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Creative Nonfiction
Muse of Fire, Muse of Floss



To Whom It May Concern at Agency Muse (A-Muse, LLC):

While I recognize that my Muse Acquisition contract clearly states that I must accept the Muse provided to me -- with no exceptions -- I am nevertheless compelled to write to you today with some pressing concerns about my particular model, "The Sophia."

In my application file, you will see that prior to receipt of Muse #NYC41901 ("The Sophia"), I was a struggling young playwright of modest accomplishment. Although my dear mother, several theatre professors, and a lone, unshaven Canadian puppeteer had praised my work, in my heart of hearts, I knew that my plays were gravely lacking in direction and true inspiration.

In 1999, the artistic director of a prominent off-Broadway theatre agreed with my self-assessment, describing one of my plays as "a railroad to nowhere." Around the same time, a Village Voice review compared another play of mine to the TV show "Roseanne," referring to the work as "kitchen-sink roadkill." Despondent, I hastily sought advice from several trusted friends and relatives.

One friend (herself Muse-less) urged me to abandon the barren wasteland of my own imagination, and to "go classic" with some Muse-sparked inspiration. She had heard wonderful things about your agency and assured me that "lack of material was not an issue" for those fortunate enough to become Muse recipients. My father (a former Muse recipient) seconded this notion, saying of Muse Acquisition: "You can't buy entertainment like it -- trust me."

I took the excellent counsel to heart. It was this point at which I began researching the Muse Acquisition process in earnest. When I married the aforementioned unshaven Canadian puppeteer in late 1999, he indicated that he was quite amenable to the prospect of keeping a Muse under our roof, as long as there would still be room for his vintage Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules. I agreed to these terms.

And so, in the summer of 2000, I applied for Muse-worthy status with your agency. As you can see from my application file, I complied fully with Agency Muse regulations by submitting three plays, several handbills from past productions, and one particularly savage New York Times review for your consideration.

I was elated when I learned that your agency had accepted my application and that I would be issued my first Muse in the spring of 2001. Is it any wonder that I was filled with such joy and anticipation? Certainly not -- for, based upon your agency's promotional brochure, marketing materials, and powerful word-of-mouth advertising, I was led to believe that the addition of a Muse to my life would herald a dazzling new epoch of illumination and insight in my playwriting.

This has not been the case. Since receipt of my particular Muse ("The Sophia") in April 2001, I have been unable to complete a single full-length play. In fact, I have been rendered utterly incompetent, thoroughly incapacitated, and virtually impotent as a playwright.

Out of sheer desperation, I recently attempted to rouse my dramatic sensibilities by writing in a genre I consider to be inferior to the stage play: the common and exceedingly vulgar screenplay. Surely, I thought, I could manage this. I had a Muse on my side -- and the signed contract from your esteemed agency to prove it.

I was sorely mistaken. Once again, I failed miserably, stalling out somewhere around page 54. (Page 54, Where Are You? And worse, Where Are We, the Reader? Still reeling on page 17 from the agonizing banalities I inflicted there?)

My point, Sirs and Mesdames: All the while, as has been the case from the beginning, my Muse stood cruelly by, seemingly unaffected by my abject suffering, cheerfully winding dental floss around and around the television set.

And perhaps the most disturbing development of all: I have begun writing creative nonfiction. Just last week, I referred to myself -- in public -- as an "essayist." At that moment, it was clear to me that I needed to contact your agency immediately, before the situation worsened, and I found myself composing greeting-card verse in the middle of the night, or stalking the editors of the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology.

Sirs and Mesdames of Agency Muse, I am a reasonable woman. Although I am a writer, and have in the past fancied myself mildly bohemian, I also consider myself to be an intrepid realist and a dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist. I must state for the record that I do not feel that my personal Muse expectations were too high.

I am certain that your agency must suffer the constant slings and arrows of a wide array of unreasonable Muse-related demands, but that is not the sort of ungrateful Muse recipient that I should like to be. It was William Shakespeare, not I, who concocted the blatantly ridiculous (and, it should be pointed out, terribly dangerous) image of a "Muse of fire" in the prologue of King Henry V: "O, for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention!"

Under no circumstances did I -- nor would I -- press you for a Muse of fire. The Muse with which you have provided me is volatile enough in her current incarnation, and can sweep through a two-story home with greater speed and force than any five-alarm blaze.

Furthermore, I had no false expectations that the Muse you would provide would ascend the brightest heaven of invention. I knew it would, however, ascend the stairs as soon as it could. I compensated for this by purchasing and installing a Safe-T-Gate from Wal-Mart long before my Muse evidenced the desire to ascend anything. I hope this demonstrates to you that I am doing everything within my power to work with, rather than against, my particular Muse.

I reiterate: I am a reasonable woman. Although I do share Robert Louis Stevenson's fond wish that my Muse would perhaps express itself with greater clarity ("Sing clearlier, Muse, or evermore be still / Sing truer or no longer sing!"), I feel his ultimatum is childish and excessive. I have no wish to see my Muse completely silenced (except between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.), nor do I plan to banish my Muse permanently should it not sing truer (although I do confess to having incorporated temporary Muse-banishment techniques such as the "time out"). I am simply seeking assistance from Agency Muse in comprehending my Muse's peculiar attempts to provide me with creative inspiration.

