Astrocreep: Two Minutes of Darkness

From Anton Kerner von Marilaun's Pflanzenleben or The Natural History of Plants their
Forms, Growth, Reproduction, and Distribution (1887)
Published  March 2015
From Anton Kerner von Marilaun's Pflanzenleben or The Natural History of Plants their Forms, Growth, Reproduction, and Distribution (1887)

From Anton Kerner von Marilaun’s Pflanzenleben or The Natural History of Plants their
Forms, Growth, Reproduction, and Distribution (1887)

That is roughly the duration of totality for the solar eclipse on March 20th. The full darkness will only be visible in two populated places, both remote. I’m enthralled by animated gifs depicting the path and span of the eclipse, its precision and reliability, the tiny yet vital role it plays in so many cycles.Something about viewing pages of charts of every eclipse’s transit, year after year, brings me a powerful calm… maybe it’s just the S.A .D. talking (that’s just the hip new way of referring to feverish depression, right?). The eclipse occurs right at the tail end of the sun in Pisces, and there is something very Piscean about the primal dreaminess humans experience in the face of astronomical phenomena.

This month, it will feel like we get about two minutes of that dreamy, nurturing darkness. The rest of the time, it might feel like we’re in a harsh light and even under a microscope. This ratio is comparable to how many of us live: briefly immersed in creative flow, more often paralyzed with self- consciousness. Some performers I know describe the moment they became confident on stage as being defined by the realization that the audience is only paying partial attention. Mostly people are preoccupied by the errands they mean to run after, or a cutting remark from earlier in the day, or wondering if they look alright. Once you put your stage fright in perspective of the tiny intersection of our awarenesses, well, why not just try to have fun? Like every lesson from performing and music, this is absolutely a life lesson, folks.

There’s a passage in the Tao Te Ching that reads, depending on what translation you have, that “A good man is a bad man’s teacher/A bad man is a good man’s job/Understand this and you will have real intelligence.” In order to delve as deeply into this lesson as I want to, we will first have to address some rhetorical and conceptual problems with it. For starters, let’s decide that we’re talking about people, not just those who’d describe themselves as men. It’s tempting to just let that go without saying, since it seems obvious, and since we are so used to making that adjustment in our heads. But we ought to demand gender justice at every opportunity—after all, we’re barely into 2015 and already at least seven transwomen have been murdered, including New Orleans’ own Penny Proud. This has to end.

It’s also particularly important to refocus the gender lens with regards to this Taoist passage, since this is a lesson about labor, and women’s work is so often devalued, taken for granted, made invisible. Then we come to the matter of “bad” and “good.” I’m not an adherent of conventional morality, heaven and hell, or absolute truth, so let’s set the religious implications of this binary aside. It’s important that we recognize “good” and “bad” to be unstable categories, murky designations, which can apply to someone for a time and then cease to, or apply in some ways and fail to in others. Once you are able to see those categories as conditional, relative, and in flux, it’s obvious that bad people and good people is not a binary, not a population cleaved in two and diametrically opposed, but actually just one big group: all of us.

So what is the message here then, for all of us? If you understand “good” as meaning “able to provide something” (since that is how it is defined in the internal logic of the passage) and “bad” as “needing something,” you can see this as a message about interdependence and care.

Needing care is culturally seen as being weak or deficient, since your worth is measured by if you are able to work, and how much you are able to earn. Capitalism offers us a very narrow view of usefulness here, and when you think about it, it’s pretty perverse to be thinking of people as “useful” isn’t it? Doesn’t that imply that others are useless? There’s nascent genocide, covert eugenicism in that world view. And after all, we all need care sometimes, right? This proverb tells us that needing care creates an opportunity for someone to be useful. If you must have it in the language of the market, vulnerability creates jobs. Thinkers in the field of Disability Studies have long used this relationship to point out that people who aren’t able to work still contribute to the economy in many ways.

It shouldn’t even matter. None of us ask to be alive, and to continue last month’s Crass theme, we’re all owed a living. And yet the idea that some people are useless, some populations disposable, is so pervasive. Just as people who are unable to work for whatever reason aren’t passive participants in the economy, neither are those who need care passive participants in our cultural world.

If you ask for help you give the gift of letting someone help you, of making it visible that we all need care. You gain the opportunity of connecting with other people and building relationships on your mutual needs. You create the possibility for reciprocity. As we move toward spring, this month, let’s awaken to the ways we rely upon the people who rely upon us, or who we take for granted, or who we don’t think of at all.



Aries

You’ve been on a streak, working and socializing hard. Sometimes there are these glimmers of hope that it’s really possible to have it all. Maybe so. But also, maybe you’re skidding along on thin air like Roadrunner. Don’t look down or you’ll fall! After you’ve been overachieving with no consequences, your perspective gets a little warped. Your instincts no longer tell you when to tap the brakes. Take a detour and avoid a cartoon cliff-plunge, ideally before the solar eclipse. You don’t have to become a homebody. That’s just not in your nature, and as spring approaches your travel itch is strong. Just tend to problems at home before you go out.


