The Best Part of Breaking Up (with your Muse)

I recently got back into writing poetry after four years of writer’s block, which is to say, I finally crawled trembling and exhausted back into the lap of my muse and spent the next six months kissing her knees with parched, shriveled lips.

(Writer’s block is the worst.)

I have found that going back to Your Creative Thing, whatever that is, after a long hiatus — or, let’s face it, an estrangement, because that’s always how it feels—can be intimidating. You’re not sure if your muse, your talent, your spark, is still waiting for you. You’re like the lover who has passionately adored his long-married friend since they were 10, but now it’s been three decades and her husband is dead and she’s agreed to meet him in a motel. He’s old, his knees ache and his hair is thin, there’s dust all over the doorframe, yes; but he bears within him the luminous seed of an almost-incredible happiness. And he’s paralyzed, because he doesn’t know if she’ll really come, or if she’s already inside sitting on the bed with her shoes off, getting annoyed with him for being late. For a few moments more, he’d rather postpone his happiness than confront the possibility of abandonment.

It’s rough. It hurts. Even thinking about writing again, or painting again, or playing again, sets off a little shiver of shame, of suspicion that your muse has left you for good this time, or that she was always playing you. But you go back. Something wakes up. Something sets you off. You do whatever it is that you do, you know that it’s good, and you sleep well. And then one day, she’s gone again.

But eventually you mature as an artist and you learn that you can never lose your style, your touch, your spark, simply because there’s only one of you.

You are in a relationship with your creativity, and it works like any other relationship. You have to learn to love your gifts, and that can be hard. You learn to trust. You learn to sacrifice. You acquire the faith you need to keep going, to believe that even if your muse is gone today, she will come back to you eventually because what you have together is good and real and the world needs more of it.

You can’t take your talent for granted, and you never know when it’ll show up at your door. You have to stay ready to welcome it back and make space for it in your life at any moment, to work hard to keep it alive. You don’t know how long it’ll stay or what it will leave behind. All you can do is get ready.

And while you’re waiting, spend time with people who ask the right questions, push the right buttons, pray to the same angels you do. Those people are your place of safety and given the right amount of time, they will lead you straight to where you need to be. I am lucky enough to have several friends like this. I think nobody can be an artist without deep friendships. I owe them everything, and they probably have no idea.

But that’s how it is sometimes. We all do a lot of stuff that makes a difference to other people, and we often have no idea. We are all designed to set off ripples in the world. Call it the Butterfly Effect, or say that “life is what happens while you’re making other plans”, but keep this in mind at all times. It’s especially important to remember when you’re taking a break from creativity, when you feel like you’re not making anything, not doing anything worthwhile, not being anything worthwhile. You are part of the world and you’re changing it every day. You’re changing people every day. You’re never gonna know exactly when or how, and that’s okay. It’s an art.

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