Thoroughly Modern Muse by Richard Feldman

Thoroughly Modern Muse, or the Care and Feeding of Your Domestic Writer

For many years, there was a cartoon attached to the front of our refrigerator under one of the dozens of resident magnets that showed a small, winged male figure addressing a rather startled looking person sitting at a desk. The caption was something along the line of, “I’m sorry, I’m not the Muse of poetry, I’m the Muse of do it yourself plumbing.”

This piece is addressed primarily to other partners and spouses of creative types. Whether or not your partner’s creativity was a major factor during your courtship and infatuation stages, in the long run it will play a part in your relationship, usually adding both rewards and challenges. What part can we or do we want to play in our partners’ creative lives?

The concept of the Muse is part of our cultural heritage from the ancient Greek view of the world. The complete cadre of Muses is generally considered to comprise nine female immortals, each in charge of providing inspiration in a different area of creativity, such as dance, history, or lyric poetry (do it yourself plumbing being notably absent). Somewhere along the line, Muse lost its initial capital letter and took on broader meanings, “a source of inspiration; especially : a guiding genius,” according to Merriam-Webster, or, more specifically, the source of an artist’s inspiration. (I am disappointed that there seems to be no more specific name than “artist” for the person in the relationship with and benefiting from the patronage of the muse. “Musee” seems possible, but lacks a certain oomph. Any other suggestions?)

Perhaps the best known recent commentator on how the concept of the muse fits into contemporary life is Francine Prose (great name!), author of The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired. Early in the book, she comments, “Certainly, feminism has made us rethink musedom as a career choice…Shouldn’t the muse be retired for good, abolished along with all the other retro, primitive, unevolved sexist myths?” This question eventually leads to the related questions, “Do women artists have muses, and are there male muses?” To this I answer, “Why not?”

Although muses have traditionally been linked most closely to the creative process itself, one can also aid the artistic endeavor more indirectly. What you should include in your service as muse depends largely on the needs of your artist. Among the activities that I’ve been told that I can take credit for in my service as would-be muse are helping brainstorm personal essay topics for my writer to bounce off of her editors; searching the Web periodically for developments in her areas of creative interest; organizing vacations to inspirational spots; and providing hot meals and a generally stable home environment.

Of course, you must balance your commitment to musedom with taking care of your personal needs. Certainly couples where both partners are trying to follow a creative path present special challenges. Francine Prose contemplates giving “men and women equal opportunity to be either artist or muse or both,” but finds “equitably dividing the labor of creation and inspiration” to be problematic. Despite the challenges, musedom is a calling from which you may look forward to potential reward not only from a prominent place in the acknowledgements of your partner’s new book, but from the sight or sound of every poem, painting, song, building, or dance that he or she produces.

Some Observations from A Santa Fe Writer’s Spouse by Richard Feldman

Some Observations from a Santa Fe Writer’s Spouse–First in a Series

My wife, the proprietor of this blog, expressed an interest in having me contribute the occasional guest posting.  I’ve always thought that I could write well, but I’ve never pursued the craft beyond the opportunities provided by correspondence, my workplace, or outside professional activities.  I’ve fantasized its bringing me what I understand that other would-be writers fantasize that it will bring them–money, fame, and understanding and love from an audience that appreciates having their innermost thoughts and feelings articulated.

One of the major reasons I haven’t pursued my writing fantasies is the awareness that there are multitudes (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of other aspiring writers out there with similar dreams. Since I am interested in and try to respect the needs of others, however many degrees of separation between them and me, and since I’ve experienced life as being filled with plenty of satisfactions without having pursued writing for an audience, I’ve felt virtuous that by being reticent, I don’t add to the competition.

Since I moved to Santa Fe in 1996, I’ve come to feel surrounded by would-be writers. One of my former bosses (in a business that wasn’t particularly writing-focused) turned out to know my tax preparer because of having rented a cottage on her property for a year while he worked on a screenplay. Another boss has a novel in progress. One time I went to the dentist to discover that my hygienist had quit to be able to spend more time working on her screenplay (I’ve had a lot of problems with turnover among my Santa Fe dental and medical care providers, but that’s a separate topic).

Of course, Santa Fe is a place that has long been magnetic to aspiring creators.  I’m not sure which came first, all the part-time or seasonal jobs or the creative types who fill them.  My wife’s writing pal Renée has long supported her writing career by working at the New Mexico State Legislature, which, particularly during its brief legislative sessions (alternating 30- and 60- days beginning every January, supplemented by periodic even briefer sessions), provides extra income for the creative class in addition to other Santa Feans needing a short-term gig.  During the three years that I worked for Renée during session, I met a variety of self-identified writers and artists, of whom the most exotic perhaps were the santeros who appreciated the opportunity to pick up a little extra income working as bill clerks on the night shift.

But beyond those around me in workplaces and dentists’ chairs, Miriam and her community of writers-teacher-friends have provided me with years of opportunity both to observe firsthand and to hear countless tales about writers in their various habitats, dealing with their various creative and professional issues, displaying their various plumages (or outfits, as Miriam might say). Although the natural history of writers is not a field of knowledge with which I would have necessarily set out to become familiar, doing so has been entertaining enough.