[Photo credit: Eylem Culculoglu]
We get the word from Greek Mythology. The muses were any of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, each of whom presided over a different art or science. Basically they inspired and created greatness through mere human artists. They were channels in which to tune your ears and heart as a musician (in fact the word musician comes from muse), or as a scientist, or whatever. Most people don’t believe in these deities anymore, but the concept of having a muse to inspire you is still a good one. Nature, God, or whatever, following a muse is a good idea. Here’s why:
1) Follow the muse to be healthier
Creative types tend to get this bad psychology when it comes to their role in the world. As a creative type, I can say with confidence that there does exist a mindset, one I sometimes inhabit, in which I am a god who paints elegant pictures with holy words. I am a Zeus who sends words off through the thunders and I am Poseidon who conjures hurricanes and weeps at the beauty of ocean rain. Hercules himself could not cause my words to crumble with a blow!
Obviously I try not to visit that mindset very much, if only because I can get so excited about something I’ve written that when I finally share it and people audibly sigh and go, “Meh!” I feel incredible depression. No one can tell me my crappy stories are crappy but me! I think sometimes. This is a danger to good health. But why?
Having a big head about your own creativity is like having a big head about life in general. It’s stupid and dangerous. There is grace in learning to let children make their own mistakes and experience their own consequences, and there is grace in realizing how limited your talents are. To step in and believe that you are the glue that holds all relationships in your family together is like thinking that you are the glue that binds your stories together.
Any good piece of work is a collaboration of hard work, luck, care, and the influence of others. Real authors put a whole page of acknowledgments in the front of their books for a reason. They know that without those people they could not have written what they did. If they did think this, every bit of bad feedback that was received on the way, every person who opened their book and put it down before reading the first chapter would be an affront to their dignity. This nonsense is bound to accumulate into nothing more than a long list of negative affronts. These affronts are taken into their psyche most easily as negative stress. Negative stress is bad. It hurts you inside and out, affects your sleep, your metabolism, and your ability to perform well at a task. Essentially, this kind of thinking leads to personal sabotage. You think you are a holy prophet for creativity and anyone who disagrees does nothing but make you worse at being a holy prophet.
2) Follow the muse to make better art
Long ago I wrote a column called Where Does Creativity Begin?. In one word the answer is: Wonder. This is the key to this point. Wonder is that magical bit of internal humility that allows us to turn outward from ourselves and appreciate the fantastic. Wonder is the word that lets us say “Wow!”.
This is important because learning to look outside of yourself for inspiration is the mark of a good designer. One uniting trait between all the best writers of old—from Shakespeare to Flannery O’Connor—is not only their gift at writing prose, but their gift at observing human nature. This is true for all facets of creativity. I would trade a dozen Van Gogh’s for one good Da Vinci any day of the week.
See, wonder enables us to watch and observe the things that break our hearts. C.S. Lewis, that wonderful storyteller, once wrote this on the matter:
“Have you not seen that in our days
Of any whose story, song or art
Delights us, our sincerest praise
Means, when all’s said, ‘You break my heart?”
Wonder is the key to this door. Who of you have not loved someone deeply? Do you not have a sense of awe when it comes to those people in life you love? Personally, I love my parents. It would be dishonest to say I did not have a sense of wonder when it came to their personalities. How did they do the things they’ve done?—how do they continue to?
When you have a disposition to observe and take inspiration from things beyond yourself, creativity is completely transformed from crappy little self-confessional stories like this one I wrote, to emotionally charged, moving stories like this one I wrote. And no, it is not immodest to use my own stories as a reference because I know what mindset I was in when I wrote them. Also, it’s my website, so I’m allowed to plug… Look at me go!
3) Follow the muse to be happier
Since we’ve established that following the muse is tantamount to stepping outside of yourself, let me tell you what’s so interesting about that. “Stepping outside oneself” is the literal translation of the word ecstasy. We get it from the Greek word ekstasis. We see part of this mystery when it comes to sex. Sex between a man and his wife, for instance, ought to be a perfect imagery of ecstasy. One only climaxes when they lose themselves in the other person. In fact this is the ultimate losing of oneself—there is no thinking about one’s self going on, and if there is, their sex life is definitely suffering. Any happy married couple will tell you that sex is all about the other person. This is why they’re so happy.
See, following the muse is something like sex. You step outside of yourself to hold the beauty of something else close to your heart. Eyes that do nothing but point inward are not eyes at all, but heinous mutations. Happiness grows from within, but only when we absorb the nutrients from the soil without, and soak those warm rays of the sun from much distance.
In conclusion, take the time today to try and discover your muse. Life is full of opportunities to be creative. You don’t have to be a writer or a painter. Creativity can be in the kind words you say to your children. Creativity can be in how you cook dinner and tell stories with your visiting Grandparents. Creativity can be the way you hold yourself in the presence of others.
We all have one muse, in fact we may have many. Whether it be muse with a big ‘M’ or a little ‘m’, whether it be God or Mozzart, there is a muse with your name on it. Go ahead and follow it.
I promise it will lead to something great.