Greek mythology tells of nine muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne: goddesses who inspire with their talents representing aspects of the arts and sciences.
The dictionary definition includes a brief etymology of the word, but also offers more modern day interpretations.
Often, artists (painters, writers, musicians…) tell of the muses whom have inspired them to create
These are the muses and how I’ve been inspired by them:
There is nothing more majestic than the night sky. Symbols of it fill my pages of writing. In awe of the galaxy, the moon, the sun, the planets, I observe– me watching them, them watching me. As a student of astronomy and astrology, I study the constellations using aspects of signs in the characters I create. I believe their signs are part of the energy force that moves each character through a piece of writing, allowing him/her to take on a voice, action and thought that surprises even me, the creator.
My first exposure to love poetry was probably during my freshman year of college in a Romantic Poets class studying Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge and Blake. This lead to the study of Victorian poetry– Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Bronte & Christina Rossetti. Later, I found Shakespeare’s sonnets and grew to appreciate brilliance of his work.
“Love is not love which alters when its alteration finds
or bends with the remover to move
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on the tempests
and is never shaken
It is the star to every wandering bark
whose worth’s unknown,
although height be taken”
“When I saw you, I fell in love
and you smiled because you knew”
Romeo and Juliet
“Be with me always
take any form– drive me mad!
Only do not leave me in the abyss
where I cannot find you.
I cannot live without my life.
I cannot live without my soul.”
And, later still, I found other pieces that inspire. I write them all down– in a notebook, and on a wall in my study, so the words become a part of me.
“It’s only with the heart one could see rightly
What is essential is invisible to the eye”
The Little Prince
“You know that place between sleep and awake
that place where you can still remember dreaming?
That’s where I’ll always love you.
That’s where I’ll be waiting.”
The Adventures of Peter Pan
Love is the most powerful emotion. How could one write, after all, without love?
If I didn’t pursue some vein (or many) of English in college or life, for that matter, I would have pursued history. It fascinates me. Everything about it. I’m drawn to antiquity. I’m drawn to stories of the past. I’m curious about how the past affects the future. I even get politically charged on occasion and relish a good political debate. History is about what makes people tick– whole cultures, too.
When I was little, I grew up with two Italian grandparents whose parents immigrated to the U.S. before they were born. If I had to equate them to a modern(ish)-day example, it would be Cher’s character’s family in Moonstruck.
My grandfather served in Guadalcanal during World War II, a great sense of pride for him until his dying day. My grandmother waited for him. Separately, they told me stories about the war and the Great Depression which, I believe, sparked my curiosity about history. Later, I would lose myself in research, digging to find more and more– the personal stories. I event went to Pearl Harbor and interviewed some of the vets there. THIS inspired my first novel– my first history muse.
We all have a tragic story to tell. Some hide it deep within; others share with ease. I’m still grappling with my story. Bits and pieces of it thread through my work– poetry, novels, short works, even some ideas I have for film. But I’m not quite there yet. Sure, I can make sense of some of the pieces. Some of which I represent in my writing better than others. But I’m still trying… with every piece I write I try to discover the triumphs of my tragedies, big and small.
Some of the tragedies that have inspired me include, but are in no way limited to…
Hamlet, William Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest tragedy of them all. Hamlet explores the psyche– so many sides of it. It begs us to question ourselves, the choices we make, our own lives.
“What a piece of work is a man!
` How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties!
In form and moving how express and admirable!
In action how like an angel in apprehension.
How like a God!
The beauty of the world
The paragon of animals!
and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?
Man delights not me”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Alex: The Life of a Child, Frank Deford, a little non-fiction book I happened upon, then later saw a film adaptation of. It’s the story of a courageous little girl, struck with cystic fibrosis, and her loving family in the wake of her loss. Beyond sadness, it’s about the triumph of spirit, much like the fiction novel The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I am often struck by the strength of those in the face of tragedy, perhaps, because I’ve seen a lot of it, too much.
Yet, I hold onto the belief that life is about Yin and Yang– balance. One can’t know extreme joy without having experienced tragedy. One cannot know beauty without knowing the beast. One cannot know peace without fear and love without hate. It is through experiencing the depth of such extreme emotions that, as creative types, we create.
This is the weakest of my own muses, for I am a dreadful dancer. I try to avoid dancing except in the privacy of my alone time. I wish I were graceful. I wish I had the poise, stamina and talent to move my body to the rhythms of the day.
