Shirley Loeb


Am I at the right place, I wonder. The stairway is winding, the steps uneven. Ah here’s the sign, “The Muse Society, established God knows when,” and underneath, “No, we’re not a religious group and we don’t support political causes.’’

“Is Thalia in”, I ask for the muse of comedy.

“And you are…” she gives me maybe a sneer or maybe an inbreath that could be sinus clearing. After all it’s spring.

“Who I’ve always been..unfortunately…’

This is more than she wants.

Thalia is at HBO on loan for the unforeseeable future.

Everyone knows that. Don’t you read the trades?”

I let out a resigned breath.

“How about Melpomene?” I ask about the muse of tragedy.

“I should have guessed,” she says. “Sign in on the sheet.’

I eye the sheet. This is both a curse and an opportunity. On the one hand do I expose myself for the unrealized unexpressed and perhaps nothing to say me but,on the other hand, I’ll see the names of others, maybe great ones. They say misery loves company but I never found comfort in that.

“I would rather not…” Why don’t I just whisper it to you…

“Some one will be with you when the time is right.” She hands me some forms and motions me to the chair.

How long? I’ve been waiting for myself my whole life, accomplishing in the meantime. Do I really have anything to say and will I know how to say it? In what form? Am I subtle enough for metaphor? Why haven’t I tried more? Does every writer go through this? Remember what you read about Raymond Carver. He would do the dishes pay his bills, return phone calls from people wanting to sell him siding, rather than start writing. And he had the benefit of a bottle of scotch.

I look at the form. There are few questions and lots of lines for the answers.

“What makes you think you’re a writer?”

“I love reading, enjoy theatre, watching philosophies unfold in metaphor, reveling in the use of language.

Ok, that proves I’m a reader and a viewer but not a writer.”

“I want to show how we live, what we do is so often a roadblock to what we truly want. We are in paradox with ourselves. There are two armies at war, constantly fighting, and the land over which they want domain is the unfettered observant soul. On one side is all that is foreseeable, possible, imaginable – the realized woman, the nirvana of what could be, and on the other side is the critic, “Keep your head down, stay out of trouble and die quietly. Give thanks I’m here to protect you from making a fool of yourself. When Job asked God, how come there is so much crap in the world, God answered don’t be a wise guy. You don’t know how hard this job is.”

Truly every story is one of frustration, is it not? Within self, with another, or with society. And every story has already been written. How can my coming of age compare with Hamlet’s? You are really going into self pity. Put something on the page. …once upon a time, there were who…what happened to who, what, why, where.

Second question, “Qualifications of desired muse?”

Do women even have muses, I wonder? To me the ultimate one is Alma Mahler saying to these three great men, paint darling, write darling, play darling, and making tea and toast, and feeding their spirit and masculinity while her artistry remains unexplored and unexpressed. This is a feminist issue. I should go off and write on this. But imagine her art was in three disciplines, “Franz Werfel, one of the best novels ever written, “The Forty Days of Musa Dag”, hearthbreaking, beautiful, yearning, broken spirits and redemption, then that gorgeous tormented painter, Oscar Kokoschka, and finally the dark, moody and suffering composer, Gustav Mahler. Was she the medium or the message? Was the artistry really hers, bringing out these men and they were merely vessels of hers? Can you imagine a man being able to provide that for a woman?

The timid women lived in their imaginations, like sweet Emily Dickinson, the Bronte sisters. Then when you had a wild woman like Georges Sand, it was all lovers, “use them and lose them”. Otherwise next thing you know you’ll be at home, making them soup.

“Do you think that’s comedy or tragedy?” she asks.

“What?” I’m confused.

“What you’re thinking…the whole poor me…what am I doing here anyway.”

My lower lip pushes out further than my upper. I’m defiant,  “My hangnail is tragedy…the war can be looked at different ways,.”

“Sounds like you’re sick enough. Let’s start working.”

“Who are you?”

“Thalia…the joke’s always been on you, girl.”


Portal for New Writing