I approached the microphone. “Hi, my name is Dan. My last blog post was September, and I haven’t written a thing since.”
“Hi Dan. Welcome,” replied the back-lit, silhouetted faces of my would-be judges.
Someone in the front row asked the first question. “Are you willing to share with us why?”
“I like to think I had good reasons, even honorable reasons,” I said. “Since mid-September, I’ve been home maybe a total of three weeks on a travelocalypse that began with a family reunion in Kentucky, a wedding in Colorado, a long planned, prepaid vacation with older siblings in South Carolina, a trip to Singapore, two-weeks with my mother in Florida, ending with Thanksgiving in New Jersey. Hell, I had to list it in a notebook to keep it all straight. I just got back last Sunday to autumn chores that went undone since it all started – which isn’t going to get done until it stops raining in Pennsylvania?”
Another audience member joined in. “We’ve all been through this in one form or another. It’s why we’re here.”
“Thanks.” I played with the microphone stand, embarrassed to confess in front of a bunch of strangers. “I’m glad Stephen King isn’t here. He’d be shaking his head, mouthing the word ‘slacker’.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” the shadowed face said. “Do you try to write while on the road?”
“Yeah, I tried. Packed the laptop and everything.”
“So – what happened?” another participant asked.
I exhaled through pursed lips to gather my thoughts. “Unlike other writers who can pen words to blaring music in a sunny windowed room with views of the birdfeeder, I need the equivalent of a sensory deprivation chamber to coax the muse out of her closet. You see – she’s kind of shy, and prefers I write in a windowless, spare bedroom in the finished basement.” I shrugged. “Just us and the radon.”
I was met with silence.
“That’s about it, I guess.” I turned to exit the spotlighted stage. An audience member in the third row called out. “Tell us about your muse.”
“Uh, well – she’s kind of a recluse – can’t handle the bustle of daily life, noise, people in general. Even the slightest interruption, like the phone ringing, will send her scurrying into the closet she hides in for refuge. Poor thing hasn’t been out since early September.” My heart squeezed. “It was all I could do to entice her out yesterday for simple edits. She was – so pale – emaciated.” I swallowed hard. “And it’s all my fault.”
I wanted off that stage in the worst way, but I promised I would show up. “She – asked how much time we had before I deserted her again.” I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Told her I wasn’t leaving until December 18. We had lots of time to craft new words.”
I stared at the unlighted empty seats behind my court of peers. “The muse saw right through that lie when she glanced at the 85K manuscript review for a fellow author due next week, two short story critiques I’m behind on, and the excel spreadsheet of blogs I have to post the next three months for a writer’s conference I’m working.”
I had trouble discerning if it was empathy or pity that came off the faceless group in waves. “Then, she spotted the two-month rental lease I stupidly left on the desk. It’s for an apartment in Florida for two months beginning February – my mother is in an assisted care facility – she’s – slipping into dementia. My wife and I want to be with her before she forgets who we are.”
I had to swallow twice before I could get the words out. “That’s when the muse asked – ‘is it over between us’?”
“What did you tell her?” asked the figure seated in the back row.
“No of course. But I don’t think she believes me. I mean – how do I make it work with a muse who doesn’t understand priorities to family and others? I’m trying to do right by her, but she’s so damned reclusive. The least little distraction I get caught in sends her into hiding again.”
Disappointment and self-betrayal burned hot and unforgiving inside me. “Uh, look, I appreciate you listening. I – gotta go.” I sprinted off the stage, but the gathering of strangers blocked my flight toward the exit sign.
Someone I never met before laid a gentle hand on my arm. “You’re not the first to experience this, or have doubts about your writing. We’ve all been there.”
I felt like an errant schoolchild in the counselor’s office. “The muse and I – we’re so different. I’m an extrovert with the social mannerisms of a six-month-old puppy. She’s the complete opposite. I’m surprised it’s lasted this long.”
A person bearing the voice of one with wisdom stepped closer. “I’ve always believed opposites are attracted to each other.”
I shook my head at the most overused meme in history. “I don’t know what to do.”
The group parted to let me pass. The one who asked questions from the back row, stopped me. “Dan, have you asked your muse what her thoughts are – I mean, really asked – without assuming you already know?”
Now I was getting irritated. “Why doesn’t she come out and say it?”
“You said she’s shy. Maybe your muse is afraid you won’t listen if she did.”
Flummoxed, with no ready come back, I nodded my thanks, and shuffled back to the real world.
As I stared at the blank screen of my laptop, I sensed the muse waft into my periphery.
“You’re upset,” she whispered in my head.
“I’m upset with myself. I let you down. I don’t deserve you.”
The breathy tingle I’d become hopelessly addicted, edged closer to my inner ear. “If that were true, I would have never come to you so many years ago. I could no more leave you than you could forget me.”
“I don’t want to lose you.” I thought of sage advice from a stranger. “How do we make this work?”
“I’ll go with you.”
“You’re always with me – but you’re always hiding.”
She guided my hand to the Florida condo lease. “I read your mind about the place we’re going. It has a two conference rooms that are rarely used. And there’s a nice library down the street with little desks buried behind book shelves. Hardly anyone goes there on weekdays. And your mother. She’s very quiet, happy just to have you near.”
A ponderous weight eased from my shoulders upon realizing what she suggested. “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?”
“You’ve been preoccupied,” she giggled. “Or shall I say – distracted?” The muse settled alongside me. “Now promise me a couple days a week away from the madding world.”
“I’ll give you more than two days a week,” I promised.
“No more moping, then. Silence the cell phone. We have to finish this blog and get to the fun stories.”
The cursor blinked, waiting. “I don’t know where to start.”
“How about you share our experience with others who might be struggling like you?
“God, I’ve missed you. You always have the right answers.” I didn’t know whether to laugh with relief, or fall at her feet and cry. “Got a title in mind I can launch from?”
I felt her smile. “Homecoming.”