How to Keep Your Muses Healthy
Let's be honest. My muses can be total bitches, especially when I'm already feeling depressed and they heap criticism on top of me. Never is their imagination more devilishly clever that when they're telling me all the things that are wrong with me and all the reasons this planet would be so much better off without me. "You're nothing," they whisper. "A talentless nobody. A pathetic creature. You do nothing but take up space and air. Somebody would probably throw a big party if you really did swallow all those pills. You couldn't be a bigger loser if you tried. If you tried even more than you do already, that is."
So, yes, my muses torture me when depressed thoughts take over my mind. But they're also the ones who come up with the perfect word or phrase I need when I'm writing an essay or a story. My muses suggest plotlines and then patiently rework them when I'm not happy with them the first time. And it's my muses who help introduce a theme and then tie it all together neatly at the end of the tale.
I need those creatures to write just like my body needs air to breathe. But how do I keep my muses focused on my writing rather than on my real or imagined character flaws? Through careful care and feeding. And I do mean careful. I've often thought that Hagrid should have taught the Hogwarts students to care for muses in the Harry Potter series. At least then I'd have had a little more direction. In the meantime, the following techniques seem to work well for me in managing my muses.
1. Reading. My muses are voracious readers, gulping up books from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Wolf Hall and everything in between. They like gay characters and straight characters, children and adults, fiction and non-fiction. And the more books I make available to them, the less brutal their barbs become. They are being seduced by other worlds and discovering new stories. Tormenting me loses some of its charm as creation takes over as the driving force.
2. Listening to music. It's hard for my muses to be a constant, obnoxious whine in my ears when I'm distracted by music. Broadway is my personal favorite, but I also enjoy classical and soft rock. As the muses listen, half against their will, they begin to see images and grasp at bits of half-formed stories. Again, the urge to stifle is swept away by a beautiful curiosity.
3. Playing. I'm always up for a game of Trivial Pursuit, but the games I have in mind here are simpler and more childlike. Sometimes I'll use cookie cutters on Play Doh. Sometimes I'll arrange my collection of stuffed animals or other toys into a heaping pile. My muses' minds go a mile a minute trying to find a logical story in it all. When they finally locate one, they're far too occupied with it to waste time beating me up.
4. Finding mental challenges. I love jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, embroidery, crosswords, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune. Each new event forces my muses to think and see things in a new way in order to solve the puzzle at hand. Each shift in perspective might become a new theme or a new way to begin an essay or to end a novel. Each success silences those parts of my muses that want to insult me. And I'm stubborn. I don't have too many failures.
5. Getting plenty of rest. My muses can be like tired, whining two-year-olds. The more exhausted they are, the more they attack the very thing they need for survival. When the muses are in a mood like this, nothing helps but a nap. Sleep temporarily turns the cruel parts of my mind to "stop" and gives me a chance to strengthen my armor. And when the muses awake, they're usually in the mood to go back to their books or puzzles.
6. Moving my body. A nice walk or even just a day of cleaning the living room makes me feel better about myself so it's harder for the words of the muses to hurt me. At the same time, moving around stimulates my imagination. The muses may pop up with an idea for a how-to article or for a piece about local walking trails.
7. Creating a pleasant atmosphere. I've learned the hard way that existing in squalor merely inspires the muses to new heights of meanness – think Nellie Oleson on steroids. Keeping a calm, relaxed environment, however, soothes my shattered nerves. Rather than the muses nattering on about how dreadful I am, they retreat to do some of their more creative thinking, and I often end up with the idea and motivation to write something awesome.
Even though my muses are dreadful to me during the worst of my depressive episodes, I wouldn't want to try to write without them. As long as I exercise care and control over "the girls," we have the potential to make a pretty damn good team.