This is completely true. I once got a paper back from an English professor who commented, “Your thesis is so wrong I can’t believe you found textual support for it.” I still got an A.
I have always loved astrology as “found art,” particularly the ultra short astrological predictions in the newspaper. When I was growing up, I read them routinely, and whenever someone else was on my mind a lot, I made sure to check theirs as well. I have never taken much interest in general claims for any zodiac, though, and I would not be able to list out the characteristics attributed to the different signs, except my own and a few that were particularly hilarious to me with respect to specific others. I laughed along with my atheist, humanist fellow travelers when Dawkins stopped people on the street and asked them to read “their” horoscope (provided on a card) and say how well it matched their self-identification. I laughed even harder when the only skeptic was a Capricorn – of course! But I am sure that if that were not my sign I’d have found it less funny.
I don’t read a physical newspaper anymore, so I’d fallen away from regular consultations of the stars. A few months ago, a friend reminded me of Free Will Astrology, where you can find the quirky horoscopes of Rob Brezsny. These passages from the horoscopes main page this week sum up what seems to be his general position:
At my think tank, the Beauty and Truth Laboratory, we believe that stories about the rot are not inherently more entertaining than stories about the splendor. On the contrary, given how predictable and ubiquitous they are, stories about the rot are sedatives.
Evil is boring. Rousing fear is a hackneyed shtick. Wallowing in despair is a bad habit. Indulging in cynicism is akin to committing a copycat crime.
Most modern storytellers go even further in their devotion to the decay, implying that breakdown is not only more interesting but far more common than breakthrough, that painful twists outnumber sweet transformations by a wide margin.
That’s just absurd disinformation.
Superficially, he’s wrong about the sedative quality of ugly stories. Ugly stories have been explicitly with us and discussed in detail as literature for thousands of years, and the catharsis they elicit is a potent psychological state. Brezsny, though, picks out the modern, introspection-free, and commercially driven fare provided by “journalists and novelists and filmmakers and producers of TV dramas,” and he is right to be critical. I think he’s wrong about breakdown and breakthrough, though, and about twists and transformations – unfortunately.
Brezsny calls for a 50/50 split between what he describes as pop nihilism and stories about splendor, harmony, integrity, joy, beauty, bliss, renewal, and love. It seems a bit silly out of context, but in Free Will Astrology he offers an appealing, entertaining, and surprisingly useful expression of those values. Each horoscope entry contains a little story or some note of context, and then he proceeds to challenge the reader to do something active and positive. Take Taurus for this week:
“An uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter,” says the Talmud. But professional dream researcher Stephen LaBerge thinks that’s too broad a statement. In his book Lucid Dreaming, he says dreams are more like poems than letters. If you try to extract literal meanings from them in the service of your ego, they may reveal nothing. But if you’re willing to find lyrical, unexpected information that could aerate your imagination and dislodge you from your habits, dreams are more likely to be useful. Keeping in mind everything I’ve said, Taurus, treat the events of your waking life in the coming week as if they were poems coming from a dreamy part of your psyche that’s enticing you to change your life.
I try to read the horoscopes for every sign every week, partly just because I enjoy them but also because – being a member of the choir he is preaching to – I already do a lot of the things he suggests. I don’t know whether his stories and suggestions are consistent with the claims for the Zodiac; it wouldn’t matter. His general message is the essence of a “good” horoscope: something in there that anyone can find a way to relate to. I would go further and say better than a good horoscope, because there is something in there that anyone can find a use for. Even the questions I’ve already asked myself can be useful to ask again:
I would love to place an elegant gold crown on your head. I have the urge to declare you monarch of the expanding realm, maker of new laws, and reshaper of the collective vision. Are you up for wielding that much power? Can you handle an increased level of responsibilities? Or would you prefer to preside over a smaller domain, content merely to keep the daily grind from erupting into chaos now and then? It’s mostly up to you. What do you want?
You can see the horoscopes for all signs, on a single page, here.
And yet no shot list. I’ve made some progress on my shot list, though, and some patterns are emerging. I want to use people other than myself. (I was thinking last weekend that I’ll have to do a series of self-portraits in order to minimize the hassle factor, but the idea of setting up self-portraits engages me less and less the more I think about it.) I want to use animals. And I’m going to need some space.
The purpose of this exercise is to get images in my head out of my head where other people can see them. This is pretty much the opposite of what I’ve been doing up until now, which has been recording things that anyone could see but other people didn’t notice.
One of the areas of resistance I’ve had to “making” photographs (as opposed to “taking” them) is lighting. There is so much to learn, and the equipment can be expensive or at least require a lot of construction. I like making things, but when I think about lighting, I realize I like making things qua things. That’s going to have to change in a lot of ways if I am to go forward with this, because I’m going to need to make props, too.
Part of the motivation here is to get a break from the frustration – so common in outdoor observational photography – of missing a shot. I realize that some days I’ll be replacing it with the frustration of not getting the result I want, but learning to close that gap is part of the exercise.
As an exercise to prepare for my weekly shot project, I decided to make a shot list. I want it to have a dozen doable items, and I haven’t managed to write them all out yet. I do have 7 items on it now, but a few of them require materials I don’t have access to, so I want to keep working. I plan to do a shot this coming weekend, thought, whether my list is “long enough” or not.
In the meantime, I’m carrying a camera every day, which I’d got out of the habit of doing, and that feels good. It’s making me realize that it’s a bit of a challenge both to get a lot of exercise every day AND to get out and do photography. While holding down a full-time job. We’ve had a special project going at the office lately that I’m tempted to use as an excuse, but that’s not the reason I’m moving slowly on this.
This photograph was taken through the window at an antiques shop near my office. I took it with a film camera, and I’ve definitely found over the last year and a half that when I need a kick start, it helps to shoot a roll or two. I pick up my most recent two rolls (from developing) the day after tomorrow, and I have another dozen rolls of a half dozen kinds of film waiting to play with. My project will be digital, for practical reasons, but film sharpens the mind and disciplines the movements.
The majority of my photography is urban and nature observation. Over the last couple of years, I’ve occasionally set up shots, and in the last year or so, I’ve started to get – even become preoccupied by – ideas about photos I’d like to build, piece by piece, even a series or several.
My first posed subject was my friend Amy. She’s an actor, and she was happy to give over a whole day to me one winter. I think I took something like 400 shots that day. It was a wonderful experience for me, because it gave me a chance to slow down and try a lot of different things – angles, locations, and processing approaches.
Shortly after that, I participated in a project to create cinematic shots. For almost all the shots, I just kept an eye open for cinematic situations around me and tried to capture them. For one shot, I went out to the piers at night with a friend, and we walked around and looked for good locations, finally making this shot. Again, we had no concrete plan, just a general idea of where we wanted to go, and then seeing how the spirit moved us when we got there.
This year I’ve wanted to step up my game, and I’ve made – or at least designed and styled – a couple of shots I am truly happy with. Now it’s time for me to do more, and it has been for a while. I’m going to need help in the form of external pressure, though, because I haven’t been taking the further steps I need to on my own. So this is an announcement of my new project: One deliberately styled and directed shot per week, at least 12, until I finish a coherent series or at least figure out what I want to do next.
Do you have a suggestion or request? I can’t promise to honor it, but I’d love to hear it!