Ad Astra: Myth and Beauty

Ad Astra is utterly beautiful. Views of Neptune’s rings or the depths of space enchant me. It works as an adventure film, with a car chase in lunar buggies and a zero-gravity fight, but most of all it is a meditation on what it means to be a man, and how to be the best man you are. Brad Pitt is beautiful to look at, inhabiting the hero and expressing all of him, in facial movements and the way he walks.

It is a Man film, where men confront each other and do heroic things, and women are receptionists or an uncomprehended love interest, but two women are at decisive moments, the woman he loves yet cannot (at least at the start) communicate with, who leaves him, and the woman on Mars who issues the challenge he must face alone.

The film is gorgeous to look at. It starts with a tower so tall he needs a pressure suit to go outside, and has a view of Jupiter as his space ship passes by. It has Brad Pitt’s face, with thoughts and feelings flooding through it as he takes up his task, wanting to send a message to the woman he loves yet not having the words or knowing what to say.

Some of the space stuff stretched my ability to suspend disbelief. They appear to find reaching escape velocity easier than I understand it is. But on a mythic level, a solitary journey of seventy days to the farthest planet is moving, expressed by more shots of Pitt’s face, of him making his way through the ship, and of his ship receding, disappearing into the dark.

The man starts the film overshadowed by his famous father, following in his footsteps a long way behind, doing dangerous jobs in space out of a sense of duty, doing what his bosses instruct. They praise him as a good serviceman. His repeated psych evals show him to be well adjusted to this obedience. They give him a task: to send a message to his father, who may still be alive, but they draft the message which he must merely read out. For some reason or another he has to go to Mars to do that. Getting there involves adventure sequences threatening his life and that of those who rely on him, and an encounter with an old “friend” of his father.

The message has no answer (an answer would take at least eight hours). Then he speaks for himself, making a plea to his father from his heart. In giving his all to do what he decides for himself to make his goal, he becomes a mature man.

His father is also a Man, whose great task subsumes all other moral or practical imperatives, whose failure to find the result he wishes makes him wish for death. His devotion to an impossible dream makes him murderous.

All that matters is the task each has chosen freely, which each must complete though they die. Death is ever present, from the beauty and bleakness of the sun through a visor of a space suit in the opening shots to the encounter between the two men, the son sacrificed for his father’s life purpose and the father, a great explorer and also a failure, solitary for sixteen years. His failure is that he cannot accept that he cannot have what he wanted so much, cannot relinquish the task though further effort is futile.

The film shows a journey through challenge to freedom, maturity, and flowering as a real man, doing what the son must do and knowing and expressing his feelings, relating authentically to others. It works as myth.

The wisdom to know the difference

You know the serenity prayer. It encapsulates the human condition so elegantly.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I might imagine that “know” to be instantaneous. How often I carry on banging my head against a wall, though there is no crack in it, no way I will break through in that way. I should “know” it is fruitless, I should perceive immediately that it will do no good, but often I have to learn that. I carry on banging my head against the wall because I have not accumulated enough evidence to convince myself that it will do no good.

Or, I sit amongst wonderful opportunities, taking none of them, because I do not see them. I should know they are there, and choose one, and pursue it. I should know, now, not have to work at learning of their existence.

So, perhaps we should change the word “know” to “learn”. I did not know, I say. I thought the wall would crack eventually. I had not seen the possibilities.

But I am insane, not seeing because I do not want to see. I want to believe that what I am doing has value. I want to believe my choices and decisions so far have been good enough, and my perception clear. Admitting I am wrong is painful. And so I carry on beating my head against the wall, because it is better than admitting I have been wrong.

So another word for “know”, there, is “accept” or even “admit”. There is blood streaming down my face, sweat stinging my eyes, and my trembling fingers find no cracks in that wall. There is a moment when I must admit all my virtue- courage, tenacity, intelligence, strength of will- has been insufficient to break it down.

But I know, really. I can carry on

banging my head against the wall

or stop. I can carry on

ignoring the possibilities

or consider them.

That wisdom entails admitting all the pain I carry into my immediate awareness. All the choices I have made that have not gone well. All the false hope and illusion. All the times I claim to desire something but take no steps to bring it to fruition. It involves choosing what I actually am over what I wish myself to be, and choosing reality over fantasy. It involves staring unblinkingly, and acting. This is who I am, here, now, with these characteristics, with this fixed past, with these possible futures. Wisdom is terrifying, the face of God.

