Filling the Well, Listening to the Muse
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
Sometimes when you’re working, you hit a wall. It’s a fragile time for a creative work then, because many artists abandon their work at this stage, convinced they can’t finish. If the work’s not flowing, they think, then something must be wrong with the work.
But sometimes it’s not the work, it’s the worker.
And sometimes, it’s not that something’s wrong, so wrong that the work must be abandoned, but that something isn’t quite right yet.
One of the biggest things I’ve had to learn is that when I want to quit (which is fairly regularly), I need to learn to pause. I need to take a breath, refill the well, and try again.
Such has been the case in the chaos of the last month. There were personal stresses—my new dog gravely ill and the resulting vet bills, an emergency family trip to visit my mother who is in the last stage of life, my uncle’s recent death.
I had also hit a wall in my personal work—quite literally my characters are faced with a wall and I am faced with choices. I’m in the last third of the novel where all the dark seeds planted must now bear their wicked fruit.
To be honest, I just felt incapable and tired and sad that I had missed two personal deadlines and I questioned whether the work should continue.
These were all huge signs that I needed time to refill the well.
Two weeks ago, thanks to Muse, the well became an ocean.
It’s been a dream of mine to see this band in concert for a long time, but they seldom come to the US. Honestly, I don’t think America is their primary audience; we’re more like the courtesy leg of any tour, it seems to me. (In fact, American stations often refused to play their early work because it was “too difficult.”) However, I noticed last fall that they would be playing in DC this spring. I mentioned it wistfully and figured that was the end of the business.
On Christmas morning, to my lasting astonishment, I opened a card and found tickets. My husband isn’t fond of concerts for a variety of reasons, but he knew what this would mean to me.
I’ve been to a few concerts—Duran Duran (6 times), Peter Gabriel, Motley Crue/Whitesnake (don’t ask!), my beloved Peter Paul & Mary when they visited Hong Kong. I was at one of Sia’s last club concerts before she donned the wig. (And I wept at that one—Sia pulled tears right up my spine and into my eyes. She’s magic).
I have never been to anything like Muse.
I was fairly certain beforehand that nothing about Muse was fake. You can listen and tell that Matt Bellamy’s voice is on par with Freddy Mercury's—his vocal range almost defies logic. When he took the stage and started singing, chills went through me. This was the real deal.
For two hours, I drowned in a wave of sound, occasionally dragged up to breathe by Bellamy’s vocals before he shredded me again on the fretboard of his guitar. Muse played nonstop, transitioning with quick outros between songs. There was no pause for breath (except those brief outros) and no getting chatty with the audience. It was absolutely nuts. I was hoarse from singing lyrics at the top of my lungs, deaf because I couldn’t bear to put in ear plugs. (Yes, I know. I know).
It would do no real justice to describe the stage show itself—the lasers, the juddering, creeping dancers, the existential horror of the giant killdroid arching over the stage to reach for Bellamy. Out of respect, I filmed none of it, but now I almost wish I had, just to relive it in some small way again for myself.
And of course the wave moved on. The show was over (too soon—always too soon!), the echoes died, the lights came up with confetti still floating down. Two weeks later, I still feel bereft, awash with feelings dredged to the surface. It was as though I was sent on a deep dive for myself that night and I came back with so much out of the muck—my recommitment to my own art among them.
It was a close-to-the-bone realization, the deep and abiding sense that if this were a rational world, this band, this brilliant band, should not exist. They are just so very WEIRD. Music like this should not work. And yet it does. Singing about supermassive black holes (glaciers melting in the dead of night), making a rock symphony about humans escaping to space from a dead Earth, falsetto operettas about simulation theory and our cybernetic overlords, as well as all the musical genres and techniques crammed into these songs, just seems too…bizarre.
Yet, thousands of people swelled the Cap Arena, screaming, dancing, jumping, throwing themselves at the stage for a chance at being touched. Thousands of people clearly feel seen by Bellamy’s lyrics, by the heavy bass lines and percussive punches of the drums.
As an artist, as a writer who has often been told I’m just too weird, that I need to dial back…as a person who has dialed back (unsuccessfully, I might add!) her weird to make others more comfortable, Muse speaks to me. Muse is…well…my Muse. They disrupt, discomfit, elevate, excoriate all at once. And they’re clearly not ashamed of who they are or how they make their art.
Over and over the message: Revel in your weirdness. Let your freak flag fly. Make whatever you’re going to make and fight for it. Keep making it until it’s real. Be victorious.
I’ve muddled around in the aftermath feeling such tremendous vindication, as only the best art can give. And also feeling a bit bereft. After being held under that strong current for so long, it’s a bit hard to let go of it.
But now it’s time to harness the power of this wave and dive into the last third of this book, no matter how weird or difficult it is.
I am letting all my inner darkness out on the page and it is glorious. Go thou and do likewise.