I recently sat down and wrote a letter to my muse, kindly asking her to please return. At some point in the spring, she wandered off. It seems I wasn’t paying enough attention to her. My mind was so engrossed in just trying to survive the last few months of my teaching gig that I didn’t notice she was gone right away. That is, until I needed her. It took a little work to coax her back. She rightly wanted to know, “What’s in it for me?” Given my recent neglect of her, it seemed like a reasonable question. In the spirit of full disclosure, I had to write her two letters, apologizing for my neglect and explaining how much I needed her and why. Thankfully, she’s been coming around more often and hanging out for longer stretches of time.
Lest she decides to up and leave again, I’ve been thinking about ways to feed my muse. If I want her to stick around, then I need to take better care of her. A muse does not like to be taken for granted. The following is my list of ten suggestions for feeding the muse in your life. These are what seem to work for me. Please add your suggestions in the comments section.
1. SELF- CARE
This is a biggie for me. By self-care, I mean the basics: plenty of sleep, daily exercise and/or yoga, healthy food and connection-preferably face time-with loved ones. These may seem like no brainers, but it’s amazing, for me anyway, how easily any one of these can drop off the radar. When this happens, my creative psyche slumps sideways. The small, individual acts of self-care hang in balance with each other, sort of like planets in the solar system. If one is off, the whole system is whack. This is not a conducive environment for the muse to live in.
2. WRITE EVERY DAY
I function much better when I am writing in my journal every morning. It’s a little bit like a warm-up for the creative day ahead. The cool thing about a journal is that there are no rules. It can be whatever you want it to be. It is unfettered by grammatical dictates, marketing jargon, writing deadlines or pressure of any kind. I use mine to dream big, sketch out plans, brainstorm and count my blessings. (I end each writing session with a gratitude list. It’s not only good to make note of what’s working in my life but to be thankful for it.) I also sometimes work with prompts from outside sources. A couple I would recommend are “The Awe-Manac” by Jill Badonsky and also the “#Trust30” project. And even though it might seem obvious, I’ll add that in my humble opinion, a journal should be old school, as in a notebook that you write in with a pen or pencil. Part of the magic is getting off the computer, curling up in your favorite spot and escaping into the wonders that are waiting for you inside the pages of your journal. Plus, there’s something oddly satisfying about the physical act of writing. I buy big colorful notebooks with multiple, color-coded sections. I call my journal my “portable war room.”
3. READ. READ. READ.
Read stuff. Read books, articles, blogs, political commentary, and newspapers. Spend some time in other people’s stories. Have a peek at some poetry. Check out biographies of people who inspire you. Cruise through a cookbook. The point is to hang in a place of perpetual expansion and to keep the ideas flowing. Fresh ideas. New perspectives. Different vistas. Energized muse.
Our modern minds are in constant motion. In fact, most days our minds move at the speed of light: thinking, planning, plotting, stressing, deciphering, calculating, remembering, etc. Whew! Before we know it, the mental overdrive has generated a whole lot of debris, making everything dusty and icky. The mind gets very tired from such incessant work. Meditation quiets the roar and brings everything down to the in breath and the out. The mind gets to kick off its shoes and take a break. We get to sink into the delicious place of just being. Meanwhile, the debris starts to clear away, which pleases the muse. She doesn’t seem to like clutter.
5. GET OFF THE GRID
For a lot of us, our day-to-day involves a ton of time on the grid: Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and a whole host of other distractions on the Internet. Let me be quick to say that for many of us, it’s a built in part of our jobs. Social media is a major tool in our many creative professions. We have to use it and in so doing, we’re on the grid a lot. What I find for myself, however, is that after too much time on the grid, I start to go a little numb and my very life force seems to weaken. This is not at all attractive to my muse. It’s also just not good for me. So I try to get off the grid as often as possible. For me, this not only means getting off the Internet but stepping away from my computer entirely. Going outside seems to be the fastest and most enjoyable way for me to recharge the ol’ Prana. It’s amazing what a little light, fresh air and movement can do. Interaction with another living being is also a great way to disengage from the grid. I like playing cards with my kid or calling my sister on the phone. Too much time on the grid can turn me into a bit of a hermit. Reconnecting to other people is vital to my sense of well-being. Ultimately, getting off the grid for a while every day makes me more effective when I get back on the grid.