I am going to die. My chance of life after death is in the memories of people who know me, and the lives of people I influence. My life will be finished: before then, it is for me to complete it, to make it a whole.

I have not actually been reading existentialist philosophy, just an introduction to some of its concepts. Some of them chime with me, though. Even when I do not admit, I still know.

More lovely blogs

The joy of blogs is meeting people. Some, I just say “Hi”, a few I read and comment on for years, and think of them as friends. Here are some blogs new to me, which I really like: I have been meeting people through the “Commenting Bootcamp”. It is striking how many talented women have self-confidence far less than they deserve. Let us encourage one another!

Sussurus came and commented, so I popped over, and found this brave, challenging post: Street Art: Don’t Hate!

Prejudice exists.

This is my problem: it’s about my attitudes, instincts and actions. It’s about the attitudes, instincts and actions of those who seek my permission to represent me.

Yes. How often has someone told you how much they value diversity, and you see the shutters down behind their eyes?

Let us understand what our own [genes, or instincts] are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.

The flower pictures are beautiful too.

Kiri blogs on grief, loss and healing, with the title Retro Girl and the Chemo Kid. The loss of a child to cancer is a terrible thing, and a rare experience, and she brings her experience to life, giving the reader an inkling of it; and she addresses universal themes. As she says,

What I didn’t imagine when I started was that the lessons I learned from Zoe and from loss would resonate so much with others. It’s one more unexpected gift from Zoe to the world.

In My one and only, she starts from the question “Do you have any other children?” to address her own changing feelings about having another child. The courage is beautiful, the insight powerful.

As you know, I show courage blogging too…

“Let’s encourage each other,” says your friend Megha Agrawal. Oh! Yes! She blogs on various cuisine- pizza, and palak-paneer- and crafting: “Art, food, and celebrating womanhood”. I had not seen a blog with a privacy policy before, and am interested to read of the Children Online Privacy Protection Act.

Here is Olive Ole, Norwegian living in Denmark, currently sharing her New York photos.

When venturing on to New York City with Sir Nerdalot, whose Indian name would be «NerdWhoLikesWeirdSports«, one cannot quietly let Yankee Stadium pass by. Old Mamasan did try to persuade him to let it go – as it was not even baseball season, but failed miserably. So what to do when the argument is lost? You charge up the batteries for the camera, put on good shoes, and tag along while quietly planning revenge.

Yogi’isms are definitely my thing- Oh! the Spirituality!- and I had not heard the koan, It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.

If there are any men still here, you might like Luke, recently returned to blogging. Here he is on Viral Jesus marketing. Such a wise head, on one so young!

Giorgione, Young man with arrow

Bipeds II

With a shock, I realised: this is not nice, this is not nice at all. But it is exciting.

I screamed as the car door opened. Thank God I missed it with my front wheel: had I not, the incident would have been considerably more unpleasant. I hit it with my shin, foot and pedal. It ripped my panniers off, without damaging them. I can wiggle my toes. The driver came up, apologised, and checked that my rear wheel was OK, a little officiously I thought but I was not checking it. Feeling relief and shock rather than anger, I shook his hand. A woman looked at me, perhaps because my scream had been deep and masculine, but said nothing. I pedalled off, and have invested in lights: I am still considering night cycling.

Her grandchild is due in two weeks. It was something to hold on for- but you would not want to come and put the baby in her arms, just to say you had done it, if she might be comatose at the time. We do not need to tick boxes, as the authentic experiences we actually have are enough. She was living until the end, never just existing: there is gratitude, along with the sadness.

What she needs is a quick no-strings fling with someone completely unthreatening.

I stand in the high street, listening to the busker. He has a backing track and plays Let it Be- he has a lovely warm smooth tone on that tenor sax. Bipeds pass. That woman has scar tissue all across her cheek. That woman looks at her husband, querying- where shall we go now? That hurrying man, stuffing money in his wallet from the ATM, looks worried. The Hind Hotel, which boasts that the Lord Protector stayed there once, looks clear in the distance: I decide to use peripheral vision rather than direct gaze to notice people. They have their own concerns, but seem friendly enough. Mindfulness is just pure dead brilliant: rather than being bored in the post office I pay attention to those grilles in the ceiling.

