A Ghost Story

Movie reviews are not really my “thing,” but an exception for “A Ghost Story” is in order.  <spoiler alert: if you want to see this movie without knowing what will happen next, stop now unless you have already seen it.>

A Ghost Story,” hereafter AGS, is painful to watch, and so slow in places that I almost walked out two or three times.  What stopped me was that I was in the theater by myself, except for one drunk couple near the front and far away from my back row seat, and could whip out my cell phone and check the plot summaries replete with “spoilers” to decide whether or not to stay.

Once I knew the direction of the plot, I decided to stay.  I wanted to see how the later scenes were done, and they did get better, the best being the scene with the “Prognosticator.”  (More about that in a moment.)

I am not writing about it to say how miserable it is, though it is miserable.  (Well produced, but truly unpleasant at times, particularly the “pie eating” scene)  Nor am I writing to say how painful it is, though it is painful.  (You know it will be painful, and probably slow, when the “critics” love it.  They tend to love movies the rest of us hate.)

My inspiration arises from the fact that this movie lands squarely on top of a stack of related issues I have been writing about over the past few years, roughly since 2008 and more so recently.  As some might say, “it hits home.”

I think that the one article of mine that AGS is closest to is this one: “And when I die….” But “It is too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin” and “Je est un autre” cover the same themes in other ways.  (Worthy of note is that the main character, played by a combination of Casey Affleck and some guy in a sheet, is a gifted but frustrated musician.  Hmm.  Sound familiar, at least on the “frustrated” part?)

Part of me thinks that, somehow, the writings I have written on my blogs might survive as long as 2050, or maybe longer, and reach out to a kindred spirit, or spirits, after I am dead (or very old).  This is, in a sense, a “legacy” that I am producing anonymously and specifically for anyone who might see the world, and particularly astrology and metaphysics, as I do.

In the movie, after a series of occupants, his home is bulldozed.  He is dead; his wife/widow moved away long ago, and supposedly it should not matter.  But, you know it does.  In terms of symbols, you learn this because of the one last key message from his wife that is lost when the home, and the neighborhood, is bulldozed to make way for a collection of inner city skyscrapers.

We are spared the issues of people growing old by having the “ghost,” and protagonist, die at a young age in an automobile accident.  Many of us, myself included, fear growing old.  The “guardianship” system is notorious for corruption, particularly in smaller towns and cities where it is not closely  monitored, and landmark court cases have emerged regarding people who were, effectively, imprisoned in nursing homes.  (As one of MANY examples, see this article and this one and this one and especially this site.  This one too.)  Don’t get me wrong; I think the guardianship system is a good idea in an abstract sense.  It is just the execution of that idea that has been terribly flawed at times and is in need of closer monitoring.

I have to wonder how many were not able to break free from nursing home confines who did not want to be there, and I am particularly suspicious of the new “Silver Alerts” we have in Texas.  They may be warranted in some, maybe many, circumstances, but if it is being used as part of imprisonment of people in nursing homes, then it stinks.

I think that the threshold requirements for the system are too low.  A “physician’s letterhead” should not be sufficient as a minimum requirement.  Independent evaluation by a mental health professional not connected to the nursing home should be required additionally.  (After all, if the physician signing the letter profits from the monthly income resulting from the resident continuing to be incarcerated live there then an obvious conflict of interest exists.  Buddies (meaning physicians all part of the same practice) should be excluded, also.)

Knowing what I know, and seeing what I have seen, it worries me.  Have you?  What about others who have escaped nursing homes when detained against their will?  How many of us meet that fate, with our possessions stripped from us (and used to pay the “fees” of those who took them from us) and our voices silenced as we are imprisoned by a corrupt system?

In this movie, we are spared that set of issues that would result in an even more painful movie.  This movie shows the widow mourning but who eventually finds someone new, leaving the home when an angry and vengeful ghost causes a bit too much disruption.  She is gone, forever, never to be seen again.  He loses her a second time.

