A Few Books, A Home, and a Well-Fed Muse: Thoughts on Summer

paintbrush-1416523
Image By Kelly Sanford

By Crystal Hurd

In a previous post, I mentioned how I spent my summer fixing our new home. We purchased a foreclosed home that truly was our dream house, but it needed what our realtor called “TLC”. I assumed then that she meant Tender Loving Care. I now know that she actually meant Tough and Lengthy Changes.

The house required new paint throughout, several walls fixed, new appliances, and a room built in the basement (the “man cave”). Once all that was finished, then we had to move ALL of our stuff from the tiny house into the much larger house, box by heavy box. After this long process, we cleaned and painted the old house to put on the market. During all of this, I managed to read a couple of great books, especially Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria (which I HIGHLY recommend). I also purchased an embarrassing amount of Barnes and Noble leatherbound collectible classics. I strongly desire to improve my own writing by digesting large amounts of classic literature.

I got in the habit of wearing the same couple of shirts to paint, to which the new neighbors comically asked, “How much paint actually got on the walls?” It was true that I could peer down and pinpoint specific colors and go into detail about the rooms I painted and the reason for choosing that particular hue. I was like Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man, but with paint stains instead of tattoos. A nice catalyst for storytelling, to be sure!

In the hot summer months, I was moving objects from one place to another or kneeling to open a new paint can (all this in addition to being a valued customer at the local Home Depot). As the summer waned, I found small victories in the completed rooms. I could see how daily progress was turning this house into a home. There were quiet evenings spent with a muffled radio and a whispering swish as stroke by stroke, the walls were changing. Or the overwhelming relief I felt as I scrubbed away the sweat, sand, and paint in the shower. Or the absolute joy I experienced to hear the broom sweep the newly-laid living room floors as the dogs enjoyed the new home expansion. But there was also an unexpected consequence that occurred in the arduous nights with speckled paintbrushes and drywall dust:

My muse had returned!!

She showed up at the worst possible moment. Last spring, I took a small group of students to the State Debate Tournament.  We had a long day of congressional and public policy debate and a very late dinner. Around midnight, I crawled into my hotel bed utterly exhausted.

And then she showed up. For many, many months I had waited to receive some inspiration. The well had been painfully dry; the clichés consistently circling around my head.  I had been so frustrated and now in the midst of end-of-the-year chaos and home renovation, she had finally made her entrance. I wanted to yell in frustration. But I was just too tired to drag myself out of bed to start writing. I politely told her to kiss my drowsy rump.

However, the next day during a break, I picked up a pencil, opened my journal, and scribbled several lines which eventually turned into “Truancy”. To my dismay, she didn’t stay long after that evening. She was elusive for a little while, until busy hands, a wandering mind, and great literature beckoned her back. The poem has become a call to arms for me, a reminder that good writing takes hard work and dedication. That lesson has stayed with me.

“Truancy”

My muse arrived last night
Around 4 A.M.
She was drowsy with drink
And wreaking of cigarette smoke

And I welcomed her in
Resisting the urge to scold her
And in her sweaty and inarticulate sway
I almost felt pity.

“I prayed you would come,” I said
Sarcastically she replied,
“I never pegged you as a pious lady”
then cupping her mug of tea, she chuckled.

“Where have you been?” I inquired
Not to sound severe
“About,” she said.
“What’s your hurry?”

I sighed, lost patience.
“When Homer prayed, you showed
For 26 books’ worth of inspiration.
You can’t spare me a few stanzas?”

“Now, now,” she calmly replied.
“Homer had a habit, you don’t.”
You expect me to appear at your will.
Will you not coax me with consistency?”

“If you come day after day
I will gladly visit
But twice a month?
No, no. I’m far too busy.”

“Doing what?” I asked, brow furrowed.
She sat her mug down,
And gave me a long, contemplative look.
The rheum had vanished from her eyes.

“Why, moving paint on canvass,
Whispering verses to faithful poets,
Composing prose to stir society,
All this you can have, if you’d only try.

And then I understood
It was I who needed a rebuke.
It was selfish to take
Without giving, investing.

And as I considered her wisdom
She sipped and soured,
“Did you make this tea? It’s weak,” she snorted.
“Thanks for the encouragement,” I frowned.

Palms on table, she bored into me, “Shall we negotiate?”
“You make time for me,
I’ll share some incentive,
It’s simple, if transactional.”

“Well, I’ve all these distractions,” I began
“Housecleaning and teaching and…” she raised a dismissive hand
“I tire of excuses,” she interrupted.
“If it is your passion, you will gladly make room.”

Dumbfounded, I sat in silence.
There truly was no excuse
My stagnation is genuine laziness, my motivation absent
I lowered my eyes in shame.

“Ah, no time to wallow in sorrow. Such a waste.”
A hint of a smile crossed her lips.
“Tomorrow is a new day,
Another opportunity to begin again.”

Then her face resumed its seriousness
After delivering such discipline
She handed me a pencil, and with steady stare
She said, “I’m here now, as are you. So let us begin.”

*****

Dr. Crystal Hurd is a writer, reader, public school educator, and adjunct professor. She is happily married with three beautiful Terriers (adopted from local shelters). She is a certified book nerd who loves to read and research works involving faith, literature, art, and leadership. You can visit her webpage www.crystalhurd.com , friend her on Facebook, (Crystal Sullivan Hurd) and follow her on Twitter: @DoctorHurd and @hurdofficial.

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