I do have two very vivid memories of dancing, however, which fill me with joy. One is standing atop of my grandfather’s feet as he taught me how to waltz; he was as good a dancer as he professed. His left hand held my right in a firm grasp, while his right elbow jutted out perpendicular to my ribs as he gently placed his right hand on my back. 1,2,3 and repeat. He told me it’s all about the timing. For the second there were no rules. Just me holding each of my babies, on separate occasions, in my arms, either swaying to the rhythm of soft lullabies or dancing wildly across the floor to upbeat children’s dance music. Their sweet eyes closing as they drifted off to sleep or opening wide, wide as their laughing mouths to mommy being silly.
I try to capture moments, just like these, little snapshots of perfection, in my writing.
Now, music– that is one of my greatest muses. I listen to music of many genres: rock, soft rock, pop, indie, alternative, singer/songwriter, disco, classical, pop(ish) country, some rap. I like music for the melody AND the words. Often, when I find something that I love, I listen to it on repeat too many times for others but never enough for me. Music serves many purposes in my life. It is the basis of fond childhood memories– a time when my whole family saw plays and sung entire soundtracks in unison. I wished I were one of the Von Trapps or the Osmonds or Jacksons. I could sing The Age of Aquarius from the first word on the album to the very last, the same with the Carpenters albums and Jesus Christ Super Star. My mother taught me a love for music.
As I grew older, I learned to love music in different ways. Attending concerts is one of my favorite past times. I’ve seen too many (yet, still not enough) to count: Rod Stewart, Madonna, Carly Simon, Cher, James Taylor, Genesis, Dianna Ross, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Train, The Cars, Chicago, The Police, Third Eye Blind, John Mayer, Maroon 5 and Coldplay (I’m sure there are more…). There is still one band on my “to see” list that I’m dying to see: Aerosmith. Being at a concert, body moving to the music, crowd singing in unison, my blood feels as if it’s boiling, so much adrenaline running through it, and like it’s swaying on an ocean tide at the same time.
While I’m writing, I plug my ear buds in, choose a play list that either my character would be listening to or one that imitates the mood of the scene I’m writing. This is what gets me in the zone. I could write all day like this.
When I was a T.A. in grad school, my mentor professor had this painting on the wall of her office. Earthy colors and placid. A girl, looking forlorn, dressed in a flowing white gown, halo band wrapped around her hair, sitting in a boat, tapestry draped over the side, floating down a river. She’s looking up, as if to something.
I wanted to know what she is thinking. Where is she going? Is she running to something or away from something? Is she sad or introspective?
I’d learn that the painting, rendered by John William Waterhouse, was of his adaptation of an epic poem entitled “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It’s about an embowered woman, locked in a tower by a curse, who sees a reflection of a man she instantly falls in love with living in what seems to be a utopia. She can only look upon this man and his surroundings in a mirror, for if she looks directly upon it, the curse will break.
Upon reading the poem, my questions became more complex. My understanding altered and intensified. Is living life a reality or a reflection of it? Isn’t everything about our perception, no matter from what the approaching stance? Is it better to live safe and protected or risk everything to venture out into the unknown? Is the unknown always utopian-like? Will it never quite measure up to the way we had imagined it?
Questions like these, prompted from epic works such as “The Lady of Shalott” or “The Canterbury Tales,” “Beowulf,” “Paradise Lost,” “The Divine Comedy,” “The Odyssey,” “The Illiad”… aren’t they just questions of life, the basis of philosophy, psychology & sociology? This is what makes us think. Thinking. Taking action. Interacting. These are what make us human.
All of life is an epic poem. Each of us with a different story to tell. Conflicts to overcome. Tapestries to weave. Unique journeys to take.
Questions. Observations. Experience. These are where the ideas come from.
I try to find that line in my writing, the in between, the thing that we all feel but have difficulty encapsulating in words.
We need comedy to deal with life, for without it, we’d buckle under.
Comedians that inspire me: Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Adam Sandler, Jimmy Fallon, Dana Carvey, Gilda Radner, Tina Fey, Dane Cook, Melissa McCarthy… and the one who makes me laugh the most: my son, Tyler.
The Yes Man
Listening to hymns, for me is like reading a good ending, one that satisfies all my expectations, to a book I can’t put down.
In all their majesty, hymns fill me with joy, faith, hope, perseverance. They remind me that beyond the struggle there is always something better. We need to live through the struggle to see that, for without it there couldn’t be clarity. Not only do hymns like these, my favorites, inspire me to be a better person, they inspire me to write more authentically.
Hallelujah: Jeff Buckley
Amazing Grace: Judy Collins
The Prayer: Celine Dion & Andrea Bocelli
You Raise Me Up: Josh Groban