Following Your Muse Is Sometimes Like Following a Bumper Sticker

calliope-by-troy-pillow2

“Calliope” by Troy Pillow

Conversations With My Brain

save-darfur-logo I used to work with a woman in the English department at ODU who ascribed to the adage, “Follow Your Muse.” I always thought that it was a terribly wise saying, but never really thought about how a person could actually go about doing so in real terms until years later. I mean, it’s a nice sentiment, something lovely that you might see on a bumper sticker, like “Whirled Peas,” or “Impeach W,” or “Save Darfur Now,” or “Not On My Watch.” All of these aphorisms are accepted as meaningful, and who would actually argue against any of them?

You sit behind a car in traffic that is bearing a sticker calling for World Peace, and are you actually going to think, ‘no, I’m not for world peace. Screw it. Let’s all go to war’? Of course not. But do you actually take action?

In sociology classes, wearing a button, or putting a bumper sticker on your car is classified as the first level of social/political participation. In other words, you have participated, but on the most passive level. You have made a statement that shows the rest of society that you believe in something, but unless you move on to the next level, say contacting your representative in Congress, you remain at that actively passive level. That is not to say that your level of participation is not good, because usually to get the bumper sticker or button, you have contributed some money to the cause in which you believe, and those funds will go in support of that cause.

But how about how I end my blog entries, with the word peace?  What exactly is my point? What am I trying to prove? That I’m a throwback to the days when everyone used the word peace as a word of departure instead of goodbye? No, that’s not it. Perhaps I thought that “Live long and prosper” would be too pretentious even though I think that it happens to be a wonderful statement? No, that’s not it either. I just happen to be so tired of conflict, so tired of the conflict that this country is mired in that I thought that using the word ‘peace’ as my closing could be my small statement towards following my muse and being true to myself.

For me, the word peace is not a throw away word. It is filled with significance, and I do not close with it lightly. It is my benediction, my way of saying to you, my reader, ‘thank you for taking this journey with me, and I wish you well until the next time that you visit.’ Like the Quaker who says “Peace be with you” upon departing, it is my fond farewell that you remain safe, inviolate when you go out and about in the world.

But getting back to following my muse . . . My muse is Calliope, the muse of poetic inspiration and oratory, sometimes called the muse of epic poetry and eloquence. I used to think that my muse was Erato, but she is actually more closely associated with erotic poetry and mimicry, as well as song and dance. I just don’t see myself as being inspired by dance. I mean, I love the ballet, but I love rhetoric more. Of course, all creative people are supposed to be a blend of the muses; supposedly, I am a mixture of predominantly Calliope, with some Erato, Terpsichore, and Polyhymnia mixed in. All righty then.

But to follow your muse, truly follow your muse, you must first know your muse, and as I said, it took me a while to determine who mine is, and I have yet to begin to know her truly. But to decide to take the journey to follow your muse takes some real dedication on your part. I mean, following my muse means that I will actually dedicate myself to finding my inner creative being, my inner source of poetry, eloquence, inspiration, and oratory.

Consider the ramifications of this for a moment. Following your muse isn’t something that you actually take on lightly. You must be willing to look inside yourself and find those pieces of you that actually are being driven by your muse. Do you realize how crazy this sounds? Looking around inside yourself, opening those spaces inside your brain, your memory, those hidden places, saying hello through the cobwebs . . .

Don’t mind me. I’m just looking for some inspiration here?

Some what?

Some inspiration. You know, my muse sent me.

Your what did what?

My muse, Calliope. She said that I had some creativity stored in here somewhere, some eloquence or something like that. Said I might be able to use it.

Have you lost your mind? This section has been closed off for a good decade or so. What in the hell are you bothering us for?

Wasn’t my idea, really. Some bumper sticker thing, or maybe repressed memory, something about . . . give me a sec . . . oh yeah, “follow my muse.”

You’re kidding right? You’re dusting us off for a bumper sticker?

No. It’s not a bumper sticker. I told you. It’s a repressed memory, and quit giving me such a hard time. It took me a while to remember this. Trust me. This is going to be a good thing. Following my muse is going to let me write even better, be more creative.

