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.

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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.”

Is Markdown a Curse or a Blessing?

Reblogs (and the “old days”)

Most of you know me primarily through my reblogs. At one time, I wrote a few astrology forecasts per month. It was all fun, and sometimes I would write more than one per week and sometimes I went for months without a post and the blog seemed dead. Periodically, my content would be reblogged by The Halau or Hocus Pocus 13 but I did not know enough to even say “Thank You” in the early days. (And a “shout out” Thank You to both of them for their support of my work for many years.)

Eventually I learned not only the etiquette of reblogs but also some of the finer points of the art, and my blog became ten blogs of varying topics, my content deployment exploded, my traffic exploded, and my life changed in a truly fundamental way. Essentially, I became a “professional blogger” except I am not making money at it (yet).

Professional Blogger or just Unemployed?

If I could deduce a way to make a decent middle class to upper middle class living out of the process, I doubt I would spend much effort in the pursuit of anything else.  In simple terms: I like what I do. (However, financial constraints may yet force me to get a “day job” unless I can find a way to monetize the process, maybe becoming a KDP author (or publisher?) in the process.

Which almost brings me to the topic of this post: Markdown (and Markdown editors). But, I still have more background (which might interest some of my regular readers). If you read “Critical Comments” last month, then you know what I am writing here is a successor to that and very nearly a “diary entry.”

Connectivity Problems and Platform Shifts

Some of my connectivity problems continue, and I suspect that the remaining problems have to do with neighbors who have occupied all of the available WIFI channels and beyond. This leaves me with a need for a newer better router (yet another router purchase), and I will likely upgrade my cable modem to a Docsis 3.0 16×4, maybe something like this .

I would rather wait for Docsis 3.1 modems to emerge.  I have watched this for months with much chatter but no actual hardware made available to the public  Thus I conclude that, since the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is likely to occur first, I must give up waiting on Docsis 3.1.  Maybe it is just more vaporware.

If you are not a technophile, or you are a technophobe, ignore the past few sentences. The rest of you understand that, overall, WIFI is beginning to fail as a standard in crowded urban settings and something beyond even 802.11ac will become necessary, probably something radically different (as different as USB is compared to the old RS232 serial ports for anyone that remembers those). Til then, I will have to find some way to hammer out a “limp by” solution just like others in my situation and hope that the cyberterrorists become too busy (dead, maybe?) to mess with us and disrupt our connectivity.

All of this (connectivity, bandwidth, computing power) is something I lusted after as a young man, and as other young people still do, but this technology is just a platform for deploying content: astrology for those who like it, photography, poetry, other writing, and sometimes other content.

In the final analysis of priorities, the existence of the technology is justified by the delivery of the content.

Different Platforms, Different Tools

Which brings us, almost, to “markdown editors.” As you know from my previous post, I had three computers go down. One, a Mac, has yet to be salvaged or replaced. I do have other Macs, and I can limp by with them for “Apple only” type software tasks until I have a better solution. I pulled the hard drive from my Windows laptop and turned it into a Kubuntu Linux machine, and I am using that very machine to draft this entry. I attempted to setup a new Windows laptop for “Windows only” type software tasks, but it was an utter disaster in terms of connectivity. I finally had to give up on it and return it for a refund.

I am still contemplating options on how to handle that. I do also have a satisfactory Windows desktop (the successor of a lineage that produced my main blog, Grandtrines, from 2008 forward) as well as a very fast Kubuntu desktop (six cores; 16 GB RAM, SSD, you get the picture: FAST). Sometimes I use the Kubuntu desktop for WordPress, but mostly I use this old laptop I am using now.

In the process of switching about 98% of my computing off of Windows (after literally decades of using Windows, and DOS before that) in 2016, and moving to a mix of Apple (Mac + iOS) and Linux (Kubuntu, which is Ubuntu with the KDE desktop), I found I needed to add a series of tools that are not quite of the “standard” mix. Exactly what is “standard” for Linux is difficult to say though easier for Apple (in the Apple universe, if it is not part of the “App Store,” then it is not standard). But, in any case, that brings us to our main topic:

Markdown Editors

One family of software tools that has grabbed my attention is “markdown editors.” For anyone interested, I will list several that I am exploring here:

Apple (OSX or iOS) only:

