My first sexual fantasies, age thirteen, were set in a boys’ school. I was the housemaster’s daughter, visiting on a stormy weekend, where an overnight dump of snow had left us without telephone or roads. I had started a fever. One of the boys was sent to attend to me – chosen for this role because of his aptitude in Biology.
In a feverish reverie, I was able to behave without embarrassment. He put his hand on my brow, my cheeks, my neck. I felt the stethoscope, pressing down on my chest, its cold foreignness. The fingertips around the edge would linger, which was the moment the fantasy became undoubtable. Up until then, I could have innocently denied it to myself as just playing out a soap opera, but as I felt the rough of his fingerprint on my skin, I knew that this contact of flesh, this as yet unknowable, was what I desired.
I turn and the hands move down my back – my hands, of course, but also those of the boy whose looks I never imagined, only that they were perfect, which to me was a sense of his strong decorum, and yearning.
There always came the point where the hands had no further to go.
The pleasure had lain beyond us: the point of subtlety where the dance was one of uncertainty – was I really feverish; did he mean to touch me like that?
As the touching continued, doubt was obliterated. It became something more reciprocal. This was a part I didn’t know – I had followed my instincts thus far, but now it became about mechanics: what the hands did, where they ended up.
This was where films and books I knew always stopped, so the only thing to do was go back and start over.
There’s something in this search, the subsequent milking for pleasure, that has me in mind of the act of creativity. First, it comes to your bedside as you lie there beside yourself – such is the fever of being without creativity and wanting to write, draw, live. We toss and turn, until it appears to save us.
Though, actually, the fever is part of the imagination – induced. It is the lure for the muse.
The fever was important because I had to be beyond sense: freed from constraint. My desires to be sexual with a boy would have shocked my parents. The fever was my get out clause in case guilt wanted to grab me. I guess that’s why drugs are such an alluring option at times. I’ve certainly done things high or drunk that I wouldn’t have done sober – but I’ve also done enough wild things sober, like pulling down my trousers and pants in front of a live studio audience, to know that freedom is really a state of mind. We choose the muse – it doesn’t only come as a gift though a pill, a drink or pure random luck, bestowed inexplicably.
I wonder if that is why real life muses are so desirable, giving us a way into creativity, because inspiration has a mystery about it – only the worthy can find it.
But what defines the worthy? What if it was as simple as those who know how to seek satisfaction? Freud said that we can only laugh when a joke has come to our help. This leaves us a little powerless. Can’t we go in search of laughter; passion? The trouble is, some of us have a passion for obstacles. Satisfaction for Rousseau was the death of possibility – therefore he needed not to master his impediments, but nurture them: the forbidding stare of the next door neighbour as he gazes at the sweets on offer in the market, disabling him so that he cannot buy any; though he has the money and goes home quite fretful.
It’s easy to mistake pain for love – to spend hours in the dance of withdrawal, constantly denied, thinking this is our lot. Not an easy thing to decide to actively summon pleasure; choose happiness.
Deciding to be creative, to sit and write, is a little like my schoolgirl fantasy. I knew it worked: the storm, the isolation – I knew how to pace myself. Some imaginings went better than others, but they always gave a few moments distraction.
Joyce Carol Oates says the perfect state of mind for writing arrives when one starts to write – although what we often want is for it to arrive sooner, to enable us to get arse on chair and begin. I want to write, but I’m not in the mood. So, we mope around, make a strong cup of coffee, a phonecall, a sandwich – none of which will work, because none are actual writing.
I try, at least once a week, to sit down for half an hour and write: three words, ten minutes on each word. Then I’m done. The rest follows, blogging, working on my novella, but I don’t force that part. I don’t need to – three words, half an hour and the rest follows. If your response is to think – easy for you! I have to say that I’ve also thought that, and other ‘excuses’: exercises are not for me, I don’t like them, they don’t work for me, it won’t be interesting…
Excuses, excuses, excuses.
By sitting down for half an hour and writing, you show yourself, regularly, that what the mind decides is ultimately what it does. If you don’t sit, then ‘no point’, ‘can’t be bothered’, ‘don’t have time’, are thoughts that have power over your actions. What if you were to think: wow – look at all these excuses I am trying to come up with!
