even though they are not the Graces), and your best work will flow effortlessly onto the page. You will stare happily, lustily, at their beauty, while they smile at you coyly, and you will praise them for their contributions.

And then they will go and disappear again.

Which makes you curse them under your breath.

You never know when the Muses will visit you. For instance, one day I was sitting on the toilet (just waiting there, you know) when suddenly one of the Muses appeared before me in the shape of an oyster. Well, it wasn’t an oyster, not exactly, but it was a seashell. (I would have preferred the Muse in the shape of a beautiful woman, but sadly the decorative theme for my bathroom is the sea, and not beautiful women.) There were quite a few of the shells in a jar on the sink, and the thought suddenly occurred to me that they looked an awful lot like scales. Dragon scales. In a flash, an entire story presented itself to me, and I… was stuck on the toilet.

Like I said before, the Muses have a way of showing up when there’s no paper.

When I finally escaped, I did manage to remember what had inspired me (barely), and the next day I wrote all day to produce a short story which I think is some of my better work. It’s also a short story which at some point I know I will expand and turn into a novel. But I never expected to get my inspiration while sitting on the toilet, and I blush to think about the state I was in when that particular Muse paid me a visit.

Then there was the time I was standing in front of a small aquarium watching a turtle poke its head from its shell. (And no, this is not the euphemism you’re thinking of–that one is turtling or prairie dogging, and I wouldn’t even want to watch that.) Anyway, one of the Muses appeared suddenly, and the question occurred to me: What if a man withdrew like a turtle when threatened? I didn’t have any paper or a pen, so I just kept it in the front of my mind for a few hours. This unfortunately drove the friend I was with nuts, because every time she said something I just repeated the phrase, “What if a man withdrew like a turtle when threatened?”

Well, after I escaped her by hiding in the catfish tank, I went home and wrote a story about a man who withdrew like a turtle when threatened. It was a flash fiction piece, very short, but it’s a favorite of mine so it doesn’t matter that my girlfriend got stranded at the aquarium and had to call a friend to come pick her up.

There was one other time I’d like to share with you. My girlfriend and I were on a low-key date, just a small dinner at a good restaurant and then we were going to go bowling afterwards. We sat in the corner of the little eatery, she faced towards me and the wall, and I faced the rest of the room. Well, she noticed I kept glancing past her shoulder at a table across the room, and so finally she twisted around and looked. She stared a moment and then turned and gave me an inscrutable expression.

“You’re looking at that girl, aren’t you,” she said.

It sounded more like a statement than a question, but grammatically it couldn’t have been, so I tried to answer it.

“You really ought to work on you intonations,” I replied. I glanced over her shoulder. “There’s just something about her I can’t quite pinpoint.”

“Is it the way she keeps bending over,” she offered.

I stared at her coolly. “There you go again,” I said, “always confusing me with your intonations.” I peered around her shoulder again. “Well, that’s not it. I mean, that is kind of entrancing, but I think it’s something else.”

“Could it be her low neckline,” she said.

I shook my head at her. “You’re always mixing the declarative with the interrogative. Is it a question or not?” I shifted my eyes past her head to the girl behind her. “No, I don’t think it’s the neckline, but that’s nice, too. I think it’s her hair. She’s got fantastic hair. It reminds me of Alicia.”

I was too busy looking at the girl who reminded me of Alicia when my girlfriend’s Root Beer splashed all over the front of my flannel shirt. She grabbed her purse and stalked out of the restaurant. I think she may have called a friend to come pick her up, though I’m not sure because I was too busy looking around for the girl who reminded me of Alicia. She’d disappeared, but I’d had a sudden inspiration: What if the Muses appeared to men in the form of a woman at precisely the wrong times, just for kicks?

I cursed them under my breath and looked for a pen to write on my napkin.


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