Linux (and sometimes Apple or Windows or both)

Other Editors

I also play with other editors: Eclipse (almost never since I do not code much these days), Evernote and variants (Nixnotes), Scrivener (doesn’t everyone who is (1) over 18 and (2) does anything more than the most casual writing, poets excluded? (I hope you do not have to ask why poets are excluded.  If you do, then you do not know of all the legends about songs written on napkins.)  However, L&L has me worried because they ceased their Linux development and I (and others?) need that to ensure portability with Mac/Windows), LibreOffice, Microsoft Office (almost every variant but mostly either 2007 or 2010 depending on which machine I am on), and bunches of others. (OK, that might have been a “run on” sentence. But I am letting it stand. Complain if you must, grammar nazis.)

KM Tools

I am also a KM (“Knowledge Management”) explorer, but I mostly like Evernote and The Brain (and sometimes XMind which I have working under Windows and Mac but CANNOT get to work properly under Linux). I play with other KM tools, also, but most of them seem kind of clunky (e.g. OneNote is ALMOST t here) compared to Evernote and The Brain.

Encrypted Text

I am also intrigued by a rather interesting cross-platform notepad replacement: Deadbolt . Deadbolt’s primarily claim to fame is to make life unpleasant for snoops who do not expect fifty character (or longer) passphrases to protect private notes. <smile>

(I really like the idea of some cyberterrorist type spending weeks or months of their lives trying to break a note of mine only to find a grocery list. How much sweeter can you get than that? If more of us did that….)

Which One?

Anyway, why FIVE markdown editors across three (four? five?) platforms? Because I will winnow them out over time and settle on one or two as a way to draft more content of my own for WordPress. And, if you have stuck with me this far on this post, let me offer that you might look into using a markdown editor to draft your posts offline and then just paste into the WP editor window. (This provides more creative control AND prevents lost material due to connectivity problems.)

Again, editors I am evaluating (and you might consider):

Minimalist Editors and Productivity

All of these have an intention to be “minimalist” editors with the goal of increasing writing productivity by eliminating distractions (unneeded “features”). This may, or may not, work for you. The Mac apps cost money and Ulysses is the most expensive (but has a strong “fanboy” (and “fangirl”) following). Typora is currently in beta but will be “for sale” at some point. Ghostwriter and Remarkable are open source (and can be “free” depending on your ethics / karma).

Downside to Learning Markdown (A History Lesson)

The downside: I have seen this pattern recur many time since the EARLY 1980’s (almost 1970’s). Wordstar had a somewhat similar marking system for bold and italics and such that predated the Internet (and links). It was supplanted by WordPerfect which users preferred because they thought it was cleaner with no “codes” (until the naive user discovers “reveal codes, and, to use a popular cliche, “there it is”).

Microsoft Word does the same thing but hides the codes better somewhere in RTF / XML. HTML used the same series of codes (bold, italics, etc.) but use of those codes was officially “deprecated” in favor of CSS (which did the EXACT same thing except made it more portable / flexible / complex). WordPress has the same scheme in their editor, and they are just hiding HTML (thankfully plain vanilla HTML which I can hand code as can many other) the same way Wordperfect did in the 1980’s (and still today). (Let us be clear: despite the popularity of CSS, MANY of us use the old HTML tags still, myself included.)

Markdown just seems like yet another variant in a long, long lineage of similar schemes, so “part of me” is VERY reluctant to invest too much time in it. Thankfully, the learning curve looks pretty flat, so maybe it is worthwhile. But, then, there is the learning curve of learning the editors (Byword, Ulysses, Ghostwriter, Remarkable, Typora) themselves well enough to evaluate them and discard them down to, say, two (one for Mac and one for Linux/Windows).

Conclusions

Despite my concerns about learning yet another tool that may soon be discarded in a long lineage of similar tools with the same recurring learn / master / discard drama, I think I am going to bite the bullet and learn markdown anyway.

Feedback welcome. Anyone else playing with markdown editors on WP?

Edit: (1) WordPress, itself, has an excellent little triple-platform editor called Simplenote (which can be very useful for keeping both (a) Markdown intended for publish; (b) more private notes about your writing not intended for publication); (2) “Remarkable” was a bit of a disaster for producing this blog post; Ghostwriter did a much better job (still have not fully tested Typora or the Mac apps).

