The Muse and Me, Part Two
I wouldn’t blame anyone who read last week’s post if they thought, “Man, that’s a bit airy-fairy, ain’t it?”
Lemme answer by getting even more airy-fairy.
Consider this artist’s body of work:
My Life as a Man
The Professor of Desire
The Ghost Writer
The Human Stain
The Plot Against America
Clearly there’s a theme here. Without doubt Philip Roth is dealing with a unified, ongoing issue. He’s examining this theme from every angle, playing games with it, turning it inside-out and upside-down.
How about this artist?
Born to Run
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Born in the U.S.A.
Tunnel of Love
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Working on a Dream
The Muse’s fingerprints, to me, are all over both bodies of work.
What’s her purpose? Why is she doing this? We can agree, can’t we, that the world is a better place because Philip Roth wrote the books he wrote and Bruce Springsteen recorded the songs he recorded?
So something positive is going on.
Why did American Pastoral come after Zuckerman Unbound? Why did The River follow Darkness on the Edge of Town?
The artists are evolving, aren’t they?
Or, looked at another way, why didn’t Philip Roth write Beloved or The Color Purple? Why didn’t the Boss record Blood on the Tracks?
Each of these souls is on a journey specific to him. Just like I am and just like you are. If we’re artists, the works we produce are the material articulations of that journey.
The journey itself is interior.
The journey takes place within the soul.
The Muse gives us works to bring into being in the same way and for the same purpose that the Unconscious sends us dreams.
Each work is a message in a bottle from the higher level—our soul, our Self, our being-in-potential—to our stumbling, struggling incarnations here on the material plane.
Can we say that Philip Roth and Bruce Springsteen as artists have led fulfilled lives? Maybe we can’t bet the ranch on it, since we’re not all-knowing beings. But it sure looks like they’ve done pretty well, doesn’t it?
For sure we have to give it to them that they’ve followed their stars. They’ve clearly been true over long careers to their most profound interior callings.
In other words, if you ask me, the Muse is not just giving us as artists the works we produce.
She’s guiding our soul’s journey.
She’s our mentor and our navigator.
[Remember, this post is Why I Write, Part 7.]
Have we entered this life as the most recent in an extended succession of incarnations?
Will we re-appear at some later time in another life?
Will the theme of our current and prior lives carry over?
Will Philip Roth and Bruce Springsteen, in some transfigured forms, continue to “work on” the issues that have possessed each of them in this lifetime?
I told ya this was gonna get even more airy-fairy.
Remember the first post in this Why I Write series? It asked the question, “What if a person produced an original, authentic body of work over a lifetime but never saw it recognized by the wider world? Would that artist’s working life have been in vain?”
We’ll consider this a little more deeply next week.
“Each work is a message in a bottle from the higher level.” Love this, Steve – please keep the airy-fairy coming. As always, thanks for the mid-week inspiration!
There is scientific evidence that our brains make decisions before we are conscious of them. The brain precedes the mind. What you refer to as the Muse may be our brains talking to our minds, making decisions and choosing directions and then informing us of what they are.
We’ve all had the experience of struggling with a problem and then the solution pops into our heads when we’re not expecting it. Clearly, something is going on in our heads that we’re not conscious of. For me, that’s the Muse. Our brains are a couple of steps ahead of our minds, and our minds are receiving what our brains have decided.
Not airy-fairy at all. I think we gravitate to certain artists because they have the endurance and passion to go deeper and deeper to a personal place which is, in the end, universal. Listening to the Muse is a practice. Call It inspiration or brain function, I don’t care, as long as it continues to inspire our crazy world!!
More soulish than fairyish, IMO. Discovering we have a soul, realizing it’s the only enduring aspect of us and finally coming to know it well, that’s our job here. I like it when you call it the Neshama, one level of soul. Artists give themselves permission to explore soul expressions, even if it’s happening unconsciously or rebelliously. We can’t not do it. Your series on Why I Write is a deeper dive into The War of Art, the one we fight everyday when we have to earn a living and mow our lawns, etc. Our souls cry out like children who are last on our list because we can’t play until with them all our work is done. You are helping us come to know our souls, Steve, a high purpose indeed.
The War of Art.
A new book? Following the Muse?
Just a thought…
probably would be along the lines of The Reluctant Messiah…
When I start writing a new book/article/short story, I learned that if I don’t make the main character’s arc similar to whatever I am learning at this moment, the story will eventually get muddled and mixed up because I will always write the scene toward my own journey, incorporating themes that are on my mind right now.
