by Rohini Gupta
The muse is always late. It’s her nature. She may come or she may not, but I am there, faithful as the tides, sitting at my writing desk as usual every day. I can feel that wondrous rush of words lurking somewhere in the dark behind the mind.
But she’s not there.
Where is she? Is she flirting with another writer at the other end of town? Did he perform some complex esoteric ritual to gain her favour?
She is certainly not here.
The sun is shining brightly outside. My back is to it. I’m in this lonely world, just me and cold blank screen. Nothing is alive in this land. Nothing moves. Not one stray letter.
Will she come? I don’t know.
When she does blow in, it’s often at the most inconvenient time.
All day I have been at the desk, back hurting, fingers numb. I go for a walk and there she is, pouring in a small raincloud of ideas just when I cannot write.
Or I go for a shower and the tap that opens is not the water. Suddenly she is there, full blown, mid flow and in overdrive. A flood of words and ideas flashes past at lightning speed just when I am wrestling with the soap.
Wait, wait, slow down, hold on.
Then, still dripping, I find paper and pen.
I am ready but where is the lightning? It’s gone, taking the last flash of genius with it.
Worse, I am on the way to an important meeting. It’s not the fate of the world but the fate of my book, which, at the moment, is just as important. Right then I do not need a little thundercloud, tapping me on the shoulder to whisper, so this is what you do with the dead bodies in the basement.
Not now, please, not now. In a couple of hours I will be back at my desk. Can’t it hold till then?
No, it can’t. That is another thing a muse does not do. She just won’t wait.
She is a butterfly who dances in, trailing stardust in her wake. It’s up to me to try and catch the sparks. Most of the time I find myself leaping at empty air. I am too late. Nothing’s there. She is already past. The idea, the words – long gone.
Complaints don’t work with her either. Time does not exist for her. She will glide in when she pleases.
Yet, writing is just not the same without her.
My fingers on the keys are heavy as lead. I write stillborn sentences. The story refuses to move. Everything will need rewriting.
Writers often say they are bored. ‘I hate writing,’ some say. Others say they will not write if they know the plot, or the end, because then they would be bored to tears. To many writers, writing is a chore they want to finish as rapidly as possible.
They don’t know the muse.
Her signature is surprise.
She can give the most mundane of outlines a pair of golden wings. When she comes it’s noon at midnight and stones become rivers. In mythology, the goddess of poetry and art is a river.
What else could she be?
I use the old fashioned word, muse. Others may prefer the more modern ‘flow’. Call it what you will, it’s the same thing — that slow, smooth flow of the mind, rare as it is.
But there is a key. Yes, there is a key.
Don’t expect her at all. Never wait. You could be waiting for a lifetime.
Begin. Sit down and walk on your own arthritic 26 keyboard feet. Don’t stop walking. On most days your spider words will crawl slow and cranky across the white.
Then it will happen. Someday it will happen – the reason I became a writer in the first place.
She will sweep me off my feet. I will be airborne in an instant, soaring in cloudy heights beyond the range of commercial jets, in a world where there is nothing but words.
For a while it is heaven.
Then, like an off switch, she’ll be gone. I’ll be back to my cramped self, wondering if my feet ever left the ground.
They did. I have pages to prove it. I have words I do not remember writing.
The next day when I read them again they will surprise me. Did I really write that? Was it me spinning that silk of words? Did I really make that music? With a little bit of help, yes, it was me.
She will never be on time. I know that now.
But I will. I will be there every day. The music of the keys or the scratching of the pen attracts her and if she does not hear it, she may go to someone else.
I will begin.
Maybe she will join me. Maybe she won’t.
But it will happen again, that also I know. There will be another day when the switch turns on and her sparkle fills my mind, when there are wings beneath my words and nothing but the blue sky above.
For that, I’ll always be waiting, however long it takes.
Remember, muses have no sense of time.
Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai, with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book. This article was first published on her blog.