Critical Comments

Most of the time I reblog here, and if you are one of my regular readers, then you already know that. First I must digress a bit to put this post in context.

About a month ago, I wrote a post over on my main astrology blog (GrandTrines) in which I talked about the optimal way to deploy content so as to generate the most traffic. I frequently reblog, and I know that brings a fair amount of click-through to SOME of the bloggers that I reblog (depending on whether or not the public likes their content). I even went so far as to post some screen captures of my content.

Almost immediately after that, I was BLOCKED from having my posts (original or reblog) from showing under the “astrology” keyword. While I am not certain of this, I suspect that someone was unhappy with my commentary (or maybe jealous of the fact that I can generate 800 pageviews before a full moon, something I know that only a few others do) and complained to WordPress (though I am not certain what the complaint would be).

I attempted to contact WordPress but was effectively directed to the community forum and have no resolution. (In all fairness, I am not great about checking my email. That takes a HUGE amount of time, and I would rather spend it on content creation or content deployment.)  The other possibility is that, somehow, my blog was hacked though I do not know how that would work, either.  In any case, something went very wrong.

Furthermore, I had a number of connectivity issues (and, yes, I do VPN so I try to protect my connection), and had some VERY STRANGE computer problems. The strangest was the third one. What happened was I had a keyboard “fail” about 4:30 AM (I am an obligate night owl), and WITHIN 30 SECONDS of the “failure,” I received an incoming phone call on my personal cell phone from “unknown caller.” (I NEVER answer those and did not answer this one.) I suspect the keyboard “failure” was some kind of firmware attack. Though I have multiple computers, three of them were “down” within about 48 hours of each other….

All of this happened about a week or two before the attack on the United States’ part of the DNS system (which, it so happens, is MOST of the DNS system), and I have to wonder who or what was the source. The fact is this: if you generate “enough traffic” or are “sufficiently visible” on the ‘net, then you become a target. And, shortly after I became “keyword disabled,” some competitors from the middle east for the “astrology” keyword became quite “active.” (I will not name names, but they are easy enough to identify for anyone interested.)

All of this leaves me reluctant to write the commentary I am about to write, and also leaves me wondering how to approach my blogging given this series of events. Additionally, one other astrologer told me privately (by email) that they experienced certain similar events (and worse!).

I really wish these parasites would do something that would result in their immediate exit of the gene pool; alas, that is but wishful thinking (though I suspect the rest of us feel the same way).

With that said, I return to my regular, intended post.

A relatively new blogger asked me tonight why I do not “ask permission” before I reblog. My simple answer was that it would be “ineffective.” I omitted some details that I think I will add here, and I think that they might be particularly useful to those that follow my writing blogs (Still Another Writers Blog (the general blog), Orthometry (the poetry blog, and surprisingly popular!), and Orthografia (dedicated primarily to writing mechanics (grammar, spelling, style, edits) and marketing (some book reviews but more towards “how to” articles like “how to” promote your book self-published on KDP).

Before we proceed, please keep in mind that I adhere closely to the published WordPress policy on reblogs.  I immediately take down anything I receive a takedown request on (not many of those).  When someone compliments “my writing” I say words to the effect of “glad you liked it (I did too), it is a reblog, you should thank the original author also.”

So, here is the first thing: I subscribe to over 1,500 blogs. That is right. I did not say 15. I did not say 150. That was not a typo: 1,500. I cannot read all of them daily, and I do not.

Functionally, I am a curator (or “publisher”) of material (about 95% of the time, or more, with some of my own material mixed in from time to time, particularly on the astrology side of things), and in many ways my role is similar to that of readers who read, and reject, manuscripts for paper-based publishers. Based on my experiences, I am going to share my “inside viewpoint.” Keep in mind that blog posts ARE different, and not everything I will say applies to paper-based publishing. But I bet a fair amount of it does.

First thing is this: I have a lot of crap that I have to reject. I know that whenever you “put your heart into” a blog post that it is your child, and it must be very special to you. You love it. You adore it. The fact is, however, that not everyone shares your opinion. You get ten visitors a day, and that is from your friends who are visiting because you keep pestering them. No one is giving you the attention you deserve! They cannot see your brilliance. You get bored with this process and move on.

