(A Conversation Between a Writer and Her Muse)
Muse: What about your deepest desires contradict themselves?
Self: My deepest desires? My contradictions? Muse, there are so many. They drive me crazy! I want to travel the world and explore and write.
Self: I want to be rooted, in one place, living quietly, with a dog and maybe an axe wielding male companion.
Muse: Those seem like they could very well be contradictions. What is it about traveling that you desire so deeply?
Self: Well, you see, Muse, the last few days I’ve been homesick for the world. I get this way a couple times a year. I start remembering the romance of Istanbul in the fall. The way the sun sets over the desert. The awe I felt when I came around the bend that revealed Jerusalem sitting on top of the hill—a city torn between beauty and hate. I miss the tranquil moments like sailing in the Gulf of Oman or swimming in the clear-as-glass waters of the Red Sea surrounded by Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The ancient places like Coba, Petra, the Pyramids and Ephesus. The way the noonday sun reflects off the marble of the Taj Mahal as you come through the entrance gate and see its minarets above the crowd of people on pilgrimages from all over the world, and, of course the rice. The endless amounts of rice…
Muse: Yeah, I remember those places. You could have never dreamed of all the places you would go. I remember on the bus from Delhi to Jaipur you kept pinching yourself. I don’t think I’ve seen you do that any other time.
Self: I think I did one day when I was on the bus in Seattle. I was on one of the bridges and the lake was filled with sail boats, the sky was clear and to my right were the snow covered Olympics, to the left were the Cascades and almost straight ahead of me, floating in an ethereal glow, was Mt. Rainer. I cried a little.
Muse: When don’t you cry a little?
Self: Hey now.
Muse: I’m just sayin’. But, what about traveling is difficult to enjoy?
Self: Do you mean the smell or the day ferry that turned into the night ferry from Jordan to Egypt? Or maybe you’re referring to my eighty-pound pack? Or the time I got lice? Or having to carve out a new place everywhere I went?
Muse: So being in Seattle satisfies those things?
Self: I guess. I enjoy the freedom of not having to carry everything I own with me. I enjoy that I have a room to myself and am surrounded by things that bring me comfort and remind me of who I am—my books, my art, my favorite pillows. My friends are pretty constant here too; they used to rotate so fast. I think the most important thing about being in one place for a while now has been the space I’ve had to really process some things and to grow and heal. I can’t say my soul has gotten quieter or that I’ve become more steadfast, but I feel freer.
Muse: Do you see this lasting? You know as well as any that plans change and people change and whether we want it to or not, life reshapes itself in some pretty big ways.
Self: I know. I like plans, I do. But I don’t stick to them and the ones that I try to stick to fall through more often than I would like them to.
Muse: Do you want to stay in Seattle?
Self: Well, I think that is where the contradicting desires come into play.
Muse: Do tell.
Self: So, for the last week or so I’ve been working on a poem. It’s about an older me who is “alive and well and living on an island in the sound.” I have a dog and we explore and write. I have this quiet little life in which I’m a writer who has made enough to live on, and I have a little cottage by a lake and a little garden. I have an office that I write in when I’m not sitting on the porch swing. I’m in one place.
Muse: As you picture this, how old do you think you are?
Self: Forty, fifty maybe?
Muse: And when you look around what do you see?
Self: Well. I guess I see books—of course. And, I see things I’ve collected from all over the world: maps, rugs, tea cups, hooka pipes, masks, things I see but don’t even know what to call them because I’ve never seen them before. (Look at this stuff? Isn’t it neat?…)
Muse: How did you get those things?
Self: Well, I guess I got on an airplane, went to far off places and collected them as I went.
Muse: What does that mean?
Self: Well, I suppose it means that I packed up my stuff—the stuff I didn’t get rid of. And I put it in storage. I bought a plane ticket, and I walked away from the comforts knowing that they’ll be there waiting for me in the future.
Muse: Will they?
Self: I want them to be. I can see them so clearly. There is so much of the world to explore, but if I go, won’t I miss so much of life here?
Muse: I believe there are some hard choices to make if you truly want both and believe you can have both worlds. Maybe you can’t have them at the same time—but you are bold and adventurous enough to get them both.
Self: But what if I had my chance to travel? I love that time, I do. But I know that it wasn’t enough for me. When I see a map and I know I’ve barely started. When I was in Petra my friend took a picture of me standing outside one of the huge carved buildings. It was a crowded day, but somehow he got a picture of just me. I’m only this tiny speck at the bottom of the picture. Every time I see it I think to myself, “I am so small. The world is so big.” And I ache knowing that it only has one cure. But I want so many things, and life is full of so many commitments…
Muse: Let’s stop there. We weren’t here to have a discussion about the excuses. We were here to talk about the desires.
Photo: Geoff Matero