THE STORMING BOHEMIAN PUNKS THE MUSE: pretty ambivalent about this whole holiday thing, so out with the gatling gun

Is there anybody in America who is not plagued with ambivalent feelings this time of year? Religion, family, politics, hope, war & peace, guilt, memory, guilt, disappointment, guilt: all the hot buttons are on trigger every December. For an artist, hot buttons are opportunities. My reaction is to load them into a metaphorical gatling gun and shoot them at my muse to see what bleeds.

That’s rather a gruesome image, I’m afraid. But the holidays can be a rather gruesome time.

I am no Scrooge; I’m not saying “Bah! Humbug!” To tell the truth, I love the holidays: the gift giving and the decorations and the cheerful bustle and the smells and the food and the memories and the department store Santa Claus… but at the same time it all makes me literally nauseous. This is a great state of mind for creative work.*

What follows is my “brainstorm” for punking the muse this week. All of these have worked for me at one time or another. Some may work for you.

(1) Like me, you probably have a few days’ vacation. It is a commonplace to spend vacations reading light fiction or something new. But with my emotions raw with holiday pins and needles, I like to revisit the most powerful reading experiences of years’ past. For 2011, it’s Moby Dick.

(2) Family. I’ll be spending Christmas with my 89 year-old mother. She is slowly declining, as old folks must. Still intellectually vibrant, she has shrunk to perhaps four and a half feet and struggles with darkness and faded hearing. But her storytelling skills burn as brightly as ever and, if she can (and will) push my hot butttons, this visit will also offer a fantastic opportunity for collecting not just family stories, but also reflections on the public century. Visiting our families is a mixed blessing, but what better way to plumb the depths of our history? Knowing our parents and our ancestors, we know ourselves—for better or worse.

(3) My first assignment at my first undergraduate poetry workshop (given by the great Charles Wright) was to write a poem about an inanimate object. Not a natural object, but a made object. The holidays, with their wealth of toys and decorations, are a fantastic time to explore this exercise. I think of the train set I received when I was 5, of the first time I got a book for Christmas (and could read it!), of the red dresses my Aunt Karyl wore every Christmas morning…

(4) One of my most successful poems is one that was prompted by the phrase “I am from….” Starting with that, I created a list poem of my earliest influences, from the smell of the lilac bushes by the side of my family’s New England colonial revival home to the professional ambitions of my grandparents.

Let me leave you with this thought as we head toward the New Year: the muses respond to our efforts. Keep hounding them. If it matters to you, they will answer.

A wise man once told me: “Opportunity doesn’t knock but once. In fact, it’s constantly pounding at the door, dancing on the roof, banging at the windows and trying to force its way down the chimney. You just need to listen.”

Don’t back down in staking your claim to be an artist. It is one of the best ways to occupy your soul.

Charles Kruger
The Storming Bohemian