Dear Muse, Do You Wanna Be Friends?

In 2013, the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was released. Walter had a rich imagination but a lot of timidity in real life. During the course of the movie he had many adventures the world over as he attempted to chase down a magazine photographer for an image that would grace the final issue’s front cover. He finally caught up with the guy, who was patiently sitting on top of a mountain waiting for an opportunity to capture a unique image. His target was a rarely sighted animal in a remote part of the world. When the animal appeared, he adjusted his lens, but he did not take a picture. Instead, he sat back and just enjoyed the moment for what it brought to him. No Instagram. No selfie. A wasted chance of a lifetime? It didn’t matter because that eternal, breathless moment of beauty was... enough.

Believing in enough is one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines I know. For most of my life I’ve been the kind of person who carries a notebook everywhere. The one who’d take notes in therapy just in case I forgot something important. The one who would get up in the middle of the night every time inspiration struck so I wouldn’t lose anything by morning.

There is nothing more exhausting than the fear of being abandoned by the Muse. “She’s a jealous lover,” some would say. Or “she’s temperamental.” Advice experts often use dominating words like capture and wrestle, conquer and tame to describe a relationship with the Muse. It’s no way to treat the mother of ideas. She is free and so am I if I stop fixating on what I might lose.

I started this practice with my poetry last year: While walking to pick the kids up from school I would compose a poem that matched the rhythm of my footfall, letting the words trail away behind me and run off to have their own life. When alone in the car with my meditative thoughts, I would resist the compulsion to recite the words over and over until I could get them on paper. Breathing them out as a prayer and blessing them at our parting became my habit instead.

I haven't felt a sense of loss for the poems that did not stay. Even if I felt they were really good. In some ways, it has been even more important to set the good ones free. It was a treasure to have them visit and I hope they’ll tell their friends what a lovely time they had.  

It’s not Me vs. Muse anymore. It’s a celebration of creative chaos. It's a trust in the abundance of inspiration. It's a giant step toward believing in the enough it seems we all seek.

As a child, I had to learn that keeping fireflies in a jar did not preserve their beauty or the moment of wonder at their sighting. Their lights would go out and they would crawl around sadly looking for escape. I can’t do that to fireflies anymore and I can’t do it to the Muse either. The best way to keep a spark alive is to give it space and freedom, even if that means taking a writing break, which I do periodically and then question whether I’m really a writer or not. (Those doubts may be present, but in the absence of fear they cannot live empowered.)

The next time a middle-of-the-night thought strikes me, I can thank it gratefully and return to my dreams instead of scrambling for a notebook, pen, and booklight. Sleep is precious, too. Maybe that’s not the writing advice everyone is looking for. It is the one that brings me the most stability, though. I am after that kind of peace, because I write far more content when I am not so fearful of what I may lose that I can’t be excited about what else I may find. I want to stay hungry, but not ravenous. I want to sit down to write with open mind, open heart, and open hands, believing in possibility.

“Hey Muse. Do you wanna be friends?” she said expectantly...

Jamie Bagley