How should we feel about such things?  I cannot say I have the answer. I can say that if I outlive my sweetheart then I have no plans to connect with anyone else.  She was hard enough to find the first time, and I was not the easiest person to live with when I was younger, far worse now.

I have visions of my WordPress blogs being “bulldozed” in some way the same as the house in the movie, or the fate of the old “Geocities” sites, if you prefer. If that happens, then my legacy is lost and the messages I have written will never make it to intended recipients.

This is a theme, too.  People who are alive writing messages that may or may not be seen by intended recipients, like the other ghost that shows up who is “waiting for them” and who vanishes once she decides “I guess they are not coming.”

Her backstory is told, or hinted at, when we see a massacre of a family in the past.  Nothing is fair or just or decent about it.  No justice is ever had, she does not even receive a burial with her remains disintegrating into the ground that eventually becomes the home for the other characters.

I have seen it in my own life.  Profoundly evil people routinely get away with the most despicable of acts.  If you don’t believe me, then ask around.  Or, live life long enough.  Or watch the daily news.

But the essence of the movie, for anyone who needs a summary, is found in a fairly long monologue by the red bearded bald guy, identified as the “Prognosticator” (mentioned earlier) in the credits and played by actor Will Oldham.  Oldham does a good job on the role, playing someone who is a bit of a pretentious bastard at a party, spouting a very bleak truth, a “nihilist” one some have claimed, that stands in complete contrast to the drunken party surrounding him.  The ghost cannot resist having a bit of fun with the partygoers, including the Prognosticator.

This monologue is important for anyone trying to make sense of the somewhat disjointed story.  We are seeing pieces of tales across time, and what seems important in each tale, including the death of an entire frontier family in a massacre, simple vanishes in meaning and, disturbingly, importance with enough passage of time.

If you have ever stood in a graveyard and taken a hard look at the headstones of your ancestors (I have) then you have probably had a similar feeling (I have).  I recall it clearly.  Past a point, I just did not know the people there.  I had heard tiny bits and pieces of stories about them, but most of those stories die with the ones who told the tales, dead themselves now.  And vivid memories of those I did know will die with me.  Nothing will be left except the headstones and the remains underneath them.  The joys and sorrows and accomplishments and injustices all die with them.  The same will be true when I am gone.

And, some day, the graveyard itself may no longer be cared for, memories of all forever extinguished and the last remaining remnants abandoned.

Gone, silenced in the ice of death symbolized by Scorpio, Pluto, and the 8th House in astrology, never to be heard again.  Will they rise on “Judgment Day”?  Some believe that.  I am quite reluctant to do so myself.  I think the prognosticator is right.  We really know nothing of Beethoven except through his works and snippets of history.  The rest is gone.

The same is true for me personally.  As long as these writings exist on some server somewhere, some tiny piece of my essence lives.  But when the “bulldozer” of economic expediency demolishes that, as happened with Geocities, then even that piece is gone forever.  That is another death, the one Pisces represents.  It is the death of communities into ghost towns, cemeteries and graveyards abandoned, and entire civilizations like the Maya and Aztecs vanishing in the mists of time.

As an aside, astrology has three “deaths” (each one symbolized by water): the death of childhood is symbolized by Cancer, which is, oddly, also the symbol of the mother.  Cancer is also both home and grave, both of which we leave to become an adult as Leo could symbolize.  Scorpio is the death of individuals, the soldiers and spies who die to support the marching centaur armies of Sagittarius in foreign lands.  And Pisces is the death of communities and civilizations, yielding to a more profound birth (or rebirth) in Aries, the primal spark.  This movie is smart enough to capture the latter two.

But, the prognosticator is right, at least if mainstream “science” is right.  One day the Earth itself will end, no longer habitable for any number of reasons ranging from “climate change” to the Sun becoming a red giant / white dwarf.  The universe itself will either collapse on itself or reach the more dreaded “heat death” of an “open” universe.  In either case, any remnants or shreds of our “legacy” will be gone, eradicated, as the “Prognosticator” indicates in his monologue.  AND, I think that this is really the main point of the movie.

