They just use your mind and never give you credit

25 02 2011

I was once a ghost and am again.

It’s better this time around; more renumerative, too.

Before: I was a spectre in my own life, fading, unsure I was even there. It was different from despair, which was all too heavy, too real. To be a ghost was to float, untethered—sur-real.

That ghostiness was itself tethered to the despair; how could it not be, when despair so corrodes being that one is more absent than present?

But I’m not that kind of ghost today. No, the 21st century version is a job, a verb: “I ghost.”

Which is to say, of course: I ghost-write.

I don’t know that I ever thought I’d ghost, but when you put up an post in Craigslist advertising your willingness to write for someone else, well, you shouldn’t be surprised that you would be hired truly to write for (which is to say: as) someone else.

I am happy to be getting paid.

But I’m also quite happy to ghost, especially on a subject  (business) about which I care little. If I were asked to write on politics or bioethics or reproductive issues, it would be tough—perhaps not even possible—for me to pass my words off to someone else.

But business? Don’t care. Someone else has created an outline which I simply fill in. It requires work and effort and some creativity, but because it is so far away from my central concerns, I am able to treat it simply as work. I take it seriously because it’s easier for me to do a good job than if I were to scoff at the topic; I take it seriously because it’s important for me to do a good job.

If I’m going to do the work, why not do it well?

Besides, the gent for whom I’m working is nice and enthusiastic about the work and he pays me on time.  He  pushes a positive and ethical approach to the work he does, and is concerned that his recommendations have some basis in research and evidence. And while I can’t say too much about his type of business (non-disclosure agreement), I can say there is very little chance that his success is predicated on the harm of others.

Would I ghost for someone who profited from such harm?

I’d like to say No, but, honestly, if I were broke? Amazing what one can justify when one is in need.

That’s not currently an issue, and, inshallah, won’t be anytime soon. No, what I have had to justify is the ghosting itself.

How can you do that, a friend asked, friend-ily. Well, I said, it’s not about me, not my ideas, not my concern. It’s not creative—it’s technical, and simply involves a set of skills which I’ve deployed in other wage-situations. Writing may be drawn from something deep within me, but not always; as much as writing may not only express but also be a form a being, it is sometimes simply a skill, something I can do, and do well.

The writing I do here is a form of self-expression, as is my novel- and essay-writing. But ghosting? A job.

Not as exciting as haunting someone, but hey, at least it pays.



21 02 2011

I watched Stigmata again.

It’s a dumb movie, but I find it irresistible. I used to watch it whenever it showed up on t.v., and now that it’s streaming on Netflix, I watch it every few or six months or so.

Okay, so there’s Gabriel Byrne, who is always watchable, with those dark eyes and. . . well, I’ve gone on about Mr. Byrne before, so there’s no need to repeat myself.

Anyway, irresistible: It opens with an old man writing in a notebook, then cuts to Andrew Kiernan (GB) walking through the town of Bel Quinto, Brazil, on the way to a church with a statue weeping blood. The church itself is holding a funeral for the old man we saw in the opening scene: Father Alameida. A kid swipes Alameida’s rosary from the coffin, then sells it the street to an American tourist, who then sends it to her daughter, Frankie.

Frankie (Patricia Arquette) is 23, lives in Pittsburgh, cuts hair, and parties. After receiving the rosary, however, she begins receiving the stigmata: puncture wounds through her wrists, then lashes across her back. A local priest witnesses the lashings and contacts the Vatican. Andrew Kiernan—Father Andrew Kiernan—is sent by his Cardinal (Jonathan Pryce in full evil mode) to investigate, even though Fr. Andrew would prefer to go back to Brazil. No dice; Pittsburgh.

He meets Frankie, finds out she’s an atheist, says whatever it is she has, it can’t be the stigmata, sorry, see ya. Frankie is like, yeah, whatever, screw you, goes out to her clubbing, and ends up collapsing on the dance floor as she bleeds from a crown of thorns. She runs out of the club, pursued by her best friend (Nia Long), nears her apartment, sees Fr Andrew (come to make nice), then takes off. Her friend and Andrew find her scratching something on the hood of a car, then bring her to the church of the priest who first notified Rome.

And on and on. More stigmata, more scratchings and speeches (in Aramaic, natch), more machinations by the cardinal, brief discourses on the non-canonical gospels, and. . . well, watch it yourself to see how it all turns out. Like a said, not a great movie, not by a long shot. Good priest, bad church, gnosticism, gnostic sayings, candles, dripping water, doves, wind—you know, the works. I should be laughing as I watch it.

I don’t.

I don’t believe it. Oh, I mean, I don’t have any problem believing that the Church has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect its power nor that it would suppress any documents which threatened its standing. But I’m not a religious person, and am not particularly inclined to believe in the power of faith.

Actually, it’s better to state that I lack faith. I actually do find it easier to believe in a god of some sort than I do to have faith in that god; I like to joke that on the days I believe, I tend to think of god in nominalist terms: the great and powerful Other who doesn’t have much to do with us. No personal Jesus, no angels, no love. Just god, who does whatever he or she or it sees fit.

When, then, the draw of this movie (besides Gabriel Byrne, I mean)? It’s the gnosticism, the hidden knowledge, the secret sayings of Jesus:

The kingdom of God is inside you and all around you. . . .

