I’m not sure what a modern-day muse looks like compared to those who whispered in Homer’s ear, but I do know their hours of operation. The ones who nudge my work along with a new plot development, or even a new project, feel no jab of conscience when they wake me up in the darkest part of the night. In fact, this seems to be their peak performance time. I don’t think they’re aware that humans need sleep. Or they know we do, but because they’re insouciant creatures, they simply don’t care.
In deference to their preferences, I’ve always kept a notebook by the side of my bed to record their vagrant mutterings, afraid if I didn’t they would depart with the dawn. After I acquired an iPhone, I’d sometimes type key “trigger” words in the “Notes” app, hiding my head under the covers to keep its light from waking up my husband. I confess I was envious as he slept both undisturbed and unafraid to piss off some muses he had no use for. I, on the other hand, was their well-trained servant.
Until one evening a few weeks back when I’d been propelled out of a contented sleep one too many times and I decided to fight back. No! I declared, when a solution to a plot issue presented its answer at 3 o’clock in the morning. No! (I repeated, because yes, I wasn’t feeling listened to.) You little buggers will tell me again in the morning! I’m going back to bed now, and we can have a nice chat in the light of the rising sun! I’m normally nice, calm and patient, but everyone and every element has a boiling point (ask a chemist).
If you’re a writer (or a perceptive human who noticed the title of this blog) you know what happened the next day. That’s right, the great solution to my plot issue sizzled away quicker than a drop of water on a hot skillet. But, for the moment, I remained untroubled. After all, it was just the first night of the standoff. The muses would stop trying to contact me in the middle of the night when they realized I wasn’t giving in. I just had to be persistent. Hadn’t I just written a poem about perseverance? Yes, I had! A deep breath and a raised chin articulated my renewed commitment.
Over the next several evenings, even when wonderful ideas floated to me after I had shut off the light and gone to bed, I stayed firm. I viewed the nocturnal muses like children needing to be trained in good manners. Surely, their well-behaved diurnal cousins would praise my fortitude and reward me with daytime visits.
Perhaps you’re shaking your head at my naiveté? If not, you should be. And, you also should assume that each of these nighttime gifts were petulantly snatched back when I didn’t have the good grace to respond obediently. Meaning: wake-up, turn on the light (or my phone) and solidify the evanescent drops of wisdom into something more solid. And, oh yes, one more thing, understand that even if I cannot get back to sleep for hours that’s the agreed price. Agreed by whom? I silently screamed. I did want the wisdom but I also wanted to sleep.
Too bad I have no choice.
I’m sure you’ve guessed the conclusion to my tale. Yes, the muses beat me. I surrendered and returned to my subservient writer self, sacrificing sleep for inspiration. And, in the paraphrased words of T.S. Eliot, we arrive where we started: The muses always win.