September 7, 2011
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of my favorite shows. When I was a child, before VCR’s, cable, and other magical technology, it aired once a year. If you were unlucky enough to miss your favorite show (The Wizard of Oz, The Grinch, Cinderella, etc.), your entire year was ruined. Our lives were constantly on the brink of disaster back then.
As a child (and probably after I learned the truth about Santa) Linus and his unquenchable belief in the Great Pumpkin seemed to me pathetic and naive. But as I grew, his staunch faith became praiseworthy, laudable even.
I had an experience a few weeks ago that reminded me of Linus and the Great Pumpkin and I wondered how many others have been in the same situation. The situation, although different for each of us, is similar in that it involves unwavering, unshakable faith in something or someone. It may be faith in God (whatever that means to you), but there are many other scenarios that come to mind.
Maybe you’re totally secure in a relationship; your trust in the person you’re involved with is so deep and solid, you rarely experience any doubts about the durability of that relationship. Maybe you embrace a political ideal that embodies all the attributes you believe are beneficial to society. Maybe you believe that the sign of the truly civilized lies in the fastidious care a woman takes of her feet. The list is as endless and unique as each of us. But there is something of Linus and his solid belief in the Great Pumpkin in all of them.
Faith in God is this situation for me. It’s unwavering and deep. It’s the foundation of all I do– my entire life. I don’t always understand God or myself and I don’t always behave the way I should or want to. But I always believe. And when I want to be with God in a special way I go to a little chapel near our home. It’s quiet and peaceful and some of my fondest memories live there. I believe that God is physically present in that chapel. I’ve never doubted it.
I had my Linus Experience in the chapel one night a few weeks ago. It was twilight and on the horizon I could see inky storm clouds gathering. I’m a little leery of storms since I had to walk home from school in one when I was in first grade. I had my little polka-dot umbrella open and I was so tiny the storm literally lifted me off the ground. It was capital T Traumatic.
Nobody else was in the chapel when I arrived; it was just me and God when the storm hit. It was a loud, violent storm. And I was alone in the chapel. Or was I? The faith I relied on all these years told me I wasn’t alone. But I felt alone. In that split second of fear, I found myself questioning the very thing that I had never doubted. And it shook me up.
Don’t get hung up on God here. The point is the faith in whatever it is you believe in and having a split second of fear that leads to doubt and makes you wonder in your gut if your faith is justified. And what you do with that doubt.
Even Linus experienced that fear and doubt. And it shook him too. For a moment. Then he took a deep breath, held on to his blanket and waited the rest of the night in the pumpkin patch.
Linus: [to Sally as she walks away with everyone else] Hey, aren’t you going to stay to greet the Great Pumpkin? Huh? It won’t be long now. If the Great Pumpkin comes, I’ll still put in a good word for you!
[realizes what he just said]
Linus: Good grief! I said “if”! I meant, “when” he comes! I’m doomed. One little slip like that could cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by. Oh, Great Pumpkin, where are you?
August 5, 2011
I made a traumatic discovery: my muse ran away.
If you have any sort of creative bent, you will find you have a muse– a gardening muse, an artistic muse, a dancing muse (which I think would be the most awesome, after the musical muse). Muses are as unique as the people they inspire.
My muse is tiny. Very tiny, but very radiant. She has many different guises: sometimes she sparks and glitters like fireworks; sometimes she’s not very bright, but glows and pulsates like an ember in the fire; sometimes she’s a diamond of pure white light. And when she’s with me, as tiny as she is, her essence has the potential to fill and animate me.
I discover she’s missing after I read some beautifully crafted posts on Broadside Blog, Madame Paradox, and Counting Ducks. I recall writing some of my recent posts and realize my muse hadn’t been with me. The scary thing is, I hadn’t noticed she was gone.
I look for her, but all I find is a rumpled guy, with a face that looks like someone’s pushed it in too hard with the palm of a hand, and a cigar between his teeth. I ask where my muse is.
“I’m it, sister,” he says, not taking the cigar out of his mouth.
“No, you’re Stephen King’s. Where’s mine? I want her back.”
He snorts. “Stephen King’s. You should be so lucky. I’m just a distant relation.” He sits behind a desk and begins shuffling through the papers scattered on it. “Your’s is gone. She couldn’t work under these conditions. I been watching her, waiting for her to crack, so I could move in. You couldn’t have missed her too much. You didn’t even notice she’s gone and I’m here now.”
