by Mary Hershey

If you want creative help from your muse, here’s an important insider secret. Start working first. It’s a lesson that I forget at least two to five times a week. Muses, turns out, are agents of the active, not the idle. In order to lure one to your table, your canvas, your novel, poem or blog, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Dive, doodle, journal, collage, whatever— enter boldly into the world of artistic expression. Then, just watch and wait to see what happens! Quite often, NOTHING. (Whaa-a-a-t!) That’s right. Sometimes you sit for hours and end up with nothing newer than a raging red hangnail. So you stop, and then try again the next day. Nada. A recorded message plays close to your ear. “All Muses are busy, please stay on the line for the next available goddess.” The minutes, hours, days tick away and your hangnail has now born several offspring. Still, nothing. At this point, I want you to congratulate yourself for being an artist, a writer, and a laborer. Way to go. Just keep showing up. But you might want to put some gloves on. Those hangnails are getting scary. Some writers (as in ME) expect muses to be gentle, encouraging, effusive, beautiful, devoted, lavish, at your service, day or night. Picture Meryl Streep on a deep velvet chaise sipping Hibiscus tea spouting poetry and prose. In this vision, the lovely muse serves as the true speaker, and you only a mouthpiece. This is how it should work, right? The muse that I’ve been assigned looks like actress Kathy Bates in a ketchup-stained waitress uniform with a nametag that reads Wanda. When it comes to our partnership, she wants to roll out of her support hose, put her feet up, and give me a hard time. I’ve tried to turn her back in for a kinder model, but no dice. Turns out we each get issued one muse, and it’s a “for better for worse till death do you part kind of thing.” According to the Pausanias (I think they’re from Jersey), there were three original Muses: Aoide representing song and voice, Melete of practice or occasion, and Mneme, goddess of memory. Together these three make up a complete picture of the preconditions of poetic art. In later times, additional Muses joined the team and each was assigned their own field of patronage. Enter Calliope (Chief Muse), Euterpe, Clio, Erato, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania. If these chicks wanted another gig, they could make a truly sick (as in completely cool) all girl band, don’t you think? Why the herstory lesson? I’m moving toward my important point at lightning speed now. These poor goddesses are bone tired. You try being in charge of charge of comedy, epic song, or bucolic poetry for a few thousand years! It is really exhausting work. I forget when it was exactly— sometime after their big project with Milton’s PARADISE LOST, they unionized. They’d had enough! Channeling their gifts day after day, only to net a small byline, if any, in all the great works of literature. The Allied Muse & Goddess Union (AMGU) sets standards and guidelines for their collaborations with artists and writers. Beck and call work is strictly forbidden. Direct channeling allowed under certain conditions. Missed appointments are costly. Repeat missed appointments may be fatal. Muses must be treated with the proper god-like respect at all times. Gum popping in the presence of a muse is forbidden. Only Calliope and Euterpe, the muses of epic and lyric song, will allow iPods during a session. Artists must keep their own creative wells filled. Muses will not work in a room where handhelds, or cell phones are left on. And there you have it, Museology 101. Now get to work. Show up. Keep your tank filled. Shut out the distractions. Hydrate. Easy on the caffeine. Breathe. Stay in a place of gratitude for your gift, however raw it might be at this point. Show the muses you mean business. Who knows? You might get a good one! And if you do, uh, mind if I borrow her?

Mary Hershey is an author for children and young adults and a certified Personal & Executive Coach. Her first book My Big Sister is So Bossy She Says You Can’t Read this Book was published by Random House in 2005. Her three subsequent books have equally long titles that barely fit on the book spine. She has a very nice editor that doesn’t mind one bit.