I have thought for some time that I do indeed have a muse in my life—an inspirational fount, a person as gift and wellspring of ideas for this newborn writer—and my thoughts were recently confirmed by a friend over dinner—and that confirmation was important. I told my friend that his affirmation was like a woman who looks in the mirror and thinks she’s pretty, but doesn’t fully believe in her beauty until someone tells her she’s pretty. Its been confirmed—I have a muse. A mortal, male muse. And I’ve recently been trying to understand the relationship that I have with this inspirational someone, to name our relationship, to name us, to identify what we are to each other. As if naming us would make it all clear—as if naming us would slow down the rocket ship ride that is artist and muse.
So I’ve been digging some into muses, writing about them (the christmas muse), reading about them, and although I have not read The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired, by Francine Prose, it is now on my reading list. In her introduction, she likens the desire to explain the mystery of inspiration to one’s desire to know the magician’s secrets:
“One difference between magic and art is that magic can be explained. Were he willing, Houdini could have told his fans how he escaped from the chains and straitjacket, suspended under water. But the artist can never fully account for the alchemical process that turns anatomical knowledge and fresco technique into the Sistine Chapel. To create anything is to undergo the humbling and strange experience—like a mystical visitation or spirit possession—of making something and not knowing where it comes from. It’s as if the magician had no idea how the rabbit got into his hat.”
“But we find that hard to accept, and so we look around for some myth to help explain, or at least surround, the genesis of art. The logical solution to the mystery of creation is divine intervention…The Greeks assumed that a deity had to be involved. Significantly, the picked goddesses—nine of them—and had the common sense to make these celestial sisters more abstract, private and distant than their heavenly colleagues…Perhaps the Greek intuited that the muses’ important, elusive work was beyond the limited reach of anecdote and gossip.”
Prose’s introduction is extensive, and she touches on the concept of a male muse, saying that gender is basically irrelevant to the marriage of creativity and passion, referencing historical male influences. Such is my experience—my man muse excites, he introduces fantasy and obsession, erotica and Eros, he fuels my creativity with inspirational witchcraft and subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, urging. He also angers me—a lot. Prose continues with the belief that some hold, that the traditional, female muse has disappeared from contemporary society, that feminism has deemed her not-much-more-than ethereal position as unacceptable, a sexist myth that encourages male dominance. And so why not equal opportunity muses, why not the “little man” behind the woman artist? Why should gender be a requisite for those who push, pull and lead us to that inspirational, mystery locale?
I will continue to examine my muse’s role in my life, my work, only because the relationship is so odd, so unlike other loves, so unsettling as it is satisfying. But perhaps I should not look the gift horse in the mouth, perhaps I should allow him to just be, to accept the situation as the price paid for creativity, to revel in this fortunate chaos. In a related but not really related story, I once had to give up smoking pot for a job interview that included drug testing, a creative job where I had to submit a piece of new artwork as part of the interview. I struggled to create a good looking, imaginative piece and complained to a girlfriend who asked, “How are you supposed to be creative without the pot? Isn’t pot the agent that initiates the creative process?” Hmmm, the creative process, inspiration, drugs, muses—a conundrum, a condition.
photo credit: Emily Balivet / etsy.com