I know my shitbird well, that “aggressive little bird” that rains shit on my shoulder, telling me to quit, that I don’t want to do the work of writing poetry, that I don’t have it in me to do the work, that nobody needs my poetry, that my poetry doesn’t matter. Calling that depressed aspect of myself “the shitbird” is enormously useful, because it enables me to detach from my negative thinking. More recently, however, inspired by an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert by the folks at Radiolab, I’ve been thinking less about the barrier between my creativity and me than about the source of creativity itself, the Muse.
Since I became pregnant with the Critter, I’ve tended in writing poetry to rely more on gifts than on the process of drafting and drafting and drafting. On occasion I’ve been able to tap into something — a deeply grounded feeling — and write out of that, usually very quickly, thus bypassing my manipulative monkey mind. For whatever reason, when I was pregnant, that feeling came upon me quite often. But this way of generating poetry is erratic at best; and, in periods of all-around confusion like the one I’m in the midst of now, I find myself entirely at a loss when it comes to art. How do I find my way back to that something, that feeling — my Muse?
My first, provisional response to this question: one way back is through liturgy.
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There is not only sacred liturgy, there is the liturgy of everyday life: brushing our teeth, taking a shower and going to work.
I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for only eight bucks in francs, and my lucky LARGO nametag that came from a dream I once had. I put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend Bob Versandi gave me from Morro Castle, Cuba. I point it toward my chair, so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, which is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, which my dear mate Paul Rink gave me and which sits near my shelf with the cuff links that belonged to my father and my lucky acorn from the battlefield at Thermopylae. It’s about ten-thirty now. I sit down and plunge in.
It turns out that taking care of my altar requires quite a bit of work. The flowers need to be watered every other day and replaced about once each week. The cat keeps knocking things over to drink from the little bowl of water in front of the Buddha. The cloth needs to be laundered more often than I had expected. I need to buy more candles.
It also turns out that this caretaking is working a transformation in my attitude toward taking care of our home. When the flowers need to be watered, I water them. When the cat gets incense ash on the rug, I vacuum it up. No big deal. And then I make the bed and open the shades: also no big deal. The clutter in our bedroom: no big deal. Cleaning up the clutter in our bedroom: also no big deal. All of this is liturgy, uniting the body and the mind, disclosing the sacred in the ordinary.
And so I’ve been wondering, what might be the liturgy of writing?
I’m learning by doing it — making it up as I go along. I actually don’t feel that I need — or want — quite so many charms as Pressfield has, and the Invocation of the Muse is not for me. So the liturgy is pretty simple: I set my meditation timer, light a candle, and get to work. That’s it. I’ve also been thinking that I’d like to have an image of the Muse to place above or next to the candle. But today it occurred to me that I already have my image of the Muse.
Or you could say that she is me, looking out into the wilderness.