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Missing the Muse and Finding Her Too

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(Charlie Gill)– I came to Amherst College with a plan to major in Economics and work on Wall Street because Men’s Lacrosse players at Amherst College major in Economics and work on Wall Street. What follows is a muddled attempt to explain why I am now preparing to declare myself an English major.

As all circles of friends do, mine has accumulated over time a unique collection of inside jokes, common jargon and lingo that makes sense only to us. One example from our collection of verbiage is the word ‘muse.’ In its common-day sense, a muse is usually considered some form of inspiration. It has often been referred to as a guiding spirit, or a source of enlightenment. However, my friends have given it a different connotation. There is a woman at this college who renders me dumb. Sometimes, whether in line at Val, or on the path between Charles Pratt and Frost, I will pass by her and smile, and my teeth will split for a moment but the saliva between my lips will have glued them shut already, and when I at last wrench them apart I’ll find I have only succeeded in creating an inaudible gasp. Other times, I will notice her from across the room, or the quad, and the thin strap of her tank top will slip slightly off her shoulder, and her smooth, delicate promontory of a clavicle will bring me to my knees. When she smiles I am nothing. She is funnier than I am. She inspires me. Yet, when I sit down at the end of the day, I know I will never be the one to slip the strap off her shoulder. I know her smile is reserved for the fleeting moments. I know that she knows effectively nothing about me, and I know I don’t have the guts to change that. This, friends, is my muse. She is my crush but she is more than that. I think we all have one of these.

A roommate of mine walked in the other night, and in a drunken slur let out his frustration. “My muse,” he said to me, collapsing into our recliner, “I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t talk to her.” I did my best to give him a few words of encouragement, but he continued. “Chuck,” he said. I nodded, what? “I just can’t talk to her,” he said. “My muse, man. My muse.”

I began writing a novel in September. I call it a story now. I am currently about twenty or so pages into writing, and there is no endgame. There is a fabula up there, floating around in my brain, festering and changing and lingering in my daydreams, but I have yet to put down, on paper, the sjužet. There is no outline; I am writing, just writing, and will continue to just write – someday, that is. The last page written has hidden, untouched, for about three weeks now, and I have no plan to begin again. The story has not died. The manuscript has not been deleted. I have just found myself quite busy with other things, and writing a novel has unfortunately made its way deeper and deeper into the dark abyss of prioritization. However, as I sit here now, writing, I can’t help but think, “Why am I not, instead, working on the story?” Last week I found myself wondering the same thing, so I went on a literary blog seeking advice from other writers.

The English major is dying, or at least it appears that way. To many, the humanities have lost their value in the 21st century, especially in the wake of a recession, in a small job market, and in an economy fueled by, alas, productivity. I also find myself, by the nature of my main on-campus affiliation (varsity lacrosse), surrounded by white, male athletes, many of whom come from the kind of socioeconomic and personal pursuit backgrounds you might imagine would steer their career interests towards banking, not say, writing or teaching. I myself came to Amherst with ideas of working in the financial world, while knowing literally nothing about what people in “finance” actually do (I still don’t). I came to Amherst hoping it would give me something tangible, something immediate – something like a career. I came to Amherst afraid of doing the things I was passionate about.

I look around for a moment. I see a friend from the lacrosse team setting up a camera in the bathroom of our dormitory, trying to capture the perfect image of the human eyeball. I see another grinding up feta, spinach, olives and chicken to make the perfect burger. I see members of the lacrosse team writing, reading, and even, between adjacent bathroom stalls, talking about philosophy. This is a liberal arts college, and I see all these people around me doing really cool liberal arts things – even those who will, I’m sure, work for banks in a few years. It appears to me that in the view of many around campus, these white, male (entitled?) Amherst lacrosse players only pursue the things that make us rich. The thing is, at Amherst, even amidst the longest math equations, and among the most stereotypically not-intellectual, not-creative, not-poetic social groups, I’ve found that people are more interested in pursuing the things that make us feel.

In an academic society trending towards vocational study, and on a team of which a majority will graduate as Economics majors, I still gravitate toward the humanities – and this fact arises not despite the friends I have who will work in finance, but because of them. Throughout my experience at Amherst I have found myself surrounded by people who dedicate themselves to their passions and, all the same, encourage me to follow mine. Verlyn Klinkenborg of the New York Times writes, “Studying the humanities should be like standing among colleagues and students on the open deck of a ship moving along the endless coastline of human experience.” Studying the humanities is like unraveling the nature of what it means to be alive. When I get lost in graphs and flow charts, I find solace in words. When I find myself staring at a computer program, attempting to translate the list of strings and bools no easier than I could a passage of Sanskrit, I find companionship in words. A single word can inspire me – a word like, say, ‘muse.’

