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This might be a love letter, an apology, an essay, a thank-you note, or the ad hoc mental wanderings of someone who has read The Gateless Gate and The Glass Bead Game a few too many times. Let the distinction be an exercise for the reader.

What is a muse? It is a reason and a need to create.

The broken, inverted miracle of inspiration is the impossibility of describing it in any terms except the language of what is, itself, inspired. We are stricken by bolts of significance, and the sizzling aftershocks of the experience grant us something to say, and the gestures we will use to say it, but no way to convey the experience. Shadows cast on a wall cannot describe the shape of the light that strikes them; they can only reveal the shape of the form which casts them. Inspiration traces around the outline of our thoughts - all the gestalt of a person - and the resulting silhouette is the art we create, in faulty effort to share the warmth of the beam that holds us suspended in itself, motes of dust elevated from ephemeral detritus of being, to sparks of reflected light.

What is a muse? If you are reading this, then let us say for the moment that you are. What purpose is there in writing, without reader? Your existence as reader necessitates words to read, so here I am, giving you words.

We are linguistic, narrative creatures. We're helpless to interact with abstraction in any terms that are not narrative or linguistic. All narration is built around an axis of conflict. We tangle between angels and imps on either shoulder, muse and duende, themes and sensations Apollonian and Dionysian, celestial and cthonic. All language is a contradictory effort to transmit the inexpressible, in a half-hearted, half-assed, all-Sisyphean uphill battle against semantics and différance. Maybe Camus was even right on this point: the struggle leaves us happier than never trying. Perhaps we find it ennobling, or else are just that averse to being the sole holders of our own thoughts and feelings, and in desperation we seek some way to observe them reflected in the eyes and minds of others. It feels blasphemous to say that all art is anchored in loneliness, or tethered to the awareness of our own mortality and the finite nature of our expression: we don't just die alone; we also live alone in the discrete worlds of our minds, connecting to others with what is - at the best of times - a pataphorical creole of meanings. To be alone in a room, while creating things of beauty, is less isolating than to have someone else present and watching (and certainly less vulnerable), because the sense of separation does not hover distractingly around the creative process.

What is a muse? It is compassion toward - affinity with - attempts to accomplish the impossible.

We must imagine Sisyphus happy, so pure and single-minded in the futility of his task, so vindicated in the punishment he won for thwarting Death's inevitability, even momentarily. The presumption of him! Grasping at immortality, and here he finds it in a story that disguises an aspiration as a cautionary tale against presumption and hubris. We must also imagine Sisyphus feels understood in a way no living person can enjoy, and a kindred nature mirrored perpetually in the boulder which descends his hill as relentlessly as he pushes it back up.

What is a muse? It is an honest mirror.

The world tilts abruptly, and all of these well-understood parameters evaporate in a fit of confusion, because here is someone who grasps intuitively what is not said, before it even can be said. Here is a person whose fingertips dance with static and sunbeams, flooding our attention with things to say, and conveying the certainty that the shadows are understood now from the light's own perspective. What are you to me? There is only Sisyphus if there is also a stone, and Death, and a hill to stage the tableau of his entire psyche in these material, narrative, linguistic terms. Without Sisyphus, the stone and the hill are just a stone and a hill, and Death is just the same fact we all stare down as the immutable reference point for our own significance and limitations. Sisyphus is the movement of the stone.

What is a muse? You are the birth and death of the illusion of separation.

Iron Noder 2018, 30/30