Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 20, 2011

Entertaining Unexpected Guests

Did you miss the etiquette class on dealing with muses who knock at inconvenient times? Me, too, but here’s what I’ve learned on my own. It’s lovely when thoughtful guests at the door hand you chocolates, which can be shared right away. Or maybe an image for the poem on your computer. I’m grateful for a handful of wildflowers, even though it means I must rummage for a vase, find shears to clip the stems, and get delayed in the pantry. Such a gift might be half a line for a poem pages back, or a seed for one yet to be. But when the muses pull up in a battered truck to let you know they’ve got a new book idea, it’s unsettling.

What does a graceful hostess do? We never want to turn away a muse, even when she’s smelling like she’s been too long in someone’s attic: there might be cobwebs stuck to a musty sleeve and untidy sneakers. I do pull up a chair and listen. I start a new file and take notes. I enjoy the thrill of interruption, but try not to get entirely seduced. At some point in the visit, my eyes will veer to the clock or I’ll unplug the teakettle, put the dishes in the sink, and loudly clear my throat. I’m pretty good at that.

There are half-written poems, which only I can attend to. The door and new file may be cracked open again tomorrow. I’ll be here and listening, but beyond the sweet call of the new I want to hear a manuscript’s final pages settling into place.

But wait… she’s back again and it sounds important. I’ll just listen for a few minutes, and have one more cup of tea.



  1. So lovely. Man, I envy your way with words and metaphor.

  2. I love all this imagery. I need one more, though, for that slight tide of panic that comes and tells you there may never be time to do it all…even this new one! 🙂

  3. so true and beautifully stated! xo

  4. Thanks for the good wishes, Rose! Much appreciated.

  5. It’s nice having friends who call what you do making metaphors, not quietly going nuts. xo

  6. Whoa, that tide of panic probably deserves its own post. Maybe dressed in the color I see on so many new YA covers. I’m quite familiar with that tide. And, in my self appointed role here as Ms. Manners of all things muse related, I say we get to slam the door on that apparition. There will be time, Becky. Muses are very friendly with patience.

  7. Thanks, Laura. I know the muse stops by you often and appreciates your welcome even when things may be in disarray.

  8. Speaking of unexpected guests – my muse turned up mid-flight on my way to DC yesterday. I was about to scribble notes onto a napkin (coach seating, person in front was reclined all the way back and I couldn’t reach my purse where my notebook and pen were) – when Bob saved me by giving me a piece of paper from his notebook and letting me borrow his pen! I wrote most of a first chapter this morning! 🙂
    Here’s to muses who show up uninvited (and often stay away when we’re begging them to visit)! And to giving them a cup of tea when you’re already entertaining another. 😉 xoxo

  9. I love a muse who shows up mid-flight, when you’re heading on a vacation (even a partly working one). Glad Bob came to the rescue, though I say in such events it’s okay to do gymnastics over bystanders to get to paper. And that’s cool you followed up on the whispers this morning! Hotel coffee can produce magic. xo

  10. What a wonderful post. I love your various images of the muse, who in my experience only shows up at inconvenient times, but who I will always stop and have a beer with. Or maybe a glass of wine. Mine seems most definitely to be male.

  11. Well I read this wonderful post this morning, took my laptop to the cafe to respond, and ended up being taken over by a most bossy muse that insisted on writing the bones of a new short story.
    So, thank you for inspiring my muse to show up quite unexpectedly. I hope yours has been behaving herself? 🙂

  12. Your muse sounds quite wonderful. I think what they all have in common is their taste for coming at inconvenient times!

  13. The muse does seem like to cafes. Our house is well stocked with tea and the winter has kept me much at home, but I think the muse likes at least the smell of coffee and seeing other backs bent over laptops and even revives on the drive to get there.
    Hope the bones of your short story are looking good to you today!

  14. I second that door slamming!

  15. What a lovely, lovely way to describe what we do. I want to savor each beautifully perfect description.
    You are the perfect hostess for our muses and it is no wonder they can’t wait to visit you. I think I’ve slammed to the door one too many times on mine and now they slink around to the backyard, waiting for me to open the door to let the dog out, and slither in sideways, hoping I won’t notice them until they have found hiding place inside.

  16. Oh, Susan, the muses are forgiving, and will keep finding ways to come back to you even if it is sneaking in with the dog. Even if you maybe are sometimes a bit too eyebrow raising at their gifts. Just take them and say thanks, as graciously as you greet all the rest of us. (I know I’m making it sound simple….)

  17. Ha….well you lead the way and I’ll try to follow you, okay?

  18. I like your muse. And your cup of tea. Throw in some shortbread and settle in for a nice long chat.

  19. The unexpected muse, a welcome sight in all her guises. I find solace in these visits – somehow, the knowledge that she seems to know I am receptive brings comfort to my writerly self. Thanks for all the glorious imagery, though…wildflowers and cobwebs and rummaging for suitable vases…they ring so true!

  20. I think it’s important to welcome the muse and find solace as you do even when you can’t offer her the entire afternoon. I’m happy for you about those visits!

  21. Muse, tea, and shortbread sounds perfect. I hope you can find such an afternoon, perhaps today? I’m prepping for company tomorrow, but my muse likes to interfere with housecleaning, which I rather like about her, and Massachusetts snow means no yard work, so pen is at the ready.

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  23. I read an interview with a poet the other day that included the question, “Have you ever ducked out of a social engagement to stay home and write?” The poet said, no. I’m not sure I have ever ducked out… but I definitely plan ahead. Sort of like making a date with the muse? That way I make sure and have time to nurture our relationship. And I find she is very forgiving when I must put her off… she waits for me. Good luck with those final pages!

  24. Well it is a question, if we must duck out on friends, family, other work, or the muse, who’s more forgiving? Are all muses as forgiving as the one who works with this poet, or do some feel snubbed, never to return? Let’s hope not. I do find it best to at least offer a quick ear and a notepad!
    Hope you enjoy the last week of National Poetry Month. So happy about your honor, and that your father got to sit proudly in the audience!

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