Thomas Mann

Two o’clock 🕑. I read ten pages of The Magic Mountain. It unfolds to be a love story, but not very interesting; I found it boring. Still, I may give it a chance. If my heart were more open, then the story could warm it. The length of the book is backbreaking, so is it worth the time investment? Certainly Mann is humane and sympathetic to his characters, and perhaps it’s this very warmth that kind of throws me. It isn’t just a novel of ideas, some intellectual tour de force, but rather it comes from a deep and affectionate place. Mann actually cares about his characters and his story, especially the protagonist, Hans Castorp. The feeling I got from the Sartre plays was quite cold and apathetic, almost like burnout, as if life and love offered nothing more to him. Thomas Mann is just the contrary to this chilly rationality. His characters are not wooden, they are not straw men to demonstrate a philosophy of life… This is my assessment after the first 232 pages. It might be worth putting some time into. It is good to read something with a view to humanization…

Meanwhile, going to church tonight would take too much of an effort. I can’t fake Christian faith again. I feel that dishonesty is wrong. Therefore I’m gonna stay home and do something else. This afternoon turned out sunny and partly cloudy. It’s very nice. Damien showed up yesterday evening and mowed my lawns. It was nice to see him, even though he wasn’t feeling good due to losing his dad. His thinking reflected his depression, which I could understand. Consciousness is like that: a feedback system between thoughts and feelings. The bias, good or bad, determines upward or downward spiral, so it is important to keep a balance of positive and negative. I hate depression; I don’t believe it is our natural state. I disagree with those who say suffering is a necessary thing to promote growth. Avoidance of pain is wiser than getting burned and learning the hard way— although I need a think about that some more… 

Reading, Thinking, and Living

Eight twenty five.

During the wee hours this morning I read the opening chapters of The Space Merchants by Pohl and Kornbluth. I found that it offers much food for thought concerning things like economics, technology, and progress as opposed to conservationists who would stop the self seeking and save the Earth. My knee jerk is to remember the doctrine of Alcoholics Anonymous where it criticizes the attitude of our having conquered nature with science. Their answer is to regress to the primordial ooze. My own question is, How far can human history progress in a straight line? Wouldn’t we do better to live cyclically with the seasons, the way Native Americans once did? Wouldn’t this harmonize better with nature? Maybe these questions are not so silly as they seem. I suppose I watched the original movie of Planet of the Apes too many times. The inevitable aim of technology is self destruction. This was the take home lesson I gathered long ago, and now I’m reevaluating my assumption. The consensus appears to be something different. Faith in science and technology may be okay after all.

Quarter of ten. There’s a heavy fog in the neighborhood. It isn’t very warm out, so I’m waiting a bit before going to the store. Hopefully I’ll see something new in the market today. Life without variety can be pretty dull. My pen pal wrote me a long email this morning that I really appreciated. She suggested that I might’ve outgrown the church, and that church was there when I needed it a few years ago. I agree, the congregation was very kind to me, and I am thankful to them… I can’t believe the kind of dreams and nightmares I have nowadays. They seem like someone else’s imagination. Surely mine isn’t that sophisticated? I seem to be still processing the problem of evil in human life since revisiting Macbeth last month. I’m not the only one working on it. Pastor is looking for an antidote to darkness for his flock. Everyone has been decimated by every event starting in March.

Quarter of eleven. I guess I’ll walk off to the store now. Life might give a few answers… 

Searching…

Three twenty five. I suddenly remembered my appointment with Todd for tomorrow afternoon. It will be a video call, sort of like Zoom or Skype. I asked about Heidi, and they said she hasn’t come back from furlough. Something smells fishy. It sounds like she’s not going to be my case manager after this. Miranda took over part of Heidi’s case load, but I haven’t heard from her since early summer… I hope L— H— doesn’t put pressure on me to be religious or something that goes against my personal beliefs. If they do, then I’ll have to figure out other options. I never did like the Christian character of the agency. It was too much like Serenity Lane: Jesus or nothing. I always will find it unconstitutional and unlawful to shove Jesus down our schizophrenic throats. If push really comes to shove, then I’ll emigrate to Canada or something drastic just to preserve my sanity.

