How Motherhood Erased the Muse
My children are scared of the vacuum cleaner and the dark that slips between crochet hooks of their blankets. They have a ritual: when the vacuum rolls into the room, they spring onto the furniture and chant “Shark, Shark, Don’t Eat My Feet.” They place their blankets in the same order each night, polka dots under stripes, and tug them over their heads to slink from the long fingers of bad dreams that reach through the dark. They have rituals that help to still the spinning chaos of possessing such little control of their own world. They have rituals to keep them centered, grounded and safe.
I am no stranger to rituals. I grew up praying to storied and colorful saints. I idolized the ones who flew in the rafters and lit tall candles with their mystical images flickering on them. For every problem, I had a prayer. An external plea; a place to surrender my troubles instead of taking them head on. It’s no mystery why, when I started writing, bowing to the muse felt like coming home.
She was alluring and temperamental, required devotion, respect and would flee at the slightest hint of change. In grad school, I kept the same three books on my desk, would dust around them and the blue Ganesha statute that sat, belly-fat, in the corner. I listened to the same music on a loop and wouldn’t sit down until I was certain that I had something to write. Until I was inspired. I drew energy and power from objects and mythos. Any success reinforced the importance of ritual. It felt close to prayer.
In workshops, we never spoke about where poems came from, only how to tend to them once they arrived. How to shape them, break them and make them sing. We never uttered the words writer’s block for fear it would summon that heavy silence into being. The curse and shame of it. The pity.
Then I had children—two tornados of boundless energy and imagination, who sucked up the time and physical space I had set aside for creating. They ransacked order and my office, where I once knew not just where, but why, each book held its perch. It soon became an overcrowded nursery, then a colorful playroom and my books and computer shrank into a small corner of our kitchen.
My rituals were squashed by the litany of their everyday needs and my writing time fell off the crowded list of priorities. They needed me—all of the time. When they hurt, they needed my hands on their wounds. My hands to push the swing. My hands to pick them from the floor. My hands to cook for them, clean up after them, turn the pages of a book, stack blocks, rock them to sleep. My hands to hold theirs to explore and share this world together. I was their source for survival, instruction and love.
Because I was giving so much energy out, I called on my writing practice to refuel. I found the smallest loopholes of time where I could sneak to my computer and type out a whole poem. Instead of fighting the chaotic rhythm of the day, I fell in-synch and learned how to write in ten minute increments, each day opening a different door of time. At first, it felt like a game, but grew into a daily practice. Then it grew into work.
I started long conversations with my husband, the type of man who reads about neuroscience for kicks, about the creative process as it works with my brain. I learned about neural pathways and elasticity, how a continued practice is more like traversing a high-traffic highway than jazz. Those insights built upon the trust that I had been developing in my own abilities.
My idea of the muse crumbled. It was fun to believe that I was special enough to be visited and given the right words in the right order. But it is more empowering to understand that I am the source. That the poems come from seeds of attention that I plant, nurture, and allow to bloom.
Through motherhood, I discovered a strength and self-reliance that is not fear-based. I am okay taking the muse’s name in vain. I am more interested in learning how my brain works, what components go into sustaining a healthy practice, and how to use writing as a way to connect to others. It has become more about the growth of the poet than the poem.
The other day, I had a conversation with a friend about teaching a writing workshop at the college level. He is doing brilliant things and his students are lucky in that they are working on becoming socially and self-aware while learning how to craft a poem. It’s about the development of the poet as much as learning the fundamentals of poem-making.
While it’s important to talk about craft and share insight into the process, I feel that it is just as important to talk about where the poems come from. To look inward. With all of the terror, struggles, violence and paradigm shifts that we are facing in our world right now, the development of the poet is as important as the development of the poem. If we are going to bear witness, be a voice of change and heart, we must first understand that our power comes from within. That ultimately, we are the source.
Our columnist, Megan Merchant is a Prescott resident and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from UNLV. She is a 2015 Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poem, “Filling Station God” won the Las Vegas Poets Prize, judged by Tony Hoagland. Her second full-length collection,“The Dark’s Humming” was the winner of the 2015 Lyrebird Prize (Glass Lyre Press, 2017). She is also the author of four chapbooks: Translucent, sealed. (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), In the Rooms of a Tiny House (ELJ Publications, October 2016), Unspeakable Light (Throwback Books, August 2016), and A Thousand Paper Cranes (Finishing Line Press). Gravel Ghosts is her debut full-length poetry collection through Glass Lyre Press. She also has a children’s book forthcoming through Philomel Books. You can find her work at meganmerchant.wix.com/poet.
Check out Megan’s poem “Giving Her Son the World” also released today.