Saturday, February 26, 2011

My Muse, by Kerry Schafer

“I would especially like to recourt the Muse of poetry, who ran off with the mailman four years ago, and drops me only a scribbled postcard from time to time.” ~John Updike

When my son was little he had a whole houseful of imaginary friends. On one occasion I had difficulty getting into the minivan, because all of the seats were already taken, and we had to organize the imaginary crowd to sit on each other's laps and free up a little space. Most notably there was Wunsty Dunsty, The Lion, and Mr. Bey-who-lives-in-the-sandbox. This child could play an entire board game with these friends, always giving completely fair and unbiased turns to all of the players involved, often at cost to himself. It was a wonderful gift, except when it wasn't. (Imagine what might happen if an imaginary lion begins to run amok).

If it were up to me my muse would be the best imaginary friend a writer ever had - offering a constant stream of inspiration, doling out pats and condolences when the words won't come, maybe even sitting down in the chair and taking over every now and then - providing the brilliance that is always just beyond the limits of my own talent and skill.


She's not so forthcoming, this muse of mine. In fact, mostly what she does is sit around smiling in an irritating way - the sort of smile that says "I've got a secret and I'm not telling." This is my cue to engage in a solitary game of Twenty Questions, or sometimes Am I Warm Yet?

My ideas come from everywhere - a stray word, a news story, a random comment dropped on Twitter or really anywhere else. Some of these ideas touch briefly, and then drift away like dandelion seeds. Some stick, taking root for whatever reason ideas do take root, and then bit by bit they turn into stories. The muse just smiles. "I know something you don't know." And this spurs me on to uncover what it is she knows.

I believe that in some version of reality the stories exist already, fully formed. My muse knows where they are and could sing the whole tale from start to finish if she chose, but nothing comes for free and she seems to take pleasure from watching my struggles.

She hangs out by my desk, drives with me in the car, but her natural habitat is the shower. There, sometimes, she will feed me a phrase, a sentence, an entire paragraph. Of course, as she knows, by the time I get dried and decently covered, enough to run out and scribble on a piece of paper or find my laptop, most of this will be lost my the ineptitude of my memory.

It's an odd sort of partnership, but it works. Bit by bit, clue by clue, the characters come alive for me, and then they can tell me their own stories. Despite her elusive nature, I think she's happy when I find my way to the end of a story.


  1. I had a writer friend long ago whose muse also came to her in the shower. She got some of those bathtub crayons for kids and kept them in the shower and when the muse spoke, she wrote it on the shower wall so she didn't forget. :-D

  2. Love that Updike quote! Had never seen it before. Very fun post.

  3. OMG, Linda - bath crayons! Brilliant! My characters engage in the wittiest conversations and the daring action/adventure while I'm standing beneath the fall of hot water. Their other favorite time is just as I crawl into bed - haven't even put my head to the pillow yet and there they are nattering away. Book light and pen and paper for the sleepy-eyed win, I guess. Kerry, you need a voice activated mini recorder so you can note the car inspiration bits. And so your fellow drivers can think you're a complete loon talking to yourself in the car.

  4. Linda - I've thought about the crayons. I think I've always been shy about the rest of the family scoffing at my scribbles. Times to get over that, perhaps?

    Thanks Andrea & Jeffe

  5. Aw, Wunsty Dunsty! I wonder if your son could talk him into caging your muse for a while...just until she's feeling a bit less catty and a bit more chatty.

  6. Alas, Wunsty-Dunsty has been lost to us these many years. And I suspect that if I caged her, she'd dry up and whither away.

  7. I love the idea of stories existing out there in the ether, fully-formed. It makes things much less...intimidating, to think that they already exist. :-)