Being honest like that enables you to take another step of bravery and say: I’m going to do it – eleven o’clock, half an hour, three words, I’m going to do it.
This is the point you prove to yourself that your mind is the true muse – not dependent on anything other than knowing your desires.
Three words, half an hour – where do I begin?
Well, here goes – first ten minutes, one word: MUSE
What is a muse? Often a person. A woman for a man. Sexual perhaps? But there is also something about beauty, a connection for the mind. Do we need a muse? Do we need to need? Is need constructive or destructive?
Need can be painful. Lead to anxiety. In wanting the pain to end you are desperate for the thing you desire – you need it to end the pain. Your focus is the thing, rather than how to get it. Your focus is the pain. In pain how can you feel capable of achieving anything? Nasty vicious circle.
What if need were not a starvation, but the anticipation.
Should creativity have to be an accurate line, drawn between specific points, otherwise the outcome is agony? Sometimes it feels like that! But surely to try to navigate a path, elude pain, collision, is only going to mean you are living with your focus on avoiding potential disaster, rather than following the breath of your heart in the moment?
That’s the muse. That inner endlessness, which admittedly I’ve only ever felt for a millisecond. But I suppose when you travel into space, at speed, in the tenth of a second you experience eternity. There’s no judgement, no fear, no: I can’t get my head around this, what does this mean; no god, no science. There isn’t a single word. It’s a pump, a heartbeat, or the moment in between. A push, a release. It’s all physical, the tiniest moment in a ripple, yet in that moment you come to understand the motion that precedes and proceeds.
When my muse arrives, I imagine a great love of my life – how they may, one day, turn up at my house for a visit. I don’t know them that well; am beginning to know them.
I long to hear a knock at the door, and experience the rush of feeling that will come – like any moment that I’ve prepared for: when my name is called and I have to take the stage, enter the doctor’s office, walk to into an interview. There is a rush of sensations, which I may want to be rid of, so I speed up to get it over and done with. But what if I stay with these feelings; don’t rush? What if I sit and take a few breaths?
What if I trust the person on the other side of the door?
They are in no rush, and will leave it a while before they knock again.
I come to the door and open it. I am able to look at them, and not worry how I appear, or how they appear, knowing they’re not worrying either, but standing, observing, like I am observing them.
I leave the door open and make room for them to come into the house; if that is what they wish to do.
Perhaps they don’t, just yet. Perhaps they wish to stand in the street for a while.
I leave them, not questioning – because to want to know why is more about my need than their behaviour. Oh, I ache for them, I feel like wrapping my arms around them. But I back off – the moment of satisfaction is better prolonged. I explore my appetite. Sated too soon, it will disappear before I’ve learnt from it. Savour it for its endlessness, I tell myself.
The muse, my new love, comes into the house with an overnight bag. They wander through the rooms, upstairs, outside. Like this, the two of us move, in space, knowing the other is there, excited for the rest of the day ahead, but taking as much time in each moment as possible. Time is rich when expanded like this.
Every second becomes infinite and there is that chance that in one of those infinitesimal moments you get to experience that feeling of space, eternity.
Although I’m interacting with someone, there is no sucking to receive, or smothering, or asking, or gripping or grappling – just moving, orbiting, gauging, observing. All the thoughts that come through my head are mine. Not put there. The desire to talk, to laugh, to end it, to giggle, to say: oh, this is weird, let’s stop! Those are all mine and can be passed through, by not acting them out.
Though the moment will come, when I have to act upon something, when it becomes unbearable.
Perhaps we touch, my muse and I.
The moment will come.
But, for now, I let off it, explore it: for it will always be there.
When you walk towards your muse, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t shape-shift and hide, if you are following the feeling in your heart. If you chase the pain in your past, or the desire of your future – false muses – they disappear, leave you in black, sightless, ashamed. But if you follow the feeling in your heart, the love for the moment, for what is around you – a love of how it feels to feel – then your muse will be there; you need never grab hold of it, because you’ve already got it. You are living, breathing and enjoying it already.
The delicious, talented Jeremy Page – author of ‘The Collector of Lost Things’, ‘The Wake’ and ‘Salt’ – is going to be joining me for my next writing practice: three words, half an hour. The results will be going on the blog, and I can honestly say – I’m nervous!