Eulogy to Broken Glass and Stupid Muses
Late last night an accident shattered a decorative humidifier, called "the mist of dreams", that had doubled as a symbol of my muse since I became spell bound by it in a store window nearly a year ago: watching cool sheets of foggy mist trickle from a wide-mouthed, frosted bowl, held up by a floor mounted stand and bewitched by changing colors. I had been feeling down hearted about the prospect of ever getting even a fraction of my inner life translated safely into print when the "mist of dreams" captured my imagination, and I think my husband David knew what I was struggling with. That is probably why my eldest daughter Jennifer-who also believes in dreams-found her father receptive to helping her buy the "mist of dreams" for me, for Christmas: a mission that they undertook despite David's increasing concern about the family debt and Jennifer's very limited budget. My daughter contributed, for months, out of her weekly allowance, foregoing some of those small, personal pleasures that brighten good days and make bad days more bearable. I was moved by their gift. It gave me courage. And courage is exactly what anyone needs, today, in trying to sustain something as complex and emotional as the Okal Rel Universe, against the modern world's chaotic, 30-second windows of attention and the sci-fi scene's love affair with evil elves and hopeless endings.
The accident that shattered the "mist of dreams" was one of those wholly unexpected affairs that in retrospect seem inevitable. It had survived in my office since January. In early August, we emptied out the water in the "mist of dreams" and moved it to our bedroom, to make room for renovations in the basement. There were too many things stacked up in the bedroom in places where things shouldn't be, and a flick of David's dressing gown sent the "mist of dreams" tumbling while he was up and moving around in the dark last night, after getting up to tell the kids having a sleep over in the living room to settle down and go to sleep. All so very perfectly ordinary.
My initial reaction was relief, since the crash that woke me sounded alarming unique: both loud and dainty, like a million tiny icicles breaking in a brittle splash of audible grays, whites and silvers. David's voice, when he spoke, sounded as if he had killed a beloved pet: sort of flat and disbelieving. Once I figured out what had happened, my next reaction was numbness, but not so much for the "mist of dreams" itself, literally. I am becoming superstition in my old age, and that decorative humidifier stood for something important to me; something that I have felt slipping away from me, struggle by struggle, as my life changes. It stood for my ability to live in another world and to carry the that power in my heart like a secret weapon against all life's other challenges.
For a moment, lying in bed, with the sound of that fluid shattering still fresh in my ears, I thought: well, that's over. After all, I hadn't written anything new in months. It did seem like an omen. I am not young anymore and the forces I exert myself against to keep alive the promises made to my younger self are so much more tangible than the magic of a sulky muse that expects far too much accommodation from the real world. Maybe it was time to stop struggling.
David was still standing near the broken "mist of dreams", half awake and a bit shocked, trying to figure out what to make of the situation and needing to go back to bed again. I heard myself say, "It's only a thing."
Then my symbol-make brain machinery started up again. If I let this end something for me, symbolically, then was it "just a thing"? I don't believe in lying. And if it wasn't just a thing, what did it stand for? My silly muse, or the love that had purchased this useless thing of beauty to inspire me: the same love that made David behave with such uncharacteristic befuddlement, now he had accidentally broken it; and made Jenny determined I should have it. I thought about other people, also, who have lived in the Okal Rel Universe with me; stepped in and taken a look around; supported its development financially, or begun to contribute to its on-going construction. People who had cared, to some extent or another, about the magic I had so long taken for granted as a fixture of my own mental life.
Yes. The "mist of dreams" did stand for something. But it would be a self-indulgent, cruel irony to make its demise symbolize the death of the very thing it was given to me in order to encourage.
Instead, I decided that - superstitious or not in my "old age" - I am still a magician. And magicians make up their own rules for the power any talisman holds over them.
If, like a lot of things in middle life, my muse can't be taken for granted, the answer isn't giving up, it's getting into shape by working harder. Discipline is where I have been failing lately, and I owe it to myself and everyone one else who cares even a little, to stop sulking in my tent and get to work again.
The "mist of dreams" got knocked over. But now that the glass is broken, the wish it expressed is immortal.