The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer
This is an expansion of I piece I wrote for my blog yesterday about muses, because I realised that a larger point was emerging that needed some explanantion.
Andy Warhol had Edie Sedgwick; Shakespeare had his Dark Lady; Woody Allen had New York . For them, their muse not only stirred something creative inside them, but made that creativity come gushing out in golden form – transformed it as it touched the page/canvas/film into greatness.
But is there a darker side to the muse? In one sense, there very obvioulsy is, and it goes back to Platonism and the worship and objectifictaion of the spiritual. The muse is placed on a pedestal, worshipped, and, as a result, denied genuine reality – museishness is to blame for a lot of our less beneficial conceptions of women, for example.
But I mean another dark side – for the artist or writer or musician.
For me, the idea of a muse is rather terrifying. I imagine my muse, if I had one, staring at me – taunting or sneering – “You dare to call THAT worthy of me?” she harumphs, turning her back and leaving me staring at a blank page.
The point I want to make is this. there is a very fine line between inspiration and intimidation. Between the object of beauty who touches you and opens a creative spring and an ethereal form that’s just “out of your league” – that you could never do justice, so you end up snivelling in self-pity, and struck down by block, like an opera composer waiting a lifetime till they’re ready to produce a piece for the voice of their generation.
When you’re a teenager you’re desperate for a muse. A boy or girl in the class above, possibly a friend of your brother or sister – someone to bring out the Byronic in you. And when you find them, you aften will write a great torrent of, er, romantic twaddle, in your efforst to impress. Later you will look back ashamedly, and every time you write FOR someone or thing you will possibly be struck with fear of doing a similar hatchet job. Add in a mix of idealisation and you have a recipe for paralysis – we can, after all, never give a sacrifice worthy of the gods.
For me it’s not people who act as intimidating muses – it’s notebooks. I imagine if I have a beautiful hand-boundleather journal I will write something worthy of it. But I can never find a sentence good enough and so I sit and stare, and anything any good I DO write by hand is always in a skanky notebook I bought in bulk from a Polish supermarket.
Yet we feel instinctively that art is about eros, about love, about, in short, muses. So how do we avoid paralysis and create something decent as the result of having a muse?
The answer’s simple: forget about doing justice TO your subject; forget about writing something FOR someone. Instead, this is a time when a writer/artist needs to be introspective. What is it your subject/muse inspires in YOU? Look within, and describe the fire, the turmoil and the raging passion you find there. Considerations of worthiness go out of the window – the muse will enter only as a marginal character, a penumbra for the piece, but unmistakably present in the form of those qualities that inspire those particular thoughts. This way you will ACTUALLY do justice to them – not as idealised object but as active subject stirring your passions. And you will connect with your audience, will enable them not just to admire but to feel as you feel.
The last point here needs an explication. We talk of culture being communictaion (WE, literally – it’s in our manifesto). We talk of respecting our audience, of writing for them, of touching them and communicating something deep to them. But there’s a danger of objectifying our reader as we do that – of turning them into the impassive, passively scorning muse who sneers and makes us feel unworthy.
Yet if we don’t respect our audience, we risk writing meaningless, masturbatory prose. So how do we strike the balance? It’s the same question as Marc’s regarding pain, and I think the answer may be the same as it is for our more specific muses. We need to introspect in the right way – to look at those parts of ourselves in our audience’s shadow – those bits of our emotional lives that fall under the same shadow as theirs. They will contain specific, but they will, if we get it right, also contain those points of contact that make our story theirs and avoid solipsism.
Time for some questions:
How do YOU balance the need to respect your audience with not turning them into an intimidating, paralysing presence?
How do you go about selecting those specifics of your emotional inner self that are also universal, or at least shared? Do you even try, or do you just pour out yourself unedited?
When you write, do you imagine any one thing or person looking over your shoulder? Do you write FOR anyone/thing, and does this help or hinder you?