It is a tough movie to watch, and, again, I almost walked out several times.  You will have to decide for yourself whether or not you want to sit through it; it is painful!  But it is food for thought. And, you might want to see it, if you want to see how someone expressed these complex ideas and thorny issues in cinema.  If that is true, then I recommend it.


It is too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin

This entry is essentially a continuation of “je est un autre” and I thank the handful of you who read it at least enough to give me “likes.” (“Handful” is right; myself as the “thumb” and four others. I suppose I really am “all thumbs.”)

Some of you will not click the link and read the previous writing. Others did, but may be scratching their heads and wondering “what was his point?” Let me summarize: (1) many have tried to critique Rimbaud but his work is so abstract yet poignant that we are left with many differing opinions; (2) like others, I think Rimbaud had many brilliant moments or “brainstorms” and was having one when he opined “je est un autre” (“I is another”); but (3) I differ from others in that I think Rimbaud was actually complaining about might be called a “capacity issue.”

His profound ideas and experiences vastly exceeded the capacity of words to convey to another (us) his experience. Since the days of Rimbaud (mid 1800’s) some philosophers (notably “phenomenologists”) have addressed this problem extensively as have early psychologists (“structuralists”) in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The problem may be even deeper, as the renowned anthropologist Gregory Bateson (mid to late 20th century) has argued that this kind of consciousness should not be made available to conscious examination.  Since Rimbaud could not have known of the later work, we are left with the elegance of his poetry resulting from his struggles with the problem.

That is the article in a nutshell, but if you want more depth then you must read the original.  And, one more thing: if you are “brilliant” or have fleeting moments of “genius,” then you suffer from precisely the same challenge.

In this article, we build upon a less cryptic, but still debated, comment of Rimbaud: “It is too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin.” Opinions vary, but one popular one is this: what many consider to be a “gift” can be a curse to the one who has the gift. In Rimbaud’s case this would be his writing in general but his poetry in particular. He honored this expression of his feelings and insight when he permanently turned his back on poetry at age twenty never to revisit it again. Instead, he became a successful merchant (in particular as an arms dealer in Africa selling weapons to people who desired to kill each other).

In this article I will not explore the other abstract and a bit weird interpretations of “it is too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin”, like the one by some philosophers that claim Rimbaud was making a distinction between the material of an object and the form of an object. This might possibly be true, but it is like making a distinction between the DNA in one’s cells and how one’s life has developed. At one level it sounds rather profound, and is profound, but at another level one has to ask “so what?” I think, too, that they missed the point that the statement is a metaphor about “giftedness.”

I am no Rimbaud, but I resonate with this statement of his. Over the course of two years, I have built a small family of blogs that has a respectable level of traffic. (Nine years, actually, but the more serious work in the last two.) But since advertising typically pays $10 for 10,000 “impressions,” and I have 30,000 to 50,000 page views per year, I cannot “make a living” out of my blogs and my writings. ($50 a year is not enough to sustain me.) I am not asking for a “go fund me” page or anything like that, but if I do not find a solution to the problem of monetizing my work, soon I will give up (as Rimbaud did) for something more lucrative that likely will be even less memorable than being an “arms dealer in Africa.”

Something tells me, a hunch if you will, that I am not the only one in this position. Please do understand, at this moment, I am not speaking of a teenager or twenty something who believes they have something to say and makes one or two blog posts that sound suspiciously similar to 10,000 other similar posts. (And, I know that the young can have profound things to say; Rimbaud himself is the “poster child” for such things.) I am talking, though, of those dedicated individuals at any age or background who persist in writing entry after entry, poem after poem, but cannot sustain themselves on what little money, if any, that they receive from the blogosphere. I think I am not alone; I think many others face this same problem.

And, I face Rimbaud’s other problem (as I see it) as well: “je est un autre.” Who I am at my core, and what I have to say, only makes it out of my head and through my fingertips into the internet in the thinnest of slivers. It is these tiniest of slivers of which I speak in my piece “And When I die”   Sadly, the remainder will perish when my physical body does, unspoken, unwritten, and lost forever.