Split a piece of wood, and I am there. . . .

These are both from and variations on a theme found in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas (although, it should be said, that not all scholars agree that all non-canonical texts ought to be categorized as gnostic gospels—but that’s another issue). This was among the gospels found in an earthen pot in Nag Hammadi in the mid-1950s; some of the scrolls were burned, but others made their way to market, where they were scooped up and translated.

Elaine Pagels, probably the most well-known of the scholars of these gospels, has written two books on them: The Gnostic Gospels and The Gospel of Thomas. The Nag Hammadi Library, as edited by James Robinson, contains translations of all those surviving Nag Hammadi scrolls: 12 codices, a fragment of a thirteenth, and 52 separate tracts. The Catholic Church and most Christian institutions tend to discount the importance of these texts; as a result, they have not had much of an impact in the institutional church, bible study, or seminaries.

So. The two sayings, as mentioned, are from the Gospel of Thomas (sections 3 and 77, if you want to look them up). More famous, perhaps, is the saying (as translated by Pagels) from sec. 70:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

I would like to dismiss this, but do not. Perhaps I could call this a koan and thus regain my a-gnostic philosophical cred, but, as koan-like as many of the sayings in the G of T are, I don’t think this one is particularly paradoxical.

I think it’s quite clear, and, to me, quite powerful. And I am chagrined that I do find it powerful.

But there it is. I came across this in my endless avoidance of my dissertation, and while losing a battle to despair. This made sense to me then and it makes sense to me now: if I am to live, live, and if I am to die, die.

It doesn’t mean just that to me anymore, but that was and remains the essence of this saying: there is life, and there is not.

This saying didn’t save me, any more than a Beth Orton song or my therapist saved me, but it was with me when I saved myself, and I’ve kept it with me ever since.

Does it matter that the saying begins Jesus said? Perhaps, perhaps not (here’s where my agnosticism comes in handy). Perhaps the kingdom of God was within me that night ten years—oh, man, it was ten years ago this month—that I sighed and said, Okay, I’ll live; perhaps it was just me. I think it was just me, but if not, then. . . okay.

I’m fine with the not-knowing. I prefer the not-knowing—that is kind of the definition of agnosticism, after all—which leaves open the possibility that there is something beyond knowledge, as well as the sense that it’s all right if there is not.

I feel a little silly for admitting this possibility, the possibility of, I guess, faith. Belief, to me, is not necessarily problematic, but faith? I wrinkle my nose; it makes no sense.

This movie, Stigmata, doesn’t really make sense, either. But it doesn’t make sense in a way I understand. I don’t understand why, that night ten years ago, the leaf blew this way rather than that; I see no miracle.

But I am here. Sense or not, I am here. If I am to live, live.

And so I live.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my days/keeping out of trouble like the soldiers say

19 02 2011

So in the short time I’m a ghost. . . .

Tunisians drive dictator Ben Ali out of office.

Egyptians drive  dictator Mubarak out of office.

Jordan’s king fires cabinet, promises reform.

Yemenis gather to protest their government.

Bahrainis gather to protest their government, and are killed in their sleep.

Libyans gather to protest the leadership of the insane Qaddafi, are mowed down by snipers, and prevented from receiving medical care.

Iran’s pro-Ahmadi legislators get all shouty in their demands for death of opposition figures.

LiveAction doctors video shot at Planned Parenthood, slanders PP as enabling child sex-work.

US House of Representatives votes to defund Planned Parenthood.

US House of Representatives votes to continue Army sponsorship of NASCAR.

Senator Ron Paul wins CPAC presidential straw poll.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker proposes bill to strip government unions of most of their reason for being, as well as to effectively privatize UW-Madison; the Republican-controlled Senate attempts to slam this though in less than a week.

Wisconsin Senate Democrats abscond from the State, preventing action on the bill.

Tens of thousands of public union members and their supporters gather at the Capitol [nb: an absolutely gorgeous building] in support of their rights and dignity, and in opposition to Governor Walker.

My 50-year old sister and public high school teacher attends her first protest ever. Has a ball, and calls to tell me about it.

Packers win the Super Bowl.


And because I have been a ghost, I have had no time to say what I wanted to say:

Go Tunisians! Go Egyptians! Go Bahrainis and Yemenis and Libyans and Iranians and Syrians and everyone everywhere who wants to be free and is wiling to sacrifice themselves for that freedom.

You are strong and brave and beautiful and fragile and all the more strong and brave and beautiful for your fragility.

Women of these United States, it is well past time that we took our own lives in our own hands.

I salute Nancy Pelosi and Gwen Moore and Jackie Speier and everyone else, male and female, who stood up for us on the House and Senate floors. But it is not enough.

It is long past time for us, for more of us, for me, to stand up for one another, to stand up for ourselves.

And for my sister, my nieces, my friends, Badgers, countrymen:

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Stand up, Badgers, sing!
“Forward” is our driving spirit,
Loyal voices ring.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Raise her glowing flame
Stand, Fellows, let us now
Salute her name!


And the SuperBowl? That’ll do, Pack, that’ll do.

In the meantime. . .

3 02 2011

Hell of a week.

I went from chest-cracking anxiety over finances and work to chest-thrumming over-work.

More later, but, you know, LOLcats in the meantime.

(And welcome back, dmf!)