So here I am, sitting in my room alone, surfing the interwebs for writing advice, and not finding anything helpful. I want to write a novel but I can’t find the time, or more importantly, the motivation. Then, finally, there it is. Deep in a blog post titled, “Famous Writers on Writing,” I read Isabel Allende’s words of wisdom: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”

I type up the quote and tape it to the door of my room. I will show up and write my novel, or my story, or whatever it turns out to be. It may not be every day. It may not be for a week, or a month, or a few, but I will show up, and keep showing up, and I will find my literary muse. I will show up in English classes, and Philosophy classes, and hey, maybe a few Economics classes too. If I feel the passion I will show up. I came to Amherst not to make money but to explore the things that make my mind – and my heart – move. And the next time a friend of mine rolls in, slurring his words, drunk on Natural Light and disappointment, and says to me of his college crush, “Charlie, I’m lost. Why can’t I speak to her? When will I find my muse?” I will respond:

Just show up. And keep showing up. And maybe she’ll find you.

40 comments on “Missing the Muse and Finding Her Too

  1. Anonymous
    November 17, 2013

    I really loved this piece. Inspirational and moving. Well done Charlie.

  2. Christian
    November 17, 2013

    this post is perfect in every single way.

  3. Guest
    November 17, 2013

    What a great read. As someone who has been quick to judge lax kids in the past, this is really refreshing to read.

  4. Ryan Arnold
    November 17, 2013

    “Studying the humanities is like unraveling the nature of what it means to be alive. When I get lost in graphs and flow charts, I find solace in words. When I find myself staring at a computer program, attempting to translate the list of strings and bools no easier than I could a passage of Sanskrit, I find companionship in words.”

    Charlie Gill gets it.

  5. Jayson
    November 18, 2013

    Bella, bella, bella. I’m in awe of the line: ‘When I get lost in graphs and flow charts, I find solace in words.’ I often feel the same way.

    :) Thanks for sharing.

  6. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    swag

    • Anonymous
      November 18, 2013

      I love this. Way to be Charlie.
      Gill > Gosling

  7. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    What a great piece! Good luck with your writing- I hope to see more of it.

  8. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    I consider myself to be a very close friend of yours sharing the same interests in writing, courses, ‘sport’, the same community service project, and even the habit of consoling our very same friend (or each other) in the pursuits of ‘muse’. Your words have explained some of my emotions better than I could have ever. And though I’d like to believe my explanation of emotions on writing (if theoretically collected from the bits a pieces that I have left in many different places) would accumulate to a comparative degree, it doesn’t. In fact I am many ‘kelvins’ behind. And as writers your superior ability to transcribe your emotions into words, is worth envy. And though the point of writing may not be competition, your description of your muse was so good, that I imagined mine. In my head we are now competing for the same women, and you have the advantage because this article is pretty fucking sexy. Love 29

  9. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    insipid

  10. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    oh good, a privileged white kid at Amherst decides to be an English major because he wants to follow his dream. how rewarding! what a great article!

    • Anonymous
      November 18, 2013

      Please leave your own personal issues at the door. He expressed himself eloquently and passionately without stepping on anyone’s toes – why do you feel the need to?

    • Anonymous
      November 18, 2013

      Congratulations to you commenter! I’m glad you were really able to get the core message out of this article. Please keep it up, people like you are truly necessary for a great academic environment!

    • Anonymous
      November 18, 2013

      hey, you’re the worst.

    • Anonymous
      November 19, 2013

      I think you missed the point of the article too! It seems like you have trouble reading past the personal part of his narrative, unfortunately, that renders your understanding of his message skewed towards a depressed view of the “core message” of this piece, or of any personal pieces that bring the character of the writer in. While his story may seem cliche to you or of lackluster importance in any sort of grand scheme, its the last line that carries the keynote of his writing. The most important thing is not that he is following his dream, but that Charlie believes (as would most people who’s idea of happiness are not tainted by materialism, which it seems your may be) that one should see the world as an opportunity. The muse is the prize in the box of cheerios, not the man on the moon.

    • Sasha Fierce
      November 26, 2013

      you don’t even know the kid, therefor you really have no grounds to pass any judgement on him. Appreciate the content of the article, rather than jumping to make such an unnecessary assumption about the writer, especially one that quite possibly fuels from the anger you have within yourself.