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Je est un autre

Are you familiar with the phrase “Je est un autre”? In English, it translates to “I is another,” and in French it is equally incorrect from a grammatical point of view. French poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote it when he was sixteen years of age in the mid 1800’s. His poetry became famous, arguably increasingly famous after his death, but he permanently abandoned poetry by age twenty and left France to pursue a (rather successful) career as a merchant and arms dealer in Africa.

What did the phrase mean? And, why did he abandon poetry, given his gift?

Rimbaud and Yahoo Answers

His poetry, and particularly this enigma “Je est un autre,” has been the subject of a growing body of speculation and commentary. I found this handful of answers on “Yahoo Answers.”

I disagree with the selection of “best answer” (which reeks of psychobabble), and think the better answer is the more succint “I was another… He felt like someone else…” Dissociation makes more sense than “a journey of imagination and an aesthetic evolution of its ingredients” (which sounds like pure, unadultered bullshit). Even “He s referring to himself as the devil. Remember Verlaine dubbed Rimbaud ‘the accursed poet.’” is better. That answer goes on to say “He goes on to say ‘tough luck to the wood that wants to be a violin.’ He s talking about nature and potential, and considering himself damned.” (Many sources translate this to “tough luck to the wood that becomes a violin.”  That’s an entirely different meaning, that leads to a rather similar conclusion, still painting the gift as a curse.)   This seems closer to the truth, but probably still misses the mark.  But the point is a good one: writing poetry but being unable to make a living can make one permanently abandon the gift in favor of the boring but more lucrative life of a merchant.

Rimbaud and the New York Times

Rimbaud’s work is a challenging topic, and Richard Hell’s New York Times piece on Rimbaud does well to note those challenges before wading into the mists where others have wandered. We note these important points:

  1. “One would have to be a genius oneself to grasp the full significance of Arthur Rimbaud, or at least have the ability to hold many opposed ideas in one’s mind at the same time and still function fully.”
  2. “Numerous writers have sought to demonstrate their qualifications along these lines by publishing studies of him.”
  3. “…the anecdotes of his contemporaries showing him as a drunken, filthy, amoral homosexualteenager who becomes a reserved, hard-working, responsible and respectable (if misanthropic and disgust-ridden) adult merchant and explorer.”
  4. “…his scornful and unhesitating permanent abandonment of poetry at the age of 20.”

(I am taking so much from the New York Times piece that it borders on copyright infringement, but do keep in mind that I am doing so for the permitted purpose of critique and review. I quote this initial passage out of order as I have broken it down for a purpose which should become clear momentarily.)

Rimbaud and Bateson’s Levels of Learning

One theme that recurs in my life is this article on (Gregory) Bateson’s three levels of learning. I strongly suspect that a better answer than the Yahoo Answers is that Rimbaud touched upon Bateson’s “Level III” of learning as described by Paul Tosey. Among other things, Tosey said this about Level III:

At LIII Bateson and Bateson’s (1998) conception of the sacred becomes important. They argued that some levels of patterning are so profoundly ecological that they should not be analysed cognitively; to do so would make them vulnerable to conscious thought.

Said differently, Rimbaud was having a transcendent experience (as hinted at by what I think was the best Yahoo answer: “I was another… He felt like someone else… ”) And, if it is true that (1) Rimbaud touched upon Bateson’s LIII (a “sacred” experience (or at least massively powerful “brainstorm”) which can be perceived as psychosis by others) and (2) that Bateson’s ideas about LIII are indeed correct, then Hell is profoundly correct when he states “One would have to be a genius oneself to grasp the full significance of Arthur Rimbaud, or at least have the ability to hold many opposed ideas in one’s mind at the same time and still function fully.” (Paradox, or “many opposed ideas,” is a central aspect of Bateson’s LIII.)