The consequence is that I do not have to read 1,500 blogs. Ever. Somewhere north of 1,000 of them are dead. (Why do I still have over 1,500 subscriptions? Because identifying the dead ones to unsubscribe can easily kill a day to eliminate, say, 100 to 200 dead blogs. It “feels” like a waste of time, and leaving them in place is easier. But, about once every ninety days or so I have a “purge day” and kill the more obviously dead ones from, say, 2009 or 2010. (I am proud to say the old dead blogs from 2008 are gone, and only the twenty or fewer that survived from 2008 are still in my feed.))

This also means that the BEST and EASIEST to remember blog names are GONE from WordPress. Which leaves me stuck with weird names like “orthometry” for poetry and “orthografia” for writing style. (To paraphrase what someone else said to me today, sounds like I am a dentist who is a closet writer. NOT.)

It stinks, but I do not spend TOO much time being madder than hell about all the single post blogs that left a wasteland of the pool of obvious names because that, too, is a waste of my time, only sightly removed from losing a day of my life removing old dead blogs from the feed.

In theory, that leaves me with somewhere between 100 and 500 blogs to read when my computers and connection have not been compromised by some of the vermin that inhabit the ‘net. Except, of course, it does not happen that way.

For each category (NOT each blog), I have between five and twenty key writers I read frequently: astrology, metaphysics, poetry, writing in general, and some other topics. I typically process them LAST because that puts them at the TOP of the newsfeed, and I already KNOW that my readers want to hear what they have to say. Many of these bloggers I reblog daily.

What I do first depends on what is going on in my life. (Surprise, surprise! Your readers have a F-ing LIFE outside of YOUR blog! It pays to remember that!) If it is a slow day, I will process comments first (almost always responding to whoever chats with me, including the astrologer in India who says “my pleasure” when he says “Thank You” (in Texas that phrase goes with “You’re Welcome” and it feels really weird to get it with “Thank You”)). When I respond to a comment, I also look at the BLOG. That means they almost ALWAYS get their freshest content read (if it is a slow day, meaning no appointments or deadlines).

“Likes” get processed next. If an entry gets only, say, two likes, then I just “read” it in the queue (marking it done), but if I get six or more then I dig a little deeper to see what people are reading and “liking.” Again, I tend to check the blogs of the people who seem “dialed into” what the collective likes. Not only do I do this for the sake of efficiency (which is essential because of the amount I read), but also it tells me who is “in tune” with what is “going on” out there.

Keyword processing is next, and every time I log on I do this for my main keyword (“astrology”) unless I am under huge deadline pressure AND a lunation is happening (New Moon or Full Moon). The fact is that lunations are HUGE traffic builders for astrology blogs, and the best astrology bloggers know this. I have seen some of them post THREE posts prior to a lunation: one about three or four days ahead of time, one the day before (which is when the most traffic happens), and one the day of (which also has SOME good traffic).

People who post AFTER the lunation leave me wondering why they are astrologers at all. They seem to have no sense of timing, and they certainly get almost no share of the traffic. (Maybe that was who I offended, someone who was doing this and was really angry that they only got five page views, instead of 800, on their blog, AND they could not quite “figure it out.”) Astrology in ENTIRELY about “timing,” and, curiously, so is the posting of blog entries. If you time it right, you might get some traffic. Miss the window, and nobody will care that you wrote a Magnum Opus. They will be looking elsewhere for what they desire.

No matter what you write, you need to know the TIMING of your audience.

After I have processed “astrology,” and maybe a few other keywords, I go to my top bloggers. If I have already reviewed their material (and reblogged or not) when I was processing a keyword, then I skip them. Certain outstanding bloggers NEVER show up in the keywords. For example, Tara Greene is an excellent astrologer, but for some reason she does not show up under “astrology.” (Maybe she is blocked also?) She and I have chatted privately, and I give her a special review most days (I am not online EVERY day).

Another issue is whether or not someone is “too much work.” Julie Dembowski is an excellent astrologer. I highly recommend her work, and, in my opinion, she is one of the best astrologers on the ‘net. But she has the reblog button turned off, and using the other faculty is quite a bit of work.  She has a very strict policy about using her content. I THINK she might have given me permission to repost years ago, but I am so time constrained already that I cannot take her up on it even if she did. Despite her being absolutely at the top of the game, even if I did have permission I just could not spend the extra effort on it. (But, she’s really good! Check her out.)