  11. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    The kid killed it

  12. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    Charlie, I’m a dad of an Amherst athlete who forwarded me your blog post. I’m glad that being in a humanities oriented institution like Amherst has finally “weaned” you from the conveyor belt to Wall Street. As an executive who has hired many, many people, I will tell you that what you will gain in communications skills, critical thinking skills (both analytic and synthetic), and an appreciation for the human condition from the study of literature will arguably make you a more effective business person than many — if not most — of the hiring candidates I’ve met who come from undergraduate business programs (from Wharton of Penn to Kelly of Indiana). Good luck pursuing you muse.

  13. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    You are wise beyond your years. This 50-something applauds you. Your muse will undoubtedly appear before you when you most need her. Enjoy the journey!

  14. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    Phenomenal job, Charlie!

  15. Sharline Dominguez
    November 18, 2013

    Beautiful article! Was a pleasure to read

  16. Maya S
    November 18, 2013

    Go Charlie! Hope to read your writing in the future.

  17. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    a rare bird: the bro-et. Respek.

  18. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013

    “Show up, show up, show up.” May every student embrace this truth and follow their inner passion. Wonderful writing, Charlie.

  19. Anonymous
    November 19, 2013

    Two points:

    “In an academic society trending towards vocational study, and on a team of which a majority will graduate as Economics majors, I still gravitate toward the humanities – and this fact arises not despite the friends I have who will work in finance, but because of them.” The writer offers no compelling explanation for why this is the case.

    “Studying the humanities is like unraveling the nature of what it means to be alive. When I get lost in graphs and flow charts, I find solace in words.” This article is written from a biased perspective that seems to dictate that the humanities are somehow more fulfilling than, say, pure math; but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the humanities are not superior to math or science in an absolute sense. Each person is moved by different things.

    Lastly, in order to understand exactly why so many people are critical of your lax bro buddies who want to work on Wall Street for no reason other than because that’s how to get rich, it’s important to understand the role that Wall Street plays in perpetuating financial inequality and ruin in this country; your good buddies will be dedicating their lives to praying upon many in order to make only themselves and a few others grotesquely wealthy.

    • Charlie Gill
      November 19, 2013

      To your first and second points… if you had continued your quotation one sentence further, you would have found my explanation. That you didn’t find it compelling I suppose could be a flaw in my writing – perhaps I should have elaborated. Here is what I offered: “Throughout my experience at Amherst I have found myself surrounded by people who dedicate themselves to their passions and, all the same, encourage me to follow mine.” What I tried to say here was that while I am moved mostly by the humanities (i.e. that is what I find most fulfilling), I also recognize that many of my friends, teammates and other classmates do not share the same passions. One of my closest friends, for instance, is a Math major at Amherst, and my point is that I can appreciate his pursuits in Mathematics while at the same time benefiting from his appreciation of whatever I choose to pursue.

      To your last point… I am aware of the problems of social inequality caused by the financial sector. However, I would hope my “good buddies” – whichever buddies and with whatever careers – would be the kind of people to push for changing institutions that perpetuate inequality, not taking advantage of them.

      • Anonymous
        November 19, 2013

        Thanks for your reply—overall I felt that this was a heartfelt and well-written piece that can serve as an important catalyst for discussions on the definition of “lives of consequence.”

  20. Anonymous
    November 19, 2013

    Two points:

    “In an academic society trending towards vocational study, and on a team of which a majority will graduate as Economics majors, I still gravitate toward the humanities – and this fact arises not despite the friends I have who will work in finance, but because of them.” The writer offers no compelling explanation for why this is the case.

    “Studying the humanities is like unraveling the nature of what it means to be alive. When I get lost in graphs and flow charts, I find solace in words.” This article is written from a biased perspective that seems to dictate that the humanities are somehow more fulfilling than, say, pure math; but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the humanities are not superior to math or science in an absolute sense. Each person is moved by different things.

    Lastly, in order to understand exactly why so many people are critical of your lax bro buddies who want to work on Wall Street for no reason other than because that’s how to get rich, it’s important to understand the role that Wall Street plays in perpetuating financial inequality and ruin in this country; your good buddies will be dedicating their lives to praying upon many in order to make only themselves and a few others grotesquely wealthy, but they will do so within the boundaries of an office environment that allows them to conveniently ignore their complicity in these things.

