Guest Post By Nona Smith
MCWC Board President
Nona Smith would like to rest on the laurels of her recently published book Stuffed, Emptying the Hoarder's Nest, but people keep asking her what she's writing next. Mostly she observes life around her and pens humorous short stories about what she sees. She is the current President of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference and the volunteer trainer at the Mendocino Community Library, one of the oldest, all-volunteer private libraries in the country.
Ever since I read an article about Toni Morrison, I’ve been jealous. Toni seems to have access to her writing muse by way of a daily coffee klatch. “I make a cup of coffee while it’s still dark…and watch the light come. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It enables me, in some sense.” It’s as easy as that for Toni.
I don’t even know if my muse likes coffee. In fact, I believe my creative muse may be in a witness protection program. She only comes to me under cover of darkness when I’m tucked in bed and drifting off to sleep. It’s then she provides me with an idea for a story or helps me puzzle out the thread to a tale I was unable to unravel during daylight. I have no idea how to muster her. She seems to just appear. Or not. Unlike Toni’s muse, I can’t depend upon mine. I wish I could, but collaboration doesn’t seem to be her strong suit.
That article got me thinking about my creative friends here in the Mendocino area, and I began conducting an informal survey of sorts. I wanted to see if a pattern emerged for evoking the productive spirit that I could adopt to make my muse more accessible.
The pattern I was searching for never appeared. Indeed, artists seem to come at calling up their muse in many different ways.
Some summon it by turning inward and becoming very still. Actress Alena Guest says that before going on stage, “I close my eyes and immerse myself in the role I’m going to portray and the four walls surrounding my character.”
Janis Porter, a watercolorist and curator, raises her muse by watching the rhythmic movement of the ocean. “And I think peaceful thoughts before I lift my paintbrush or look at the objects I will be curating into a show.”
Others get active to rouse their creativity. My photographer friend Rosalie Winesuff reads the newspaper to find something that “gets my dander up.” Then she walks her treadmill with a pad of paper and jots down ideas for turning that energy into photographic images. The movement triggers her imagination.
Scott Hutchins, lecturer at Stanford University and keynote speaker at the 2014 Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, conjures his muse by doing yoga “to get the blood flowing.” I never thought of calling up my own muse while stretched into Downward Facing Dog. I don’t know if she’s limber enough to do that.
Fine woodworker Les Cizek says it’s the medium itself that often inspires him. “Some unusual figure in the grain or the color of the wood” will put him on a path to a project. “Once the spark is lit,” he says, “it always seems like the most urgent thing I could possibly be doing.”
For some, the element of ritual invites inspiration. Karen Bowers, a mixed media artist, picks something up along her jogging route or from her garden and “plants” it on her painting table. “I drink water. I light some incense and set my table” before beginning to work.
In her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, Twyla Tharp describes taking a cab ride with her muse to the gym each morning. Settling into the taxi is the first step in a warm-up routine that gets her productive juices flowing.
This business of ritual intrigues me. Perhaps there’s a ceremonial practice I could adopt that would lure my muse into working daylight hours with me. I don’t know her well enough yet to know what might appeal, but perhaps she would enjoy a relaxing dip in a hot tub before settling into work. Maybe a walk along the headlands. Or something involving a dry martini with extra olives? I haven’t a clue.
I have made up my mind to find out. I’m going to experiment with a little yoga before I sit down to write next time, light an aromatic candle, possibly bake us some cookies. (I hope she’s not gluten intolerant.). My intention is to coax her into a collaborative working relationship, even if she turns out to be simply a flighty muse in a witness protection program. Stay tuned, I’ll let you know how it works out.