One man’s muse is the same man’s bully

We’ve all heard people talk about how they are compelled to write. Compelled to write? Compelled to roll out of bed every morning and trudge off to work—that makes sense. A job brings in money. But compelled to write? Compelled to struggle with an arrangement of words that stands a snowball’s chance in Hell of ever economically justifying the energy put into it? What twisted mental force would compel a person to do that?

Whatever the force, it is certainly mental, and completely twisted. It’s been inside my head, demanding my lunch money and making me do its homework since I was 12, maybe longer. I wasn’t bullied by kids in school, but I’ve been menaced by the specter of wasted potential all my life. I expect to labor under its threats until I die, leaving the specter forever unsatisfied. My bully’s failure should give me the last laugh, except that I’m kind of rooting for my bully to win. I told you it was twisted.

Bully with wings

Look out, Whiskers! She’s about to put you in a headlock and steal your lunch money. (The Tenth Muse” by John White Alexander.)

Lots of people search the dark corridors of their own minds for that hidden room, bursting with the light of genius (and associated cash and prizes). We’re sure it must be there, if only we could find the door and the key to unlock it. We toil in darkness, every so often glimpsing a fleeting flash that, if not a mini-stroke, must be a reflection of the sparkling key to that door.

We rush to the spot where the flash originated. We throw ourselves down on hands and knees. We grope for that elusive key to the room flowing with the milk and honey of inspiration. When I’m feeling around the dirty floor of my mind for that special key, I am writing. I have to do it. I can’t pass up the chance to unlock the door to my full potential. It means my masterpiece. But there are acres of linoleum inside my head, and some fool installed mirrors on the walls. So the flash could have come from anywhere.

It occurs to me, as I swipe my hands across the grimy floor of my mind, that I should do some mopping. But I always have grander schemes than common housework in front of me at the time. Besides, when I find that key and strike it rich, I’ll hire a cleaning lady. Maybe I’ll even have all the burnt-out light bulbs replaced. I plan to do it up right.

I’m not looking for that shiny, magic key every time I crawl around the floor of my mind. Sometimes I am groping for the rusted key to the room holding the memory of where I left my wallet.

It would be easier to find my wallet, and my hidden potential, if my mind weren’t so cluttered. I’m forever banging my head on other stuff, like bittersweet memories and bits of music or art that once touched my soul. Sometimes I hit my head so hard I see stars, and one of the those stars is always the reflection from the key to the hidden room of light. Bittersweet memories and beautiful art will pull stunts like that. They always get me on my hands and knees again, groping for that key, writing.

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