What the hell is this Muse thing? Somewhere along the line (definitely not in Kindergarten) we are told that a Muse is needed to create something, anything, of beauty or perfection. A muse is needed for inspiration. A muse is needed…. But no one really tells us what the hell a Muse is exactly, in these contemporary times. We are told that when this Muse strikes, the piece we create will be perfect, amazing, acclaimed, brilliant, and maybe even bring us recognition! Is it when we create something to be proud of, we credit a muse (even if it’s not true)? When we create something easily we credit a Muse as helping us along? Have we been trained to mistrust ourselves and credit some fanciful and miraculous Muse?
We’ve all seen or heard an amazing piece of art and heard the creator say, “It just came to me!”
Others claim to be inspired by one person, their Muse. A model, a partner, maybe even a place or setting, pinning all their inspiration and output on this one thing.
Let’s look at the muse in a more…historical/mythological way. Zeus brought the Muses into being (by sleeping with his Aunt) to celebrate victory over the Titans. He wanted to provide relieve from the sorrows of his people’s past. The nine baby girls he produced with his Aunt, the Muses, created this distraction by calling attention to art and beauty. They must have had quite an impact as we are still referring to them today-but no longer worshiping Zeus, yes? Oh these young ladies were good!
We (the old ‘we’) translated the Muse into someone that inspires us to create—but it could be that Zeus was thinking more along the lines of a Muse as a distraction. His Muse appears to be something that frees the mind of worries, tragedies, and politics. His Muses may even work on a more personal level distracting us from responsibilities like that large pile of laundry and the bills that have to get pushed off to next month. Once the mind is distracted from these ‘tragedies’ it can relax a little, open, and let in some wondering thoughts. It’s this freeing of the mind from the mundane and tragic that can lead to inspiration and creation.
We can drift our mind by doodling, taking a walk, listening to music, a podcast even! It was a podcast that inspired this little writing and art endeavor. And it was not a podcast on creativity but a semi-technical podcast on shooting film photography. An episode full of camera model numbers, ISO speeds, aperture settings…I was barely paying attention, letting my mind drift. Then I heard the gentleman hosting the podcast say he could hardly find time to shoot a roll of film in his busy life—this was maybe around episode 4 or 5. I skipped ahead to an episode he posted a year later and he casually mentioned he had shot 18 rolls of film that week. Wow! Did creating his podcast make him feel accountable to go out and photograph? Why the change? What happened? Did focusing on a podcast make him less anxious about shooting–so he didn’t overthink it–he just went out with camera in hand and shot with a relaxed mind? That sort of change in a year (which is really not a long time) is amazing and beautiful! I was struck with inspiration because I was listening to a podcast about nothing I do—I don’t shoot photos with film cameras. I don’t even have a working film camera (I do have a broken one though).
This little project started because I was listening to something new, unfamiliar, I was half-engaged in the content which let my mind wander (open?) to a snippet of a sentence uttered by a podcaster. I will argue that Muses (distractions) are all around us. We just have to allow them to distract us.
We appear to not be satisfied with just inspiration, which is perhaps why we expect a Muse to bring us perfection. Inspiration is everywhere, let a Muse distract you enough to see it.
Inspiration + time, while not the Muse we’ve grown to expect, is what we can get and it’s all we have. While I think this is just the start of the creativity equation, it is the hardest part to allow into our over-scheduled life.
Inspiration is easy: take a walk this week. No headphones. 10 minutes. See what happens.