CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "I should fire my muse," I grumbled as I stood before the open refrigerator, staring at the pitiful offerings.
"What's a muse?" my daughter asked.
"It's sort of a voice in your head," I said. "Like, if you're trying to come up with a story and something bizarre and intact suddenly occurs to you, out of nowhere. Or if you're typing and it feels like you're taking dictation rather than coming up with words on your own. The muse is who gives that to you."
"So it's kinda like your imaginary friend," Celeste said.
I shrugged. "Kinda."
"So are you thinking you're going to find her in there?" Celeste asked, with a nod toward the fridge. "Cause that seems like a rude place to store her. Or do muses get stale?"
Truth be told, my muse has gone stale. She's been doing this excessive absenteeism thing lately. Taken an unauthorized leave. Is likely off in the tropics re-evaluating her options. Whatever her excuse, she's a slacker these days.
Used to be that my muse was hyperactive, ferreting out column topics from most every conversation, rousting story ideas from nothing more than a glance into a stranger's shopping cart or a song on the radio. These days, she's surly, ill-tempered and repetitive.
I complained to a writer friend. "I need to figure out how to tickle my muse."
"Pickling it might be more effective," she said.
This writer friend, Ginger Hamilton, then sent me a link to a Ted Talks speech about muses by Elizabeth Gilbert, the charming author of "Eat, Pray, Love." Gilbert talked of how, in ancient Greece and Rome, people didn't believe that creativity came from humans, but rather that it came from a sort of spirit that entered into the person and guided them to create.
Said Gilbert, "If your work was brilliant, you couldn't take all the credit for it. Everybody knew that you had this disembodied genius who had helped you. But if your work bombed -- not entirely your fault, you know? Everyone knew your genius was kind of lame."