The word “muse” in African American culture is often thought of as a spiritual offering from the ancestors, comprised of ancient properties, each layered with gifts. I am a storyteller. My methodology is likely similar to yours: facing a blank piece of paper/screen, an empty stage, or the blank stare of a character awaiting to trust us on this unknown journey. How to take this journey now when the COVID-19 virus has turned our world inside out, upside down, crossing demographics and pushing us behind closed doors.
Where are we as artists when we are in social isolation, and where is our muse?
When the country began the discussion of shutting down and isolating, I was doing a My Good Judy artist residency at the Commonality Institute in New Orleans. I was excited to work on and present my newest play, It Was Never Just Sex. A year of laborious work was ready to harvest.
As I was settling into the French Quarter and getting acquainted with the locals, the unimaginable, unpredictable happened. The coronavirus forced everything to come to a halt. I fled New Orleans, boarded a nearly empty plane where virtually everyone was wearing a mask, and flew home to Hawaii.
Through every conversation with family, friends, artists, and social media ran the theme of insurmountable fear of the unknown and dying. In my isolation, I asked my muse what my responsibility as a story-teller was to these times and beyond—perhaps to tomorrow’s child who will be present in a thousand years.
“Truth is the offspring of silence and meditation”—Isaac Newton.
This quote came from Newton’s time spent in isolation during the Great Plague of London in 1665.
I’ve revisited rituals from the past and new ones specific to recent events to deepen my connections to muse. They have increased my understanding tenfold spiritually. I offer them for your consideration as possibilities for you, my fellow playwrights.
· Separate journal solely devoted to shelter in place reflections
· Every day write in a journal your core feelings
· Write the words family/friends/strangers speak or send through text, email, and social media, expressing their feelings (they are the audience, the pulse of humanity)
· Find time to meditate a few minutes every day around the times in your emotional history when you have had an intimate connection with the feelings coming up during this crisis. Tell yourself the story.
· Read literature where the characters moved through difficult times as their new normal. I’m reading Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak!
· Meditate on your relationship to truth.
· Create a psychological self-portrait with the underlying question: What is my relationship to fear and dying?
My purpose for practicing the above rituals is to let my muse know I am strong enough and brave enough to take on the stories that will move our humanity forward, and that I am wise enough to know that cultural barriers are made from fear, and human interconnection is made from walking through that fear. What characters have been waiting in the shadows like the animals who have recently emerged during our shelter in place? I will do my part in widening the emotional spiritual landscape through storytelling.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”—Toni Morrison
In leaving you, I want to say that by honoring my muse with these rituals, I found my way back to the script from New Orleans, It Was Never Just Sex, and discovered a shocking, poetically painful, loving truth about the main character. Thank you for spending this time together.
Be well in your journey.
P.S I’ll be posting more thoughts on our collective pandemic journey on my website: