Sing to Me O Muse, So That I Might Feel Good About Myself

25 Jan

 

 

 

 

“Oh, I really don’t date writers.”

“Really, why not?”

“I don’t want someone to write about me.”

“No no no, I’ll write for you.”

“LOL.”

“Did you just say LOL?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think this is working out.”

– The Marquis Rubenstein, The Play is the Bling, Act II

The concept of the Muse has evolved over the years. In antiquity, the Muses were personifications of specific forms (Melpomene=tragedy, Thalia=comedy) who bequeathed wisdom onto the vari0us artists of the day. Perhaps the best word to describe the ancient Muse is Inspiration – from her came the ideas that artists and writers used to create their works.

The modern day Muse is a more sentimentalized construct. Our muses are not so much those who give us ideas, but rather those for whom we write, and those from whom we seek accolades. I can look into my wife’s eyes over the breakfast table, and just that one simple gaze can get me working on a new story. I can read my son a bedtime story, or I could make one up on the spot and watch with bliss as his face is transformed with wonder and awe as he hangs onto each and every word. (It should be noted that the story does involve both robots and dragons.)

The original idea of Inspiration can be defined as “an outside force that aids one in formulating and refining ideas and opinions.” The modern, less mythological, more psychological idea might be: “an outside force that makes us want to formulate and refine ideas and opinions.”

The former is the Idea Factory. The latter is the reason we get up in the morning.

I recently read The Fountainhead, and while Ayn Rand’s political philosophy is a big vat of knee-jerk, half-baked, mumbo jumbo, the thing I found most mystifying (besides the “welcomed rape” scene), is that the main character (an architect) does not create for anyone but himself. He does not desire acclaim or awards. On the other hand, negative criticism does not faze him one bit. The idea of not caring what others think of your actions (be they good or evil), is one of Rand’s primary philosophical tenants. (But more about Objectivism some other time, when I am feeling particularly snarky.)

I have no problem in admitting that one of my motivations for writing is for people to like what I’ve created, which will in turn make me feel good about myself – in essence, I desire acknowledgement that I am a worthwhile human being. Much of this feeling I can get on my own, but a good deal of it requires the recognition of others. And not just a general “others,” but specific individuals, whose esteem would give me great joy. Most artists and writers have this very same longing. We want to be liked for what we do so very well. We have egos and they desire copious massaging.

Such is the modern day Muse. My Inspiration (Definition No. 1) for a story may come from seeing a lovely and lonely face during my morning subway commute, someone about whom I suddenly find myself creating a story. My Inspiration (Definition No. 2) for finally putting that story down on paper and showing it to others, is that I wish to satisfy my Muse, to make her happy. (The other reasons – I enjoy the process of writing; money.)

Okay, that sounds rather pathetic, doesn’t it? Where is my independence? It may be true that no man is an island, but I don’t really need other people to validate my very existence, do I? Someone tell me, please! I mean, can’t I take joy in my creative pursuits without desiring other people’s plaudits?

Of course I can. I could write all I want for my own sake. But if I did – if I wrote for nobody but myself – I would never show anything to anyone else. I would never send my work to magazines and publishers. Hell, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog. Yes, I admit it, I want you to like this blog. (please…)

If we didn’t seek acceptance because of  our art, we would never share our art with the world.

It’s not just writers and artists who desire praise; we just happen to be in fields in which praise is one of the most desired outcome (well, that and money). Most people want others to be proud of them. When we go up to bat in the metaphorical bottom of the ninth, we want to be the one to hit the homer and win the game, to get the plaudits and acclaim. When we were young, we would show off our good grades to our parents, and look for them in the audience when we played Rock No. 3 in the fourth grade play. As we grew up we joined cliques to feel included, and made fun of people to feel even more included than others. We found a girl we liked and tried to make her like us too. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it worked and then it didn’t. Maybe it worked until we realized she was just in it for our money and title. “Hey you have to listen to this song,” we said, “because if you like the song that I like, that makes me feel good about my taste in music and my taste in you.” Even at the most pathetic, boring, workaday jobs we can get satisfaction from a pat on the back and a few kind words from a supervisor. Hell, someone just clicking “Like” on Facebook can make a person’s day.

The least creative of us have as many muses as the most talented. (I currently have 9.5 muses myself, a five year low.)  Those who say that they don’t need the praise of others (I am looking at you, Ms. Rand) are fooling themselves, and denying who they are: human beings.

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