Sunday, April 22, 2012

Explaining the Muse

‎"Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living, [but] they are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something." - Kurt Vonnegut

"Illumination" wasn't a lousy poem. Of that I am certain. It was for a friend, so it's intrinsic value is more sentimental than commercial anyway, though I've begun submitting it to various journals. Of those whom I personally allowed to read the poem who know the history of the muse and myself, it was widely considered beautiful and befitting. Kate called it "superb." But it was neither literal nor definitive, elements that confused the intended muse, who, as I've said before, is a Rational while I'm an Intuitive. (See

I achieved great reward in composing the poem, from an artistic and emotional standpoint, with an element of catharsis, but I'm afraid it was indeed lost on the muse, which saddens me. We talked the other day, and he said, "I think I fit more into the category of 'friend' than 'muse.'" This statement confused me. (I had told him, in the card that cradled and enclosed my poem, my gift to honor him, that "every artist has a muse.")

"No, no, you don't get it!" I snapped back, my one free hand flailing. Admittedly, I half-jokingly chastised him for his lack of humanities-related coursework throughout his otherwise extensive education. Just as I took one basic math class in college (pass/fail) and one chemistry course for non-science majors (pass/fail), and took Genetics as an elective (do not ask me WHY, but at the time it seemed interesting) and got a "D" for "dismal," his education in the arts/humanities was limited to one Western history course and, I believe, one basic English course, as a scientist. Yet, he's well-cultured. Well-read. Well-traveled. Well-rounded. In, what seems, The Art of the Overt.

Then it dawned on me that I needed to explain to him exactly what the function of a "muse" was in the first place, in context, or at least my personal interpretation of one as an artist. (Bear in mind that I haven't had a chance to discuss muses with Kate, a professional painter, so I was going off of solely my own experience.)

I told him that the muse is whatever or whomever inspires you to create a piece of art (writing/music/visual/etc.). I told him it didn't mean any big, major thingy; rather, it was just like looking at an object and painting it. (I was trying to keep it simple.) "Ah, the fruit bowl!" he said. "Right," I replied. I said that the muse was whatever compelled an artist to create art. Whether that's a painting of a fruit bowl, or the architecture of a building, a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, a piano composition, or a poem about a guy who leaves his Christmas lights up outside all year long, the artist has to be inspired by *something* for the creative process to successfully blossom.

Perhaps he was confused because he knows that I have been and am someone's muse, and that THAT relationship has an element of intensity and passion (historically) that DID amount to a big, major thingy, thus he incorrectly assumed the intention of my poem.

True, in this particular instance, "Illumination" is about both of us and our friendship, so it'd be fair to say our friendship was the literal muse, while he was the virtual or accessory muse, since I wrote it intended for him. THAT's why he didn't *get* the poem and why we had such an awkward dialog about it on the phone. A) He misunderstood what a muse was. B) He's far too Rational to, off the top of his head, in the moment, critique a piece of poetry with an English-Writing major when the poem's about the two of us being friends.  As per usual, I ask too much of him.

If you look at the header of my blog, under the title "Rhythms From the Offbeat Drummer," it clearly states "musings, diatribes and dialogues..." blah blah blah. Musings. I write about things that inspire me to create pieces of prose, non-fiction, in the format of an online blog. My muses are as varied and multifarious as the day is long, though there are indeed ones deemed special. Just as the friend in the poem is my muse, so is my son, God, my best friend Kate, George Harrison, the office where I used to work, my medical team, my eyebrow rings, The Flaming Lips and even the wicked mother-in-law of that chick at church whose skin I make crawl with my outrageous religious/societal opinions.

And that's sort of art's point, isn't it? To convey, in whatever medium the artist might choose, a conglomerate of visions, conversations, experiences, wins and losses. It takes a relative amount of courage to share your art with the world, a lionhearted vulnerability, and a pair of balls to boot. ESPECIALLY when you're commissioning yourself a piece that's meant to ode someone in whom you have a relatively vested emotional stake; in my case, the poem for my friend.

Ultimately, I texted him to re-read "Illumination" with a fresh pair of eyes, now that he knows what the true meaning of the muse is to me as the poet. Provided he didn't glibly throw it into the trash, which I suppose is also possible at any juncture. Even if he takes a few minutes to read it again, I'm not sure he'll understand, though I am creatively satisfied with the final product of my energy.

Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.

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