Although I’m writing a book about a muse, I’m not one to sit around waiting for the muse to sit on my shoulder and whisper in my ear. I realized a long time ago that I had to actively seek my inspiration. One of the ways I do that is by being open to possibility. I observe; I listen; and I always carry a small notebook and a pen to capture the fragments of overheard conversations or the tableaus playing out in the lives around me.
Thirty years ago I was riding on a bus along Mass Ave in Cambridge late one winter afternoon, my four-month-old son asleep in the Snuggli on my chest. As babies tend to do, he elicited a comment from the much older woman sitting next to me, and we began a conversation that lasted all the way to Arlington. She was the widow of an Armenian poet, and she shared a few stark memories with me of being a young mother alone with an infant during World War II.
“It is the women who carry the responsibility for civilization,” she told me. “It rests with us.”
I remember what she said, what she looked like (olive-skinned, her hair covered in a scarf, her body small and thin, not bent but held with an elegant strength). I remember, because that night, after my son was asleep, I wrote it all down.