Quarter of three in the morning. Yesterday evening I published a post whose sincerity was dubious from the start. A moment ago I went into my posts and trashed it. The writing of it was probably inspired by my trip to Sacred Heart yesterday morning, a phone conversation with L— H—, and finally a shotgun email from Pastor. I retired to bed at ten o’clock and slept four hours, dreaming strange dreams. At one point, I saw a white crockpot that was full of tube worms but which also yielded up old editions of Tarzan, one after the other. At another juncture, I was walking to the church at night and got hit by a car. Though it hurt, I kept walking. When I awoke, I reflected on the nature of heroes: how was Tarzan different from Jesus? Answer: Tarzan did not depend on supernatural powers to expedite his adventures. His strength was purely physical and mental, never spiritual. I considered that I grew up with heroes like everyone else, but they happened not to be Christ. Not even Luke Skywalker, who relied on the Force for his power. Nor Frodo Baggins, aided by the old wizard Gandalf. If anything, the heroes I read about pitted their wits and strength against the supernatural, in the form of nefarious cults with weird, soul devouring gods. Which type of hero was correct? I only know that Tarzan fueled my fortitude in my youth. 

Sophomore Thoughts

Four thirty. I’m having fun with my laptop now; no painful memories. The wildfires have been such a shock, and now my mind is settling down a bit. Times don’t seem so apocalyptic as on Monday. We’re planning on having the food pantry Saturday, so, conditions allowing, I’ll go help. Seeing Sue and Nancy should be fun. I played my white Precision for what must’ve been 90 minutes. The classic tone inspired me to pick out some Queen songs from the mid- to late-70s. I guess The Game was released in 1980. I haven’t listened to those albums in years. I’d like to hear News of the World and Jazz in their entirety again. John Deacon was a wonderful bass player… Wow, the smoke is still quite dense outside. Aesop is handling the situation okay… I remember, in the band Blueface, how I wanted to cover “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” But with our inept guitars, it wasn’t realistic. You can’t cop a Queen song with just a rhythm section and a lead vocal. I’ve wondered before why I chose bass over guitar; is it just because it’s an easier instrument? But no, I genuinely love the tone of electric bass. It sounds great to me. There’s nothing better than the sound of Chris Squire’s powerful bass on “The Gates of Delirium.” Suddenly, I feel like I did as a sophomore in high school. I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on. I also started listening to Led Zeppelin…

My taste in reading material changed from ERB to stuff with more magic in it: Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber, especially. Their writing just seemed more mature somehow. It dealt with essential problems of life, such as death, in a more realistic way. Perhaps it came across sadder and wiser than the adventurousness of ERB. The latter was like reading westerns, with clear-cut heroes and villains, and it was gratifying to see evil punished. But in the other two writers, victories often were pyrrhic. Emotions were more complex and confused, and the truth was ambiguous. It seemed that more serious thought went into their content, and feelings ran deeper. Sure, it was only sword-and-sorcery fiction, but it was comparatively well-done. I also enjoyed Roger Zelazny and Karl Edward Wagner. The second raised questions of the rectitude of selfishness. The antihero, Kane, was brutal and ruthlessly selfish, and even megalomaniacal in the scope of his projects. Basically, he wanted to rule the world himself. He was all about gratification. Where Conan had been power hungry, it was presented in a way that made you cheer for him. He was plainly the good guy fighting the bad guys. But Kane’s designs were not so clearly for the general good. And in the whole array of writers from ERB to Wagner, you witness a loss of innocence over time. The naïve romance of ERB beginning in 1912 gradually collapsed to the cynicism of the 1970s. Just as the wars grew more complicated in real life, so did the fiction that was written. Thus, you have the reluctance and remorse of Moorcock’s heroes, the slowness to answer the call to adventure. The adventures were no longer fun and exciting. Heroism was not so heroic anymore…

Beliefs and Burroughs

Noon.

This is Thursday. I’m wearing a shirt that reminds me of working years. It’s a nice shirt, though a bit threadbare. It’s a maroon sweatshirt, made by Russell Athletic. My experience at the store this morning was rather negative, and I seemed haunted by fire engine red wherever I went. The new checkout counter is finished in bright red, and the Coke I bought has a red label. I suppose I’m seeing political significance in the color. I can’t find much of anything that’s blue. Very strange. The wildfires rage on, and Angela at the salon awaits the order to evacuate her home out east in Springfield. Everybody is so preoccupied today. I started to contest the price of a couple of burritos at the store, then dropped it. Prices are going up while quantities are going down. The little market is getting expensive. I spent over $14 on 4 items. If I can manage the long walk, I should shop at Grocery Outlet more often.