Is it possible that your agency provided Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) with a more comprehensive guide to Muse interpretation? If so, how may I obtain a copy? For Sidney's Muse seems to have been far more intelligible and plain-spoken than my model: "Fool! said my Muse to me, look in thy heart, and write." My Muse does not yet address me as "fool" (though I suspect it believes me to be one), but I would not mind if it did, if, like Sidney's Muse, it would also dispense sage writing counsel such as this.

Instead, my assigned Muse stands barefoot in the living room, meowing like a cat. I am at a complete loss as to how to interpret this. Is there an obscure feline theme that my Muse is exhorting me to pursue? The caterwauling has been going on for almost three days. This morning, I took the liberty of consulting the stalwart writerly tome A Hog On Ice & Other Curious Expressions (C. E. Funk, Harper & Row, 1948). The book states that the phrase "to see which way the cat jumps" can be used figuratively, meaning to notice how events are unfolding, so that one may act accordingly. Although I have studied my Muse-cat closely for nearly 72 hours straight, I continue to be flummoxed by its urgent, insistent meowing. How these vocalizations could possibly relate to my ailing body of work, I have no idea.

It is true that my Muse-cat is not actually jumping -- at least, not today. There is a reason for this: "The Sophia" has a splinter in its left foot, but it will not let me extract it. "The Sophia" insists (vociferously, as this model is apparently not one of your more hushed Muses -- perhaps your agency has a policy about distributing quieter, gossamer-winged models only to monasteries, Carmelite convents, and the like?) that the splinter is a birthmark, and thus needs no attention from me. Is this a thinly veiled metaphor? Pain as birthright? Discomfort as a necessary stepping stone on the path to more profound writing?

This afternoon, my Muse also turned up its nose at the lunch I prepared, and instead demanded that I provide it with fourteen pepperoni slices, as well as the remainder of a gummy breakfast bar set out six hours before. How, I ask you, am I to interpret this? As potent symbolism of some sort? A virtuoso (yet masterfully subtle) reminder that less is, in fact, more -- on the plate and on the page?

I am aware that the British novelist and poet Stevie Smith (1902-1971) once wrote to your agency with a question that I also share: "Why does my Muse only speak when she is unhappy?" Certainly, I had expected that there would be an extended adjustment period with my first Muse. But now, more than two years after initial receipt of this Muse, I can still see no end in sight to this "adjustment" phase. The chaos and howling and swirling mental confusion unleashed upon me daily by my frequently unhappy Muse continues to mount, rather than wane, as the months pass. Compared to my home, Dante's Inferno was an ashtanga yoga retreat. (At the very least, Dante and his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, spoke the same language and could communicate with some semblance of lucidity, and with relative grace.)

Sirs and Mesdames, I am eager to do all that I can to 1) improve the quality of my relationship with my assigned Muse and 2) resume my career as an aspiring playwright. I trust that you have your reasons for entrusting me with this particular model, as your agency is most reputable and has been in business for centuries (millennia, if one takes into account your agency's changing hands and names from time to time -- being fairly well-read on such matters, I do acknowledge this). If there is no reason to suspect -- as I assume there is not -- that I was given a defective model, then I ask only for any assistance that you may be able to provide.

Author William Burroughs (another client of yours, I presume) offered me this advice: "Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal." Sirs and Mesdames, I do not wish to shortchange my Muse, but I do not wish to be shortchanged by my Muse, either. I would like simply to strike a fair bargain with "The Sophia," and to forge a mutually beneficial and inspirational relationship.

I enclose a copy of our contract and my application file; color photographs showing the condition of my premises as they presently exist (the fibrous, boxlike structure being the floss-wrapped TV set); color photographs showing the condition of my Muse (kept in fine working order, as you can see); and additional supporting documents, including my journal entries and a cryptic Word document typed by my Muse itself on June 22, 2003.

Any further documentation or instructions you can provide about Muse #NYC41901 ("The Sophia") would be greatly appreciated. I would welcome any Muse-translation and Muse-interpretation guides, lunar-cycle almanacs, Biblical references, or Jungian dream-theory texts that you can offer. I would also be extremely interested in reviewing any source materials that other Agency Muse clients may have found helpful (preferably, your more prolific clients, e.g., Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, J. K. Rowling).

Thank you in advance for your consideration and all courtesies pertaining to this troubling and precarious situation. I assure you that I will cease all wanton, ill-advised attempts at essay-writing until I receive a reply from a representative of your agency.

However, if I do not hear back from Agency Muse within a reasonable period of time (three months, as is standard in the industry), I will be forced to 1) abandon playwriting altogether and 2) conclude that it is my unfortunate artistic destiny to ply small literary magazines and publishers with endless reams of cloying creative nonfiction about Muse #NYC41901 ("The Sophia"). I urge you to spare me -- and the market -- such a fate by your prompt and professional handling of this matter.

Very truly yours,
Jennifer Mattern

Afterword: To date, Agency Muse has not responded to this request for Muse assistance. Small literary magazines in the U.S. are reporting a marked upsurge in creative nonfiction submissions from the New England region.



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