The Power of the (Famous) Muses

Until I was asked to write a blog on famous muses, I really never gave the idea much thought. I’ve always used my surroundings or circumstances to rev up my creative juices. But it didn’t take me long to recall those who held my hand as I began my love affair with the written word, as well as the ones who paved the way for me on this journey of self-exploration. Or, my life as a writer.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, is the first author whose words challenged me to break free of the excuses and “take it bird by bird.” In her book, she speaks about her older brother who procrastinated on a book report about birds which was now due the following day. The task ahead of him appeared insurmountable when Lamott’s father “sat down beside him, put his arm around [her] brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

Currently, I’m in a season where my writing revolves around blogs and articles. I haven’t sat down and written my novel just yet. So for me, I’m taking it blog by blog. And I’m also avidly following guidance from another one of my muses: Stephen King. In his book On Writing, he reminds writers to read a lot and write a lot. I tend to go in spurts — right now I’ve been reading a lot. My muse was recently rediscovered in between the pages of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain and Blake Crouch’s Snowbound. Consequently, I’m feeling one step closer to sitting down and tackling the writing a lot part of King’s advice.

Another writer, Lee Gutkind, ASU professor and managing editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine, also incites me to explore life’s next adventure. In his essay, “The Five Rs of Creative Nonfiction,” he encourages writers to seize our sense of wonder by immersion, or the “real life” aspect of the writing experience. The four remaining Rs include reflection, research, read (this cannot be stressed enough!) and “writing.” Simple but sage counsel.

With his sardonic, humble wit, David Sedaris inspires me with his edgier pieces, touching on off-the-wall topics that both entertain and challenge. My daughter and I once waited six hours in line to meet the man in person and receive an autographed copy of his book Squirrel Meets Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. He did not disappoint; neither did the book.

But I’ve also discovered that even the underdogs may rise up among the famous. One such muse of mine is a close friend incarcerated for the next few years. He tutors other inmates in math, takes college courses while serving his sentence and studies the craft of memoir writing late into the evening hours. And then he pounds out his daily observations on a typewriter, the kind with ribbons, platen and correction tape. He motivates me as he devours book after book, doing what each of the successful writers who have gone before us have done and continue to do.

I read because I love it. I write because I cannot help it. So I grab onto the shirt tails of those who make it look easy and hope a little of their spunk (and a whole lot of talent) rubs off on me. They are the ones who have paved the way and carved a niche in the literary world. The guiding spirit(s) for my truth.

Do you have a famous — or not so famous — muse that inspires?

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 11

It has been a while since my last post, so I’d like to begin this dispatch with a quick update: this past week, instead of teaching English classes as forecasted, I have been handling the special education/remedial education courses at New Era Public School by myself as a sort of introductory rite of passage before taking on the more specialized job of teaching a specific subject area. It’s a very rewarding place to teach, because the kids come and go in much smaller groups as opposed to the full class sizes (5-10 instead of 45-50 at a time), which allows me a large amount of time per day to give each child the individual attention required to assist them with their work.

New Era Public School

New Era Public School

This gives me much greater insight into the structure of the Indian school system because the children in my classroom range from 2nd to 8th grades, and have learning issues in different subject areas. There is rarely a case of me having to teach/tutor more than two students in each grade, and even in those cases, hardly do I ever have more than one student working on the same subject material. As a result, I get to conduct mini-teaching sessions with a wide-ranging demographic for a variety of different subjects varying from English to Social Studies to Science to Sanskrit, often tackling 3 or more subjects per 45 minute class period.

Contrary to my own initial thoughts, I now consider teaching/assisting different children with such a veritable smorgasbord of information as a great catalyst for creating an interesting work environment. The main thing it has taught me is this:

All kids are different.

Teaching a variety of different subjects varying from English to Social Studies to Science to Sanskrit.

Some kids are quicker to understand certain subjects. Some kids require the extra attention provided by a smaller work environment because they require a bit more clarification. Some kids have learning disabilities that make it difficult for them to comprehend assignments. They require more time to slowly and methodically absorb what they need to know about math or English or science.

And some kids are just lazy little buggers who don’t understand what it’s like to confront a teacher who absolutely refuses to have their patience worn down by their wanton misbehavior. For some kids, the whole daily grind of school just doesn’t make sense in any applicable way and they just follow the crowd because their parents tell them it’s school or bust.

All kids are different. But when they’re in the classroom, it’s not a teacher’s job to assimilate them into one total blob that needs to be taught the same stuff. A teacher is someone who understands the standard to which all of his or her students must be raised, and then to not lower that standard, but to work out the kinks in each student’s learning process and help them achieve what each sometimes doesn’t even know he or she is capable of.

In short, though I’d prefer the intellectual stimulation provided by older students, I have a greater appreciation for the profession of teaching than I ever had before. The only way to learn is by doing, I suppose.