Use Your Muse

I knew very little about the Muses when I was invited to be a part of The Muse Project, so I borrowed my son’s tattered copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, from which I learned that Zeus, king of the gods of Mount Olympus, fathered a ridiculous number of children, including the nine Muses of the arts and sciences. Their mother was Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, and in my son’s book—a hand-me-down; my mother bought it years ago for my siblings and me—I learned that Mnemosyne, because of her great memory, knew all that had ever happened, and “the nine Muses listened to her with wide, sparkling eyes and turned her stories into poems and songs so they would never be forgotten.”

In this light, the muses played an important role: they absorbed history, made art of it, passed it along. And they were creators, though, somewhere between Zeus-time and now, the definition of a muse has shifted to that of inspirer. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a muse is “a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.” When I read this, lyrics from a Barenaked Ladies song popped into my head: Will you be my Yoko Ono? Will you follow me wherever I go?

Um, no thanks. I’ve never been a muse to anyone, as far as I know nor have I ever consciously had a muse myself. But after reading about muses for a while, I thought, maybe I should get one. Not an actual woman to follow me wherever I go, but a force personified as a woman. I liked that concept. I found myself writing about an inner muse, one I’d been neglecting to nurture, for a variety of reasons: because life gets busy, because the news of the day takes up too much space in my head, because self-doubt creeps in. I thought: what if I’m squelching my poor muse? What if lots of us are doing this when what we should be doing is calling our inner muses forth?

These questions led me to write a prose poem for The Muse Project entitled “Your Muse, out for a Walk,” in which I personify the creative urge inside me, the one that wants to put pen to paper, to turn memories into story and keep them alive in this way. I hope it’s something others can relate to—the idea that we all have a muse within, ready to encourage and inspire, if only we pay her a little attention, if only we let ourselves listen to her voice.

Jenny Itell is a Lighthouse instructor. She'll be reading with Lighthousers Michael J. Henry, Joy Roulier Sawyer, J. Diego Frey, and Assétou Xango as part of The Muse Project, a collaboration with the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado happening at the end of February. Tickets are available now!