I thought, yesterday morning, reclining on my chaise longue, crying, beside myself, that this will end; but doubted that, because in this mood I feel I am seeing reality. So I phoned a friend: I wanted to be seen, I wanted to vomit my rage and fear and be heard. When she called back, I had regained my equanimity, though after all that time crying not sleeping I felt a little weak, and did not want to go out or see anyone. It was good to talk. It was good to talk this morning of my most recent Religious Experience– YAY!- and Art Epiphany– I love a good Art Epiphany. Though not that Art Epiphany, that would be too personal. After all, I have my psychotherapist on Friday, fifty minutes devoted to Me! How cool is that? As we talked, several times my near-collision came to the front of my mind, and I noticed it, and gave it my attention. Now, considering it, my feeling is satisfaction.

John Lavery, Anna Pavlova


File:Etruscan Painting 1.jpg

Like the Ancient Egyptians, the Etruscans invested a great deal of energy in their tombs.

File:Tarquinia Tomb of the Leopards.jpg

We know so little about them. They left inscriptions, and the few longer texts, together, could be read out in twenty minutes. Their language was not Indo-European: perhaps they were a relic from before. No similar language has been found.

File:Etruscan mural achilles Troilus.gif

Yet we still have these beautiful pictures, created for the entertainment of a corpse.

Come from Love

File:SophieAndersonTakethefairfaceofWoman.jpgWe sat, stunned. I thought, I should be upset, and am not. Now I think, how could I be? After days of Mum lying in bed, responding less, then two days lying unconscious, then a minute foaming at the mouth- how could I feel all that might make me feel?

I wept three times that year. We laid Mum out in a new dress, in her coffin in the spare bedroom, and I kissed her face and was freed to weep. How could I read the eulogy my father composed for the funeral without weeping, people asked. I did not tell them that I remembered stealing her mastectomy breast forms after my father had put them in the bin, and my self-disgust steeled me. Months later at the Bridgewater Hall I heard Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto, and the second movement, poised, balanced, vulnerable, intense, sweet, aching, expressing loss and acceptance made tears pour out, in the crowd, and no-one minded, and that no-one minded was a useful lesson.

Years later I lay on the floor so often, weeping, I am not a man, that I transitioned.

I felt myself getting labile, weeping at anything, angry at small things, and I withdrew. Last year, it seems to me I had withdrawn completely. I knew I had no chance of staying on ESA, and I would have to sign on, but instead of finding a flat I could rent, and even, perhaps, trying to find a job, I hunkered down and procrastinated.

File:SophieAndersonTheHeadOfANymph.jpgI had found a way where I could tolerate my own emotional responses. I did not listen to the news, so much. I read a bit, but not too deeply. I have blogged. I could say, I accomplished nothing last year, I merely existed, but I tested to destruction that way of avoiding uncomfortable feelings. Okay, that doesn’t work, what now? More meditation, perhaps.

More Rachmaninov. Let me feel it fully. Let my anger course through my veins, let my weeping flood me, let my fear do whatever fear does in purple cliché mode. Let me be filled with it, naked with it, one flesh with it. Let me accept it and love it and become one, for it is me and I am bigger than I know, consciously; and I know, unconsciously.

Here I record my progress…messing about…File:LGAnderson.jpg

Fbfnd split from his cohabitee of 18 months, and posted on facebook a picture of her looking beautiful and his good wishes for her, stating their separation. Someone told him he should take it down. Someone else said he should do the right thing, and “come from Love”. But that is impossible. Throw yourself into your work, get very drunk, leave your computer at a friend’s house because facebook is dangerous and email is worse, but do not lie to yourself that you “Come from Love”.

I have been so trapped by my need to see myself as a loving, creative, caring human being: I crush all my impulses otherwise until it takes all my energy. I am unsure what to do with them, but denying them is not working.

I can’t be the only one, stuck in the lessons of teen-age, surely? I tell myself I can be a “loving, creative, caring human being” and pissed off occasionally-

Memento mori

Klee death and fireMy friend’s father in law was a drunken violent man who had bullied and assaulted his wife and daughters. He felt no love for the man. When he died, it seemed to affect my friend, who still declared his hatred, and it seemed to me that even though he was not bereaved in the usual way, he had been reminded of death. The death of another made him think of his own.