What in the bloody hell are you going on about? In all of these years, you’ve written what, maybe five good pieces, and how many have you sent out for review? And you can’t even be honest about that. Can you?

Mind your own business. This isn’t about how many pieces I’ve sent out. This is about what I’m going to do now. Calliope is calling. I’m going to write like the wind. Now open your doors, and let me through.

Bloody hell. Some twit named Calliope rings you up, and now we have to come out of a perfectly good hibernation. For what? Waste of time, if you ask me. Bet you anything she’s off her meds again. Dee-loosions of grandeur, that’s what this is all about.

I heard that.

Okay, so maybe it will take a while for the whole muse path thing to really work for me. But I think that perhaps I am closer to understanding what my colleague actually meant by her statement on a real level, not just on a superfluous level. Following your muse is a way of life, not just dabbling here and there. I’ll have to give it more time for it to become second nature.

In the meantime, the next time you see a bumper sticker that makes you think, consider giving some money to the cause. That takes you up one level from a passive activist to a level one activist, and that can give you a nice warm feeling, even it’s only a $5 donation. I know, even $5 is a lot in this economy, but in Darfur, $5 can be the difference between life and death.

For more information about this particular ongoing world crisis, please visit this site: http://www.savedarfur.org/content. And please believe, a crisis such as the one in

save-darfur-pix

Darfur is not regional. What is happening to these people is a human crisis of epic, global proportions. No one remains untouched.

More later. Peace.

 

Advertisement

Infallible, Untouchable, and Immortal?

Why You Might Be Surprised on My Feelings About Drug Use

I know that I have mentioned my use of prescription drugs more than once in some of my entries, and I have admitted to inhaling as I was no angel in my younger days. I liked to get high, and for about a year of my teen years, I did it quite frequently, but then I decided that that was probably enough playing around, and I got my act together, stopped getting high all of the time, stopped skipping school, and still managed to graduate with honors, and that’s something of which I’m proud, especially since I know that if I hadn’t had a lost year, I could have probably ranked higher (absolutely no pun intended) on the list in my graduating class.

As to prescription drugs, yes, I have a dependency on muscle relaxers. I wish that I didn’t. I don’t take pain pills unless I absolutely have to, but I cannot get through the day without muscle relaxers. My back, shoulders and legs simply will not allow it. I have spasms that are so bad sometimes that I feel as if the side of my back has moved into my shoulder. I get knots in my shoulders that are the size of walnuts, and they have to be massaged out, or I have to get trigger shots to release them.

edvard-munch-the-scream
"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

I also take preventive medication for my migraines, which I feel is a miracle drug. Before I started on the preventive regimen, I used to have migraines that lasted for weeks. Now, a bad one might last for days. I once had a migraine that was so bad that I could only eat jello, and I lost 12 pounds. I looked mah-velous, but what good is that when you feel as if you can only live in a bat cave?

And then there are the anti-depressants. These are a way of life for me. On occasion, I have convinced myself that I am all better, and I have thrown them away. For a while, I feel great. Life is great. The air is great. Everything is great. The birds are singing. La la la la la. And then comes the crash, which isn’t great. People who are clinically depressed do not enjoy being that way, believe me.

People who have never had any kind of clinical mental illness simply cannot understand it. They believe that you can snap out of it. Or will yourself to be better. Or pray yourself out of it. Or take vitamins. Or (and I love this one, my mother used to say it to me), think happy thoughts. Okay. Sure. That works for a while, for some people. But for those of us who are truly, clinically diagnosed, you may as well be chewing sweet tarts for all of the good that it will do you.

The advances that they have made in psycho-pharmacology are really incredible. I mean, I remember when everyone was handed Prozac, and it was declared a wonder pill, capable of curing everyone’s ills. Well, I’m here to tell you that it didn’t cure mine; it made me worse. It took trial and error and time to find the right medicine for me. But now, pharmacology has advanced so far so fast, and even though it’s still trial and error in getting to the right medicine for an individual’s body, there are so many more roads to try so that your medicine doesn’t end up turning you into a zombie.

