Finding My Muse: What I’ve Been Reading, Watching, and Listening To

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Early in the summer I was feeling stuck, without time or inspiration to write. I found a much-needed jolt in a Q&A on my friend Callie Feyen’s blog. (Do you read Callie’s stuff? You should. She’s my favorite storyteller out there.) Her friend Cara Gabriel’s advice struck such a chord with me:

Trust the power of your own desire to be creative, trust the power of your own will. Finally, know that motherhood, especially the earliest years, can be an excruciatingly lonely thing. If you can’t find time to write, find time to read. It will help you feel less alone.

I didn’t necessarily feel alone – if anything, I needed more time to myself – but if you can’t find time to write, find time to read? YES. It felt like ages since I’d read anything other than Facebook or Twitter on my phone (and I say this as someone who was trying to find time and inspiration to write things that other people might read on their phones). I missed magazines, I missed books. I missed stories that I could lose myself in. I needed creative inspiration.

So, in search of a muse, I’ve dived into media of all sorts. Here are a few of my favorites from the past few months.

Books:

  • The Royal We. I’ve already written about this in a few past posts, but this was a great novel to jump back into actual books with. Yes, it’s Kate Middleton fan fiction, and yes, it’s light reading. But it’s well written and entertaining, and that’s all I needed (though the lightly veiled Duchess of Cambridge references were much appreciated, too).
  • Bird by Bird. A standard of many writers’ bookshelves, this memoir/writing manual from Anne Lamott gives me a boost every time I read it. As she says, “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
  • Big Magic. Okay, so I haven’t actually started this one yet. But I just know it’s gonna be great. It’s the newest book from Elizabeth Gilbert – the Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame – and it’s all about tapping into your creativity and getting unblocked and moving past your fear and perfectionism to just do. BINGO.

TV:

  • Catastrophe. We are suckers for smart British TV, and this is some smart British TV. Profane, but a good, smart story about actual adults. You’ll recognize Maggie from Extras as one of the supporting castmembers. Bonus: it’s only six half-hour episodes, so you can literally binge-watch this in a single night. Also, it’s free with Amazon Prime. (That’s right, Prime is good for more than two-day shipping on the giant box of diapers. More on that, below.)
  • Mad Men. Yes, Mad Men, again. Hey, it’s a somewhat heavy show, with a lot of hour-long episodes. I’m finally at the start of season six, but I’ve taken a little breather to spend some quality time with the other entries on the list. Still, the show blows me away. I’ll finish it…sometime.
  • The Wire. We went back and started our most favorite show of all time over again. I haven’t rewatched it quite as faithfully as B this time around, but knowing how everything ends, it’s pretty amazing seeing the Easter eggs that David Simon sprinkled through the earlier seasons. And McNulty and Bunk’s best-ever scene remains an all-time classic (although NSFW!). You can get this one with Amazon Prime, too.

Podcasts:  

  • Happier. I understand that Gretchen Rubin didn’t start her podcast because I hadn’t had time to read her book on habits yet, but I’m glad that she did, because I was busy with The Royal We. I love that her podcast weaves together research she did on habits and for her Happiness Project books, that it features her sister (so you get some sisterly banter), that it has real world try-this-at-home elements, and that it’s only a half hour long. Her findings on what motivates us, what makes us happy (or drags us down), and how we form habits is fascinating to me. And it reminds me that writing (and reading and listening and watching) make me happy.
  • Matrimoney. This is a second podcast from Kelsey Wharton, half of the team behind The Girls Next Door, one of my favorite lifestyle podcasts. Kelsey, a writer, and her husband Chris, a college professor, talk in each episode a little about what’s going on in their life (with two small boys) and what’s going on with their money. We have somewhat different approaches to budgeting and saving, but it’s really interesting to hear a couple be so transparent about their finances. (Plus, I pretty much love everything Kelsey does, including her personal blog, Rising Shining.)
  • Edit Your Life. Speaking of Kelsey, she and her Girls Next Door co-host, Erica, turned me on to Asha and Christine of Edit Your Life. This podcast is all about simplifying your life, heavily accented on parenting. They both have older kids than ours so it’s not all directly applicable, but I like the overall vibe of this one — how to make space in your life for the stuff that really matters, and edit out what’s less important. Case in point: their whole episode on simplifying birthday parties. I appreciated that they approved of not doing kiddie goody bags, because I am anti-goody bag.
  • Magic Lessons. Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast spinoff from Big Magic. In each pair of episodes, Liz talks to a person whose creativity is stymied and gives them advice for getting it going, and then she talks to one of her impressive friends (John Hodgman, Brene Brown, Cheryl Strayed) to get their take on the dilemma. I left each episode with a bit of pep in my step, in addition to really just wanting Liz Gilbert to call me (we’re on a nickname basis after so much time together on the podcast). And now I feel like I really need to be reading and listening to Cheryl Strayed and Brene Brown, too.

