“I’m listening to my muse;” or after being complimented for a stroke of genius in her work, a poet has sometimes been known to say something like this, “It just came to me from somewhere; the poem almost wrote itself.” Are these ideas contradictory to the spirit of this modern age of enlightenment we find ourselves in? Surely we don’t really believe in muses any longer, or mystical creatures who whisper in our ears? There are no scholars claiming to channel the word of God onto parchment, or chisel it into rocks. Well, some may well be but we recognize them as mentally unstable. We have gotten beyond all that, haven’t we? Maybe we have, but should we?
Now hold on a moment before my atheist friends leap to their feet, let me clarify. I am not making a case for god or the supernatural here, but I am saying that as far as creative work goes, there is a lot of mystery still about how we become inspired. Where do these ideas come from that were not there when we first sat down to write? Is it being in touch with something greater than ourselves, or is it the right brain secretly telling the left brain what to do?
I bring that up as a possibility, not just to prevent alienating the scientists among us, but because a comment on the TED video I am about to show you pointed me toward another presentation that I will show you after. This first presentation though is from a lady I have quite frankly tried to avoid. She leaves messages, and sends me texts but I have yet to return her calls.
But seriously, I have worked with great effort to avoid having anything to do with the book that has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for something like 90 weeks. I avoided the movie about the memoir, called Eat, Pray, Love because to me it sounded like a maudlin Chicken Soup for the soul sort of chick flick that I was far too intellectual to fall for. If I cannot slam myself for my own arrogance, friends, how can I make excuses for slamming others? And really, I need something to back me up for some poetry talks coming up here on the Dad Poet, so I might as well be self-abasing now.
I wanted nothing to do with anything that sounded like the pretty decorative font wall stencils being hung on the walls of rural homes all across the world, any more than I wanted the decor of white geese with country blue bows around their neck ever entering my home again (apologies to my former wife). But then tonight whilst researching another topic altogether, I came across this video by author Elizabeth Gilbert. I was enchanted, and now having seen the trailer, and knowing she is played by Julia Roberts, I succumb. I now want to see the movie. Maybe you’ve already seen this, and the movie. The book came out in 2006, the 19 minute video in 2008, and the movie with Julia Roberts in 2010.
I am not sure that I come to the exact same conclusions, but there is something about how I follow a poem to see where it goes, or if I try to get outside of myself, the poem goes better. . . there is something of that in what she says, and I think it’s worth listening to, however you chose to interpret it. I have tried to avoid being mystical myself, but maybe that left brain right brain thing can help. I’ll put the link to that entirely different (or is it) video after this one.
And next time, we will talk to my old hero Professor William Stafford to see what his thoughts on writing have in common with the modern journalist Elizabeth Gilbert. It might surprise you. TED won’t embed so click here for Elizabeth Gilbert’s chat.
And now click here for a thought that might help bridge the gap between the scientist and the mystic (Hopefully tomorrow I can tie this all together).