Waiting on my muse
''I'm waiting on the muse'' isn't a phrase you would actually say out loud in a newsroom, unless you wanted to be drop-kicked, glass shattering, out of a third story window, and have your notepads, pens, and coffee mugs come raining down on top of you.
Over the din of the news blaring on three different televisions overhead, ringing phones, texts, email alerts, reminders that your favourite conspiracy theorist still waiting for you at the reception desk, and the slow, methodical drum of the news editor's fingers on the desk, letting you know that if you don't get that story through in about a minute you will be hung over the paper shredder, the word muse (unless you are talking about a band) is dangerously close to blasphemy.
The muse. Ha, we say.
We sneer at the thought of something that doesn't obey our deadlines.
And then waiting on it?
We scowl at the concept of waiting on anything and keep typing like fiends, snowplowing our way through word exhaustion, masters of our own destiny on the page. The muse exists in the same locked container as the boogyman and ''writer's block''.
And even if there was, say, some such whimsical nonsense lurking around at the Southland Times, and let's just call it a muse, it's not like she has had a rocking chair on a front porch, a bottle of wine and a sunset to lure her to one of us.
Here's a quick sampling of some of the locations where she could have found me waiting, if not for a muse visitation, then at least for that third cup of coffee and a Red Bull to kick in:
On the ground, about a metre from the toilets at the Bluff Oyster Festival, knees nearly to my chin to avoid the sea of feet, cigarette butts around me, laptop propped at my eye-level, elbows out like a chicken to type.
In a car, in the parking lot of Southland Hospital in between two public health committee meetings, phone tucked in between my ear and shoulder, writing as the rain pelts the windscreen.
Cross-legged on the top bunk of a Fiordland hut, reeking of sweat, with a laptop that had been wrapped in about 20 plastic bags and shoved in my pack early that morning so I could get this news story onto a portable device and then to a helicopter pilot.
And my desk, of course. Hey, pull up a chair, muse, to the cereal bowls with day-old porridge, mountains of board meeting agendas, unread newspapers, sticky notes, leftover sandwich crumbs, takeaway coffee cups and the nail-biting aura of stress hovering over my swivel chair while I am sitting in it, twirling a piece of hair, and then pulling on it as the day goes on (''have you gone through a trauma recently,'' a hair stylist asked me in May, pointing out all the weird breakage on the right side of my head as she was trimming it. ''No. I'm a reporter,'' I answered.)
Are you comfortable muse? Can I get you anything?
If I was a muse, I would steer clear of someone like me - until this week.
And before you judge me, think about all the sucky, muse-thwarting places I have had to write from so that I can say, convincingly, that I have actually earned this pool chair that I am now sitting in with my laptop, big sunglasses on, with a guilty Cheshire grin on my face.
Come on over muse. Pull up a pool chair.
I am housesitting for friends of my parents this week and their home is on top of a hill, that looks out to other houses on top of hills with pools just like this one beside me.
When I do back strokes through the cool blue water in the afternoons I see the mountains.
When I walk down to the gate to pick up the Wall Street Journal with a cup of coffee, throwing the ball for the two Labradors that are my charges, I close my eyes serenely and feel the California summer sun on my eyelids and think, yeah, this works.
In between working out Karma Police on the baby grand piano as the heat burns the morning fog off the vineyards below, and sitting on the front lawn with a glass of wine, watching the sun set over the hilltop homes across from me (neighbours this week according to my dad, who is a retired mechanic to the stars: one hill over is the guy who wrote Candle in the Wind, to my right is an actress famous for being a certain number in the late 70s, to my left is the guy who played a young, hot doctor in ER) I play the role of someone who has also done something spectacularly creative to be here.
I am Sophia Coppola, I pretend, just tightening up that last draft of what will become another Best Original Screenplay.
I will plunge into this pool and emerge with some witty, brilliant final line that will continue to earn me this pool and this view and most importantly, more time to keep living in my head.
There is nothing to stop me from polishing off a screenplay or a novel here, I tell myself, as I turn over on the pool chair.
I expect to morph into one of those manic writers who bolt upright in bed and write feverishly for three days straight, any hour now.
This is my time right now!
An hour later the phone rings and it's my mom. ''So how's the writing going?''
Big yawn and stretch as I change the channel on the kitchen TV from Wife Swap to Being Liverpool and tell her it's going great actually.
I'm just waiting on the muse.