A muse is a source of creative inspiration. Muses are typically women and originated in Greek mythology when the nine daughters of Zeus presided over particular areas of the arts. A much loftier word for mentor, a muse can help us create our best life. We can all use a muse or two, and we should all aspire to be one.
In her poignant autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou describes a distinguished neighbor named Mrs. Bertha Flowers. About Mrs. Flowers, Angelou writes, “She had the grace of control to appear warm in the coldest weather, and on the Arkansas summer days it seemed she had a private breeze which swirled around, cooling her.”
Mrs. Flowers became a muse to young Maya (then Marquerite Johnson) and changed her life by exposing her to literature and other “lessons in living.” Angelou writes, “She was one of the few gentlewomen I have ever known, and has remained through my life the measure of what a human being can be.”
Just a year before Angelou died at age 86, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture of hers. Wearing an elegant black dress and pearls, she was a queen who sat on her throne bestowing wisdom, wit, and her own lessons in living. From the moment she walked on stage until the moment she regally exited, a lump formed in my throat, my eyes filled with tears, and I had goosebumps that lasted for days. Only a muse can inspire such a reaction.
Another muse of mine is contemporary philosopher and author Alexandra Stoddard. Through her books and lectures, Stoddard has inspired millions to pursue the art of living. In her book Time Alive, she offers this wake-up call, “Our time alive is brief by any standard. Now is the only opportunity we’ll have to give our life meaning and find satisfaction.”
In nearly all of her twenty-eight books, Stoddard mentions her own muse, Eleanor McMillen Brown, who founded the interior design company McMillen, Inc. in 1924. Brown was considered a pioneer in her field and built a reputation on her ability to combine great style with a keen sense of business.
Finding a muse, or mentor, is a personal journey. She may be someone you admire from afar, or someone you are fortunate to know well. She might even be a fictional character who has become flesh and blood in your mind.
While turning to a muse can help us improve our lives, at some point, we should consider paying it forward by serving as a muse, or mentor, to someone else. A mentor provides guidance, motivation, support, and serves as a role model to their protege.
Some people serve as a muse without even realizing it. In my neighborhood, there are three savvy ladies over seventy-five whom I often see waterskiing, hiking, and doing serious yard work. They unwittingly inspire me to live an active, vigorous life.
As sage women, others are watching us. Remembering this keeps us more accountable for our own conduct and behavior. We may never fill the elegant shoes of Mrs. Bertha Flowers, but we can all aim to be a true gentlewoman and measure of what a human being can be.
Thank you for reading The Simple Swan. I hope you will leave a comment. Who is your muse? Do you mentor anyone? I love knowing what you think!