What is the responsibility of the writer to her muse? That’s the question rattling around in my head today.
And by “muse” I don’t mean some esoteric inspiration, or chorus of angelic voices encouraging me to put pen to paper. Or, more precisely, fingertips to keyboard. By “muse” I mean the actual person who inspires a character or story. Or, you know, entire novel.
For me, the muse comes most often in the form of a musician because I’m fascinated by the twin crafts of creating art and then performing it in front of an audience. The private and public personae, and how those two distinct territories are navigated and bridged. That, and I know I’m not alone in how music speaks to me. How it’s both universal and deeply personal, how it attracts and repels me. That kinetic energy sparks stories for me, or a need to tell stories, to express my experience as a listener.
I’m also inspired by non-musician people in my life. And as much as those who are good to me — those who lift me up and make me want to do better — serve as the starts of characters, it’s the missteps and bad endings that really drive me to write. Perhaps it’s because the magic of writing happens in the editing process that I use writing to edit my own past. Loves lost, hearts broken, pride wounded, all the words I wish could be unspoken: This is rewritten in the context of characters drawn from those people who I’ve hurt and been hurt by. In fact, I need to write to understand what happened and to get past it. And I want the slow plunge into the depth of knowing.
Specifically, of knowing people. As I write this, I’m listening to Water Liars’ song, “I Want Blood.” It kind of feels like that.
So what do I owe my muses? Do I owe honesty or good light? An explanation, perhaps, or an apology? I have been, in my life, too quick to apologize — this is something I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older. So no. I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry for trying to see you, or see myself through you. I’m not sorry because I’ve come back to try to right wrongs even as I write wrongs. I’m not sorry that I’m intrigued by you, enthralled by you, driven to tell the stories I spin of you. I’ve spent hours and days alone with you in my mind, putting words in your mouth, extrapolating your actions and your thoughts. I’m not sorry that the you I know is the you I’ve created — I know the difference between the two, and I’m willing to know the real you, too.
Do I worry that, if I’m outed, my muses will take out restraining orders? Sometimes. Do I worry they’ll think I’m a creep? Yes. But the real creeps among us are the ones who never think they’ll be perceived as creepy.
Do I hope that my muses will know that I’ve loved them as best I could, and treated them as tenderly as I knew how, and made rooms for them in my imagination, and kept the light on? Yes. A resounding yes. Always yes.