Post Tue Jan 03, 2006 6:22 am

Abusive Muse

<font color="yellow" style="font-size: 15pt">Heaven help the creative writing teacher who gets me for a student, who knows what strange piece I'll come up with in a pinch for a grade. This was one I did for a "setting" assignment, it went so far beyond the grounds of what the professor wanted that when I read it in class she said, "what the heck are you in this class for?". I replied, "For the easy elective credits!". The story got an 'A' of course. I include it here mostly out of vanity and humor, the main character is me-- fighting with myself (or my muse if you prefer). Writers will probably be the ones who find it the most humorous.

Abusive Muse

Prepared to wrestle my enemy to the death, I stood at the base of the cliffside beach access, watching surf batter the rocks. The smell of salt and decaying kelp burned my nose and a cool sea breeze nipped at my face. The noon sun glinted off gulls keening overhead, their cries like raucous laughter; humor that seemed aimed at me. Perhaps, I deserved to be laughed at. My opponent was myself.

“Will,” I said aloud. “You’ve finally reached a level of neurosis even you can’t ignore.” I sighed. My words drowned beneath the rumble of the waves. Nobody could hear me. I didn’t want them to. “You’re bloody talking to yourself.”

I didn’t know whether my sanity was going or not. I always talked to myself, so I didn’t think it odd--for me at least. Usually, I’d get a reply. The voice in the back of my head, my muse, was silent. Most would say I’d simply returned to normal.

Instead, I felt alone--abandoned.

Sand crunched under my feet as I walked toward the water. Except for a few sunbathers and a couple of surfers working the breaks, the beach looked empty. I glanced back. Sandstone cliffs loomed over the narrow strip of beach. Rutted by erosion they looked as though gouged out by giant clawed hands. Striations of brown, red, and black ran through the walls like stripes in a Spanish serape.

I hoped that isolating myself in this pastoral place might lubricate the jammed gears in my head. My muse had gone on strike. Ideas avoided me in droves. I went from writing eight pages a day to zero. I felt stopped up--confused. Nothing would come.

I had constipation of the brain.

Most people called it writer’s block. I called it a pain in the ass. Which was where I’d begun to think my intellect had migrated.

To the south, the cliffs became a point jutting into the ocean. Spray plumed upward, making rainbows in the breeze as waves hammered the wide hem of pitted stone around the ridge base. I headed that way.

The rumble of the sea grew louder as I walked. I would solve this problem with my muse.

One way or another.

Before this, I had tried holding a metaphorical gun to my skull. I sat in front of the word processor my forehead pressed against the cool glass hoping inspiration would come.

You will sit here until you write something--something good--not ‘I can’t think of anything to write...’

I persisted night after night until I was bleary eyed and my office had grown dark. At midnight, I’d be there still stuck in a zone. I kept expecting to hear Rod Serling’s voice narrating my tale of woe.

Therapy. I needed therapy. Self help... hell, any help. I heard that if you can’t write--read. Supposedly, it fills up the word reservoirs and stocks the idea shelves.

I read four novels, eight novels, twelve... good ones, bad ones, mediocre, even a couple books on writer’s inspiration.

My face had lost all its contours from being pounded against hard surfaces. I couldn’t understand it--writer’s block?

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block!” I screamed at myself several times. Yet, when I sat at the computer, nothing came. My characters were mute, my settings empty, the plots flitting through my mind were clichés of clichés. I’d hit an all-time creative low. I wondered if I’d died without knowing it and this was purgatory.

It was as if my muse had committed suicide. I couldn’t handle staring at a blank screen anymore. I decided to get out, find a scenic place and have it out with Mr. Muse.

To most, a muse is a fickle feminine sprite dressed in a diaphanous gown whimsically seeding creativity. My muse is more like a heavyweight prize fighter, delivering inspiration with a stiff right to the jaw.

He and I would settle it. Winner take all. The stakes were steep. Losing meant casting off my illusions that I was a writer.

