Monday, January 2, 2012

Mosquito Muses

It's occurred to me that for writers and artists, the creative muse has an awful lot in common with a mosquito.  Not in the sense that one gets an irresistible urge to slap that muse when it arrives  -but in the sense of timing and its effect on the person in question.

My personal experience with mosquitoes is this: they are at their busiest when YOU are at your busiest, when you have some other task to which your attention is inexorably drawn.  Yard work.  Sleeping.  Preparing dinner.  Chatting amiably with your spouse.  I don't recall ever having a mosquito encounter when I've had the time to actually devote to either slapping it or re-applying repellant, and certainly never when I can easily get to a long-sleeved shirt or pair of pants or netted hat, any of which would allow me to continue my work in peace.  No, mosquitoes - for all they've practically no brain worth noting - seem to have an impeccable sense of just when to make their presence known... when you are just over the boundary of sleep, too groggy to aim a proper slap and not inclined to get up and do something about the nocturnal stealth attack, for example.  Or when you're halfway up or down the hill you're mowing, or at the furthest possible corner of the yard - the point where you are least likely to take a few moments to make yourself more comfortable and save yourself hours of later scratching.

In just that way, the creative muse seems to take a fiendish delight in arriving at precisely the same inopportune moments.  That margin between sleep and waking is a favorite point; my husband is particularly good at waking up and jotting his dreams down immediately in a notebook kept by the bed for just that purpose.  I can't say I've ever had much success with that, as my brain tends to outpace my fingers, particularly fingers still thick from sleep.  Some have suggested a bedside recording device, but I don't like the sound of my voice at the best of times - it just sounds weird to me - and the idea of recording my slurred, groggy morning voice is positively repellant.  Thus far, I've opted to take my chances remembering the idea for a book when I'm fully alert... though putting one's dreams on hold for such a vain reason is pretty stupid, now that I'm forced to look at it.

Muses also tend to generate quite a bit of buzz when the artist has no other choice but to attend that dreaded "day job." I've met a few creatives spirits who, either through immense talent, stubbornness, or sheer dumb luck don't work one job for salary and one job for the nourishment of the soul - but they're in the minority.  Most of us slog it out in a forty-plus hour workplace, come home, attend to the business of running a home, and then carve out a bit of time for writing or sketching.  I tend to take a creative break during the period allotted for meals rather than grabbing lunch in the staff lounge, but it often feels like my muse is pulling the old Hollywood "we'll do lunch" routine at those times... meaning, sure, "we'll do lunch" at some point before you die, but it's not going to be any time soon, so don't get your hopes up. 

What ends up happening, of course, is that the best ideas for stories or images or sculptures begin humming in your ear just as the boss calls you in to go over the latest spreadsheets, or your students are returning for that assembly on fire safety, or that client who's already fifteen minutes late shows up - "You would NOT believe the traffic!"  Of course, the chance for you to grab your tablet or a notepad or the dreaded recording device is there - if you're bold enough to put the boss off, make the client wait, or risk twenty seven nine year olds being at loose ends while you capture the wily muse.  I haven't been that brave yet, and have on more than one occasion managed to plot out the PERFECT picture book from start to finish, all while sitting through a forty five minute school band concert - but as of this writing, I haven't ever been able to get those perfect ideas down onto paper once I've found the time to do so.

So what's to be done?  Ignore the mosquito, ignore the muse - put your time into Real Life, into what needs to be done at that one particular moment?  After all, the lawn must get mowed, sleep must get slept, bills need to be paid... right?

I'm not so sure.  Ignoring mosquitoes inevitably results in itchy welts... unpleasant, uncomfortable, but not seriously detrimental to your life and happiness.  Ignoring your muse, however, has the far more daunting result of driving said muse further and further off.  Wave off the good ideas, the inspirations and daydreams, too often and you'll find that they're slower and slower to arrive at all... and then where will you be?  Sure, you'll still have your day job - but isn't that the one you took to support your creative vocation?  Mosquitoes will always be there, given attention or no.  The muse won't be.

I'm not suggesting that we neglect those aspects of our "work-a-day" world that would genuinely wither without us.  As much as you'd love to blow off the weekly staff meeting, there's no denying that you NEED that day job to pay the bills and allow you to write or sketch or sculpt, and family time is sacrosanct.  I personally wouldn't trade storytime with my son for double that time in front of the computer.  Similarly, walking the dog or working out brings my body into a state where my mind can work at its creative best.  But when it comes to things like volunteering for a committee I really don't want ot be part of, gossiping at the water cooler, Tweeting, organizing the desk, updating Facebook status, dusting, vaccuuming, mowing the lawn, planting virtual crops on FarmVille... I wonder if I can pick up a can of "Life Repellant" at WalMart to buy myself a bit of writing time. 

Whatever it costs, it's bound to be worth it.

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