Then, again, maybe it is “psychosis” or at least “dissociation.” 🙂

Rimbaud, Bandwidth, and Binding Constraints

From a different, but not inconsistent, viewpoint, Rimbaud may have been attempting to identify what some refer to as a “bandwidth problem,” more specifically Shannon’s Law’. Stated differently, Rimbaud’s ideas and thinking and experiences overloaded the capacity of even his elegant poetry to convey what he was seeking to transmit to us.

Whether or not Rimbaud’s experience, or more likely a series of experiences during this early period of his life, were “sacred” is open to speculation. But SOMEthing happened that led to his poetry and this mysterious sentence that has inspired so much commentary. If not a “sacred” experience, then a brainstorm (could it be both?) touched Rimbaud, and he realized that the totality of his experience simply could not be reduced to words.

He had a “bandwidth problem,” and more specifically the words he could write along with his ability to transform experience into those words represented a “binding constraint.” In case you clicked that link and did not follow that explanation, let me give it a try: for any given situation, any “problem” you are trying to solve, if you are “optimal” and cannot do any better, then some particular factor or aspect of the situation must change to obtain an improvement.  Most of the time, one particular single factor is the “bottleneck” that must be changed to bring about an improvement in the situation.  In the language of mathematical optimization, this bottleneck is called the “binding constraint.”

Rimbaud and Phenomenology

The experiences we have can never be fully reduced to words. Arguably we, and Rimbaud, are in the domain of phenomenology.) Since the domain of phenomenology was developed from the early 20th century forward, and Rimbaud lived in the mid 1800’s when he penned the famous line, Rimbaud simply could not have availed himself of the literature of phenomenology.

One source describes phenomenology thus “Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning….” This sounds suspiciously close to what someone might struggle with when attempting to examine his own thoughts, eventually drawing the conclusion that “I is another.”

In addition to the phenomenologists, an important early group of psychologists (in the late 1800’s, after Rimbaud) called the structuralists also struggled with this profound problem. The problem was so messy that a new group called the “functionalists” emerged in psychology and laid the foundation for behaviorism, the primary driver of most psychological research for at least a century.

A profound disconnect exists here: Rimbaud did not have the benefit of knowing what the phenomenologists and structuralists learned. Maybe if he did, then we would not have the benefit of his poetry. But, he didn’t, so we do.

If Rimbaud had read the writings of the phenomenologists, then he might have never have gifted this mysterious sentence to us which has been fodder for so much commentary, especially by those Hell describes as having “sought to demonstrate their qualifications along these lines by publishing studies of” Rimbaud and his famous sentence.

What Else?

We have more to say about this, as it touches us on many levels. But, for now, we will stop here. In the future, we want to write about where all of this fits in our life, and why. Part of it addresses why we may abandon, or at least reduce, our efforts at writing and blogging on WordPress to, at least metaphorically, follow in the footsteps of young Rimbaud who, at age 20, abandoned his poetry and (as Hell points out) “contrary to legend, Rimbaud ultimately did quite well as a merchant and weapons salesman, accumulating a small fortune.” (Does this last sentence seem ungrammatical? Is it a disconnect in my writing? Let’s pick that up next time.)

Sigh. Maybe I really do need to get a “day job.”  Or, said differently, “tough luck to the wood that becomes a violin.”


My Serene Words

Have you ever wondered, if you had never written that first phrase of your poetry or the first sentence of your blog, how would your life have been right now?

Just a random human with built up emotions, unable to unpack the load of sentiments because no one really cared enough to bother themselves.

So, you penned down all the suffering, pain, love, complaints, everything you felt, because you started believing that venting in front of your ‘notes’ is way better than your own people.

How weird is this? People claim to love you and still fail to understand your insecurities. Instead of supporting you to feel more, they forbid you to feel anything at all. Because they think, you are overreacting or overthinking. Rude, isn’t it?

I remember the first time I wrote. I was 15. Even though it was just some random rhyming lines of a song that…

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What is Rökkatru?