Someone I REALLY like in Australia, a cartoonist and his sweetheart, I reblog “anyway.” He has the most difficult to navigate WP blog I have ever seen anywhere. I have dropped a few hints. I WOULD reblog more of the content if I could find my way around. Again, his work is EXCELLENT, but navigation is so difficult that I cannot give him the additional exposure his work deserves.

If you want people to ACTUALLY READ your work, AVOID themes that are “cool” but hard to navigate. If you have ANY question about “navigate,” ask someone else to look at it, and that means someone other than your “hipster” friends who are going to tell you how “cool” the site looks. If ANY doubt exists, pick the simplest and most boring paper-white theme you can find. Otherwise no one will read it because they cannot get past the “secret decoder ring” navigation, you will be bored and get your feelings hurt because no one can “see your genius,” and you will end up one of the dead blogs that have to be eliminated on “purge day.” Unless you are the kind of person who has devoted their lives to a series of “learning experiences” which are really thinly veiled failures resulting from poorly conceived and poorly executed projects, you should avoid this kind of mistake. (I am NOT referring to my cartoonist pal at this point. His work is excellent, and he has a significant body of work. I am referring to the single entry blog that NO ONE visits.)

Avoid making the mistake I am making with THIS ENTRY. What mistake is that? It is TOO LONG. I will lose almost ALL of my mobile audience because it is TOO LONG (the mobile audience is now over 50% of all blog traffic), and many of my desktop / laptop readers have already quit by this point. If you have read this far, then I both applaud you and admonish you to NOT make this same mistake!

Paper-based publishers required a certain amount of length (still do), but that DOES NOT apply in the digital world, and if you pad your work you will both lose and offend your audience. Time is short, and so are attention spans. No one can really tell how long a book is on KDP. TECHNICALLY they can tell, but if you grab your audience and tell them the story they want to hear, then they will love you even if your “novel” is fifty pages.

Another thing to avoid is “preaching” or “sermonizing,” another error I have likely made here myself. However, my hope is that this entry is useful to at least some if not most of the readers of this blog (about writing!).

Back to the main topic, blogging and reblogs. I pick content to reblog that I think my readers will like (and read), and I often do that by seeing what is getting the most likes / pageviews. WordPress can give you those stats. While stats may seem “boring,” they can be the difference between having your blog read, or not, over a longer period of time. If you prefer, the stats tell you where the audience can “see your genius.”

With the time constraints I face, I cannot “ask permission” each time I reblog. And if someone wants that, then I have to take that blog out of consideration. Is that such a bad thing?  (I almost hate to mention this issue.  Out of thousands of reblogs, this has only happened less than five times.)

My services are totally “free,” a hobby that I might convert into a business of some kind some day, maybe. What has caught me off guard is that my better bloggers, typically the ones on my bookmarked lists, learn from reading my blog. I can SEE where they have spotted an idea or technique that someone else developed and integrate it into THEIR blog (and benefit from it).

What that means is that, unintentionally, I have created communities on my various blogs. While they do not chatter the way some do on social media, I can tell that they are reading and learning from each other. That means that I have created a school (several, actually) of sorts, and THAT was my original intention with “Grand Trines” when I started it in 2008. I wanted to explore certain astrology concepts and maybe find some people, both online and anonymous, to discuss those concepts. Things did not quite work out quite that way, but I am still satisfied with what I see.

If you want me to have to “ask permission” each time I reblog your comment, be certain I will not do that.  It is not feasible. Be certain that I will unsubscribe from your blog. I cannot justify spending my time on it. Enough people benefit from the additional traffic (assuming they are writing something someone wants to read) and the opportunity to learn from others that I simply do not have to do that; we have a community.

One other thing, I had someone comment that their work was “heart felt.” I can only assume that they think the other bloggers writing poetry are not “heart felt.”  (I would like to hear what some of my other poets think about this.)

My intent, here, is not to “beat anyone up.” My thoughts are to help those who seem a bit far afield from the realities of the blogosphere.  If you present yourself as being a writer, do you think about what you say? Some of the writers on WordPress are meticulous in their craft.

