The Middle-Aged Muse

My 8-year-old daughter simply erupts with creativity. Every day she is dashing off new songs, drawing another segment of one of her comic strips, or writing a story. Her Muse works overtime.

My Muse, lately, doesn’t like to get out of bed. It’s hard for me to remember a time when the ideas came in such a flood. Nowadays it feels like everything comes in fits and starts. Creativity used to flow effortlessly, more ideas than I could ever write. I had multiple stories going at a time, and I churned out words like breaths. Now I’m lucky if I can write a coherent chapter in a day.

That’s what happens as you get older. Life gets busier, with more time-consuming responsibilities. I have less time to write, and less energy when I have time. Since I had my daughter, exhaustion has become a constant companion, and words jumble into gibberish in my fuzzy brain.

It’s not so much that my Muse has deserted me—it’s that she’s never sure when I’m coming to work, so she’s not always ready when I arrive. It’s like trying to guess what time to have dinner when everyone’s schedule keeps changing. And then when I do show up and we finally get rolling, my alarm goes off and I have to run, leaving her behind just when things are getting exciting. No wonder my Muse is pouty and petulant. She’s also cranky from sleep deprivation. It’s hard being a middle-aged Muse.

But when I get a few quiet hours, perhaps while driving to a book event, I start hearing her whisper. Ideas bubble up from the spring that’s been all but paved over with mom-duty tasks. And after a conference or a writer’s group meeting, my Muse burns through my soul like she used to and my fingers itch to grab a pen or find a keyboard.

My old Muse is still there, waiting for me. I just need to arrange my life so I can meet her. We’re both a little slower, a little creakier, with a little extra we-love-chocolate weight, but we’re still ready to tackle the next project together.

I watch my daughter’s bright flame, and it fans the spark in me. Life tries hard to extinguish the creative spark in us, and I am grateful for this little real-life Muse that fills my days with drawings and music. She connects me and my Muse with our younger selves, and reminds us of the passion with which we used to grasp each day.

After the Spring Break, I intend to make a standing date with my Muse.

How about you? Have you found your creativity changing as you get older?

Inspiration for the Muse…and for the Journey

At the Writer’s Coffeehouse last month, we discussed inspiration—where we find it and how we hang on to it. What I found is that there are two different types of inspiration: the Muse kind and the long-term kind.

We are used to thinking of inspiration as “how do I get my Muse to talk to me?” or how to get into your flow state as a writer. We all do need something to move us from the mundane brain to the creative brain, so we all have our inspirations, whether it be a saying or a magic pencil or a Lego figure.

But writers who are in this for the long haul also need inspiration to keep us going through the rough patches. Like when the words aren’t flowing, but the rejections are. Or when the day job takes over your life and squeezes your writing time to nil. Or when your family demands more of your time than usual. Or when health concerns crop up. Or even when things are going well but you have more things to juggle than you can fit in a 24-hour period.

What inspires you for the long haul? Is it still your quote or magic pencil or Lego figure? Do you trade up to a unicorn or a favorite book or a person who inspires you? Or do you have some other way of getting through the rough times?

I’ll be honest—when I looked for things that inspired my Muse, I was a little stumped. Which may explain why (in spite of turning out a lot of work) I have felt lost in a creative desert for the past 4 years. I did eventually remember a bookmark that I still have (and of course cannot find at the moment) from childhood. A unicorn glitters on the front, and it says, “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” Which I believed as a child, and still believe today.

As for my long-term inspirations…well, I found three. The first are the Coffeehouses and workshops and conferences I attend. They always fire me up and get the juices flowing. But they are like booster shots—temporary pick-me-ups that don’t last very long.

The second is something Lois Duncan once said. I have a preschooler at home, and she has sucked energy and time from me (as small children will). Sometimes I despair of ever getting any writing done. Then I remember that Lois Duncan wrote most of her most popular books while raising FIVE small children. She talked once about typing a manuscript (on a typewriter) with a baby in her lap. So I figure if she could do it with five, I can find a way to manage with one!

The third inspiration is not so much inspiration as sheer stubbornness. When things get rough, I simply put my head down and plow ahead. I try to learn more craft along the way, so I am at least plowing in the right direction. Some call it tenacity or endurance, but I think I’m just too pig-headed to quit. I’ve come so far, I refuse to simply walk away. I also think my life-long anxiety disorder has shaped this method of coping. There are so many things in my daily life that spark my anxiety, I long ago found that the only way through was to grit my teeth and just plunge ahead. So I do. Every day. For all sorts of things. It is no surprise, then, that when faced with obstacles in my writing life, I do the same thing.

So those are some of the things that I find inspiring. How about you? What drives you when things get tough?

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Last week I returned to Chincoteague. For eight months last year, this little island and its wild companion Assateague fed my soul and sheltered me from the hustle and bustle of the hectic pace of modern life. Going back, even for a couple of days, felt like returning home.

Is it possible to have a soul-place, the way people have a soul-mate? Some people don’t believe in soulmates but I do, having found mine. So is it possible that a soul has a place, or at least a type of place, where it can grow and expand and utterly belong?

If so, Chincoteague and Assateague are mine. The first time I set foot on the island, it felt like home. Not because I felt I knew it, but more like the island knew me. Like it had been waiting for me to find my way to it–to find my way back where I belonged. Sounds weird, perhaps (or eerily like the premise to Lost). All I know is that after several days there I was more at home than after several years in Jersey.

On my recent trip back, I of course had to visit Assateague, the wildlife refuge next door. Assateague in winter is bleak, but hopelessly beautiful nonetheless. Birds, ducks, and geese populate the pools, wild ponies and deer roam the marshes and forests, and squirrels flit through the underbrush. The beach, empty and wind-lashed, stretched to the horizon, and the waves reached for the sky, foam blowing off the crests in horizontal streams.

Some would call the beach desolate. Indeed, my baby girl was frantically signing, “All done! All done!” just a few minutes after we got there. The grey sky, clouds roiling farther than sight, the raging water, seething as it ate away the land… I can see how some people would feel isolated and insignificant.

Not me. Standing there, the chains of our hectic lifestyle fell away and my soul stretched. The untamed wind filled my lungs, the sea roared in my ears, the salt coated my lips, and the sand shifted beneath my feet. But instead of feeling small and isolated, I felt small and connected. The vastness didn’t swallow me, it took me into itself and made me more than I normally am.

So Assateague and Chincoteague are my soul-places, where I can sense the thrum of life itself. And although I cannot be there always, I can retreat there in my mind whenever needed. That wild wind will be my Muse, swirling my writer’s soul and calling forth words I hope will soar as high and as far as the wind itself.

What are your soul-places?

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