6. GO SEE PERFORMANCES
It’s good to get out and about and see what your fellow creative sorts are up to. For me, this usually means dropping in on a jazz performance someplace. But it can be anything: plays, concerts in the park, dance recitals, bar bands, whatever. For one thing, it’s nice to get your nose out of your own project now and then. For two, supporting other artists is always a fine idea. The muse likes a karma bank with a positive balance. When I go see shows, I almost always run into people I know. This social aspect is also important. My muse is the proverbial butterfly in this regard. She loves the chitchat and the hang. Inspiration can jump out of anywhere, including the most inane of banter.
7. DELVE INTO THE SENSES
Some pretty amazing engineering went into the design of the human body. The splendor of our senses alone is mindboggling. To see, to taste, to touch, to hear….such a gift. Yet a lot of the time, we can take these for granted. We move about, busy with concerns of the day and become oblivious to everything our senses are taking in. One way to titillate the muse is to take a day (or an afternoon or whatever), to really pay attention to every sensory experience that comes your way. Every moment is ripe with them. We just have to be present. This may sound goofy but take some time to really vibe with your senses; stick your snout in a bag of freshly ground coffee, pay attention to the water running down your body in the shower, notice sweet snores of the dog sleeping on the floor next to you, slowly eat something delicious. There is a lot of information in our senses, starting points for new creations.
8. HORSE AROUND IN DIFFERENT MEDIUMS
The muse seems to get turned on when things are shaken up a bit. If you’re a painter, try a dance class. If you’re a writer, learn to play an instrument. If you’re a musician, get out a sketchpad and see what happens. I think this is about looking at things from a new perspective and applying our creative juju in a different way. Inspired by the wonderful Seattle photographer Darrah Parker and her “Slice of Life Tuesday” project, I started taking a camera with me everywhere I go. It’s been a very informative and delightful practice. It attunes me to so many more details in my environment. Also, looking at things from a purely visual perspective stretches my sensibilities and expands my palette of expression. Now that I have a smart phone, I’ve become a bit of a photo-snapping maniac. But this has been very good for me. It gives me a break and allows me to come up for air. It also seems to keep the muse on her toes. (To see some of my photos, check out my Flikr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kbourne/sets/.)
9. TRY NEW STUFF
I suppose this is a step beyond exploring new mediums. It’s about being open to all kinds of new experiences, people and situations. You never know the potential bounty in uncharted territories, and God knows the muse loves surprises. My son Enzo recently tried Ethiopian food. His brother and I had been trying to get him to try it for years but were consistently met with nose wrinkles. For whatever reason, the planetary alignment was just so that Enzo had a change of heart. His eyes rolled back in his head in gastric bliss and he seemed incredulous that he’d never experienced such tasty cuisine before. (Er, as if I’d been holding out on him.) I think the moral of Enzo’s story is that just one bite can open up entire new worlds. Sometimes trying new things takes some guts, especially the older we get. On the 4th of July, I went to a party where I only knew one person. I was actually a little nervous about it. But I quickly met some very cool people: a violinist with the Seattle symphony, a tipsy attorney who told hilarious stories and a former bicycle commuter who had twice been struck by a car and had broken his back both times. I had a blast and loved the opportunity to leave my world (and my comfort zone) completely and hang in a new one, if only for a night.
10. JUMP IN
I guess this is a bit of a “tough love” approach to feeding the muse. Sometimes, my muse is a bit fussy. She stubbornly folds her arms and refuses to come along for the ride. She’s like a pouty little kid. Rather than spending a lot of time trying to cajole her back into the groove, I simply have to jump in and get busy with whatever I’m working on. It’s a bit like, “If you don’t want to get in the car, that’s your choice but I’m driving off without you.” Predictably, she comes running and waving her arms. The muse doesn’t like to be left behind.