Here is a list of some of the best writers in astrology (in my opinion). It is not an exhaustive list, and I am certain to leave someone out. But, these are some of the best:

Andy Candypants (Journey by the Sea)

Anne Whitaker (Writing from the Twelfth House)

Anoop Astrology (Vedic)

Clarissa (Viva Combusta)

Eliza Bassett (Eyes of Heaven)

Diane L (Libra Seeking Balance)

Tara Greene

Venus Lotus

I also like some others, notably Jbuss who is just too abstract for most readers but who I enjoy personally. (I reblog his work even though I know a fair number of people many not “get” his sometimes rather arcane analysis.) I also like Dreamweaver 333 (“The Oracle Report”) although “The Oracle Report” comes out so late in the day that it is only of limited utility to myself or many of my readers. I also like Monavie Voight though she does Numerology and Tarot cards; she is a good oracle though I do not really “grok” how she does what she does. I also like “Minute Astrologer” who is similar to Dreamweaver 333’s “The Oracle Report.” Jaguar Spirit is a relatively new addition with a focus on Native American mythology / beliefs, and I like them also. If I missed you, and you are one of my regulars, then it was an accidental and unintentional oversight. Obviously I am not addressing the commerical astrologers though I like some of them, notably Cainer, Holiday Mathis, Georgia Nicols, and Kelli Fox.

But the real point is that the masters usually “get it right.” Sometimes Tara Greene is a little long, but the rest tend to be very short, with Eliza Bassett being the shortest. I bet she has the BEST (most) mobile traffic! All of them are CLEAR in their writing, and ALL of them make it very easy for me to reblog and easy for my readers to read.

I am certain I have left out a number of other good ones who tend to post less frequently, maybe at the lunations (every two weeks) and change of seasons (four times per year, eight if cross quarter days are included) and maybe certain retrograde / direct stations (Mercury about three or four times a year).

I have not listed my poets or other writers for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I am still tuning the process a little AND I am getting a little tired AND this post is TOO LONG already. But I will mention a FEW of my favorites: Afzal Moolla (Scribbled Verse), Asha’s Blog, Brenda Davis Harsham (Friendly Fairy Tales), By the Mighty Mumford, Robert Okaji, Sarah Doughty (HeartString Eulogies), and Tony Single & Tetiana (CrumbleCult, Unbolt.me)

Poetry newcomers I like “at the moment” (let’s hope they last): Ana (Bittersweet Diary), Articulate Wordss, Eyes + Words, Frank Solanki (not a true newcomer but a well seasoned poet; however, his work and blog is new to ME), and Words from a Little Person.

Check online and you will find a ton of MFA programs in “Creative Writing.” Those guys know what the market is like. A ton of people plan to be the next Stephen King or Robert Frost or Virginia Wolfe. I know that my efforts are imperfect, and with some people (usually the single entry blog guys) I have been blessed with a gift for pissing them off. So, please do let me know when you find that MFA program in “Curation of Online Content” or an MFA in Publishing (NOT “writing” BUT PUBLISHING). Let me know, and I will look into it. 🙂

If I had put all this juice that I put into this post into my Nano project, I would be more than 3,300 3,400 words ahead.

We, alone, choose where we spend our time.

3 Day quote challenge / Day 1

My astrology blog was nominated, but I am moving this to my writer’s blog
1. I find this video so compelling that I must substitute it for my first “quote”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc
2. I also must select another video, a Star Trek monolog, as one of my all time favorites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ6td1J0-Us
Say what you will about Shatner, he got this right.
3. Be ye as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.

One More, from the same source as #2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9sqkahSziU

Rhapsody Bohème

I have been asked to partake in a 3 Day quote challenge by radhikagaur.wordpress.com and like always I’m grateful for the request of my opinion. To be heard and being able to contribute, as well as receiving the opportunity to perhaps make a difference for somebody that can find hope in the words. Thank you very much and please be sure to circle back to my nominators blog to find more quotes.
The rules are simply and short:

Thank your nominator and link back to their blog

Write three quotes total, one for each day

Nominate three fellow blogger each day, nine total
I have to admit that I am a sucker for quotes and they hold great wisdom and advice for me. I find myself cradled and motivated by their insight as well as inspired by the values and the pursuit of what I hold dear to my heart…

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