It sounded extreme, but my back was to the wall. Nothing explained the void where my creativity used to be. I had a stable life with no emotional shocks, no financial troubles. All of my friends still liked me, and editors were writing encouraging rejection notes.

No excuses--none at all.

I drove out to this stretch of shoreline. Descending the cliff was hard going, so only the more dedicated beach-goers came here. The russet cliffs, glistening tide pools, and shining sand were the perfect spot to go ten rounds with the gnawing emptiness in me.

I climbed onto the stone shelf. Salt spray misted over me.

Round one.

I imagined a hammer rapping a rusty iron bell. Stepping around water-filled depressions I moved toward the lip where the ocean gushed upward like the spewing of a geyser.

Between the ebb and surge of the sea, I heard the bubbling of land crabs hiding in the crevices. From time-to-time I detected the clicking of tiny chitinous feet as they scrabbled from the shelter of one rock to another.

As an exercise, I imagined myself girded in a hard exoskeleton. My bulbous eyes swiveled on stalks to take in the harsh lineaments of a black-and-white world. My thoughts turned primitive; devour those smaller than myself, run from anything larger.

I cast off the idea. Nothing I could work with. A crab didn’t make for either an interesting or sympathetic protagonist.

Ding! Round two.

I walked around the point. The spray soaked my clothes and beaded on my arms and legs. The sun baked out the salt so it turned to a white crust on my skin. Each sound and sensation became grist for the mill of my mind, raw data to be processed and synthesized for future use. Write what you know. Each concept could be used as the focus to spawn new speculative paths to follow.

A string of dirty gray pelicans skimmed along the swells. I knew of no creature as ugly and graceful at the same time.

Ugliness and grace, an interesting juxtaposition, a well-worn idea. Not a path worth following. I sighed. Could I break through this blasted wall? Would this block stand forever like a mountain, only to be worn down by incredible amounts of time, wind and rain?

Ding! Round three. My confidence wavered. If I couldn’t get inspiration here, I’d be doomed to the mundane life of a non-writer. The champion had a cut. Mr. Muse smelled blood and pecked away at my weakness one jab at a time.

I imagined the roar of the crowd. My chest heaved as punishing blows rained on my ribs. The cascade of pain made air whistle through my teeth. Stick and move; lunge, cock--fire. I felt a shock as my gloved fist scored on a rocky stubble-paited head.

Dark slits glared at me from a featureless face. Mr. Muse’s square yellow teeth were gritted and I smelled his fetid breath. He closed in for the kill. The canvas felt like flypaper on my feet. My arms grew heavy.

Stick and move.

Dancing around the rocks, caught up in my fantasy duel, I feinted and jabbed as the sea roared. Mist wafted over me splintering the light into a thousand tiny rainbows that vanished into the nooks and crannies at my feet.

I paused, watching dampness on hot rocks evaporate.

In my mind, I envisioned a man standing on a shelf like this one, wrestling not with himself, but the sea. He struggled to capture the essence locked in the water; the rainbows. In a flash, I knew why. His wife had died in the sea. Her soul was trapped in those rainbows. If he captured them, he could reclaim her and the life he’d lost. His struggle was in vain, but he must try, and keep trying... because that is the way of love...

A tough idea, bright with emotional possibilities, depths of character and back story. My heart raced.

My mind jumped back to the boxing ring. I leaned into a swing. The jolt sang up my arm. On the button. My opponent’s head jerked back. Mr. Muse’s eyes turned to ‘X’s. In an instant, he was sucking canvas. The bell rang. The referee held up my arm.

“Winner by a knockout!”

Relief washed through me. Still stories left to write.

I sat among the rocks until sunset, watching as the horizon turned pastels of tangerine and indigo. The ocean shaded to a cobalt blue. As the last edges of the reddish disk slipped away in the west I felt the possibilities lingering in the air.

Time to go home.

Time to write.