Another man told me that when he turned thirty, he had a clear understanding of his own death. He was going to die.

Someone wrote (AC Grayling? I can’t find it on Google) that if there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no believers at funerals: confronted with the fact of death we are unable to believe our fairy-tales- which may be why Rodney repeated so often about Dad’s experience of eternal life, now. Jackie Martinez in pinkIf we all believed it, he would only say it once, and if he believed it he might say it less. The funeral is a reminder of our own death, and for Rodney at 87 it will not be long.

For me at 47, it may be fifty years, and, perhaps, being alive and hungry, or frightened, or powerless, is more frightening than dying. I don’t know if that is true for me, though. I don’t know what I feel about it, and I don’t know what I might feel about it. In the moment of death there is the basic-brain response to seek survival, which may overcome the rational desire for death: so the hanged man desperately scratches at his neck to loosen the rope. I have desired death as a relief from burdens (I don’t, now) but a survival instinct would take over from that part of me which planned my death.

And then there is the state of being dead, no longer feeling or acting, though perhaps still influencing. I feel some resentment, actually: how could the world get on without me? It feels unreal. I remember thinking of my university carrying on without me- I realised it does, and turned to what was next.

I will die. I don’t know if the pain of a terminal illness is increased by knowledge that it is terminal, but the inevitable fact of death would simply be closer than it is now.

I don’t know what I feel about my death, and so put words to myself, seeking some spark of recognition. Possibly because it is unlikely within the next five years, and I do not plan ahead, particularly- five years seems a long way away- it is not real enough to me for me to feel anything, even though I can state I will die as a fact.


File:Oliver Cromwell, Death mask (right).jpgHow much have you achieved, in your time on Earth?

It was quite a shock when I realised I am older than the Prime Minister- only four months, but still. I could blame his privileged upbringing and education at Eton and Cambridge, but by middle age one really should stop blaming ones childhood. Now I am older than the leaders of the three main parties, the only reason I could think of for supporting Scottish independence would be that Wee Eck is still older than I am. It is a changeable fashion: my father retired before he was older than the PM.

These things can reverse. I have been older than the last two Doctor Whos, but not the next one, so I can start looking up to him again.

There are other ways of dealing with the achievement of others. I may not have written about fifty symphonies, 27 piano concertos, 15 masses and 12 violin concertos, and I could not perform one of those piano concertos, but at least I have lived longer than Mozart- though not, yet, Bach or Beethoven, and my father has not outlived Copland. I am now older than George Orwell, Jane Austen, Jack London, F Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Camus and Oscar Wilde, Billie Holliday, John Lennon and Freddie Mercury, Alan Turing and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, so if my name is writ in water, at least I am still alive. I got these names from Celebrity Deaths sorted by age, on the Simon Fraser University website. The only Simon Fraser I recall gained notoriety by getting away with killing his son: he told the judges he had been asleep, dreaming of fighting a gorilla.File:Beethovendeathmask.jpg

Ha! I need not dwell on their death to belittle someone! Only a little imagination is required!


Well. That was a bitter little abortion of a post. The germ was noticing that I am older than George Orwell was when he died. It has some comic potential: the little man getting one over on the powerful, or that particular little man being deluded, clinging to something small.

Schadenfreude literally translates as “harm joy”, and my coining sterbenfreude as “Death joy”. I express my own bitterness here, allowed free rein and without any admixture of qualities I find acceptable to the imaginary Other, or comfortable to myself. That gives it its bite, but frightens me: this is me speaking, and I don’t like it.


This bitterness is not the whole of me. I genuinely do not know which of these is true:

If I let it out to play, it will be stronger as it will become habitual

If I let it out to play it will not draw strength from my fear of it

My desire is to be Positive. Which of these two theories do you think more likely?

At rest

North side

Child grave I was surprised Terry did not use the word “died”, but a euphemism. What is wrong with “died”? It is short and clear, and has no particular connotations, unlike “passed on”, “shuffled off this mortal coil”, or “kicked the bucket”. He agreed “died” is the word to use. I like to see architecture myselfChildren's areaIn the Woodford graveyard, so many graves have “fell asleep” or “passed over”, he complains. With an hour to kill in Irthlingborough- the charity shop? The coffee shop? Sitting on a bench with a magazine? – I decided to check out the church, which was there in the 17th century. Did people “pass on”? I start near the church. In these 19th century gravestones, the word used is “died”.

