Dream On: I Met The Muse… And She Meant Business
Editor’s note: This guest article is a departure from our regular local music coverage. It provides a unique insight into the tenuous relationship artists have with inspiration. Written by local musician Timothy Bailey, this retelling tracks the journey from writer’s block to creative fulfillment that culminated in the acclaimed album Timothy Bailey & The Humans, which was shortlisted for the 2023 Newlin Music Prize. Hopefully, this can offer some help for other musicians currently deadlocked in their artistic endeavors.
I have recently written elsewhere about how I found the world changed after sleeping for more than two decades. I had a lot of weird dreams while I slept. As I transitioned into wakefulness, the distinction between sleeping and waking was blurry at best—as a result, I’m not sure whether the report that follows is about a dream or just a long figment of my imagination. But then—what is a figment of the imagination if not a dream you have while awake?
This dream—or vision—or whatever it was—took place at the top of a rocky cliff in a coastal Mediterranean setting. I was sitting on the ground with my back to the cliff’s edge. A 30’ tall woman stood directly before me. She looked like the torch bearer from the old Columbia Pictures logo or the Statue of Liberty. She wore layers of diaphanous robes that fluttered in slow motion. The sun blinded me from behind her left shoulder, so I wasn’t able to make out her face. The whole vibe was cliched, but it was nonetheless impressive—imposing—in the dream.
The first thing she said was, “Silence!” I obeyed. The word echoed in a low bass that vibrated my bones like an old cartoon character getting electrocuted. The moment she spoke I instantly realized that she was The Muse—it was as if she’d communicated her identity telepathically. There was no mistaking her position of authority. The feeling I got was that she saw me as a barely sentient lump of carbon, a tool that could more-or-less see and hear, albeit primitively.
When she spoke again, she announced that I was to receive her “position statements.” The phrase seemed incongruous, like something an ad agency might test in a focus group, but who am I to criticize? I’m only reporting what I heard to the best of my ability. I’m probably getting some of this wrong. But here’s what she said:
“I’m with you when you begin to think you’re an artist, even if you’re delusional. You probably are delusional, but if you attend to the delusion, I am with you.
When you have the idea, I am with you. When you play with the idea, refine or discard it, I am with you. When you resurrect the idea because you realize you dismissed it too quickly, I am also with you.
I oppose you when you conflate notoriety and artistry—or a work’s popularity with its effectiveness.
I oppose you when you habitually deploy irony as a mask for entrenched nihilism.
I am with you when you find artistic community anywhere you can.
I oppose you when you contribute to any kind of calcified orthodoxy.
When you’re willing to take whatever heat may come in response to your work, I’m with you.
When you stop what you’re doing because you sense inspiration shimmering nearby and need to attend to it, I am with you, but I won’t offer the same inspiration twice.
When your focus on semiotics and critical theory replaces the art that inspired it, I oppose you.
When you ask open-ended questions of artists about their work, I’m with you.
When you dismiss artists as pretentious because you don’t like or understand their work, I oppose you.
I am with you when you seek meaning—especially when the meaning is unclear, confusing, or surprising, or when the seeking itself is frowned upon.
When you confuse propaganda with art, I oppose you—regardless of the righteousness of your politics.
I oppose you if you believe that art’s place in human life is avocational, a hobby. I oppose you, and demand an answer—what do you think life is for?
I’m with you when you treat art—your own, others’—with seriousness, as worthy of debate, as a force that creates the world as much (or even more) than it responds to it.”
The vision (or dream, hallucination, flight of fancy, or what-have-you) ended there. It definitely seemed like she was still talking. I‘m worried I might have insulted her by snapping out of it when I did, and I haven’t heard a word from her since then. I’m still worried. I find I listen out for her differently now, though—as if my life depends on it.