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Walking with the Muse

© Pamella M. Bowen

Pam's email

One of my songwriting books advised me to do physical labor or activity to access the right side of my brain when I lacked inspiration to write. Vacuuming the floor was suggested. Now, I like vacuuming the floor as much as the next housewife, but it didn't work to inspire my writing. What worked was walking. Since retirement, I have time to walk for an hour a day, and morning is my best time. My brain does amazing things on a walk.

For the first twenty minutes of the walk, I do best to look at the birdies, talk to them, enjoy the bare or leafy branches against the blue sky, or hum a tune from the radio. My right brain is not cooperative in the first twenty minutes. It seems to need to warm up. If I am carrying my notebook (another tip most writer-books give), I will come up with nothing, especially if I try to think of something. Old right brain works in its own sweet time.

It does help to state that I want inspiration on the walk. I say to old RB, “Okay, I know you need your warm-up, but I am hoping to work on this walk. I want a song about a candy heart for Valentine's Day.” Then I relax, pump the old legs up those residential Temecula hills, and wait.

After the warm-up is over, ideas start to enter my consciousness. I stop walking to jot them in my notebook then keep walking. More come. Sometimes whole phrases and stanzas appear fully formed, as from Zeus's head, only it's my head. I don't even try. I almost feel possessed. The old right brain is on a roll, and I would be a fool to rein it in.

Often, when one stream of metaphors, imagery, rhyme or theme runs out, another will start, on a totally different topic I might have briefly considered earlier. I extend my walk, another half mile or so, until the stream completes itself, stopping and jotting now and then.

When right brain has done its work and my walk is over, left brain gets its turn. I usually write songs on my bed with a pencil, pink pearl eraser, and a yellow pad. Left brain has to correct, bring order, and make sense of the right brain's joyful effluvia. This part feels more like work, but it's still fun.

I woke up this morning with two right-brain insights on this topic. First, remember old westerns or National Geographic specials showing medicine men dancing and leaping around the fire with peace pipes, feathers, and tom-toms? It was more than the peyote that gave them access to the spirit world. It was the physical exercise that activated their right brains and opened the conduit to the wisdom they sought.

Second, where did the Romantic poets get their inspiration? Disregarding Coleridge's opium use, it was walking! Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were always out walking around the Lake District looking at rainbows and daffodils. Yes, nature was there as a topic, but the access to the inspiring right brain was triggered by the walking, I'll bet you.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not another of those healthy lifestyle gurus. I don't advise you to walk to lower your cholesterol, lose weight, or strengthen your heart. I advise you to walk to tap into your playful, inspiring, endlessly productive right brain.

Shadow Sonnet

© Pamella M. Bowen

A shadow tells us evil's on its way:
The thunderstorm will follow nearing cloud,
And wickedness surrounds that cawing crowd,
While looming shapes the killer's course betray.

Our lives we read in what the shadows say:
At five o'clock the hirsute aren't so proud,
The widow's veil her mourning seems to shroud,
And circled eyes the sleepless night convey.

Yet still a shadow can be held a prize
When shady elm the summer's heat does cool,
When parasol the sun can neutralize
As we sit drinking lagers by the pool.
The stroller's hood will shade the baby's eyes.
I'd say a shadow's quite a useful tool.