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Possession

I am suspicious of muses.

I do know writers and other creative persons for whom the muse is essential - nothing works unless the muse is in residence, but when she is, all things flow well. They feel something, explicable or otherwise, a force that compels from them work they find good.

I used to be scornful of this, and I remain dubious about claims that this particular science fiction world requires all white people, or that in this story the gay characters must all die tragically, because thus the muse decreed it and nothing can now be done. People must take responsibility for the work of their hands: the muse's name doesn't appear on the cover.

However, apart from these appeals to the muse to justify shitty work, I am not scornful now. People work how they work, and they feel what they feel.

But I remain personally suspicious of muses, because one possessed me once, and I didn't like it at all.

I was fifteen years old, and participating in the Oamaru Society Competitions, which was a mixed bag of performance events in varying age categories. Highland Dancing! Piano Solo! Vocal Duet! My specialty was acting - poetry recital (Lyric Poem! Narrative Poem! Set Poem!) and monologues.

I stepped on stage to perform a liberal translation of Cassandra's ecstatic ravings in Euripides' The Trojan Women. In the aftermath of the Trojan war, the princess Cassandra is condemned to slavery and rape, the prize of the victorious general Agamemnon. Cassandra rejected the sexual advances of the god Apollo, and his curse was that she would see the future - and her pronouncements would never be believed,

Cassandra saw it all before it happened. She saw her brother Paris abducting the Spartan princess Helen. She saw the brutal death of her brother Hector, dragged by his feet from a chariot. She saw the wooden horse that disgorged the Greek invaders into the heart of the city, the fires that razed the topless towers of Troy, the tiny body of her infant nephew tossed from the city walls. She saw blood and rape and flame.

She warned them, and nobody ever listened. They thought her mad, and so she became.

But Cassandra is happy now. Because she can see the future, and she knows that Agamemnon will not live long to enjoy his victor's spoils. His wife waits for him at home, with her lover behind her and an axe in her hands. She spins out her prophecy of his doom, laughing and dancing in the ruins of Troy.

If you think this was a weird choice of monologue for a fifteen year old girl, then you might not know many. Horrible tragedy was where it was at. The day before, I'd done the speech from Saint Joan where she rips up her signed confession and yells, "YOU GUYS ARE TOTAL ASSHOLES, JUST GO AHEAD AND BURN ME THEN."

I remember I was nervous. I'm always nervous when I speak in public. I get through it by knowing exactly what I'm going to say, by searing every word into my brain, until I can be perfect.

The bell went. I ran on stage and started speaking:

O Mother, fill mine hair with happy flowers,
And speed me forth. Yea, if my spirit cowers,
Drive me with wrath! So liveth Loxias,
A bloodier bride than ever Helen was
Go I to Agamemnon, Lord most high
Of Hellas! . . . I shall kill him, mother; I
Shall kill him, and lay waste his house with fire

Five minutes later I was in the wings again.

I have absolutely no memory of what I did in between. It felt as if the top of my head opened and something poured in and ran through all the veins until they glowed. Other than this sensation, I wasn't present in my body. I wasn't observing the performance, from within, or without. I started the monologue and then I was off-stage, and a friend was giving me one of those great theatre-girl hugs and telling me how great I was.

I won. The judge wrote: "An accomplished performance. You were completely in control of your Cassandra."

Everyone thought I was there, and I wasn't; everyone thought I was acting, and I could recall no control of my actions.

I want my work to be mine. I'm suspicious of muses.

Comments

suzycat
Jan. 21st, 2015 09:28 am (UTC)
I passionately hate the concept of the muse like whoa. Nice to see you posting again!

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karenhealey
chocolate in the fruit bowl

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