There are dangers in being a writer. The jaws of the Muse’s trap can take form in the laptop by my chair, waiting for me and the Muse to connect.
Often, the Muse doesn’t come. It’s not always my procrastination. But when she does, she’s sneaky. She will wait for me, hoping I’ll be there to catch that poem by its tail and write it backwards, as it slips through my life. That’s what Elizabeth Gilbert thinks. And she’s right.
In that “writing it backwards” before the Muse laughs at you and slips out of the house, that I must pounce and capture the idea before it leaves.
All else stops, and time becomes something else, not anything like clock hands moving around the circle, or even the sunbeam silently moving across the floor, until I suddenly realize its dark outside and maybe I should turn on a light. It’s another world, this writing life.
Yesterday, I decided to boil eggs, so that I would have some hardboiled eggs for my breakfast the next day. We were going out of town, to a hospital for a medical procedure for my wife. I don’t wait well in hospitals anyway, and waiting rooms and I don’t do well together on an empty stomach. We had to be there just after six, and my wife couldn’t have breakfast, or even coffee. So, I needed to be sneaky, and smuggle my breakfast into the waiting room.
I had a writing assignment for a newsletter. I’d been obligated to write a short piece, just three to four hundred words. Something chatty and newsy, about something related to the work I was doing for the group.
“Do something fun, whimsical,” the newsletter editor had told me. “It’ll be easy for you. You write a lot anyway.”
Doesn’t she know there’s always blood involved in this writing thing?
Of course, the idea for it hadn’t arrived in my brain yet, and I was fretting about the deadline in a few days, and not having it done. And, I had to get it done before we were off to the hospital, and the couple of nights in a motel, so that my wife could recover, yet be near the doctor if anything went wrong. Hospital waiting rooms and motel rooms with bandaged limbs and ice bags and rows of pills on nightstands aren’t good writing venues.
All the usual pre-op anxiety wasn’t good for my chatty little writing assignment, and so I procrastinated.
But, when the eggs were done, I WAS going to sit down and write. Maybe something would come.
I put the eggs on to boil.
“No need to set the timer,” I told myself. Once they boiled, I was just going to leave them in the pan for an hour and they’d be nicely hardboiled.
I put the eggs in the pan and turned on the stove.
“I’ll flip open the laptop, and get myself set up to write,” I thought.
“I’ll be right back.”
Ha! That was not to be. As soon as I sat down and got going on the computer, to set up that scary fresh new page on the computer screen, the Muse decided to pay a visit.
“Oh, that’s a great idea,” I thought, and started to write. First a sentence, then another, and the first paragraph shaped up.
On to the second paragraph, and a third. A little editing, a rephrasing, and off I went.
Lost to the world, oblivious of anything around me. I wrote and wrote, and a good first draft of the essay was there, right in front of my eyes.
“”What’s going on with your eggs?,” my wife asked.
“What eggs?” I said.
“Oh, those eggs. Oh, I’ve forgotten them,” I said, hurriedly putting down my laptop.
Most of the water had boiled away. And that was an accomplishment, as I’d put a glass lid on the pot, one of those with the little metal rimmed hole, so just a smidgen of steam can come out. Unless you forget and just let it boil and boil, until that essay is looking good.
It must have boiled for quite a while, as only about a tablespoon of water was left, and the shells looked grayish brown, almost smoky. In another two or three minutes, they would have started smoking.
I wondered what burned hardboiled eggs would be like, how the house would probably be filled with clouds of burned hard boiled eggs. Sulfurous. Nauseating. A stench that would still be noticeable a week later, leaving me to explain to friends and visitors what that stench was, and how it came to be. How I came to ruin a perfectly good pot. How to explain why I can’t seem to even be able to boil some eggs.
And why Bon Appetit or Gourmet magazine won’t be asking me to contribute a story.
I could blame it on the Muse, couldn’t I? Wasn’t it her fault, waiting around until I put the eggs on, and flipped open the laptop, when she struck. Distracting me, leaving me to forget a scant two minutes into my project, that there was a decent essay in the room, and I needed to get it written. Forget the eggs.
And so I did. I moved into another dimension, leaving my wife to come by in the nick of time, and rescue the household from another one of my cooking disasters, one of my projects gone awry.
I’ll blame it on the Muse. It’s all her fault. Even when she shows up.
–Neal Lemery June 19, 2017