Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How Did You Meet Your Muse? (09/15/03)



Featured writer: Susan Bono



Contributors this month:
Anne E. Silber
Betty Winslow
Connie Mygatt
Maggi Godman
Susan Bono


Meeting of the Muse

by Susan Bono

My muse and I have never officially met. I don't know if this is because she is shy or because up to now the conditions haven't been right. Maybe she's this terribly radiant being whose fierce light would blind me. Or more likely she's a small, drab woman with a bad haircut and a baggy cardigan. On this issue, I fear disappointment, because until now, I've always imagined my muse in the role of a glamorous and charismatic best friend-someone who would lend me her kid gloves or pearls and take me to the best parties, all the while careful not to eclipse me.

Ah yes, me and my ego, a friendship that comes between me and my muse. Ego, that sleek, chatty gossip who judges everyone by their shoes. That may be one of the reasons my muse keeps her distance, and tends to do her work with me through others. She steers clear of my ego by sending other teachers and mentors into my life to cajole, threaten, or prod me into creative action. She knows I need help in spite of myself.

One of her first emissaries showed up in kindergarten, in the form of a five-year-old named Peggy Ackley. Peggy took one look at my stick figure drawings and snorted. Up until then, I'd been happy with the time-tested formula handed down by kids in my neighborhood-a person consisted of a round head, torso no wider than a pencil lead, hands like bamboo rakes and legs with feet like bricks. To personalize, all you had to do was hang a dress or some pants on the form and add some hair. Presto!

But Peggy's people had actual arms and necks that weren't simply naked spinal cords. Peggy knew how to draw laces and buckles on shoes. She was concerned with the way things really looked, and suddenly, I wanted to achieve that same level of realism. My muse had sent me a rather impatient mentor, often derisive, but one who spurred me on to draw and, later, write, by always insisting I could do better. As I doggedly competed with Peggy all during grammar school, I inadvertently learned the value of reaching deeper.

But my muse is kind and usually sends me gentler coaches. Along with the likes of Peggy, I have been lucky to have mentors who praised my efforts, handed me special projects, trusted me with parts in plays, granted me public speaking engagements, newspaper assignments, opportunities to be published. In spite of what my ego says, my muse has always been the one to stack the deck in my favor. Of course, I rarely remember to thank her.

In fact, I have always taken my poor muse too much for granted, and have been more willing to praise her messengers than listen for her messages. Lately, I suspect my muse has been growing a little weary of this lack of appreciation. She's begun to feel restless and bored, tired of being relegated to the shadows. She's looking for someone who wants to get to know her, and if I don't make some changes, she may decide to move on.

Where is my altar? Who is in charge of the offerings and incantations? I need to boot my ego out of the spare bedroom and treat my muse to a proper invitation. Not just a quick call for help at the last minute, no treating her like the hired help or a casual afterthought. If I ever want to meet my muse, I need to treat her as an honored guest, with the hope she'll take up permanent residence. It's time to start tidying the house, setting out the cakes and tea in anticipation of the pleasure of her company. If I'm lucky, the two of us will have time for a long, uninterrupted chat. Even now I should have a teacup ready, in case she decides to drop in.

Susan Bono is remembering to put the kettle on in Petaluma, CA.

How Did You Meet Your Muse?

  by Anne E. Silber

I am convinced that if a Muse is to be part of a person's life, it enters with the person. I think my Muse was holding hands with me at my birth. That doesn't mean that the Muse makes itself felt right away. That may take years.

I wrote from the time I learned how. I won my first essay contest at age 7. Later, in high school and college, I admit that writing term papers was the easiest part of any course that required one. Because I am the definition of "lazy", I depended on my writing to improve my grades.

I continued writing for all the years I've lived since school-days were over, and I am 70.

Much of my writing has been issues-oriented, and has resulted in a great many letters to editors, opinion pieces, and the like.

Oddly though, I never labeled myself as a writer until just 10 years ago. Perhaps that is because I had so much living to do before my Muse decided I was informed enough to put my experiences on paper and present them to the reading public.

I wrote my first, and to date only, novel during the years 1993-1994. It is a story which utilizes my memories of my hometown during World War II. It was fun writing it, and it was written in long-hand, mostly in a quiet park near my apartment. The manuscript was so big I had to carry it around in a backpack.

Friends advised me to send it to Tom Auer, now deceased, who founded and presided over The Bloomsbury Review until his death. I only sent a short sample, but he wrote back, in part, ".it is obvious you have writing talent."

I know now that that should have been a trigger for me to follow my Muse into the world of publishing right then and there, but I didn't recognize the call! And there was a reason. I'll get to that a bit further on.

I stuffed the whole thing in the back of my closet, after sending it out to major Houses 11 times, and getting the usual rejections. I thought maybe I wasn't the writer I had thought I was.

Then, in late 2000, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy and chemo treatment. I am sure that the Muse was sitting on my hospital bed as I woke up from surgery, because the first thing I thought of was the manuscript.

There's nothing like cancer to get your attention. I was confronted with my own mortality, and I believe that this is when the Muse became something more than "my writing thing". The Muse and I began to partner.

I published the novel, and am working on a non-fiction book now. I love the Muse in my life, and am grateful for the chance to pursue it further.

Anne E. Silber

Blackshield1500@earthlink.net

www.annesilber.net


Betty Winslow



Muse - hmmm, my deskside dictionary says that muse means "a source of inspiration for artists, poets, writers, etc.". I meet things that inspire me every day: family members, friends, bits and pieces of nature, the writings of others. However, this question isn't asking about the triggers for inspiration, but the source. How did I meet the source of my inspiration? I haven't, yet. One day, when my days on this planet are done and my spirit leaves its clay chrysalis behind and goes to find its Maker, I will. Until then, I will go on doing my best to hear the thoughts and images He whispers to me and I'll continue to try to express them in my writing, for those who also have ears to hear.

