Musing on the Muses
The ancient Greeks believed there were nine muses, the daughters of Zeus himself, each representing her own unique flavor of divine inspiration for topics ranging from from music, poetry, history, astronomy and drama – the all encompassing Arts – according to Greek society.
I got stuck on this topic yesterday while dining at Café Mogador, trying to defend my Creative process to my husband after he heard me get irritated with another creative as we planned a big shoot together for the following week.
“It’s like she wants me to go in a time machine, rewind five years, and be on set for that exact shoot, with that exact team, location and access and literally re-shoot the entire thing. It’s been FIVE years, I’m like a completely changed artist!” I complained.
“It’s like saying to Van Gogh, oh love this. But can you actually just draw these sunflowers again?” Tom chuckled.
“Yes, it’s exactly like that.” I said, amused at my husband’s comparison between myself and the mad creative genius.
I couldn’t quite distinguish why the conversations circling this shoot felt so violating to me and came to a simple conclusion:
that shoot was Magical.
One of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, has struggled very openly with the notion of the muse or muses,
“I’ve spent my entire life in devotion to creativity, and along the way I’ve developed a set of beliefs about how it works – and how to work with it – that is entirely and unapologetically based upon magical thinking. And when I refer to magic here, I mean it literally. Like, in the Hogwarts sense. I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical, the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the otherworldly. Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment, not entirely human in its origins.”
This quote expands to a larger dialogue about blocking out external pressures and on having a healthy relationship with inspiration. Gilbert owns very publicly that the success of her first major novel Eat, Pray, Love was initially stifling for her. The book, turned film starring Julia Roberts, became a national sensation totally eclipsing the remaining body of work she has produced since then and her personal relationship with her own creative process has been an exercise in mindfulness & self acceptance.
I love this quote in context to the shoot in question as I can relate to her belief system regarding creativity. I didn’t shoot the photo shoot that I’m being pressured to recreate years ago, one of the Muses did. There was an ineffable presence in the room who guided me through every step of the creative process that day. That shoot embodied a time and place in my life that can never be recreated. That shoot was so inspired, it wound up on the cover of a major fashion magazine a few years later and I can’t just “do that” again.
If we aren’t careful & we let other people pressure us, we can choke the muse right out of our very own hands.
The first time I learned how fragile my relationship is with the muse is when I lost Euterpe, the muse of music. She left me sometime circa 2009 when I lost my marbles at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. I went from being one of the more inspired young classical singers in the country to accepting humbling regional gigs offers at lesser known Opera houses. I blamed everyone around me for this failure, my mom, my teacher, my boyfriend. But I now know I am the one to blame entirely for this disaster. I disrespected Euterpe. I stopped spending time with her. Rather than making space for her, I was on Facebook obsessing over my rivals, I was working out too much, every summer I was worrying about which soprano my boyfriend was going to cheat on me with, I was partying the night before major auditions, I was blogging, I was yelling at my teacher. I put so much distance between me and my muse that I lost her completely. The ineffable magical presence I felt with me on stage, that others felt in the audience, was gone.
When one of the muses reappeared in a different form many years later, I finally knew how to value her presence. I can never force her, I am simply meant to appreciate the time she chooses to spend with me. Sometimes she shows up, sometimes she doesn’t. I can never blame her or be angry with her for this. And I certainly can’t be bullied into making her appear for someone else’s benefit. That’s just not how she likes to roll and it’s my duty to protect her from these negative forces.
In the years since, I’ve devoted my time working with other artists on nurturing his/her relationship with the muses. I often times demand a closed set to protect the energy around me and try to quiet the physical space to leave room for one of the muses to appear. Many, many times one of them shows up – but lately one hasn’t. I think that’s probably again due to the fact that I’ve let too many external energies into the space and lost contact with the muse – my muse. I hope she shows up next week, but if she doesn’t, I won’t allow that to define me as an artist because I’ve established we aren’t one being. There is a boundary between us. She is magic and I am mortal. The less I pressure her, the better, as I know she will pop by my Studio another day.
She always does.
 Gilbert, Elizabeth. (2016, Januray 7) Elizabeth Gilbert: When a magical idea comes knocking, you have three options. Retrieved from http://theirishtimes.com