It’s odd how Christianity is the ideology of the masses, especially the poor, while materialism is reserved for educated rich people. Victor Hugo’s comments on this are spot on. Then what are you supposed to do if you are educated and fallen through the cracks? The Christians you find yourself among don’t understand you. Does this mean that your education is wrongheaded? I may never know the answer. But I do know that I can’t fake my way through prayers of intercession anymore. It isn’t fair to either me or the others in church. And though I keep saying this, Pastor keeps hoping that something will magically change. My policy is honesty, and I’ll just pursue my truth as far as it goes. It will be my dower, for better or worse. But I will have the satisfaction of my integrity. I may end up unjustly dead like Cordelia, or alone and miserable. Still, I refuse to lie.

One o’clock. I can’t think of much else to say. I do think honesty is the best virtue I possess. I might pick up my Lloyd Alexander book that arrived yesterday and give it a flap. Then again, I could look at an old Edgar Rice Burroughs novel to determine what was so appealing about his writing when I was a teen. I read about half of his whole corpus of 90-odd books. I also lost a lot of my collection in the house fire. More than once, I’ve thought about subscribing to one of his fanzines. I even considered starting a blog dedicated to ERB. It would still be fun to meet other fans and compare notes.

A Run for Doritos and Salsa

Two thirty. I finished reading “The Whisperer in Darkness” by Lovecraft. He wrote better ones than that, but still it was Lovecraft, and that means fun. His writing influenced one of my favorite authors, Karl Edward Wagner. Bloodstone, a Kane novel, I thought was very good, with its element of an extraterrestrial super race that once colonized the earth. I hope some publisher reissues it someday. In a weak moment I got rid of all my Kane books— a big mistake, as they are worth something now.

I’m not sure why I’ve been revisiting Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith. Not sure of anything, really. I miss doing a little Coca-Cola, but the caffeine last time was almost lethal to me. It clouded up some time ago. I’m on the verge of crying for some reason. Maybe I’m mourning for my brother, who just isn’t the same person he was forty years ago. I remember when everyone wanted to be his friend, but now not even Polly is talking to him. How is he getting along? Is he okay? It must be hard to live without a memory. Jeff doesn’t remember anything anymore, and he’s just killing himself with booze and maybe weed too. Well, today I feel simply lonely and lost, with no daily structure to speak of. I feel a little like going to the store for a snack, maybe Doritos and salsa, something tasty and fun. I wonder if my gabapentin makes me feel worse? I feel the world crowding in around me, what with the curfew and people wearing masks and everything; it’s getting me down!

Four thirty five. I bought the Doritos and salsa: delicious! It was the big bag, and I ate half of it. Last night I listened to one of Bartok’s string quartets to kill time. It was great, but I like his orchestral works better. The more the voices, the greater the ambiance and mood, the texture. The Miraculous Mandarin is still my favorite Bartok piece, a ballet whose choreography I don’t know. What is it about? I should read the liner notes. I was just thinking: I used to believe that people who acted from self interest would go to hell, due to Polly’s extreme ideas. These got into my brain and handicapped me for many years. Polly’s extremism was popular all over the place 15 years ago. Anyone who did something selfish was marked for hellfire in the next life; but of course this is nonsense. I always thought Polly was stupid for espousing such illogical precepts. Yes, altruism is a great thing, but exclusively and perpetually is impossible.

Memories of June

Ten twenty five. I rested for a little longer, and now Aesop’s been fed his breakfast. I recollect when I bought Going for the One by Yes. It was in June 1983 at the Lloyd Center in Portland. My parents and I had lunch at the Hippopotamus and afterwards I found the record store. The sleeve for the album blew me away: the nude man in the foreground awed by leaning skyscrapers in the gleaming sun.

Vicki was wearing a mask today for the first time. I bought Aesop three peanut butter bones and a Coke for me. I need to wake up a bit more. There’s a book in my mail today, a collection of Conan by the original creator Robert E Howard. The 1930s pulps were generally very good. My favorite is Lovecraft, I think. When I was growing up, the bookstores offered very little poetry, and what was available even in grocery stores was sci-fi and fantasy. In the late 70s and early 80s, a lot of older writing was reissued with fantastic cover art. Edgar Rice Burroughs was a forerunner to the pulps, starting his career in 1912. It was actually DC Comics that introduced me to Rice in June 1976. Also the publication of Burne Hogarth’s Jungle Tales of Tarzan the same year. What was so great about Rice’s writing I don’t remember at this time, but it might have been the idea of primitivism, of barbarism, but in a good way. It was emotionally refreshing to me to feel closer to nature. In some sense it was Jungian. And imaginatively, Rice and the ensuing pulp writers just seemed more sophisticated than the new fantasy of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps I had an antiquarian streak even as a child.