Flowers south of church

AngelGranite and slate seem to last the longest. Some cheapskates used other materials, which erode in the rain, though I suppose it does not really matter 150 years after death. There are few angels or particularly high memorials, though one angel prays over a grave paved in stone: the moss started growing in the now-illegible words, and is spreading to the rest. Carving on the vertical stone is the way, or the slope on these stones: the last I find here died in 2008.

Changing fashionsMost of the graves have a low stone wall enclosing them, to keep feet out, though there is little room between to walk. Quaker graves do not have such a wall, and our stones are small and uniform.

Children's areaThere is about an acre of land in this graveyard, which goes down the incline towards the river. The 20th century gravestones further South of the church have a sprinkling of “fell asleep” rather than “died”. I suppose it depends what you notice- Terry might be shocked by far fewer “fell asleep”s, I am reassured by the majority being “died”. One or two say how they died. A woman left her home in health never to return, and died after a few hours’ illness. She was 32. A child died in an accident. Several gravestones have the crest of the Northamptonshire Regiment, and one, for the Scouts of Irthlingborough, has a wreath of “poppies”. One grave from the 1970s has flowers- imitation flowers, but still.

CrossOne grave has logorrhoea. This stone […] in memory of Thomas Treeman Su—-, who after a […] and painful illness which he bore with Gl[adness??] fortitude and resignation was removed from time to Eternity on the 9th day of October 1812 in the [5/6?]2nd year of his age. Also in this place lieth the remains of John and Susannah Su—-. He died …1807, aged 84 years, She died August the 6th 1799 aged 77 years. Note how much of the inscription relates to the son, who did not care to erect a stone for his parents.

fallen angelPalaeography is easier: the whole letter is visible. Here, I am guessing. Some epitaphs are touching, some memento mori, some in hopes of heaven:

The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the [obscured beneath the earth]

Flowers after 40 yearsWatch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the son of man cometh

All you that come my grave to see
As I am now so you must be
Repent in time make no delay
I in my prime was called away

Oh death thou didst unto us come
and took from us our only son
And oh how grieved we were to part
with that dear loved one of our heart
A loving son his earthly load lays down

granite roofsThere is no death {…]
This life of […]
Is but a suburb of the life Elysian
whose […] all death

I would particularly like to know the full text of that one, as it sounds unChristian.

Sloping angelWhat is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away

Who fell asleep on 4th September 2006 aged 91 years/ so he bringeth them unto their desired haven

The Cross as a living treeSeveral are “At rest”, and couples are “reunited”:

By the grace of God, reunited
The Lord bless them and keep them
Sweet rest at last

South side

Death am going to die.

I am a process: I take in ideas and substances, and digest them. This process takes place throughout my ever-changing body, and then it will falter and cease. It may be tomorrow, or it may be in fifty or more years’ time. It may be suddenly or slowly, and accidentally or by natural causes.

If there is life after death, those who believe it is reincarnation rarely believe the human can remember previous lives, and if it is in some spiritual realm I cannot imagine that I will be recognisable. My father’s idea of meeting my mother and feeling guilty, or anything else recognisable, seems impossible. If “Then I will know fully” then I will not be like I am now.

But then, I will change, or at least I hope so. I am very different from my 20 year old self, and that self might find my current self disagreeable and frightening. As this has felt like a process of healing and maturing, I hope it will continue, but it has felt like a process of constant flux.

Writing this is an exercise for me. Like my father’s capital, stolen by con-men- all of it- I cannot hold on to anything. Everything is an illusion. Holding that out of consciousness seems like a useful way of being- no-one gets out alive, and I do not want to be terrified into inactivity or hopelessness by that. A few memories of me will survive, and my sister’s children and possibly further descendants, and my genes will be in other people, at least those shared by most eukaryotes.

Can this thought be useful?

It encourages me to accept all the little deaths, because I have never liked change. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. If no-one gets out alive, we might as well enjoy the ride.

Um. That does not feel enough. I know the path I must go down- but acceptance is difficult, and I still have fear and anger.

 I am going to die- and I am alive NOW.

Ah. Carpe diem. Also an old thought- though I cannot just read these thoughts, I have to realise them for myself.

Celebrate the joy of everything we have.