On the Sad Death and Subsequent Resurrection of My Muse
I'm a person who loves to write. In grammar school and high school, when the other students were moaning about writing such masterpieces as What I Did During the Summer, I was happily chewing my eraser to bits and scribbling away, unable to believe my good luck in getting such a plum assignment. I hated giving speeches, disliked group projects, and despised multiple choice tests — ah, but the writing exams, now there was another matter entirely. And so it's been for much of my life. Although the writing bug has bitten me off and on during my 40 plus years, I've always been able to write when and where I wanted. The past year has been, creatively, a good one for me. My writing production has been high, I've received a lot of compliments, and the ideas and words have flowed effortlessly. Imagine my surprise when, on the way to writing Nirvana, my creative muse died suddenly.
I still don't know quite what happened. One day I'm busily writing away, as happy as a hog sleeping in the sun, and the next day the idea well is completely dry. Normally, I'll go to the computer, fire it up, sit down and just start typing. Anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes later, there is a finished product on my screen, waiting to be aged for a few days, proofread and sent off. On this particular day, I fired up the computer and paused. I felt a peculiar reluctance to open the word processing program — I use MS Word — and instead I sat there, looking at the screen with its background image of my lovely daughter Mary playing her guitar.
I don't want to, I thought to myself. Just don't feel like it today. Maybe later. I sighed, shut the computer down and wandered out of the room. Later that day, I thought again about writing, started up my trusty Gateway and sat there, looking at the screen. Nothing.
That was basically what happened every time I tried to sit down and write. I'd sit in front of the computer with the nagging feeling that it was time to write something, and yet I'd be completely unable to even open up the word processor. I didn't want to see the blank page staring accusingly at me, ready and waiting to be written on. Once I even grabbed a notepad and a pen in the hopes that changing my writing habits by writing the old fashioned way — with pen and paper — might help. It didn't.
I stopped blogging, something I had done regularly for months, and couldn't even answer the messages from my fellow bloggers asking where I was. My blog, formerly in the top 50 of our blogging community, quickly fell completely out of the top 100. I had several pieces already finished that I could send in to Piker Press, but what the heck would I do when those were gone? Give up writing for PP? Piker Press, and my fellow bloggers, were the only people who had ever expressed an interest in reading anything I'd written.
One day the idea hit me. I've always been a reader, so I'd go back and re-read the books that inspired me and made me want to be a writer. If that didn't work, nothing would.
I started with Secret Sea, a children's novel by Rob White, and probably my favorite childhood book. Ah, now this was the stuff that inspired me when I was a kid. I devoured Secret Sea, then read Confederacy of Dunces, my favorite book of all time and the absolute funniest book I've ever read. Next was The Sundial by Shirley Jackson, the Portrait of Dorian Gray, The Illustrated Man, A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway is a favorite of mine), The Tenant, Spencer's Mountain, Nine Stories, and several others. I enjoyed re-reading these books immensely, but my muse was still silent. It looked like my bright idea wasn't going to pan out after all.
One day I was in the local mall where the public library was having their annual book sale, and as I rummaged through their listing, I saw it on a table. Ulysses by James Joyce. Now Ulysses is a difficult, sometimes maddening reading experience. It's difficult to follow, almost impossible to comprehend at times, and probably useless to read unless you've first read The Odyssey by Homer. However, it is definitely a work of literary brilliance, often regarded as the greatest novel of the 20th century and, hard as it can be to read, a compelling, thought provoking experience. I decided to tackle it again, several years after my last attempt at it.
One hundred pages in, and I see again why Ulysses is so lauded. No doubt about it, this is a literary masterpiece, a work of pure unadulterated genius. Suddenly, I had the urge to write. What Hemingway couldn't do, what Faulkner and Capote couldn't do, Joyce did: he unblocked my writers block. I sat in front of the computer, turned it on, fired up Microsoft Word, and the words began to flow as effortlessly as before. A little rusty perhaps. My style had suffered a little during the fallow period, but the desire was there, as strong as ever.
My aims are modest. I'll probably never see anything in hard-copy print, never make any money at my writing, never write anything approaching the scope and quality of Ulysses (or Secret Sea for that matter). I write because I enjoy it, it's fun, it's a great way to spend free time. I write because I love to write. Thank you, James Joyce, for reminding me of that.