Betty Winslow, Bowling Green, Ohio, waiting to meet her Inspiration

HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR MUSE!

  by Connie Mygatt

My muse wrapped her furry little tail around me when I was about eight. I don't remember if it was an assignment or the virgin flight of my muse into my life. All I can remember is telling the teacher that I was going to write a play and that I was going to star in it.

I think my muse took pity on me my first day of school. That first day my knowledge of words was limited to the spelling of my name. Time and circumstance had not cradled me in the arms of a reader. When my eyes scanned the row of letters above the blackboard I felt both awe and humiliation. There they were all in a line like soldiers waiting for the commands to unite and transform into meaning.

I think that was when the Queen Muse took notice of me. She waved her magic pencil and declared that due to my awe of the magical letters, she would grant me my own personal muse when I was ready to receive her grace.

A few years later I was on stage with fellow actors performing my play for the class. I think it was rather short. It was about a cat that no one could find. I, of course, was the cat, all the time hiding behind a chair, softly meowing. Yes, I was the star and my mused smiled.

Connie Mygatt still makes the muse smile in Santa Rosa, CA.

HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR MUSE?

  by Maggi Godman

My muse's name is Anna. I met her ten years ago, when she whispered a story to me and told me to write it down. I could not see Anna, but her voice was clear. Her directions to me became equally clear. And as I wrote the story, I found I was living parts of it, as well.

Anna redesigned my garden and encouraged me to build a summerhouse. This summerhouse is now my warm weather writing room. Later on, she sent me to New Mexico, where I learned the desert is my second home. Anna's adventures kept on happening even when I returned home, and I continued to write about them.

I finally realized why Anna's voice seemed so familiar. Not only is she my muse, but she's also my alter ego, the woman I might have been if I had chosen a different path in my early twenties, when I moved from Kansas to California.

Will Anna's story ever be finished? I'm not sure. Since she first spoke to me, I've been more conscious of myself as a writer. She encourages me when I'm stuck, gives me the clues to another chapter in order to get the pen moving, and then allows me to continue in whatever direction the pen wants to go.

Perhaps Anna and I are becoming a single entity. Recently, I bought a new charm bracelet. The heart charm that I had engraved says "Maggi" on one side and "Anna" on the other.

Maggi Godman lives in Sutter Creek, CA.

Meeting of the Muse

  by Susan Bono

My muse and I have never officially met. I don't know if this is because she is shy or because up to now the conditions haven't been right. Maybe she's this terribly radiant being whose fierce light would blind me. Or more likely she's a small, drab woman with a bad haircut and a baggy cardigan. On this issue, I fear disappointment, because until now, I've always imagined my muse in the role of a glamorous and charismatic best friend-someone who would lend me her kid gloves or pearls and take me to the best parties, all the while careful not to eclipse me.

Ah yes, me and my ego, a friendship that comes between me and my muse. Ego, that sleek, chatty gossip who judges everyone by their shoes. That may be one of the reasons my muse keeps her distance, and tends to do her work with me through others. She steers clear of my ego by sending other teachers and mentors into my life to cajole, threaten, or prod me into creative action. She knows I need help in spite of myself.

One of her first emissaries showed up in kindergarten, in the form of a five-year-old named Peggy Ackley. Peggy took one look at my stick figure drawings and snorted. Up until then, I'd been happy with the time-tested formula handed down by kids in my neighborhood-a person consisted of a round head, torso no wider than a pencil lead, hands like bamboo rakes and legs with feet like bricks. To personalize, all you had to do was hang a dress or some pants on the form and add some hair. Presto!

But Peggy's people had actual arms and necks that weren't simply naked spinal cords. Peggy knew how to draw laces and buckles on shoes. She was concerned with the way things really looked, and suddenly, I wanted to achieve that same level of realism. My muse had sent me a rather impatient mentor, often derisive, but one who spurred me on to draw and, later, write, by always insisting I could do better. As I doggedly competed with Peggy all during grammar school, I inadvertently learned the value of reaching deeper.

But my muse is kind and usually sends me gentler coaches. Along with the likes of Peggy, I have been lucky to have mentors who praised my efforts, handed me special projects, trusted me with parts in plays, granted me public speaking engagements, newspaper assignments, opportunities to be published. In spite of what my ego says, my muse has always been the one to stack the deck in my favor. Of course, I rarely remember to thank her.

In fact, I have always taken my poor muse too much for granted, and have been more willing to praise her messengers than listen for her messages. Lately, I suspect my muse has been growing a little weary of this lack of appreciation. She's begun to feel restless and bored, tired of being relegated to the shadows. She's looking for someone who wants to get to know her, and if I don't make some changes, she may decide to move on.

Where is my altar? Who is in charge of the offerings and incantations? I need to boot my ego out of the spare bedroom and treat my muse to a proper invitation. Not just a quick call for help at the last minute, no treating her like the hired help or a casual afterthought. If I ever want to meet my muse, I need to treat her as an honored guest, with the hope she'll take up permanent residence. It's time to start tidying the house, setting out the cakes and tea in anticipation of the pleasure of her company. If I'm lucky, the two of us will have time for a long, uninterrupted chat. Even now I should have a teacup ready, in case she decides to drop in.

Susan Bono is remembering to put the kettle on in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000ó2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devilís-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so heíd know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. Davidís dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

Back to Searchlights & Signal Flares