Boozing the Muse

Originally for Author Magazine

Fitzgerald.  Hemingway.  Steinbeck.  Faulkner.  O’Neil.  Poe.  Kerouac.  Bukowski.  Capote.   Dorothy Parker.  Katherine Anne Porter.  And so many many others.  Why is the muse so thirsty?  I want to know the answer.  Allow me then, to muse upon the muse.

For the sake of this pursuit, I’m going to make some assumptions/projections about writers, as a woman who’s been writing for half her life.

Writers think we have something to say.  And not just that.  We’re not sure we’ll be okay if we don’t say it.  It’s that tree-falls-in-the-woods thing.  What if no one’s there to hear it?  Do our words matter?  Does all that widening of the third eye count?  Does all that standing in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing, risking the soul’s “life” and “limb,” matter if it’s just a confluence of country road?  Crows and scarecrows and maybe a few crickets?  Most of us would say an emphatic “no.”  We want the trajectory met.  We want our readers.  And still…we write.

And here’s the thing:  we’re not supposed to complain about it.  Because…it’s not like anyone asked us to write.  It’s not like we’ve gotten sword taps on the shoulders by the royal Queen of Literacy.  We’re just poor slobs who get off on sitting in dark rooms staring at computer screens making shit up.  And without those computers and dark rooms, we’d be poor slobs walking around asking someone if we can borrow a pen to write on walls, and if someone objects, we’ll write on our hands.  But we’d still want someone to read our hands.  And not for fortune.  We don’t expect fortune.  Just a little daily bread and a few people who say, “I read what you wrote.  And it helped me.”

Some writers write to understand.  Others for the greater good.  It doesn’t really matter.  It’s just that we have to.  We can’t not.  Sounds dramatic, I know.  But it’s true.  And here’s the thing:  it doesn’t have to be our undoing—not being read, not being published.  Unless we truly consider it bloodsport, and for some, maybe that’s just the way it needs to be.  But not for me.

Have you ever seen that painting in the Met in New York—of Joan of Arc being called to war from her country life in the garden?  Have you ever seen her face?  Have you noticed the ghost-like spirits over her shoulder?  Looked at her outstretched hand?  She wants it.  She can’t help but listen.  The voices are too loud.  That’s my girl.  That’s me.  I martyred myself for a long time with my writing.  You wouldn’t know it from the outside.  But inside I felt so called to do what I did/do every day, that there was a level of entitlement.  And then the inner turmoil and pain of meeting with rejection.  A LOT of rejection.  How could the publishing world have a grid boasting cracks through which I would fall over and over and over again?  Especially with an agent.  Especially with such positive rejection letters.  I knew I could write.  I knew that I had something to share.  I just couldn’t make being published happen.  And I was miserable.

So I gave up.  Not on the writing.  On the publishing.  The alternative was to self destruct.  And I didn’t want to do that.  I have a great life.  Who cares if I’m a writer.  I have a husband and kids and horses and land in Montana and a house and a garden and friends and…life is good, just like the t-shirts say.  So after a huge publishing deal fell apart, my father died, and I found myself in a red wine daze crying on my office floor, I decided that it was total insanity, basing my personal happiness on things outside my control.  What I could control was:  writing.  Creating.  Submitting when what I wrote was good.  And then letting go.

Writers don’t have to martyr themselves.  That’s a story we tell ourselves.  We aren’t our writing, as much as we’d like to think we are. 

Our writing is of us.

But it…is…not…us.

We need to create a new paradigm for writers.  Writers may walk around with empathy as their middle name, channeling the human experience, but the beauty and heart break of that can be filtered through the fine mesh of an inner agreement that we do not have to suffer because of it.  We can go with the pain.  We can use the pain.  Just like we can use the joy.  And to feel the pain does not mean that it then has us wanting to numb it away.  It does not control us.  We control us.  And I’ll say it again because it took me a long time to understand this:  we can control what we create.  And then, I believe, it’s best to let go of the rest.  The real freedom lies therein.

18 Comments

Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

18 Responses to Boozing the Muse

  1. Preach it Baby. Nice. Very Nice. You say so much that I agree with and feel. I too have felt, ” so called to do what I did/do every day, that there was a level of entitlement. And then the inner turmoil and pain of meeting with rejection. A LOT of rejection. How could the publishing world have a grid boasting cracks through which I would fall over and over and over again?” And have gone silent even with the writing, sort of. Though lately I feel it rising again. Artesian. I saw some deadlines that appealed to me. I’m not sure I can make them but they got me waking up. And slammed into a mysterious and sharp reaction to some things that shouldn’t have created such a strong reaction–the feeling of an essay rising.

    At any rate thank you for sharing these pieces.

  2. Love this piece. Writing will always be a large part of many of us, but it does not DEFINE who we are. Thanks Laura.

  3. Katie Jane Wennechuk Thomas

    I love this too. Thirst quenching.

  4. Love this! In your book when you describe your struggle getting published among all the other things- I found it vulnerable and beautiful. Your book is so honest -I recommend it to others all the time!

  5. Outstanding, Laura! Thank you! Beautiful insights and I like the image of the painting and what you say about separating oneself from one’s art. Do you know this poem by Dylan Thomas (another famous boozer, alas?)
    http://www.naic.edu/~gibson/poems/dthomas1.html

    • lauramunson

      Thanks for reminding me of Dylan Thomas. I’ll enjoy going to this link. I love how much I learn from the soulful people who read this blog. Thank you, Garrett. I also need to pop over to your blog and say hi. Such a generous community! yrs. Laura

  6. I love this post. Too many favorite parts to list, but I loved “it’s not like anyone asked us to write”. You’re right–we can’t not write, but it doesn’t have to be our undoing. If it was, how would we keep on doing what we have to do, which is writing. :)

    Thanks for such a great post.

  7. Marie Rotter

    I love this post! As I get older, I just find myself writing because I’m a happier person when I write. Sure, I’d love to write a breakout novel or a blockbuster screenplay but that’s not what’s motivating me. When I was in my 20s, that’s all I could think about. If you took away my computer, I’m sure I’d be asking someone to read my hand, too.

  8. Cindy

    Laura, your post reminded me that my husband created a writer’s vision statement for me once upon a time.

    Something like: I write because it’s the only thing that gives my alcoholism meaning.

  9. Beautifully constructed and expressed…..the only Facebook app I was ever tempted by was “What drunk author are you?”

  10. very nice post, i certainly love this website, keep on it

  11. Laura, this hits the nail on the head. The gift I have discovered from blogging is the value of my words, my thoughts, the “shit I make up” as you describe it. In letting go of the need for recognition, I have found the value of my muse. (That bitch!) :)

    • lauramunson

      She’s so finicky, isn’t she?! I find she’s very thirsty for jasmine green tea. TO that end…another cup. Write on, Mary! yrs. Laura

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