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A couples retreat with my muse
I’ve always been a writer, but I haven’t always written. I set out to fix that.
My public writing has been very sporadic over my lifetime, full of enthusiastic starts and extended pauses. This post is about what happened when I decided to get to the bottom of what was going on between me and my muse.
A week ago, I started a private, secret blog to (re)find my voice. Now I’m starting a public Substack to share my voice. I want to take you through my process, because what my voice wants to say to you is, this is how you support yourself to bloom.
It started with that fuck it feeling.
You know the one, where you are so sick and tired of doing the thing that doesn’t work that you no longer care about whatever voice that keeps you doing it, and you stop listening.
It’s the feeling in my 20s when I said, fuck it, I guess I’ll take anti-depressants cause I don’t care if it makes me weak and vapid, I want to be happy. It’s the feeling in my 30s when I said, fuck it, I guess I’ll take melatonin every night for the rest of my life because being “dependent on a chemical” is better than my sleep being so completely dysregulated that when I wake up I can’t tell if it’s 8am or 8pm and I’m constantly out of sync with the rest of humanity. It’s the feeling when I had just turned 40 when I said, fuck it, I guess I have to work on my attachment issues and stop believing the Wrong Person is going to magically turn into the Right Person and save me from myself.
It’s the moment when you decide to give up on the wrong strategy, that you were using to avoid your fear and your grief and stay in the disempowered but safe zone of I just can’t figure this out, why is this happening to me?
This is what people call “self-sabotage”, but the answer is never more self-blame and shame. The reasons we do this can be totally individual to you and feel like they are not even worth mentioning, but if it keeps you stuck, it matters to you. So honor that shit, but keep going. Honor that you are always afraid for reasons, and it’s always some scared little child part that needs to be heard. So give her a hug, validate her fear and pain, and when you’re both ready say OK, but we’re going to try something else, the thing we both know might work.
And it may take years to be ready, and that’s OK. You’re getting ready to be ready. I’ve been trying to write consistently since I started writing almost 20 years ago. And maybe I’ll still fail. Maybe this is just another bright flash of bravery and inspiration that will die out and I’ll get stuck back in the frozen-ness, but it doesn’t feel that way. Because what came next was…
I made a commitment to myself.
It all rests on this. A commitment is a vow you make to yourself, like I will not screw up this good thing or I will learn how to be sane or I will not live out my parents’ pain. It is a sacred contract between you and your Soul. If you really mean it, it has magic power. Specifically, the magic power to overcome your ego fears and the inertia of your brain wiring.
My commitment was to get alone in a room with my muse and figure out what it needs to not run away from me. It was me signing up to do couples therapy with my inner voice, and not quit until we had worked out our issues. I was done being a bad boyfriend who didn’t listen. I took responsibility for my part in things. I said, Ok, you obviously need more from me. I’m sorry, and I’m here to do the work.
And then I just wrote exactly what was present.
I wrote 4 posts a day. We cried together about our history, and the things that people said that hurt her. We bonded over our shared dreams for the future.
This was not journalling, which I also do constantly. I was giving my muse her voice. I was letting her speak through me, in this space where nobody could see. I practiced the art of channeling my inner voice without caring about the outcome.
And then something unexpected and delightful happened.
I wanted to share what I wrote, badly. My muse was back! We were on the same team again! We both wanted to write and share!
It turns out we just needed to come to an understanding. Starting with having some ground rules in place.
My muse needed me to have boundaries.
Pleasing other people is not the point. Even teaching or leading or inspiring other people is not the point. Those are side effects of me having an honest and thriving connection with my muse. That is the point.
The order of operations is: I make something cool with myself, then I share it. I don’t sit down and try to figure out what thing others would find cool, and then try to make that. My muse is simply uninterested in those work conditions. It wants to play with me, and I want to play with it, and that’s what we’re doing when we’re creating. What we make out of that, I am then free to share and enjoy with others, but my relationship with her comes first.
My muse is child-like and I have to stop pretending it’s not. Some people find purple sparkly unicorns to be cringe. They are not my people. Unicorns represent everything pure and good and right (with a stabby-face self-defense system to boot). Of course they are my spirit animal.
I am a designer and aesthetics is a visual language, and the language of my muse includes rainbows and unicorns and sparklecore. And if I hide that and try to be super serious and professional, I’m lying. I’m hiding. I’m trying to be accepted, but I’m not accepting myself. However vulnerable it makes me feel, what I most want to write about is how to be real, which starts with being real myself.
Don’t let things fester. If there’s something on my mind or heart that is blocking the flow of connection with my muse, write about it. Even if I don’t publish it publicly, write it out. Let the conversation unfold.
My creativity is a pipeline and if I need to write about something and I don’t, then that topic will sit there like a giant rock and prevent anything else from getting through. All I will feel is the rock. But all I need to do is tune into the rock and write what it wants to say, and then it’s not a rock anymore because I’m honoring the connection by being with what’s real inside of it.
Sharing with the public is not a binary switch. I want to write in a way that reveals the immediacy of my present moment. That is a form of openness, but it doesn’t mean I have to share everything with everyone. There is a peculiar pattern with fearful-avoidant attachment1 where you either have all the boundaries, or none at all. To get really close to anyone feels like you have to strip yourself bare and become their ride-or-die, which is why we largely avoid doing it outside of the black holes we fall into and call relationships. Inviting intimacy always feels very high-stakes because it’s all-or-nothing.
But that’s a trauma-brain thing, it’s not real. I get to have exactly all of the boundaries that I need, and none that I don’t want. It’s entirely up to me, and my muse. And I can tune into her and what she wants to share or not share. We’re a team.
Speaking of which…
My muse needed me to trust her.
This falls under the category of stop trying to control the relationship.
It means leaving the channel open even if there is nothing coming through right now. She needed me to sit in the silence and ask her, “What’s next?” when I didn’t know what to write, and wait for the answer, trusting there will be one.
Trust also means being willing to begin, even when I don’t know where it is going to go.
When you marry someone, you don’t really know what life will throw at you down the line. You commit to weathering it together. You trust yourself and your partner to be able to handle what comes. You hold hands and leap. My muse needed that level of commitment from me.
She needed me to believe that stepping into the unknown together was worth the risk, and that as long as I did my part to maintain the relationship, she would be there for me. She needed me to validate that she left for good reasons. She isn’t flighty, unpredictable, or crazy. She just has needs, and that’s OK.
Where do we go from here?
I don’t know if this is the wedding reception or the engagement party, but something significant has changed.
When I friend was starting a newsletter this week, I got all excited and jumped on here and then I started feeling pressure, and I realized…wait, this is not how I want to do this. I want to do this in a way that feels good, not frenzied. So I slowed down and played around and didn’t worry about doing all the things all at once and just let myself enjoy the process of seeing if this platform was the right fit for me. I spent a whole day messing around making unicorns with Midjourney. And then when I felt like writing, I wrote, and it flowed.
I’ve learned to pause and listen. I’ve learned to assess needs and meet them. I’ve learned to trust and let go. And I feel like my muse and I are on solid ground, in a way we’ve never been before.
And that feels like exactly enough for this present moment. So yay! 🦄🌈