Path and Practice
In August 1993 I bought a copy of Deena Metzger’s Writing for your Life. I was about to turn 41 and remember thinking, ‘This is it, I’m going to do it this time.’ Leafing through the pages I see I’ve underlined passages, written in the margins and even in the blank spaces at the end of a chapter. (Yes, I’m one of those people who shamelessly put themselves into the books I own.) I’ve taken the title of this post, Path and Practice, from the first section of Part IV of the book. In this section Metzger addresses the idea of the muse and its connection to spirituality:
The muse is like the angel one sometimes meets on a path while seeking wisdom, peace, and compassion.
She adds that,
creativity is such a path, writing is one of its practices and the muse with her sweet breath or fiery torch stands in the dark place and lights our way.
Now, Metzger is in no way saying that writing is the same as religion, or that creativity and spirituality are the same thing. She claims that being creative is also a path, one that
has to be carved out by each individual practitioner.
A muse , says Metzger is a boon to anyone on that path and she encourages her readers to imagine and invoke their muse.
For various reasons I was unable to do that in 1993 but I have a muse now, and while I have challenged myself to write seven posts in seven days she has stayed by my side and lit my way with her torch, though a LED flashlight is more her style.
My muse is ebullient, cheeky, assertive and bossy; there’s nothing gentle or meek about her. Like most muses she’s liable to get bored and wander off, she has a critical streak (telling me, of course, it’s for my own good), and is disagreeable when it suits her.
I am talking about Goldilocks, or my version of her. She’s been with me since I was two, when, so the story goes, I insisted my parents read her story to me every night.
Why did I choose her? (Or did she choose me?)
Goldilocks has, to me, always seemed enigmatic, transgressive and marginalised; although I am sure my three-year-old self would not have used those words. She doesn’t prevaricate or postpone, she is curious, sensual and appears to feel no regret or guilt concerning her actions. I was a timid child, but Goldilocks is bold and adventurous. She explored her world, I stayed close to home. She not only knocked at the door of the three bears’ cottage, she opened it and crossed the threshold without waiting to be invited. I have always hung back. Goldilocks is always alone; she makes her own choices, avoids company and has a positive self-regard born of her strong belief in ‘just right’.
Is she the ‘just right’ muse for me? You bet. When I recreated her story in my memoir I had her admit responsibility for what she did because I believe we have to have the courage to accept the consequences of our actions. By choosing Goldilocks as my muse I am validating an otherwise disruptive, anti-establishment, resourceful and maligned girl/woman who challenges domestic order, social mores and conventions. She is capricious, confident, assertive and fearless, qualities that earn her—as well as other girls with similar characteristics—criticism and censure.
The differences between Goldilocks and the traditionally wild creatures of the forest, the bears, intrigues me. These three bears are civilised and domesticated; they live in a cottage, eat from a table, sleep in a bed and appear to have a clear sense of right and wrong, albeit with a degree of moral turpitude when it comes to assisting those worse off than them. That Goldilocks might be a wayfarer searching for safety, comfort and shelter is ignored. She is called a greedy, wilful and selfish girl when, she is, upon arrival at the Bears’ cottage, a hungry, tired, lost child seeking asylum. The bears are outraged by her behaviour. They don’t stop and consider that she is simply following her instincts and finding shelter and food. Given this, is there any need for her to feel remorse for her actions? Yes, in one sense there is something monstrous about her behaviour, but there is also something monstrous about bears in human clothing who refuse to provide a child with asylum.
For me, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears demonstrates that being a ‘good girl’ is the only option available to little girls who wish to be accepted into society, even if that means starving. By trying to discover her ‘just right’ Goldilocks is assumed to have committed an act of transgression. She is banished and the bears are seen as victims.
Above the door of my writing room is the word ‘Imagine’ in large red letters. The Goldilocks I imagine is exactly the right muse for me because she gives me strength. The Goldilocks I call muse, like any other muse, is a figment of my imagination, but imagination is what all writers, all artists, need and exercise. As Deena Metzger writes,
The imagination is … a real place. And the image is as real as a table or the galaxies. The image matters. Matters as much as anything matters. The image is the prima materia. To respect it, work with it, live with it, act upon it, finally to live with it is the very core of the creative life.
I write for many reasons. One of them is because a capricious, maligned, brave little girl walked into my life over 60 years ago and refused to leave. I am fortunate to have such a tenacious muse because she is the one who insists I ‘just write!’
Do you have a muse? How did she or he come into your life? How does she or he nurture you? How do you nurture your muse?