Literary inspiration does exist, only it isn't the divine gift you read about. The muse isn't a comely nymph with classical features, nor even an immortal roller skating babe (before the Classics, there was Xanadu).
Here are some of the things I did yesterday to work myself into a literary state of mind: sort a stack of mail two feet high, pay bills, write a letter about property taxes, pick up groceries, organize tools, throw away garden seeds "Packed for 2005", wash dishes, help with a report on "America the Beautiful" and change three filthy HEPA prefilters. Sound inspiring? Once the kids were in bed I did some light stretching while dipping into an excellent book about health by Andrew Weil.
And then, KABOOM, the clouds parted and I had a genuine Literary Thought. It was a thought in the shape of a poem, something to do with what Andrew Weil was saying about Venus and Saturn, about the balance between the generative, feminine Aphrodite and the destructive, masculine Cronos (devourer of his own children).
I couldn't remember the last time I'd been able to see an idea for a poem, but there was no time to stop, as I was galloping ahead. My novel was on the horizon -- the chapter I've been working on in fits and starts, the scene that still needs some strong glue to hold it together, and the deadline looming next month. I had two good ideas about things to add -- no, make that three ideas! -- and in a moment I had blasted right past making notes and was writing actual dialog. Not just dialog, but funny dialog! I could not be stopped.
It was in the middle of the hilarious, scene-clinching conversation that I realized the left side of my head was cracking open like a volcanic fissure and that I mildly wanted to throw up. I leaped off the page where I was writing and started scribbling down observations on the back of another sheet. Migraine was dawning. How did it happen? Did I think so hard I tweaked my brain? Did the neural pathways required for literary thought happen to be the same ones prone to swelling? Did writing increase circulation in the grey matter so rapidly it caused a short circuit?
I dragged myself to the medicine cabinet and then got back into bed with my notebook. Before I collapsed on the pillow I had finished the dialog, outlined the next book review I have to do, and made two pages of notes on important plot questions for the second half of my novel -- which surprisingly had a lot to do with the book for the review. What an amazing coincidence.
My husband turned out to be the only person thinking clearly. When he came in to bed, he listened patiently to my chatter for ten minutes before observing, in his calm way, that literary thoughts are not the cause of the migraine, they are one of the symptoms. "It's just part of the manic lead-up," he said, before turning off the light.
My delusions of grandeur went hissing off into the darkness like a leaky balloon. This was not inspiration -- this was prodrome. The lack of blood to the brain was producing literary thoughts, not the reverse. Were they real ideas? Would they still be there, on the page, when I recovered from the migraine (and the side effects of the medication)?
Eric put in his two cents. "You have to take what you can get," he said, and was asleep in thirty seconds.