Provenance

My Muse is abundant. She has an orchard full of crisp apples, plump blackberries, and chestnut trees laden with dreams of braziers on damp Parisian streets. At the very edge of the grounds, beyond the field of lavender and the beds of profligate zinnias, there is a bee hive. Five-pound glass jars full of golden honey slumber in the root cellar, summer’s sweetness saved. These are the elements of inspiration, the ingredients of artistic creation.

I have written before about wondering where stories come from, and have told you that when I write, it feels like a conduit opens up and the story is transmitted to me. It is a little like waking up each morning and finding a basket of fresh produce and a bouquet of wildflowers tied with twine on my doorstep. It is beautiful and humbling. Who am I to receive this largess?

More importantly, is any of it mine? Yes, I spend the time stringing words together. I give them expression, but the underlying form of the story is something that I believe – and quite literally feel – is beyond me. The story is independent of me. It exists whether I write it or not. It is a Platonic idea that my words only aspire to approach. In that sense, I am a conveyance, not a creator.

This leads to all sorts of awkward questions clustered around the concept of ownership. Can a story belong to any one person, even the author? What is the provenance of a story? Do I own the fruits of my Muse’s inspiration?

Maybe the most I can claim is that I own the final product because I harvested it, cleaned it up, and shipped it to market. I try to tell myself I am charging for the convenience of the packaging; i.e., you could have extracted this Platonic form from the ether yourself, but I have extracted it, translated it to English, and made it readable on a Kindle. I tell myself that because otherwise, I can’t justify what right I have to charge for something that belongs to the universe. I could solve the problem by not charging, but it costs me money to transfer the story from ether to Kindle, and I’m an obligate financial being like any other working Joette. I could solve the problem by not sharing the stories, but that seems even more of a blatant travesty. How selfish would that be, to take the bushels of apples, the jars of honey, the fresh roasted and still fingertip- scalding chestnuts and then keep them all to myself? If I did that, the apples would grow mealy, the honey would crystallize, and the chestnuts would grow cold and then molder. It would be wasteful and wrong to withhold the bounty. My Muse deserves better than that, and the stories she gives me deserve the highest-quality production I can afford. The question of ownership aside, it is my duty and my honor to share what I have gathered in the orchard of my inspiration.

 

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Where do stories come from?

GPS and high-speed computers can’t pinpoint where they originate.  Radar, sonar, Ouija board and ultrasound are all useless indicators. Yet stories come from somewhere and those of us who write feel it when a story quickens.  Heart trips over itself, breath pauses, and inspiration shatters preconceptions.  A story has arrived!

Do stories bubble up out of the shared jumble of archetypes from our cave days?  Do they come from an external Muse?  Do they leak like static from parallel universes?

I don’t know. Perhaps where a story comes from matters less than the fact that it comes at all.  Under the sheer improbability that any given story exists, the question of First Cause is almost trivial.

As a reader, a tale comes to me as an already revealed whole, but that is not the case when I write.  I hear of writers who come up with outlines, who know what a story is before the story has been written. That is not how it happens for me. I do not plan the stories I write to be as they are any more than a mother ‘plans’ her children to be as they are.  Each story is an act of nature, a noumenal birth.  Unlike mothers of flesh and blood, I am less creator than conduit; what is to be written passes through me, but is in some very basic sense not of me.

When a story chooses me, it comes from multiple avenues at once.  The universe conspires to bring me into contact with the inspirations that will prepare me for the story that is traveling from those unknowable elsewheres. When the right pair of contradictory ideas come together in one lucid moment, I become an open conduit for the expression of the story.

At that instant, I can’t see the entire plot arc or even begin to understand how to fit those contradictions together into some cohesive whole. Everything becomes a possible revelation of the story’s truth. Novels, movies, snippets of overheard conversation, dreams, music, even the moon and sun themselves can be oracles. Revelation and prophecy are anything except convenient. There’s an element of the trickster to stories. They like to play but, like any wild animal, stories can be dangerous. It is not an easy path to be a writer. I am not even certain it is a choice, or at least not the writer’s choice.

Even now, a story travels.  It will come unto us like religion, like grace, like the purest dharma.  It chooses us, and we are humbled.

 

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