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Mérode Altarpiece (or Annunciation Triptych) is an oil on oak panel triptych, now in The Cloisters, in New York City. It is unsigned and undated, but attributed to Early Netherlandish painter Robert Campin and an assistant. The three panels represent, from left to right, the donors kneeling in prayer in a garden, the moment of the Annunciation to Mary, which is set in a contemporary, domestic setting, and Saint Joseph, a carpenter with the tools of his trade. The many elements of religious symbolism include the lily and fountain (symbolizing the purity of Mary), and the Holy Spirit represented by the rays of light coming through from the left hand window.The central panel was completed after 1422, likely between 1425 and 1428. [en.wikipedia.org]

"She insists that she's an A-Me instead."

She despises the moniker, or certainly says that she does. I persist using it, and not merely out of perverse habit. (In her birth family, once anyone learned what you hated, that knowledge guaranteed that you'd thereafter be inundated with it.) She was by any measure born the runt of her family, a premie as we call them today, and so had to stay in the hospital for several days after her birth. She claims that this rude arrival affected her. She still remembers feeling abandoned and alone when isolated from her newly-gained home. Being third in birth order, ultimately the middle, she was born behind, destined to always playing catch up, a childhood-long competition she was destined to lose. She won the race to produce the first grandchild, though, and so was carrying him at her high school graduation, whereupon she went into exile to live with hostile in-laws and a sullen showband drummer of a husband. She coped. She lived as a band wife for almost a decade, holding menial jobs to pay bills, including a stint cutting meat in a huge packing plant and later, as a Tupperware Lady®.

She finally decided at twenty-five to put herself through school, which she managed to do in fairly short order, ultimately choosing her own curriculum to satisfy her own notions of how that work really should be done.
Before then, she tended to bend the grading curve upward, thereby gaining the opprobrium of her fellow students. Graduating, she shipped herself to St Paul to live with her spinster aunt and her companion, where she found herself a career. She stayed for more than a decade, trading jobs like a commodities dealer might move pork bellies, always bidding upward, and leaving a seasoned professional. She met me and swore on more than a stack of bibles to make no changes for at least a year. Three months later, she'd divorced her husband of nearly twenty-five years, quit her job, sold the dream home she'd designed in the suburbs, and moved to freaking Oregon to live in a very small two bedroom apartment overlooking the lower Willamette River; to become a consultant, she said.

I told her that she would have to swipe her job if she wanted it, and so swipe she did, grabbing first the idle parts I'd never attended to, later becoming the centerpiece of the place: marketer, financier, chief schmoozer, and The Muse. I produced content while she produced contexts, an expanding array of opportunities which we'd dispatch together. It was a tenuously beautiful existence, always heading someplace else, changing the world as a daily routine. We eventually bought a home together, relocating back to my hometown to make a go of an early form of remote working, which even worked for a while. It wasn't until after my book was published, a work I'd written to explain to her what I did, that I really took to calling her The Muse. What began as an attempt to explain seemed to morph into my life's work utterly dependent upon her inspiration, criticism, and patronage. An Annunciation had occurred.

I suppose that Mary used to complain that she wasn't all that special. Aside from the odd virgin birth, for which she had been chosen against her will, she'd point out that she hadn't done much of anything to deserve special appreciation. Yet she over time became an object of equal adoration, a miracle in our midst. And so it's been with The Muse, who doesn't have to do anything other than be A-Me to inspire. The role seems to be all about who she is, how she can enter any room anywhere and leave with a new, probably life-long connection, how she can read a freshly-hatched pedestrian little piece and make a single comment to inspire some saving grace improvement. She despises passive engagement of any kind and harbors extremely harsh judgements in the back of her mind, yet presents as the soul of gentility. She carries a hatchet designed to utterly eviscerate, yet usually abates her baser instincts to use it. Usually. She's much fiercer than she appears. Nobody wisely fucks with Da Muse.

I feel very much the dependent in our relationship. She performs endless patronage, gifts she insists I should simply let come to me, deservedly, though the calculus can't quite comprehend. She embodies a kind of grace unfamiliar to most of us in these venial times. What's hers is mine, except for eighty percent of the closet space, her sewing room, and her office place in the corner of the basement. I maintain the yard and vacuum inside, though I almost never consent to dust because a man's got to know his limitations. I cook supper most nights and she reports to table having slogged through another eleven hours spent talking to her wall in an endless succession of Zoom calls. She catches up to my week's writing on weekends when she's also more than likely to be also kneading dough or canning pickles or purchasing fresh tchotchkes on some online auction which she'll implore me to drive almost to Kansas with her to fetch. Our life together's considerably less than the proverbial bitch and much more than I or anyone could reasonable confess to. She's The Muse, a moniker she properly refuses to answer to. She insists that she's more properly an A-Me instead.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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