It’s Day One of our Mid Winter/Almost March-Spring-Can’t-Be-Far-Off Retreat. Our theme is Feeding and Nurturing Your Muse. I have people writing in every corner of my house. We just had a nourishing meal of Butternut Gruyere Tart and Roasted Corn & Kale Soup. I stayed home from yoga today to focus on the theme, the food, the house, madly tossing huge pieces of furniture into closets so that my writers would have clear spaces on which to sit. I consulted recipes in cookbooks and then did what I usually do–wing it. I had some interesting food allergies to work with: a no-onions vegetarian, someone who is gluten-free, not to mention the hostess who is sugar and flour free. Tom had hidden the blade for the Cuisinart, so the ingredients of the soup which I’d intended to puree came out fully intact, which ended up being better anyway.
Things usually are better when I let someone other than me into play. Why do I forget this over and over again? It’s the lesson God’s been trying to teach me ever since I was a kid and didn’t think it was such a great idea to have a little sister. You can see how that turned out. Good thing I wasn’t the boss of that. And this is lesson #1 in Feeding the Muse: let the muse in. Don’t doubt. I have observed, in years upon years of running writing groups, that we writers almost inevitably think that our work is bad as it’s coming out of us. Oh, sure, every once in a while we have a Nanci Griffith moment where a song pours out of our mouths into our pens on onto the page in ten minutes, but more often than not, it’s a tortuous process where the draft feels like it’s all hemless and hopeless. It’s not. Trust. Have faith in your own process. Also, you are not necessarily the best judge of your own work. In an interview with Matthew Sweet I read in the 90s, he said something to the effect that some other, more experienced and celebrated songwriter had said to him, “Just wait till you get a hit. You will be shocked which song it turns out to be.”
What is Muse Food?
Well, of course, it’s different for everyone. Just as each of us has our own particular food predilections, aversions and allergies, so do our muses. Some like to go to art museums. Some NASCAR races, Some use Libraries. One writer friend I know gets inspiration from really junky TV.
My favorites sources these days are:
Long walks and talks with Tom
My minister Steve Philbrick’s sermons
Self-righteous documentaries that tell me the planet is going to hell because of corporate greed and quarter pounders with rBGH cheese
Bob Dylan albums
A daily run
That book (whatever is currently compelling me)
Taking a bath with my kids
Doing a puzzle with my kids
Cleaning out a drawer
Tidying a room, especially the sorting, dusting, arranging
Cooking a meal from scratch
Having a frustrating conflict and talking it out
Making a themed snack for my kids. The picture above is from a snack entitled “White Plate Snack.” Very popular.
When I go too long without these things, my lens shrinks. My mind is less a glittering room full of color and texture and bright natural light and more a dull, depressing studio whose one window looks out on its neighbor’s brick wall.
One way to starve my muse is to give me something to count–like calories, or items in my budget–or something to worry about–like where my daughter is going to kindergarten (and therefore, naturally, where she will go to college; who her friends will be, how mentally healthy she will be, etc.). The other way is to make me extremely busy. Though it’s not the regular busyness that throttles the muse. My muse actually likes a busy Nerissa. The kind of busy where the laundry sits on the bed for an hour or so while I’m making the yogurt, and there are forms to fill out that get mailed, and the trip to the bank gets wedged in after child-pick-up and we stop at the co-op to get bananas, and then I race home to coach a client, make dinner, tidy the house for the writing group, write a song, fill the dishwasher, kiss Tom and go to sleep–that kind of busy is fine. It’s the kind of busy where I notice I haven’t spoken to my parents in weeks, I tell Katryna “I can’t talk right now, sorry, overwhelm” and I miss evening meditation–that kind of busy does me and my muse in.
What are some of your favorite ways to feed your muse?
The Nields and their CrackerJack Band at the University of Hartford TV Studio recording their Family DVD on May 2, 2009. Photo by James Levine. I am reminded today about…