  21. Kelly Flynn
    November 19, 2013

    You crushed it, Charles. –Kelly Flynn

  22. Kirstin Pesaresi
    November 20, 2013

    Nick emailed this to me! I absolutely love it. Its very inspiring and it couldn’t be any better of a topic. I am very passionate about writing, poetry, photography….etc. yet I’m moving in a direction that is bringing me closer and closer to becoming a Radiology Technician..hmmmm! Great job Charlie :]

  23. anonymous
    November 21, 2013

    The key is that you may have found it. I found it in waldeinsamkeit. It took me 50 years to realize that there is nothing wrong with going fishing alone.

  24. Anonymous
    November 21, 2013

    Beautifully written and emotionally authentic, Charlie. Nice.

  25. Trina
    November 21, 2013

    A truly inspiring and well written piece. Nicely done!!

  26. Chris R
    November 22, 2013

    Good stuff, Charlie! And wonderfully useful for this would-be writer. Keep at it!

  27. Anonymous
    November 23, 2013

    It has been too long since we have connected CJ, but this blog made me feel as if we have spoken much more recently. Truly amazed and inspired by your writing.

    -Carter

  28. Anonymous
    November 28, 2013

    A worthy companion piece to your essay, I think:
    http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html
    Prestige vs. passion

  29. Anonymous
    December 14, 2013

    Hi, so I appreciate your retelling of your self discovery, yada yada, coming to terms with things you wouldnt have otherwise, blah blah but Ive always had a huge problem with this article that was further cinched by your film as screened by Adam and Baba’s class this past Friday in Stirn auditorium. You titled it Muse. Firstly the problem I have with this article is that you approach and portray women as a 13 yr old boy would. From afar, uncomfortable, unable to see her past the physical strap of her shoulder and neckline that so sensuously meets the shoulder where her joints meet, or whatever you said in that video. That’s understandable, you cant help but judge those you havent met by externalities, but juxtapose that with your enlightening conversations with your super smart bro friends, I can’t help but puke all over myself.
    “She inspires me. Yet, when I sit down at the end of the day, I know I will never be the one to slip the strap off her shoulder. I know her smile is reserved for the fleeting moments. I know that she knows effectively nothing about me, and I know I don’t have the guts to change that. This, friends, is my muse. She is my crush but she is more than that. I think we all have one of these..”
    So you’re not brave enough to ask her out or do anything about your crush, but you like to somehow harness the sensual jolts she affects on you via her sexiness to urge on your writing. cool. objectification.

    Also there was a part in the video where you narrated that her shoulders/skin was so sexy “it” basically “willed you” to touch her. That’s perpetuating rape culture. You sound like a good person making great personal progress, but you should check yourself in your public performance of the kind of attitude you are portraying whether implicitly, unintended or otherwise, towards women and the opposite sex and having been on campus this past year (I assume you were, sorry if you werent, but then as writer of acvoice you should alert yourself to global issues, like oppression) I was just uncomfortable and needed to point this out. so thanks for reading. I hope you dont feel attacked buts inevitable when talking about someone’s perspective, but I hope you understand what I am saying and where I come from as a woman. I hope you have enough humility to consider what I say because it sounds like you might.

  30. J
    December 16, 2013

    Great article, good sentiments.

    It is a rather sad statement about the state of our liberal arts education, though, that this even needs to be said, that this is considered fresh and inspiring. Sad — that this article is considered to be going against the current. I would think that, at least here at Amherst College, it should need no argument that higher education at a liberal arts college isn’t about vocational study, or preparation for Wall Street. But the mere fact that so many have forgotten, or never truly understood, what a real education entails is quite tragic, even if it is only the case for a particular subset of the students at Amherst.

    One would hope, and I had hoped, that those applying to Amherst did so because of the very fact that they wanted their education to be more about learning and exploring, than about preparation and prestige. Apparently not– at least for many players on the Lacrosse team. Not to say, of course, that economics major or wall street is necessarily unfulfilling– it doesn’t have to be about money and prestige– but I seriously doubt, and have never been given good reason to believe otherwise, that most who pursue this path do so because they are passionate about economics and wall street as a career.

  31. Pingback: Why We Need Humanities Majors | SoshiTech

  32. CGW
    January 2, 2014

    Charlie you rock!! Can’t believe I’m so late in reading it, keep doing you!! and i just might have to steal that allende quote for my own door.

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This entry was posted on November 17, 2013 by in Amherst College Victories and tagged , , , , , , .
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