When she's all fired up and the juices are flowing there is no end to her ability to create works which so deeply reflect my soul that what she shares is even news to me. She keeps me up until it's so late nighttime has turned to morning by the time I crawl into bed, and she rattles me awake after a few hours of not enough sleep. Sometimes, in the wake of her tsunami like energy, my muse takes over so completely that I forget to eat, shower, or brush my teeth.
There are other times, however, especially when a very specific job has to get done (which usually involves a deadline), she is nowhere to be found. Her chair is empty and my texts go unanswered. Her tiny shoes, usually found strewn carelessly beneath her desk, are also gone and I stand alone, wondering if she ever existed at all? Was she a dream? Was all of this a dream? My muse has gone off the grid.
I've felt utterly, furiously abandoned at her sudden absence, a feeling answered by self-doubt, confusion, and even anxiety. How could she leave me when I needed her? Why is my muse flakier than a buttermilk biscuit? Does she hate me? Was it something I said? Was it something I did? Where on earth, or heaven, or anywhere in the universe, has she gone?
Either pure self-preservation or acquired wisdom (or a combination of both) has led me to a new response. These days I just tell myself that my muse is at the water cooler, resting and kicking back with other equally haggard muses. I imagine her tired and spent, having given all. Compassion fills up the spaces where painful abandonment used to reside.
She needs this, I remind myself. It is exhausting to run full tilt in deep creative mode, uncontrollably immersed in multiple projects simultaneously. I've run my muse ragged at times, and to be fair she has done the same to me. You might say we have a mutual total-absorption policy in place.
Truth be told, I owe my muse a debt of gratitude for the respite. The evidence of my own exhaustion stares back at me from the bathroom mirror, be speckled with dried on water splashes and toothpaste splatters, ignored for who knows how long. My hair is a mess. My skin is drawn. Did I have this shirt on yesterday? I look around and see that my house is more cluttered than usual, the fridge is low on edible food, and the coffee is nearly gone. My body aches from inactivity and my husband is telling me he misses finding me beside him in the morning light. Yep. It's time for a pause.
While my muse is hanging out, doing whatever it is muses do when they let their hair down, I sleep in all the way 'til my husband's alarm, tidy up my house and restock my own energy sources. I pull out my camera and chase bumble bees around my garden, begging them for a close up. I watch cooking shows and read recipes and shop at a different grocery store for new tastes that I can bring home to my kitchen and family. I read that book I've been dying to read, or I pull out my guitar and learn that song that's been itching to be learned. In other words, while my muse is quenching her thirst with magical nectar at the water cooler, I quench my own with experiences that please my senses and my soul.
I used to call times like this "dry spells" or say that I had "writer's block" but these words represent lacking or brokenness instead of something that is actually necessary and healing. Now I use the word respite. When my own life sustaining pantry has been restocked, and her energy has been replenished, we meet up again. It has always happened that way, so wouldn't it be silly for me to go on ranting about it? This is our agreement. She gives me all she's got, I give her all I've got, and then we rest. I can either beat myself up over it, or learn to walk with grace through the quiet spaces. I don't get angry with my absent muse anymore. I've let go of the feeling of abandonment.
About a year ago my thinking shifted after interacting with other writers and working with an onslought of relentless internal questions. What if a dry spell isn't really a dry spell at all? What will happen to my heart and soul if I keep chasing down my muse because I fear she is trying to get away from me when really she is not trying to do anything at all? What if she is simply doing what muses do, and I have become hurt and anxious because I misunderstand and misinterpret her absence? What if instead of panicking while my muse is at the water cooler I trust her to come back when she's ready? What if, while I'm waiting, I take really good care of my body, heart, and mind? What if, while I wait, I cherish and celebrate the beauty around me and within my own life? What if I cultivate relationships and my commitment to everything else I love? Ah. What if. A powerful word pair.
I leave you with a TED talk from Liz Gilbert. She shares her personal research, discoveries, and perspective on the origin of genius with more than a word or two on the notion that "creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked." "Are you guys all cool with that idea... I mean are you comfortable with that...?" she asks.