When you write a book over a matter of years, this can become a real problem. The first part of the book will be about your journey three years ago. The next part will be about your journey two years ago, and so on.
This all goes back to theme. I now try to pick a theme that is close to my heart, and stick to that theme and write the book faster. Is that the muse?
Speaking of music, I think one of the reasons Elton John stayed electric for so many decades is because his music followed, almost nomadically, the themes of the culture of each decade.
The sixties Elton was psychedellic and progressive. His musical themes of the seventies echoed the cultural fascination with bucolic, pastorial lifestyles (farm, country, rural living) and moved to the materialistic themes in the eighties. In the nineties he grew political, writing songs about Belfast and Aids and racism. One of his newer songs is called “The Bridge” and it’s an amazing metaphor for “keeping going or fading away” which I think ties into the concept of resistance.
The point is, his themes changed and echoed the dreamlike state of those living at the time. I think he was listening to that dream
Erika, Thanks for bringing up the Elton John Example. Very interesting.
I don’t see that as changing theme… maybe more like, his theme is to follow the dream, as you put it? A theme of listening, absorbing like a sponge? Connecting and echoing?
Your observation about writing based on what you are learning at the current time is an awesome one! Is the muse challenging you to counter act it? You did write it here…Dare you!
I never cared that much for Roth, and my time with rock ended pretty much before Springsteen came along. But I appreciate what you’re saying. I saw such a pattern in the works of Thomas Hardy many years ago. Sometimes the titles themselves reveal the pattern or theme, sometimes it has to be unwoven from it.
Craft is the skill to produce a competent work. Art is craft in the service of the uniqueness of the individual soul. Craft, having utility, precedes art, and is useful broadly. Art requires an access and sensitivity on the part of the audience. And even then…
Airy Fairy works for me. Only piano piece I could ever play.
Thank you, Steven!
Because it hits close to home, meaning Self; I am Following what is happening in North Dakota and The Standing Rock Reservation. I guess some would feel or think that Native Americans are a bit Airy Fairy with how they feel about their Sacred Land. LIKE this quote and want to share:
“When people don’t know where their belly buttons are, they don’t know where they belong. So they keep digging all their lives.” ~Faith Spotted Eagle~
A friend just sent me this article.
It’s an absolute MUST READ.
Especially for people like us.
NBA Player Ray Allen writes a letter to his 13-year old self:
What a fun game!
This one I like:
Gather Yourselves Together
Eye in the sky
Confessions of a Crap Artist
The Man in the High Castle
We Can Build You
The Penultimate Truth
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
…this one too:
The Blind Leading the Blind
Arch of Hysteria
Pink Days and Blue Days
The Destruction of the Father
I do, I undo, I redo
The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved
The first list is by Philip K. Dick, the writer’s writer, so called because he is so hard to imitate.
Something I respect about him is that, according to a movie trade magazine (I forget which one) he took a lower price for his book being turned into Bladerunner. He would have received more had he agreed to have his novel surpassed, and replaced by someone else writing a movie novelization.
Yep, fun game. Louis Bourgeois is second one. 😉
Yes, another great post. Thank you for these deep musings and the courage to share them.
I also think of the different periods in a visual artist’s career, like Picasso, exploring different themes.
Me? Well, I’m flip-flopping around different genres trying to find the right home for my stories but the overarching theme is always the same – finding the courage to be yourself.
Let’s hear it for your muse, Steven. This series of posts is inspiring…and totally in harmony with your body of work.
Keep up the “airy fairy” stuff! I love these insights into your personal process 😉
Thank you again, so much for this. It is just where I am, dealing with what i am dealing, and having you express it in words for me, it’s just a gift.
There is this whole thing “find your purpose”. I looked into it for a while 😉
I believe that our purpose IS to follow our muse. When i look at my life, I think it’s way more interesting, to show it by my body of work rather than what “happened” to me, my story in facts. It’s how we are active, and not just responding to life’s circumstances, good or bad.
I may have gone traveling, met people saw amazing things. Did I create something out of that? Did I add to my body of work?
If not, then it remains an experience. A very good one, but only that. If I made something with it, well, then I followed my muse and created something.
I am in full appreciation to you, for confirming that for me, again.
When you follow your muse, or create what is in you, then you create yourself.