Interview with a Muse

“Why don’t you tell the folks your name?”

“I’m an anthropomorphic personification of the inspiration process. What you call a muse.”

“That’s what you are. What’s your name?”

“I don’t have one, being an anthropomorphic personification. Call me what you wish.”

“You know why I’ve asked you here today.”

“Of course I do. You want to talk about where inspiration comes from.”

“Well?”

“Honestly? Not from me. I’d be ashamed to claim some of the things you’ve written.”

“Cough. Be that as it may, where does someone find inspiration.”

“From anywhere and anything. It depends on the person.”

“That’s not much help.”

“Too bad. That’s the way it is.”

“Why don’t you explain it?”

“Because it’s subjective. The best I can give is an example. Remember when you saw that mirror in Walmart? The one in the Baroque style?”

“I said they shouldn’t sell Baroque mirrors.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I saw a mirror in the Baroque style, I thought about the word broke, and made the pun.”

“The person with you didn’t.”

“No. Didn’t appreciate the pun, either.”

“Both of you saw the same mirror. One made a pun and the other didn’t. Why?”

“I like puns and the other doesn’t.”

“There you have it. You think differently. You see a mirror and because you think of puns, that clicked in that direction. The same mirror might have inspired someone to do a painting or write a story. Another example: You recently wrote a story about a duel. Why?”

“It just came to mind. I can’t even remember where the idea came from.”

“It started with the idea of a duel, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then you asked yourself how it could come about, and who’d be involved in the duel, and why they’d go to that extreme, right?”

“Yes.”

“See? It started with a seed of an idea: a duel. It grew from there.”

“Yes, but where did that idea come from.”

“Sigh. You’re not paying attention, as usual. Anything can inspire you. All it takes is one idea. Why did J.R.R. Tolkien write “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit?”

“I don’t know.”

“He didn’t, either. He just did, and started wondering what a hobbit might be. He got several books out of answering that question. Now: Can you imagine what his friend C.S. Lewis would have done with that prompt?”

“Maybe go in a different direction?”

“Exactly. It’s highly subjective, based on a person’s likes and dislikes, their knowledge and experience. Now: Where did the idea for this post come from?”

“I had written a couple exchanges between us in response to writing prompts. The essay I wrote for today didn’t gel, and I needed something.”

“But you liked these little exchanges, right? And from that you were inspired to write this.”

“What about those times when we’re not inspired? I’ve gone months without a solid idea for an essay. Longer for a good idea for a story.”

“A creative block is subjective, too. It can be anything: fatigue, worry, distractions. But I suspect people are still inspired, but don’t notice. You’re always coming up with puns, right?”

“Right”

“And filk, right?”

“Sometimes.”

“Even when you have writer’s block, right?”

“Yes.”

“See? Inspiration is still there. It just goes right past without you noticing.”

“Well, how do we notice?”

“Sigh. Please pay attention. It’s subjective. What works for one might not work for another.”

“Okay. What do you think would work for me?”

“Maybe jot down those seeds of ideas in that memo book you keep in your pocket. Let’s take that duel story. The idea that came to you was a duel, right?”

“Right.”
“If you can, when you have something like that, jot it down for later. Then go back and look at the list and see what you like. You liked the idea of a duel, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Just like the time you were reading Gibbon and had the idea for a story.”

“That last one didn’t pan out. Falls apart soon after the beginning.”

“But you had the inspiration while reading history, and you love history.”

“But Isaac Asimov was inspired to write Galley Slave after having to go through the galley of his latest novel. There wasn’t much fun in that.”

“There wasn’t any fun in that rejection slip you got the same day someone suggested you run for local office. Do you remember what happened next?”

“I turned it down because what little I knew about politics was enough to know I couldn’t get elected.”

“Then what happened?”

“I thought of other failures who went into politics. Hitler was a failed artist; Stalin a failed poet. Then someone asked me to go into politics the day I failed to sell a story. It struck me funny.”

“You got a story out of it.”

The Graveyard Blues.

“Because you like ragtime and the song was on your mind, and you didn’t want it to be a magazine editor, because the rejection slip wasn’t the point; it was just the inspiration.”

“That, and being asked to run for local office.”

“And your knowledge of the Hitler and Stalin’s background and all of that coming together. That’s how inspiration works, and why it’s subjective. Knowing this, what else can you deduce about inspiration?”

“That it needs stimulus?”

“Exactly. It might be a mirror, or a rejection slip coinciding with a phone call, or reading a mystery that inspires you to write a completely different story. You need to read, to do the things you enjoy, and maybe chores you don’t. You don’t need to mope that you can’t come up with ideas. And, knowing you, if you start paying attention to inspiration, you might notice it a lot more.”

“Will this work for everyone?”

“How should I know? It’s all subjective, remember? But it’s better than doing nothing. So, what are you going to call me?”

“What?”

“A name. Have you decided what you’re going to call me?”

“Hmm . . . Matilda.”

“Matilda? Why?

“Because inspiration seems to waltz in and out of my life, and you strike me as a Matilda.”

“You didn’t have to name me Matilda.”

“Hey, it could have been Gertrude.”

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