Thursday, June 1, 2017

I'm Fine. You're Fine. Be Mused, Hip Hop essay on revolutionary love, art, and nurturing, plus a fresh track for your efforts...

Every artist knows when it hits. Alluring and energizing, the Muse's presence manifests in many ways. Most fundamental across all forms and functions, however, is the incessant call and enhanced ability to create. According to the author Roman Payne, "The ‘Muse’ is not an artistic mystery, but a mathematical equation. The gift are those ideas you think of as you drift to sleep. The giver is that one you think of when you first awake."
Payne does have the relational aspect of the Muse correct. Anyone with the heart of an artist has certainly been serenaded to sleep (as well as locked in sleeplessness) by the silent reception and contemplation of such "gifts". Anyone with the heart of an artist has also undoubtably found themselves wholly enraptured by the often unwitting generosity of such a giver. However to Muse and be mused is so much more voluminous in purpose than the narrow scope of romantic objectification can quantify. That math can't plumb the mysterious depth of the Muse, even if "all musicians are subconsciously mathematicians" as Thelonius Monk said.
The derivation of the word "music" itself comes from the Greek "mousike" rooted in "mous" (or Muse) - what we would now refer to as collective cultural production- "a seamless complex of music, poetic word, and physical movement." According to wikipedia, both the Pythagoreans and Plato also "explicitly considered philosophy as a sub-species of mousike," but the latter still wrote of inspiration as though it were mental illness: "Possession by the Muses, enters into a delicate and virgin soul, and there inspiring frenzy, awakens lyric.....the sane man is nowhere at all when he enters into rivalry with the madman." We both lose and find ourselves when we are taken by the Muse, and we return forever changed each time.
Perhaps such journeys are why so many artists experience the symptoms of neurological, biochemical, and/or behavioral difference that western medicine has pathologized into broad spectrums of overlapping "disorders" in the DSM. We're not meant to be comfortable; our stubborn existence challenges complacency in a jaded world from the far end of the "fittest-for-survival-under-neoliberal-neocolonial-white-supremacist-patriarchal-capitalist-corporate-oligarchical" Bell Curve. Whatever titles you bestow the beast of modern empire and the oppressive systems that justify and sustain it, regardless of whatever relative privilege certain aspects of your identity may afford you under its foot, this shit was never meant us.
What Plato called a "rivalry", that tension/duality between lost and found, is actually the very force of awareness that stokes the fire in our souls. It is being and feeling in its purest form. It is our true selves. Frida Khalo was famously quoted as saying, "I am my own Muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to know better." For Ishmael Reed too, the Muse is a catalyst of self-exploration and growth by putting us "in contact with those fleeting moments which prove the existence." Despite the pain and discomfort, the artist thrives in these raw windows of presence. Our collective strength and purpose in Movement work is derived from this reality. We must hold space for it.
The drive to create is simultaneously, paradoxically self-centered and selfless. However we should never cave to societal prescriptions which seek to demote its value and role in our lives. Though seemingly indulgent at times, it has deep purpose. As Steven Pressfield wrote in War of Art, "We are servants of the Mystery. We were put here on earth to act as agents of the Infinite, to bring into existence that which is not yet, but which will be, through us. Every breath we take, every heartbeat, every evolution of every cell comes from God and is sustained by God every second, just as every creation, invention, every bar of music or line of verse, every thought, vision, fantasy, every dumb-ass flop and stroke of genius comes from that infinite intelligence that created us and the universe in all its dimensions, out of the Void, the field of infinite potential, primal chaos, the Muse. To acknowledge that reality, to efface all ego, to let the work come through us and give it back freely to its source, that, in my opinion, is as true to reality as it gets." There's a divine surrender in being truly moved and inspired. In moving and inspiring. To embrace the Muse is to release with purpose into this unknown. It requires faith, trust, and patience - with self, community, the process, and the universe.
Rumi touches on community and surrender as well in his tongue-in-cheek take on the Muse: "Today I'm out wandering, turning my skull into a cup for others to drink wine from. In this town somewhere there sits a calm, intelligent man, who doesn't know what he's about to do!" The "town" is allusion to our interconnectedness as humanity and the impact this, however loose the strands at any given place in the fabric of community, has on our individual lives. This recognition comes with responsibility. How intentional are we being in what we ferment, brew, pour, serve and sip in our interactions with each other?
The calm oblivion of the "intelligent man" speaks to the suspension of rationality necessary in this process. In a society seeped in rugged individualism, it takes vision to perceive and audacity to embrace and enact this commitment to nurturing one another. Said Kabir, "Those who hope to be reasonable about it fail. The arrogance of reason has separated us from that love. With the word "reason" you already feel miles away." Radical love in a world of senseless suffering is inherently irrational.
So let us choose to be unreasonable. Let us hold space for the irrational commitment to Muse and be mused at every opportunity within reach. Let us fully utilize our inspirations, passions, vulnerabilities, curiosities, attractions, and presence to navigate the uncharted territory of creative resistance we share as artists and accomplices in the ongoing battles against the economic homogenization of our city, our fight against the incarnation of our youth, our resistance to police violence and state corruption, and the broader struggle to simply be- however it manifests.
We must call upon and harness the power of the Muse to heal and strengthen our fearful hearts, traumatized bodies and minds, and embattled communities. It is imperative because all we have is each other, and we must actively feed and arm ourselves and one another with the emotional and spiritual fortitude required to sustain in the uphill battles ahead.
Such revolutionary embrace of our muses and musings might require a radical re-envisioning of how we conceive relationships altogether. This redefinition must reject the concept of possession over our beloved, and in some cases could necessitate overcoming the expectation of emotional or even physical exclusivity common in most traditionally accepted forms of intimacy. We will need to be creative and open minded in our approaches. We will need to be honest and transparent with our processes. But above all, we will need the courage to love. Fiercely. Active love. Radical love.
The ultimate role of our Muses is to remind us of and guide us to this fundamental love, this weaponry of heart and soul that is, according to Danter, "never about absolute consensus, or unconditional acceptance, or unceasing words or sweetness, or endless streams of hugs and kisses. Instead, it is ... unconstricted, rooted in a committed willingness to struggle persistently with purpose in our life and to intimately connect that purpose with...our 'true vocation'- to be human." This weaponized love- is for us: the artists and revolutionaries. "Those convinced of the right and the duty to fight," as Paul Freire wrote.
I fight. I muse. And I love you. Love me, love with me, and love each other more, every day. This is how we become more effective and dangerous in creative resistance together.

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