Invocation of the Muse

by The Cowl Editor on December 9, 2021


photo creds- pexels

Sarah McLaughlin ’23

It’s far too late for me to be lying on my back with my guitar in my lap and thinking about Homer.

Olive’s hanging out with some friends. She invited me, but I said no, to no surprise, and she told me to have a good night as she left with her purse and sensible flats. It’s not like she’s going to some wild Saturday rager; she’s going to sip Chardonnay and talk about Jane Austen with a couple of girls from the debate team.

I’m almost always invited. I feel bad that I almost always decline. When I mentioned once that I read Northanger Abbey, it piqued their interest, but I haven’t read anything else, not even Pride and Prejudice, and so I get left out of the conversation when it inevitably shifts to their unanimously elected, favorite author. Still, I enjoy the discussion when I can, though I never drink wine. I never drink anything. The one time I tried alcohol, the first weekend of freshman year, I had a panic attack and my roommate almost called 911. I convinced her I was fine while my mind told me I was asphyxiating and ended up sitting on the sticky floor of a locked bathroom stall with a damp cloth on my forehead, counting the seconds between breaths as drops of cold water trickled down my face.

When we first became friends, Olive used to tell me I was no fun, because truth be told, I am, and that means something coming from a girl whose idea of fun involves discussing the politics of the steel industry. But by now I think she understands and respects the fact that I don’t want to do anything. Well, maybe not respects, but she lets it be.

It’s not that I don’t want to do anything; I go to extracurriculars and to lunches at the mall and to see musicals at the community theatre. I simply draw the line at things I’ve never done before that have a high probability of ending in embarrassment. And that line happens to exclude a whole lot of things when one sip of hard seltzer is enough to shatter me.

You get drunk every now and then. Not frat-party drunk, that’s below you (you’d say), more like bottle-of-wine-in-bed-while-watching-a-Russian-film-with-subtitles sort of drunk. Do you remember how you called me once? Your dorm was a block away and you asked me if I’d bring you my copy of The Tempest because you knew I was reading it for class and you wanted to recite Prospero’s final soliloquy while standing on your bed and you were sad you didn’t know it from memory. I told you to go to sleep and not stand on your bed and that you could find it online if you really wanted. Then you started ranting about how your laptop could never compare to the weight of a physical book in your hands, and as you waxed poetic about weathered pages and cracked spines I laughed and laughed and thought you were going to cry.

The scene replays in my mind as my fingers run over the six strings, strumming a slow major seventh chord, going nowhere and meaning nothing. I think about Homer, how at the beginning of his epics, he opened with the invocation of the muse. I took some poetry classes thinking they would help me with songwriting, but they didn’t give me inspiration to write about anything grand or existential or even subtly poetic, like changing leaves or dust collecting on childhood bookshelves. I still write the same dumb lyrics about wine-drunk phone calls and I realize this is the only muse I can invoke.

I pluck an open B string and let it ring. Olive will come back soon, probably, and she’ll ask me how my night has been. I’ll say it was alright, and I’ll have written nothing.