The Rökkatru is the “darker” side of the Heathenry aspect of Norse paganism. The Rökkr serve as main deities for the Rökkatru though some still include the Æsir and Vanir in their worship. As far as I’ve read, it is the least talked about (or perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough) and often ostracized alongside Lokeans. For those curious, Heathenry is comprised of the following; Asatru, Vanatru, Rökkatru, and Thursatru.

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When You’ve Blogged All There Was to Blog About — The Art of Blogging

Many bloggers come to a point in their blogging journey when they feel they’ve written all there was to be written about a certain topic. What are you going to do then? If you’ve run out of new things to say, how do you keep producing content? Well…

via When You’ve Blogged All There Was to Blog About — The Art of Blogging

Creativity by Markov Chain, or Why Predictive Text Isn’t the Novel-Writing Shortcut You’re Looking For — Dani Alexis

Over the past year, I’ve played with Botnik‘s predictive text generator to create everything from alternative histories of popular holidays to terrible Christmas carol lyrics to the median New Year’s resolutions. It’s fun, it’s silly, and it is far more labor-intensive than most people imagine computer-generated texts would be. Most of the conversations I see […]

via Creativity by Markov Chain, or Why Predictive Text Isn’t the Novel-Writing Shortcut You’re Looking For — Dani Alexis

Would you let us join the fight?

Confessions of a Doctor to be

Every employee in hospitals around the world is bracing themselves for the torrential influx of COVID-19 patients that will overrun their wards. This is on top of pre-existing patients and those who will present for various other reasons. New and makeshift hospitals are being built on the fly and the world is quietly watching, unsure of how much worse the situation will become. But no matter how many beds we vacate for COVID-19 patients and how many resources we attain to fend against the virus, there is only a finite amount of health workers that exist in the world. Doctors and nurses are not created overnight, nor can they be magically 3D-printed for such purposes. Retired doctors are already volunteering to come back into the workforce so the question arises, how much good can us medical students do?

Now I know this is quite a polarising topic and before anyone…

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‘Not keeping mum’

Libby Sommer, Author

book cover 'Not keeping mum', mother and babyMy contributor’s copy of ‘Not keeping mum’ – Australian writers tell the truth about perinatal anxiety and depression in poetry, fiction & essay – edited by Maya Linden, arrived by courier yesterday. Am very proud to have a story included in this important anthology to be launched on Wednesday 6 May (Maternal Health Day). $9.99 https://au.blurb.com/b/10013951




Perinatal anxiety and depression affects up to 1 in 5 new and expectant mums—and in Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death for mothers during pregnancy and the first year of their baby’s life (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). Perinatal mental illness is common, and can be devastating for women and their families. So why aren’t we talking about it?

On Wednesday 6 May 2020 (World Maternal Mental Health Day) Not…

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Silver Lining

Neha's Blog

It was shortly before midnight on a chilly January evening, and mist obscured parts of the tree-lined roads while driving when I met with ‘the’ accident that turned my life upside down. On one of its darkest stretches the road turned and what I remember thereafter is quite a blur. Apparently, I had met with an accident and was found later into the night. By the time I was rushed to the hospital, I had lost a lot of blood.

Those two units of blood saved my life only to reveal later that I had contracted HIV. As fate would have it, the blood I received was infected with HIV. Evidently, the doctors couldn’t detect the virus. I later found out some viruses have a window period during which the virus doesn’t show in the blood test. So, if a person contracts HIV today and decides to donate blood the…

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The Creative Process

Libby Sommer, Author

woman in white shirt and blue denim short shorts sitting

Are you finding it hard to focus on a creative project while this health pandemic is sweeping the world? It’s hard to stop thinking and worrying about the horrific consequences worldwide.

Being able to create something new though, is a wonderful way to stop obsessing and to put your thoughts on to something constructive. Creative writing is a perfect example.

For myself, I can’t write about the world around me just now. It is still too raw and I need to process what is happening. So I am concentrating on coming up with other ideas for my stories and poems and novels.

I heard someone say, “The thing to do is put the idea in your subconscious.  Your brain will do the work.”

It takes time for our experience to make its way through our consciousness.  For example, it is hard to write about a journey while you are still in…

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