No one should ever feel ashamed to need medicine for being depressed or anxious, and any sect of society that still imposes that kind of stigma is living in the dark ages. Many of these conditions run in families; some are caused by hormones, others by traumatic events that have occurred in life. Some last a lifetime; others just months. With the right medication, some people who are diagnosed with a mental illness can continue to function in society without major issues and without having to announce to the world that an issue exists, because after all, it isn’t really the world’s business. Is it?

But the kinds of drugs that I’m talking about having a problem with don’t come with a prescription. I’m talking about pot and cocaine and meth, or prescription drugs that belong to someone else that are being used for something other than that for which they are prescribed. That kind of drug use bothers me and is weighing heavily on my mind right now.toking

Let me clarify. You’re probably thinking that I’m being a hypocrite about pot because I just admitted that I smoked in high school, and I didn’t turn out horribly, and everything seems to be fine. However, I’m talking about excessive pot use, as in getting high every day, sometimes, a couple of times a day. I smoked pot once or twice a week, maybe. I still went to school, turned in my assignments, took care of my chores, you know, basic things.

What I’m seeing is getting high on pot, and then abusing prescription drugs, too. The result is a crappy personality, full of smart ass retorts, no respect, and manipulative behavior. An incredibly narcissistic person whose dysfunction is being exacerbated by the drug and alcohol abuse. And I cannot even believe that I am writing about this because it violates his privacy. But how about how he has violated my soul, my essence?

Am I to continue to allow this personal pummeling on my morale without responding to it? Each time feels like a new violation on my spirit. Each time I wonder where the boy has gone that I knew, the one that I rocked to sleep every night the first year of his life. Do I love him less for what he is becoming? Do I beg and plead internally in this ongoing argument with myself to wait patiently, that things will turn around, that this is just a phase, that all parents go through this, that the boy I love is there beneath this arrogant, selfish, man-boy? Do I remind myself that all youth are self-centered, ego-centric, narcissistic, wholly wrapped in the concept that they are infallible, untouchable and immortal?

When I was 17, I was already going to college full time, working, paying for my own car insurance, gas, clothes, and expenses. But I was atypical, and this goes back to my belief that I have already lived a hundred other lives, and this one is but one in which I am already an old soul. I wanted to have these responsibilities at a young age. I was already beyond where he is now. Not everyone is like me.

So how do I keep my expectations realistic? I know that he is not me. That much is certain. But to be on the receiving end of so much disdain, such a lack of common courtesy is unacceptable. My children were not brought up to be heathens, barbarians. That is intolerable. Perhaps the wildness is youth, but the rude temperament is not a matter of age. I can cloak the wounds to my soul for now in the hopes that he moves past this phase, but I will not tolerate shunning the teachings of basic human decency that he has heard since he had ears to hear and a mouth to speak.

french-lieutenants-woman1
Cover from French Lieutenant's Woman

So, it comes to this now. I wait. I will put into action the plan to remove the drugs that I have access to from his access. I will try to find within myself some of my father’s stalwart patience, the kind he used on me during my rebellious years.

I just had a fleeting image of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, who went to the edge of the bluff each day to look out to sea, no matter what the weather, even though she knew that her lover would not return. It was an open-ended story, but I always saw her time on the bluff as a way for her way to gather her strength to face the day and all that it held for her, for she knew that it would not be easy. Funny how the doors in the sand castles of your memory open and release something for you to hold onto when you need it most.

There will be more later. Peace.

Music as Muse

muse-loreena-mckennitt-album-cover

Euterpe: Giver of Delight

For as long as I can remember, music has played a large part in my life. I remember being in the chorus in the sixth grade and getting one of the coveted solo spots in the big end of the year pageant. I was such a ham. Then all through junior high I took chorus until I had to choose between chorus and foreign language, and I picked French because it was what I needed for my academic diploma. But it didn’t really matter because by that time, I was already well into formal piano lessons. I took lessons for 14 years.

