Muse (Photo by Marisa Ross)

Muse (Photo by Marisa Ross)

“Apply the oxygen mask to yourself before assisting your child.” The flight attendant’s instructions never fail to unnerve me. I understand the logic, but the words smack of selfishness. We celebrate individualism. The ubiquitous devices of our time—the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad—begin with a letter that doubles as a personal pronoun.

Parenting should never be self-indulgent. As a father, I have assisted my children by fostering their embrace of creative muses. Whatever tools they needed, they had. Crayons. LEGOs. Cameras. My daughter knows she needn’t ask permission to borrow my laptop if her muse is demanding she write a short story. I know what that feels like, to have words pounding inside your skull in an attempt to escape.

As a toddler my daughter would occasionally awaken, alone and distressed. I would sing her troubled spirit back to sleep, and then, being already awake, enjoy her gentle breathing while releasing those skull-pounding words onto paper. I would write my pre-dawn musings—from serious examinations of the challenges of parenthood to whimsical reflections on how “why” was my daughter’s favorite word—and then put them away. At some point she began sleeping through the night. I put down my pen.

Apply the oxygen mask to yourself before assisting your child.

And now, years later, my daughter and I find ourselves on the campus of an art school for a pre-college visit. I take her hand. I’m so happy for you, I say. You’ll thrive here, surrounded by creative people just like you, passionate spirits who draw, paint, photograph, write. I share my pride, but I mask my envy. She has an artist’s observational eye, however. She sees the truth in my face, hears it in my voice, feels it in my grip. “Why don’t you write anymore, Dad?”

For sixteen years I have instructed my children to live a life of truth. But have I modeled that life? I told my muse that the demands of parenthood forced me to choose my children over her. But that is a lie. I did not have to choose, yet I took the easy path. One day not writing became two, then four, then a year, then a decade.

I hear in my daughter’s question that to her I am a fellow artist. Perhaps her artistic inspiration stemmed not solely from my provision of tools but from her witnessing my stolen moments of creative writing. She views me as having applied the mask to myself first, and she is grateful. But at some point I removed the mask. As I stand with her on that campus, I know her mask is secure. I know as well that it is time for me to return to my muse, and embrace the intake of purified air.



Patrick Ross

Patrick Ross

Patrick Ross is an award-winning journalist in northern Virginia. He is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction with the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and blogs about living an art-committed life at The Artist’s Road. He loves antique maps, historical biographies, and bacon.

Connect with Patrick Ross
The Artist’s Road | @PatrickRwrites

Photo by Lisa Helfert



Patrick Ross Recommends:

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, selected by Phillip Lopate

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, selected by Phillip Lopate

The Next American Essay, Edited and Introduced by John D'Agata

The Next American Essay, Edited and Introduced by John D'Agata

What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better, by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth

What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better, by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth


Please join the discussion below

Imagine You’re On A Ship

Imagine you’re on a ship."Imagine You're on a Ship"

Without warning, unknown sailors—or pirates, or your family, or your friends, it doesn’t really matter—tie you up. You can’t move your hands and feet. They toss you overboard. You sink. Air abandons you. Your sun sets unnaturally quick and it gets darker as you sink.


Try to move your hands and feet again. Your wrists and ankles hurt from the rubbing rope. But if you struggle enough, maybe you can loosen the ties that bind you and survive. To give up means death.

So you struggle. And struggle. And struggle some more. Your chest tightens. Your ears hurt.
You feel the water pressing your eyeballs inward.

And then it happens. Your ropes loosen and you free yourself. You rush to the surface, explode into the world, and gulp precious air.

Then another boat finds you. You’re safe. With your two feet firmly planted on the deck, they throw a celebration in your honor.

“You deserved better,” says one. “You’ll be famous,” says the Captain. “I don’t know how you did it,” exclaims a third.

Then, in a flash of inspiration, you wobble atop the waves on your table in the middle of the dining room, crystal chandelier swaying above your head, and you recite the poem you were forced to learn in grade school—“The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—“I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

The next day it happens all over again. You’re tied up, thrown in, you struggle, then you celebrate. Knowing this, would you choose to continue this cycle? Listen to what the Greek poet Homer and the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson thought before you answer.

Here’s the thing. Accepting the reality of what you just imagined is the key to your life. You are your own happiness because your art–and life–is the sum of what you accept and the difference you create while on your voyage.

To struggle is your destiny; to take from your life is your privilege; and to give back your uniqueness is your responsibility.

Like any committed artist, you’ll struggle to represent your reality, your big ideas, to others in ways that enhance their perspective and yours. Still, your voyage is to create a lens that brings beauty into focus, allows for meaningful change, and heals real and perceived pain.

Don’t believe me? Don’t think it matters? Try this:

  1. Think about this phrase: “nude descending a staircase”. Jot down your reactions and images that come to mind. Pay attention to what your inner critic tells you.
  2. Now, look at this painting and jot down your reactions:

    Marcel Duchamp. ''Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2'' 1912

    (Marcel Duchamp. ''Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2'' 1912. Oil on canvas. 57 7/8" x 35 1/8". Philadelphia Museum of Art. From: http://ow.ly/77nks {{art}} Category:Images of art)

  3. Then, read this poem:
    Nude Descending a Staircase

    by X. J. Kennedy

    Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
    A gold of lemon, root and rind,
    She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
    With nothing on. Nor on her mind.
    We spy beneath the banister
    A constant thresh of thigh on thigh–
    Her lips imprint the swinging air
    That parts to let her parts go by.

    One-woman waterfall, she wears
    Her slow descent like a long cape
    And pausing, on the final stair
    Collects her motions into shape.

  4. Now, think about the phrase “Nude descending a staircase” again.

Did anything change? That’s why it matters. Your big ideas, your creativity, your art matter more than you know. Sharing them is what I call “doing great things.”

Now go do great things . . . and let me know how to help.



Sean Giorgianni is the curator of ReadHeavily.com, a blog that asks readers to improve their lives through the art of reading. He’s also known to lead Twitter discussions on writing and literature.

Connect with Sean
ReadHeavily | Facebook | Twitter: @ReadHeavily