“But you’re not a muse and you’re definitely no inspiration.”
“Listen sister, you get out of it what you put into it.”
I try to remember the last time I’d seen my muse. As I think back over the past few weeks, I realize her visits had become less frequent, and I had been paying less attention to her. She’d tried to hang on despite the frequent interruptions. It wasn’t that she disliked my family, but she couldn’t work with others around distracting us. And there was the stress. So much stress. It began to lead to impatience, which is sheer poison for a muse.
“Yeah, I’m what you get when you’re in a hurry and don’t care what comes out as long as it comes out on time,” he says. He takes the cigar out of his mouth and shrugs. “Whadaya gonna do?”
“Where is she? Is she ok? I need her back,” I say, trying not to panic. “I’m writing a book, and then there’s this blog, and I have a school year to think about…”
He points at me with the cigar. “Not to mention you were already interrupted ten times while you were writing this.”
“I know but I can’t neglect my family for my writing. What am I going to do?”
“That’s your problem, sister.”
My mind starts whirring. Maybe I’ll just start staying up all night to write. Yeah, I can do that if I really try. No. The reality is I won’t be able to. I’m a like a grizzly bear on quaaludes when I don’t get enough sleep. Maybe a schedule is the answer. I’ve never been able to stick to one for any length of time yet. But maybe this time…
As I wrestle with the chaos, trying to find a way around, over or just through it, I feel a familiar spark. She’d come back, but only for a visit. Impatience is poison to a muse. But I’m hopeful that as I learn to juggle all that I love without neglecting any of it, my muse will once again make her permanent residence with me.
“There is a muse… He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt work, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.”
June 7, 2011
Inspiration is a funny thing. It can be elusive and unpredictable. It’s very inconvenient when I’m faced with a deadline and my inspiration is AWOL. Inspiration can be forced, although it’s not a pretty sight. Close your eyes tightly, tense every muscle in your body, concentrate intently and try to squeeze out inspiration, so it flows through your fingertips. This has never actually worked for me, but maybe you’ll find it worth a try.
I don’t know how it is for you, but inspiration strikes me when I least expect it. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. You know, the way you feel on a first date, or waiting at the top of the world’s tallest, fastest roller coaster. Well, I don’t ride coasters, but I imagine the feeling is the same. Maybe it’s more like wearing a that first pair of fabulous looking 4 1/2 inch heels. You feel great, but you know you might wobble or worse, trip.
It found me today. A brilliant, blinding flash sparked inside my weary, little mind and there she was, the main character for a book I had no idea I was going to write, vague and fuzzy, but warm and real. Snippets of her life and bits of conversation appeared in rapid succession in my tingling brain. I’d been zapped by inspiration.
Inspiration can be something of a curse and I’m afraid to tell my family that I’ve been struck again. I don’t think they’ll welcome the news, after what they endured the last time I was inspired to write a book. I was often in a daze, straddling my two worlds. I cried a lot, daydreamed often, lost ten pounds (OK that was not a curse), and went to bed at ridiculous hours. Friends would ask me if I was “ill”.
Imagine a plaintive voice: “Mommy, I’m hungry. When are you going to make dinner?”
“Dinner?” I answer, “Dinner? Nicole just saw her husband making love to another woman, and you’re worried about dinner!” That didn’t really happen (that I remember, anyway), but scenes like this were always a possibility when I was immersed in writing.
I do remember driving in the car with my husband, and suddenly spotting a Lexus. “What are you looking at?” my husband asked as I strained to watch the car as it passed.
“That’s the kind of car Jason drives, ” I told him. ”Hey, let’s drive through the Lexus dealership. I’ll show you the kind of car he has.” In case you don’t realize the extent of my insanity, Jason was a character in my book.
Another time, in the middle of a conversation with my husband, I became hostile. “Why do men cheat?”
He was getting used to my bizarre behavior and didn’t miss a beat. “Not all men cheat,” he said patiently. “Women cheat too.”
Then I became defensive. “Nicole cheated to get revenge on Jason.”
Looking back, I’m surprised they didn’t have me committed.
Well, I’ve been “struck” again. Soon, I’ll be straddling two worlds–the one I live in and the one I’m creating. Once inspiration strikes, you can’t fight it.
Inspiration strikes everyone, spurring new ideas, new creations, new ways of doing something or new things to try. What are some of your most memorable inspirations? Does it strike you like lightening or slowly and quietly? Do you think it can be forced?