When I think about the idea of “muse,” it is easy for me to name mine: Amy, my wife. It might sound “cheesy” to say, perhaps (so traditional), that my spouse, to whom I have been married for 12 years, is my muse. Still. She is not my muse in the primary sense that she inspires me to write (although I’ve written my share of pieces that were inspired by her).
When I state that she is my muse, I mean that she is my primary audience member. Better yet, she is my audience. Whenever I’m constructing or revising a story, a poem, an essay, I’m wondering, what would Amy think? (WWAT?) I could care less what anyone else thinks of my work as long as she enjoys it, is moved by it. I write for and because of her. And I hope my work communicates to her at some level or levels.
She became my muse when we started dating over 14 years ago, and through my work in various genres, I would periodically show her my drafts. Not first drafts of stories, anyway, but often first drafts of poems. And I valued (and still value) her viewpoint above all others because she is untainted by years of literary study via writing workshops and literature seminars. Not that I don’t value those, because I do. The former helped me as writer consider the implications of my choices (from craft and technique angles), and the latter plunged me as a writer into the world of the literary critic, discovering even deeper truths and issues.
But she is not a poet, not a fiction writer, not a writer of creative nonfiction. She is a reader, a close and careful reader, someone who possesses a no-nonsense attitude about reading and writing. She reads a story for story, for characters who are rich, complex. She reads a poem for the directness and precision of its language and imagery. She reads an essay for the way that a writer shares his or her insights, his or her discoveries. She is intelligent, well-read, compassionate, and a good listener. All qualities of a great audience member, all qualities of a great spouse.
I vividly recall her in the passenger seat of our 2004 Impala to South Dakota on our way to and to my dissertation defense. 200-some pages of my short-story collection on her lap. I knew I would have the final revisions and suggested edits by my committee, but I would also have the edits and questions of Amy, which I valued just as much, if not more. I was more anxious about her reading the collection (regularly sneaking glances as she read and marked edits and comments) than what my committee would say. I wondered what she thought as she read each story. I worried what she thought.
A final point to close with. During my MFA time, during the first years of our marriage, and when I was primarily a poet, I took several fiction seminars, too. The stories I wrote were bad, so bad. Amy dutifully read them, and I remember that at a certain point, she said something along the lines of, “For a while, I think I was the better prose writer than you are, but you’ve really grown.” In those early years there was a steady growth that I sensed but couldn’t quite articulate. She was able to discern and acknowledge that growth. Her statement was an inspiration then, and it has inspired me (but really she has inspired me) to improve as a writer, and even more so to improve as a person, her grateful husband.