Bonus, miscellaneous finds:

  • Amazon streaming music. Did you know that you basically get a free Pandora with your Prime subscription? Maybe everyone else has already been let in on this secret, but I just figured it out last month. So happy to have streaming music with no ads and unlimited skips and replays. I’ve had the Avett Brothers station on pretty much constant stream. I spend most of my time with my earbuds in listening to podcasts, but it’s nice to mix it up again with some good, mellow music.
  • Finding Joy. I read a lot of true-to-life, encouraging, warm “mom blogs.” But every time I read Finding Joy, I leave feeling lighter, and that it’s ok not to be perfect. Perfection is a constant struggle for me, even when I’ve long since acknowledged that I am far, FAR from perfect as a mom. But someone else giving you the ok on that means a lot, too – and the space not to be perfect leaves more room for doing other fun stuff that’s just for me (like writing!). I read one of her “Dear Mom” letters anytime I need a little pick-me-up. As in, “Dear Weary Mom Who Needs a Bit of Encouragement” and “Dear Mom on the Hard Days.”
  • Stitch Fix. I wrote last week about my first Fix. All of the pieces in the box weren’t perfect, but I’m excited about the prospect of trying it again next month. I’m following their suggestion to start a Pinterest board, which has gotten me thinking about what styles I really do like, and how I’d like to improve my wardrobe — and it’s led me to lots of other interesting, creative bloggers who have written about their own experiences with the styling service. I’m never going to be a fashion plate, but it’s pushing me to be visually creative in a way that I’m usually not, and I think that’s a good thing.

Taken together, these all have given me that much-needed creative boost. I’m also trying to carve out one or two nights a week to focus on my writing. It turns out that it’s tough to write if you don’t actually sit down and write. More about that process, and where it’s leading me, soon.

What’s inspiring you these days?

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8 thoughts on “Finding My Muse: What I’ve Been Reading, Watching, and Listening To

  1. Michele, thank you so much for the shout out! What an honor.
    I knew you were a Mad Men fan, but I didn’t realize you loved The Wire, too. That is another show where I think the producer/director (whoever writes it) has a lot of respect for the viewer in that we are invited to work when we watch. There’s so much symbolism, and the plotline/characters/ EVERY SINGLE SCENE has heft to it.
    I’m with Nina’s comment above – I think the podcast is getting a tad repetitive, but I have another one for you to consider: Check out Mary Karr’s interview with Teri Gross (sp?) of Fresh Air. Great, great stuff. She talks about David Foster Wallace, writing, CNF and memoir….it’s fantastic. Also, I’m listening to an old favorite: This American Life, and I end up staying in the car a lot longer than I should because I adore the stories. I want to piece together stories like that.

    Can’t wait to talk about Big Magic with you!

    • Great suggestions! I have to check them out. And I agree – anytime I get back into This American Life, I always find episodes that I love. And yes, David Simon and his co-writers on The Wire were brilliant. We used to tell people not to watch episode 10 of every season unless they could commit to watching the rest of the season in one sitting because it was so addictive.

  2. I really want to look into Edit Your Life! That sounds awesome. The Royal We is still on my to read list, per your suggestion… I know I will like it b/c it seems everything you like… I like. (eg Mad Men- I too am at the beginning of the final season, Elizabeth Gilbert, Gretchen Rubin). I also had no idea about Amazon Prime giving you access to Pandora without ads!!! How do I make this happen?? So what’s inspiring me these days… Probably my improved sleep life since the baby started sleeping better! Seriously, nothing breeds hope and inspiration like a good night’s rest:) Oh, and in general, I like the blog Mr. Money Mustache, as far as inspiration for frugal living and crazy saving.

    • Ah, sleep. I dream of the day….re: Amazon streaming music, it’s not specifically Pandora but Amazon’s Pandora knockoff. You have to download the app but then it’s similar – stations, playlists, individual songs but you can also listen to whole albums and skip/replay songs over and over without ads. I love it.

  3. I love love love Bird by Bird. Although there were two parts that angered me… one, she compared writers to autistic people rocking back and forth. Didn’t feel fair (not everybody on the spectrum rocks). And another when she was talking about special olympic athletes. BUT the rest of it was SO SO amazing!
    I love Callie too. And you.
    You’re the second to recommend Big Magic – so now I must check it out. Thanks, Michele. I hope you’re having a glorious week! ❤

    • Those are such important points to note, Kristi – thanks for that. I wish she’d go back and refresh/update the book for that reason and to give her a chance to say how her process has changed in the time since this was originally written!

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