Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dance, Slimbo, Dance! Musings on Muses

Cellar Door asks, "Please tell us about your muses. If it amuses you.":

It amuses me (though I can't guarantee it will amuse you). First, let's disambiguate. I can think of at least three particular senses of the noun "muse":*
  1. The Literal: Any of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus who preside over the various arts and sciences.
  2. The Less Literal: A person, typically a woman, who inspires the artist to create.
  3. The Not Literal: Some notion/subject/entity that serves as a source of inspiration.
Regarding The Literal, the Greek ladies, I've never made their acquaintance and can claim no particular association. For the Less Literal, the lady-as-muse, I confess, I'm highly suspicious of the whole notion. It seems to be most often employed by starry-eyed dudes who have no idea how to deal with women as actual people and instead turn them into objet d'arts to be admired as some sort of aesthetic or philosophical ideal. Certainly I have important ladies in my life. I adore my wife, but she's not my muse. (Though she is my editrix, reading almost everything I write before I do anything with it, and setting me straight on the occasions when I wander off course.) Certainly, my daughters are the subject of about a bijillion of my photos, and while a muse may sometimes also be a subject, they are not the same thing. Those gals are not muses. They're kids. Who do things like eat their cereal incredibly slowly on exactly those days when we have like three minutes to get out the door to school. They're not muses.

So we're left with the Not Literal, the notions/subjects/entities, and now we're starting to get somewhere. If I can ascribe a muse-like role to anything in my life, it would be my lovely little broken down town of New Orleans. It's certainly a favorite subject of mine, appearing frequently in my writings and constantly in my photographs (and obliquely in my illustrations, which seldom explicitly depict New Orleans but are fed by the wealth of characters this town provides). But it's also something-beyond-a-subject. It creeps into the brain pan and saturates the self and informs and dominates the worldview and ensnares and puzzles and pleases and enervates and compels one to love it in spite of and because of its big tangled mess of virtues and vices, and it has the best clouds and the funkiest houses and the most hilarious people, and I like few things as much biking through its forgotten corners on a sunny day with a camera and no particular plan, and I can even forgive its shuck-and-jive pantomiming of its own hackneyed legend** for the benefit of visitors, because it means no particular harm and, when nobody's looking, it goes right on back to being its stubborn old self, and it's nice to leave, but it's nicer to come back, and (except for a few occasional excursions to terra firma) I plan to stay hunkered down right here until the day they lay me in my tomb (at which point I'll presumably continue to stay hunkered down), and I'm getting a little verklempt, and oh, Lord...

It's like that. That's pretty muse-like.

* And let's not forget the parade. Muses is a great parade.

** Though occasionally the city does actually behave just like its legend. I write this on one of the first true Spring evenings of the year, warm enough to have the balcony door open as a gusting breeze rustles the greening willow, and somewhere down the street someone—a marching band kid, I'm guessing—is actually playing trumpet, and wafts of casual swinging horn drift over me with each rush of temperate wind.


  1. I can't think of a better muse than that. Although I admit to more than a twinge of jealousy at the idea that you get to bike around and take pictures when ever you fancy. It seems like no matter how many times I've been to New Orleans, I always come back with several hundred photos, and none of the same place twice.

  2. Anonymous10:38 AM

    Interesting musing!