From the Archive: Care and Feeding of a Social Muse

I’m reposting some of the content from my site, Freethinking Ahead, as part of the transition to this blog.  Here’s a post from August 2012 about how to nurture our creative social actions.

On my list of current projects, nestled between working on the first Feminine Faces of Freethought (F3) conference, this blog, keeping up with an ever-expanding reading list (novels, journals, blogs), trying to wedge dance classes back in my schedule, and getting enough sleep to write decent code at my day job, are a young adult science fiction novel I’m drafting and some other short writing projects. Feeling in need of advice, I picked up a few books on writing science fiction, among them Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

In his essay, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse,” Bradbury explains that his view of the Muse is the writer’s mental storehouse of experiences and exposures: “What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse. They are two names for one thing.” (p33) In order to feed the muse*, the writer should, among other things, “Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. [….] And above all, poetry is compacted metaphor or simile. [….] Ideas lie everywhere through the books of poetry [. . . ].” (p37). Thus, poetry fosters our ability to think along with our ability to feel.

This advice is just as applicable to freethinkers as it is to writers**. We are engaged in creative acts as we shape the freethought movement: organizing groups and conferences, responding to events in blogs and talks, generating and regenerating the movement itself based on current concerns. So perhaps if we see ourselves as engaged in creative social acts, then it might be helpful to think of the “social muse” that we must nurture as part of our membership in the freethought community.

Which leaves me with this question: what should we, as carers for social muses, read or watch or experience in order to better fuel our creative acts?

* While I don’t think I’d use the term “subconscious,” I agree with the notion that what we take in and what we focus on shapes how we think about the world and what we create. I’m taking both “subconscious” and “muse” as metaphors for that process.

** Reading poetry is only one way to this end. Appreciating any art that speaks to both the intellect and the senses would do, as long as the end result is the same, as long as the sense of empathy is engaged.