Home Uncategorized PEN OR MUSE???



By Miriam @ mrmireland@aol.com

Pen or muse, chicken or egg? Which came first? In either case, do we really know?

I began pondering this point almost from the moment this blog was named. I loved the name. It said so much to me, but in the convoluted way my mind works it twisted the title, inserting an “or” for the “and” in a way that gave me to know it had a point to make.

I wondered when I first began to feel my Muse and if it pre-dated my ability to use a pen…or even a pencil, for that matter. The answer to my question was not long in coming. Memory drawn from more than fifty years ago told me this happened when I was four years old, ill with what was thought to be appendicitis. I was not too young to understand that this was a serious matter and that an “operation” might be required. I even knew pretty clearly what an “operation” was. And I was scared witless.

As we awaited test results, my mother (who was also scared witless) searched for some method to calm me. It was too early in the science of behavior modification for the words “counter-phobic behavior” to have any meaning for Mom, but instinctively she knew what it was. I had to face a fear and overcome it. Since the fear of surgery couldn’t yet be overcome, because they didn’t know if an appendectomy would be necessary, she gave me something else.

My mother’s answer was to read a poem no one in their right mind would ever read to a child today. But I never said my mother was in her right mind. Like mine, her brain took side trips down dark alleys, peeking in thrill-seeking wonder at things better left untroubled, going, “Aha!” And so my dear mother (and she was quite dear in her own way) read me “The Skeleton in Armor” by Longfellow.

Melancholy and macabre, it was the poetic tale of a knight who had fallen upon his sword out of frustrated love for maiden fair (this memory is close to sixty years old and may be a tad off, but you get my drift—he was a Poor Soul). Consigned to a hideous haunting, he roamed the halls of his former castle, presumably still clanking; well, it was called “The Skeleton In Armor,” after all!

I was entranced. Bemused. One might even say…be-knighted. The term “chicks in chain mail” hadn’t been coined yet, either, but I was always a marked girl. Chick. Poet. And eventually novelist.

My appendix is still with me, lol!, these many years later. And so is my love of poetry, armor and hauntings. How many of us have such memories? What of your own awakening into the Muse?

Stories, anyone?


  1. What a great story, Miriam! Your mother sounds wonderful, and I’m sure she still inspires you today in her own way. Congrats on your first blog!

  2. Can’t say I was ever concious of a muse, but I’ve been telling stories (Mom called them lies, but I beg to differ) for as long as I can remember. I just figured that when life painted you into a corner, you learned to climb walls. Same thing goes when you write yourself into a corner–chances are good your subconcious has already added all the ‘Prego’ ingredients so the way out ‘is in there’ (at least that has been my experience) so start climbing.

    Good luck blogging!

  3. Miriam, I enjoyed reading your blog, and about the moment that set you on your path to becoming a storyteller.

    I used to take family holidays in Cornwall, near Trevose Head, in a rental property which came with a supply of books and a great deal of beach tar remover.

    One such book was Treasure Island, and I remember associating the black spot with a nasty treacherous lump of tar.

    Another book was Wagon Train which hasn’t gone down as such a classic, but really, Battlestar Galactica is Wagon Train in outer space.

  4. Thanks, all, for visiting. You really can’t underestimate the value of those childhood experiences. It’s interesting to know how many others trace their interest in writing back to that same source.


  5. I can’t really remember when my imagination started soaring with stories. It seems like I’ve always had my mind in places other than the here and now.

    I think the writing Muse underwent her chrysalis when I was in the fifth grade. I wrote a story based on a dream I had.

    Six students were chosen each year out of my school to attend a young writer’s conference. The choices were made based on student writing. It was supposed to be two eighth graders, two seventh graders and two sixth graders.

    My story was better than almost all those submitted by the sixth grade so even though I was only a fifth grader, I was given a ticket to go.

    All of the winning entries (from all of the Northern California schools involved. Dont’ remember how many but there were a lot!) were published in an anthology and each student was given a copy.

    Mine was destroyed in a flood back in 1986. I really wish I still had that book. It was my first “published” work.

    After that, I wanted to write. I always wanted to write. I should not have taken as long as I did to really get serious about it.

    Carpe Noctem,

    Desirée Lee
    Putting the Romance Back in Necromancy

  6. Great story, Miriam. Aren’t moms wonderful? My mom never balked at buying me a book, no matter the content or my age. I credit her with my love of the written word.

  7. What a great story about your introduction to “musedom.” You have a lyrical command of the language, Miriam, and now I know it stems from your early exposure to Longfellow!

    I met my muse my freshman year in college when my English 101 professor charged the class with writing an essay about our impressions of the first two weeks of college. I wrote mine from the perspective of Winnie the Pooh, whose wisdom I’ve always espoused. The professor read it aloud in class, and I was on my way.

    Take care and keep feeding that muse!


  8. Oh, Susan, it wasn’t just Longfellow! I think my mother thought she was producing a classically trained English poet. I had the infamous Byron, Shelley and Keats indoctrination I understand English school boys went through at one time (maybe they still do in some venues). That’s where the lyrical stuff comes in.

    Your Muse reached you later than it did some of us, but L say it was worth waiting for! Keep on keeping on.



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