Many people asked me why I didn’t major in music in college. To put it simply, I wasn’t that good, and I knew it. I loved playing the piano, but it didn’t come second nature to me, not like reading and writing. I knew that if I were going to be a classical pianist, then playing should be as natural to me as breathing, and it wasn’t. I tried to explain that to my mother, but she didn’t understand that. My piano teacher did, though. It’s just one of those things. Either you have it, or you don’t, and I knew early that I didn’t. I loved it. I loved the instrument, loved the music, loved learning, especially Chopin, even Bach’s two and three-part inventions, but they were not extensions of myself. I had to fight hard to win them. And so I did not go to Julliard as I once had dreamed of attempting.

However, that never diminished my love of music. When I write, I always have music playing in the background. I create play lists for everything. When I worked, I always had music playing in my office. I once had a job that did not allow music to be played, even for those individuals with private offices. It was like working in a tomb. I did not stay at that job for very long, not just because of the music. That was just a symptom of the larger issues, namely complete control over the employees.

But as usual, I digress . . . To me, music is a reflection of a person’s soul, a soundtrack of your life. My tastes are very eclectic. I love classical music—symphonies, operas, string quartets, piano solos, the cello, all of it. But I also love classic rock ‘n roll, pop, country, soundtracks, reggae, salsa, blues, alternative, even some metal once in a while. Most of the time, I’m mellow, but driving with all of the windows down, I want rock, loud. In the islands, I want reggae and Buffet. Sunday afternoon, I might want an opera. Saturday afternoon, some blues would be good. Right now, I have my mellow mix on because I’m writing.

music_of_the_spheres_michail_spiridonov_97_98
Music of the Sphere by Michail Spiridonov

Artists who inspire me tends to be writers themselves: Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan, Sting, Van Morrison, Jamie O’Neal, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Springsteen, Melissa Etheridge. Of those, my favorites are probably Lennox, McLachlan and Etheridge, probably because they tend to write in my key, and their songs are so intimate and moving. Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” is one of my all-time favorite songs because it feels as if it were written just for me.

I still love to sing, and I’ll admit to being a karaoke junkie. I used to go to a favorite karaoke bar at least once a week back in the day. I would take my journal, and sit and write, people watch, and wait for my turn to sing. Then when Corey came into my life, I got him hooked on the karaoke habit, and we would go together, but when money is tight, you give up things, and that’s one of them. We haven’t been in over a year. It’s good for grins if you’ve never been. Lets out your inner star, the one that’s been hiding inside.

When I was still living at home, I would put on soundtracks and go around the house and sing at the top of my lungs when I was the only one home. Then when I got my first apartment, I would do the same thing. My poor neighbors. Every Saturday when I cleaned, I would sing and dust. Lemon pledge and “A Little Night Music.” Yes sirree. Pine Sol and “Grease.” Let no one be spared.

So now that I can’t clean every Saturday, the Broadway musicals are left unsung, and since I don’t go on long drives too often, Springsteen doesn’t get rocked out. But I still listen everyday to my tunes, and anytime I hear something new that I think might touch a chord in my creative muse, I download it and add it to my play list. I go on my friends’ MySpace pages and check out their play lists occasionally and steal from them as well, because, well, they get out more. And there is always my oldest son, who loves music as much as I do. I steal from him as well. So from all of these sources, I manage to stay fairly relevant.

But some songs still have a way of moving me to tears. Right now, the one that is wrenching my heart is Annie Lennox’s “Lost.” For a while, it was Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullabye.” Undoubtedly, though, one of the most beautiful songs ever written is David Lanz’s “Cristofori’s Dream.” Bartolomeo Cristofori is generally regarded as the inventor of the piano, and this song is a beautiful homage to the instrument. The soaring chords are reminiscent of a cathedral, and the song itself paints a picture in my mind of many vibrant colors and hues.

That is what the best music does: transports the listener to a different place and time, removes the here and now, if only for three or four minutes, so as to allow that transcendence beyond the mundane, the dripping faucet, the leaf blower, the blare of the television, the neighbor’s mulcher. Instead, all that you hear are the notes of pure beauty and power and timelessness.david-lanz-cristoforis-dream

More later. Peace.