When the Lawns Look Like Fur Coats and the Trees Exude Perfume
It’s that moment in spring when it has been cool and rainy and the noisy guys on their mowers can’t keep up with the grass. I live in a city known for its flowering trees and shrubs and this year they are spectacular, brilliant, and unbelievably fragrant. It almost makes up for winter.
And next week it gets summery warm. I’ve been writing and thinking about new beginnings, not just the normal spring thoughts but the thoughts of emerging, like those seventeen year cicadas rising from beneath the ground to eat, mate, and die, blissfully I hope.
I like the eat and mate part but I’m not ready for a denouement, not just yet. And I guess we are too far north to hear them singing, though we will get their short-lived cousins later in summer when the evenings get warm. It is a sound that I live for each year.
The cicadas develop hard shells that they molt off and leave clinging to tree bark. They look like their insect former owners, except they are stiff and a caramel brown. As kids we collected them. One year my brother and I gathered a bunch of them and hid them all over my younger sister’s room. The kind of thing we did regularly.
Those times exist in a permanent memory surrounded by haze but captured in Kodachrome color. I met a muse recently. She has all the qualities that define one. Beautiful and alluring, intelligent, and provocative. It’s been awhile since I was touched by one of these creatures. It is both terrifying and a great relief to discover that part of me is still alive.
This muse even has a classical name, so I’m going with the muse theory. The not-quite-human aura. Maybe it’s just spring fever but I’m ok with that. Whatever she does, it is definitely driving me to write more than ever and to love every minute of it, even the freelance stuff.
I’ve been encouraging writers here to dig a little deeper, to challenge ourselves to find real insights rather than dwelling in the shallows. And I’m getting a lot of feedback from readers that this depth is what they want.
But here’s the thing: it’s hard. It’s hard to find your subject, which is only an opening, then step into it. You can’t think too much about what you’re doing, you just have to let the words come. If you’re lucky and you have a muse, it might be easier, but muses are notoriously unreliable and fickle.
They have a habit of disappearing. Liz Gilbert thinks ideas are entities that attach themselves to those who they think can help them go beyond the idea stage. But these creatures are not patient- if you don’t act on them they will drift away and find someone who will. It’s a fantastic metaphor, one that made me set her book Big Magic down and gaze out the window, stunned.
One of the challenges of writing for online media is its overwhelming need for more and more and the way good writing quickly fades from consciousness. I’m a rereader, a person who wants to come back to a piece that affected me and see what else is there. Virtually every book in my bookcase has been read more than once, some several times. If a title doesn’t make me want to read it again, it goes.
But the newer writers here may not get as many opportunities to have their work build a following that lasts. So there is a temptation to go for volume rather than quality. I have certainly fallen for this myself, and I am not young (not old either, not yet!).
I’m not really sure what this article is about beyond the title. That came to me as I walked through the city last night, witnessing. But witnessing is part of what writers and artists do. It is our job. To see beyond the surface and come back to report what we’ve found to the others.
My muse would be amused by these musings. There’s some linguistics in that sentence. In Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Haran’s history of human development, he talks about the impact of language on our growth. When we developed a shared language, our brains changed, we gained the power of collective effort, and the ability to plan and think things through.
Think about this. The simple ability to discuss with others catapulted us into what we have become. Yet, after all these thousands of years we still are not very good at it. But the earth is patient, spring is glorious, and those of us who are professional communicators need to be open to a muse.
He or she may be within arm’s length, watching to see if you notice.