Calliope was her name and she had the trickiest job — giving eloquence to writers, inspiring them to put poetry in their words. She had a beautiful voice, or so say the Greeks, who relied on muses so much they even had one for astronomy (Ourania must have been the girl that tried hardest at muse school but never quite excelled).
Musing about the muse has been a constant this week, as I struggle to get back into some semblance of writing shape. It has been more than a month since I cast away, in a fit of agony, everything I'd ever written. I don't regret the action — it was done for the right reasons — but in my zeal I also threw away The Writer, and since that time every effort to create has been met with failure and frustration.
Sitting in front of the laptop brought the shakes. Trying to type on the phone? That only inspired me to play Angry Birds. I almost threw the old Royal typewriter out a second-story window. And efforts to use a pen and legal pad only gave birth to a realization that I can't read my own handwriting.
Then came the stroke and the need to get back on a keyboard for physical therapy — exercise for the hand if not the head and heart.
Single letters became words. Words became sentences. Paragraphs followed. Still, it has been factory work; there has been no inspiration in what I've been typing, no Calliope to stir the boy.
After last night's weird dream I had a 'net chat with a lovely friend. Kathryn is a Writer and has been for years; she used to live in Springfield before moving north with her husband and showing the world what she can do with that marvelous mind.
For the better part of an hour we typed back and forth about life, about hardships, about the muse and where she had fled and why (we also talked about why The Warriors and Escape From New York are such schlocky bad/great films, but that's a subject for another day).
In the middle of the chat I was reminded of something Judy Collins once said about finding her inspiration: "The muse is bound to return again, especially if I turn my back."
But what if the muse turns her back? Such a shunning has happened in my life. It has created torment, anguish. It has filled me with a misery that makes it difficult to breathe, much less write. I told this to Kathryn.
"There you go," Kathryn replied. "That's your muse. That's where your writing is."
A dark muse, then. One who inspires with agony and hardship. One who has created the chasm that stretches before me, a chasm that betrays no safe ground on the other side.
I've always liked to think of my personal Calliope as the one who whispers beauty in my ears, who inspires with a single favorable glance. But, Kathryn soberly said, sometimes the muse uses silence.
As Kathryn and I finished our chat I kept hearing the Beatles in my head — "Carry That Weight," the middle piece of the lovely song trilogy on Abbey Road:
I never give you my pillowHow long? The muse does not answer. Calliope refuses to speak, despite my invitations. Once there was a way to get back homeward, I tell myself. Maybe Kathryn is right — the new way home is through the dark woods. But for now I'm still lost without the muse. I don't know my way home without the compass of her lovely voice.
I only send you my invitations
And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down
Boy, you're going to carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time.