Taurus

When you’re in a bad mood, the clouds gather and you bring a little darkness wherever you go. Even though you often intend not to take moodiness out on people, it happens. Taurans are not good at hiding their displeasure. That’s what people love about you though, too—you may be a bull but you’re not bullshit. But you don’t want your friends to walk on eggshells around you, right? Manners have gone a bit out of vogue but they can provide a helpful roadmap if you wish to sweeten your relationships with the people around you.


Gemini

Though you’re well-versed in the exercise of seeing more than one side of a story, there are some dualities that challenge even your broad imagination. For example, the gap between how you experience yourself and how others experience you, their perception of you. There are ruptures in life where we suddenly get an insight into ourselves from a further away vantage point. Those moments are jarring and difficult for most people. But since you are proficient at setting aside your ego, at least in theory, you could potentially endure that moment and grow from it. Look for it toward the end of the month.

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Cancer

As you emerge from the dark waters of winter rumination, your senses awaken. But like Austin Powers unfreezing, your self-control isn’t necessarily returning in the desirable order. You might be able to yell before you can whisper. Spring is a delicate time that calls for some whispering. If you’re trying to find your bearings, and need companionship or a guide, your relationship to them may be tenuous this month. Keep your grumbling to yourself. Let a gentle silence fill the space between you and people you’re not on firm footing with.


Leo

There comes a time every few months for Leos where you just want to drop everything and go somewhere. You’re not so hard to please, though. When the itch comes over you, you can be satisfied just by making everyone go swimming, or stay up all night walking around. It’s good to remember that adventure is available locally and in small doses. When you’re weighed down by obligations, and can’t just skip town, you’ll get moody unless you locate vacation where you are. Chase a good time, but don’t chase down a feeling, because you’ll never be quite satisfied with what you find.


Virgo

I recently heard an interview with Virgan comedian Maria Bamford where she reported that, during a darker time in her life, it felt like it would be less dramatic to just kill herself than it would be to walk into an emergency room, seeking help. Ridiculous, right? This type of distorted thinking is caused by a loss of perspective, and Virgos are especially susceptible to it because of being so detail-oriented. So, if you need some extra support this month, and that makes you feel worthless, remember that it’s not dramatic to ask for help. Everyone needs it sometimes. Then go watch every episode of the Maria Bamford Show.


Libra

We all engage in imaginary affairs. Do you have a plan B boyfriend—someone you used to date who you think of as your fall-back life plan? A work wife—someone who takes care of your emotional life in your workplace in a way that is supposedly platonic? Or even, how about a barista crush? If there’s someone in your life who you project some seemingly harmless emotional expectations onto, things might get a little ouchy with them this month. Your charm and diplomacy, which got you in the situation in some ways, will hopefully lead you out of it mostly unscathed.


Scorpio

If you’ve been feeling in touch with your body lately, March may have some serious sensuality in store for you. How do you know if you’re in touch with you’re body? If you’re a Scorpio who loves to exercise, notices subtle changes in your daily habitats, and tries out new recipes all the time, perhaps you are. If you just shove food in your face hole so you don’t die, and constantly are wondering where the mysterious bruises on your legs came from, you might be a bit of a space cadet. If that last bit sounds a little too familiar, and you suspect you’re feeling disassociated, ask yourself why. There are so many valid reasons to psychically flee our flesh sacks. Try to do what you can to make it safe to come back.


Sagittarius

March may hold a new solution for an especially persistent problem—a new way to approach some trap that you’ve just been circling the drain on. It’s funny, sometimes a solution is just a reframing of an issue, and sometimes it’s the mere sense that you have reframed it. Regardless, the ability to inject even a little of your trademark positivity improves things exponentially. “Positivity” is a word that’s as dubious as “solution,” anyone who has lived a little knows that. What I’m referring to here is your knack for rallying, which doesn’t just energize and inspire you but everyone around you. You probably don’t even notice it most of the time.


Capricorn

Have I ever told you this before: that strength oughtn’t be measured by how much suffering you can endure? Sometimes when I’m down in the shit, my partner will catch me listening to Magnolia Electric Co, project of brilliant late Capricorn songwriter Jason Molina, and just raise their eyebrows as if to say, “really?” There’s a time to wallow, a time to retreat, and a time to revive. This month, look at your comfortable habits that keep you brooding alone. Challenge yourself to resist the trappings of cozy isolation, notice what little things make you feel stuck.


Aquarius

You’re in a phase of wrapping up big projects, and you’ll spend the first half of the month continuing to do just that. After all the work you’ve been doing—not just slogging along, but learning big truths about yourself and the world—you’re probably feeling like kicking back. For some Aquarians, being idle can inspire serious antsiness. Whichever type you are, this is a great time to focus on projects with less instantly gratifying payoffs. Not the home chore type stuff that you do but loathe, more like life chores. Reconnect with an old friend and share all you’ve learned lately.


Pisces

If there’s an area of your health you’ve been neglecting, it may rear its head around your birthday, especially if your birthday falls near the full moon on March 5. For Pisceans with chronic health issues, it may be that some combination of medication and lifestyle habits that you had assumed was working actually isn’t. Regardless, it’s a time to make minute adjustments. One’s birthday season is an auspicious time for such things anyway. The sun is in your sign and people seem to “get” you more than they usually do. If you need some time off to deal with your health, ask for it around March 10th.

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