On the care and feeding of daemons and muses
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Chasing inspiration

Greenawell Ridge by Danielle Barlow

In her well-known 2009 TED Talk on the daemons of creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert relates the following story:

"I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who's now in her 90s. She's been a poet her entire life. She told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. She said it was like a thunderous train of air, coming barreling down at her over the landscape, and she'd feel it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, 'run like hell.' And then she would run like hell to the house, chased by this poem; she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it, and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn't be fast enough, so she'd be running and running but she wouldn't get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it. It would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it 'for another poet.'

"And then there were times -- this is the piece I never forgot -- where she would almost miss it. So, she's running to the house, and she's looking for the paper, and the poem passes through her...and she grabs a pencil just as it's going through her...and then, she said, she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first."

Woolfold 2 by Danielle Barlow

Owl and Hare by Danielle Barlow

For Sylvia Lindsteadt, inspiration rises from the land, and her deep, daily engagement with it:

"I've always loved tales of magic, of other worlds, or other times. These are the stories, in one way or another, I've always tried to write. Stories where the edge between girl and tea-plant is thin. Where deserts reflect back dreams. Where women with heron-feet come into bedrooms on storm clouds and demand impossible things. But all through college on the East Coast [of America], so far from the native mountains and seaside of my California upbringing, I couldn't find my voice in those stories. I couldn't find that river-otter, lagoon-slick tangle of joy and purpose, sand-dune belly-sliding and all, that deep abandon, which accompanies the creation of truly meaningful work.

Wolf Boy by Danielle Barlow

The Moth Magician and The Guardian of the Greenwood by Danielle Barlow

"Then, two summers ago, in the Big Sur mountains with my family, after just having read Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers Without End, and while driving past the Point Sur Lighthouse (a truly magical almost-island, fog wrapped and rough, with a lighthouse at the tip), I was knocked over the head with a sudden revelation. THIS place, the place I was born and raised, was my muse. THIS place, these redwood forests, manzanita and oak woodlands, coyote brush and sage chaparral, wild coasts, fire-roads dusty and wide, was my muse...

"[T]he muse is not something intangible that floats through the ether and grabs my shoulders from time to time, spilling inspiration. The muse IS the land. I write to bring stories of place -- that nexus of animal, human, plant, land and weather -- back into our literary and cultural landscape. I write to learn the land I live in and on more deeply, and I write to give voice to the more than human world, both as it intersects with our human lives, and as it exists far beyond, in all of its mystery, in all of its true magic."

Otter and Heron Girl by Danielle Barlow

Poet Marilyn Krysl explains the process of inspiration like this:

"Writing, whether fiction, poetry, memoir or nonfiction, isn’t something we 'do,' "Writing is something that happens to us.

"The word inspire comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning to breathe. The word means 'to blow upon, to infuse by breathing, to inhale.' So to be inspired is to be graced by inspiration. Where does inspiration come from? It comes from the windy, breathy air that surrounds us -- and without which we could not live.

"We don’t 'do' writing. We are each a 'place' on the earth where from time to time writing happens. How lucky to be chosen to be that place."


Blodeuedd and Exhaltation by Danielle Barlow

The beautiful watercolor paintings featured here today are by my friend and neighbor Danielle Barlow, whose Muse roams among the fields, farmyards, hedgerows and old stone circles of the Devon landscape. Please visit her lovely blog, Notes from the Rookery, to see more paintings, drawings, and fabric art, as well as magical photographs of her animals, paintings-in-progress, and Dartmoor through the seasons.

You can also follow her work on Facebook and Etsy.

Sheep at Hound Tor by Danielle Barlow

Between Times by Danielle BarlowThe passage by Elizabeth Gilbert is quoted from "Your elusive creative genius," a TED Talk filmed in 2009 and highly recommended. I confess that I don't remember which article the Haruki Murakami quote comes; I jotted it down when I first read it but didn't list the source. My apologies. The passage from Sylvia Linsteadt comes from her blog post "Of Otters and Words with Roots" (Indigo Vat, July 26, 2012). The quote by Marilyn Krysl is from the poetry page of her website. All rights to the words and pictures above are reserved by their respective creators.