FEVER DREAMS

New ideas sometimes emerge out of a mental fog, like dreams half remembered. Often they come as if whispered from some invisible muse. 

New ideas sometimes emerge out of a mental fog, like dreams half remembered. Often they come as if whispered from some invisible muse. 

Sometimes my muse likes to flirt, but her timing isn’t always opportune. I can be leaning forward in a meeting, listening intently, focused on tedious but important minutiae, when suddenly I feel her bare foot slide across my ankle under the table.

“What are you doing,"  I mutter.

"I have an idea," she whispers. Her toes glissade higher up my calf and goosebumps rise on my arms. Usually this means I’ve got trouble. It's the kind of trouble I like to get into, of course, but it can completely distract me if I’m not careful.

It never turns out well if I try to brush her off with my other foot. That just intensifies the tension. We have a good thing going, my muse and me, but like all serious relationships we’re not always in sync. Since the relationship matters much more to me than convenience or “which one of us is right”, I always take her entreaties seriously. 

“Okay, tell me,” I’ll usually say, and—usually—she does. Often it’s a turn of phrase or an idea for a camera set-up that’s been vexing me, but just as often she’ll whisper an idea for some sort of big-picture, high-concept production that takes me completely by surprise.  The challenge at times like that is to listen to what she’s saying and try to capture its essence without derailing whatever it was that I was doing before she started flirting.

Interestingly, it’s her whispers when I’m already working on something else that are comparatively easy. When I’m slack-jawed and torpid, ostensibly not working, she uses a fuller, bolder, more impetuous voice.  She knows her presentation is going to have to be more assertive just to penetrate my foggy skull. But in either circumstance the challenge for me is not only to recognize her message, but to take the time to accurately capture its nuances while simultaneously capturing its overall heft. It’s like fishing with a commercial net and a bamboo lance simultaneously, large scale and small scale efforts all at once. When she shows me a shiny fish under the surface, she dares me to make a choice. I can’t stand the feeling of not making the effort to catch it. When I’m lucky—when I actually snag the fish—I usually find that they’re the ones that matter most. 

Ideas often come when I least expect it. When they burst into mind unannounced or unescorted by linear thought, they’re often my clearest creative lights, regardless of the subject. The obvious dilemma is figuring out how to keep a grip on what I was doing a moment before without losing the details of the new thought that’s just appeared.   It's like being visited by the spirit world while sitting in a sterile cube farm: the disparate experiences don’t naturally seem to fit together. Inevitably they collide anyway, and as many cultures describe in their own mythologies, it's incumbent on the living to pay close attention when spirits speak. The problem is that our muses and spirits and strange specters of insight often say things when it’s inconvenient for us as listeners to pay attention. But when I hear those voices I always try to pay attention. 

As a person who doesn't believe one whit in spirits, séances, astral projection, or other imaginary forces, I’ve nonetheless come to rely on intangible arrivals that impose themselves on my days. To be creative is to internalize the process of creating. That internalized process is the voice of our muses. If the relationship is going well, we encourage a steady dialogue and an intimacy of shared ideas. We learn to listen to our spirits and we learn how to speak to them, too.

If the relationship isn’t going well, we struggle. We fall out of sync. We chafe at the interruptions and we feel abandoned when we’re met with nothing but silence in times we wish we’d had some extra-sensory input. Learning to communicate like this is a practiced craft, and it doesn’t happen automatically. Like all good relationships it develops only with careful attention over time, practice, patience, and endless effort.

All of us generally create our best work when we’re fully engaged in the world, when we feel alive and rich with experience. I’m convinced that’s why my muse likes to flirt when I’m already in the middle of something else. When I’m fully engaged in living instead of just crossing tasks off endless to-do lists, I’m most open to the concept of keeping that rhythm alive. That’s usually when she speaks to me. Even on those days when we don’t see eye to eye, I always pay attention. 

I also love it when she smiles. 

@michaelstarobin

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