Thursday, February 19, 2009

Musing on Muses

A few days ago I was perusing my friend Leah's blog "Creative Every Day" and I came across a TED talk featuring Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love". In the talk, Gilbert shares her thoughts and fears about the writing process and she chats at length about inspiration and the unknowable place from which ideas come.

I like Gilbert and I respect her memoir for both its brutal emotional honesty and her grit in the face of great pain. (See my thoughts on it here.) Still, what struck me most about her talk was the way she described her encounter with American poet Ruth Stone. (if you linked over to the TEDTalk, go to 10:13 in the feed.) Even more inspirational is the way Ruth receives her poems. Gilbert describes:

"...while she was growing up in rural Virginia she would be out working in the fields and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. She said it was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape and when she felt it coming (because it would shake the earth under her feet) she knew that she only had one thing to do at that point and that was, in her words, to "run like hell" to the house...and she'd be getting chased by this poem and the whole deal was that she had to get to a paper and pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page.

"...and other times she wouldn't be fast enough so she'd be running and running and running and she wouldn't get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape looking, as she put it, for another poet.

"...and then there were these times...she said that there were moments when she'd almost miss it...she's running into the house and she's looking for paper and the poem passes through her and she said she grabs a pencil just as it's going through her and then she'd reach out with her other hand and she would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page and in these instances the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards from the last word to the first word."

(You can learn more about Stone and hear some of her poems read aloud in this 2004 NPR interview.)

I'm fascinated by Stone's life experience and the way the poems find her. Sometimes people ask me where I get some of my poems from and there's really no easy answer. I certainly don't experience a thunderous train like Stone, although I certainly welcome that into my life experience! My ideas usually come as small whispers; sometimes they are so subtle and quick that I now carry around a small journal to capture what I can when they find me.

Along these lines, I really believe that this can be everyone's experience.
I believe that we all have access to this invisible place from which creativity comes and the trick is twofold: opening yourself up to the possibility that this is true and being ready for what finds you. Why not try it as an experiment? Think about it, you could be the receptacle for the world's next big something!

***UPDATE: This morning as I was driving into work, I glanced at the license plate of the car next to me. It read: "To Muse". I giggled and giggled and giggled. Synchronicities like this are such fun!***

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