Noon hour. While my parents picked out spy thrillers and historical romances from the bookstalls, I was drawn to heroic fantasy from the pulp era. We were at the mercy of the material that was available in local stores. The occasional trips to the bookstore were heaven for me, and I snapped up all the Conan books I could find. The cover art was beautiful, with contributors like Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo.

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I got ahold of Conan of Cimmeria in June 1980 at B Dalton downtown. As June approaches, these layered memories of my childhood surface. They are even specific to the very month.

More Power

Eleven thirty. I went out to my mailbox and found a small windfall. Quest Diagnostics refunded my payment of about twelve dollars. So I ended up paying zero dollars for the bloodwork. It raised my spirits for my walk to the store. They were doing a good business today because of Mother’s Day. I’m of a mind to call Polly, but she’s not my mother. Roger is out working on something in his driveway. Aesop is a bit happier than the other day. My rhododendrons are blooming in the front yard, pink and lavender. The air outside is perfumed with blossoming things. The feel and the smells remind me of past Mother’s Days, especially when I used to drink beer. I miss my family whenever there’s a holiday. Even if I had a limitless supply of money I would not buy alcohol again. Money is not our only lifeline.

One o five. Spring sunshine brings back a lot of things. When I was in seventh grade we studied The Red Pony and a novel about the Oregon Trail. The following year was The Call of the Wild. Then the next I read A Separate Peace and a lot of mindless books for pleasure, Tarzan and Doc Savage especially. I still can’t guess what I liked about these two Herculean superheroes who could do anything. Anything they willed was not only doable but done. Fantasies of strength and control gave me vicarious power. I don’t think it was homosexual necessarily, but rather compensation for weeny feelings. I wished I could BE Doc Savage and manage my life accordingly. If I had been Tarzan, my wishes would’ve been realized. No sooner thought than done. But I don’t remember what I wished for, and maybe at the time I didn’t know. I had a crush on a girl named Kathleen and never told her until years later.

Severed Heads

Nine fifty five. Aesop and I slept in. He gets his breakfast in three minutes. Yesterday I flipped and scanned through Another Country and began to suss it out. It’s really about romantic love and sex as opposed to spiritual love, and maybe for Baldwin there’s no distinction… The gabapentin is great. I feel a lot better since taking it. I used to have back pain, but now it’s virtually gone… Another Country explores the meaning of love, and it seems not to be a Christian love. It is a wanting and needing kind of love. Desire and affection. I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s probably very true. I see a lot of repression in society nowadays, however. Some people hate sex, though it makes no sense to me. There ought to be a continuity of the head with the body, as if we had no neck. But this is a matter for debate. What is spiritual love, anyway? Is it a condition of being a severed head? I’m beginning to remember my Whitman and Lawrence: the body is the soul. Spiritual love is where the head dominates the body, rules it with an iron fist. The healthy way to live is for the head and body to be whole and in harmony with each other. I hadn’t thought of this in many years. I believe it’s true.

Two Worlds

Two thirty. Kate was very smart. I miss chatting with her. She had a lot of common sense, and an instinct for the ordinary. She really liked the Carlos Williams poetry I introduced her to. She was not a Romantic at all, but rather was drawn to analytic philosophy, including Russell and the Vienna Circle. Once I understood where she was coming from, we could talk about Carnap and so on for hours and days, even years. She came along at an opportune time in my life… Funny. Only a few years ago, I had a delusional fear of Edgar Poe’s poetry. I believed it was satanic. Of course I don’t believe in the devil now. The medication took care of that. Before this med, there was alcohol for the psychosis. If religious delusions were real, then I wouldn’t fight them off with drugs and rigorous mental discipline. Schizophrenia is a disease. It is a condition of messed up brain chemistry. I agree with psychiatry and not talk therapy. Science is always the best solution. People don’t understand that the human brain is the base of behavior. The mind is no more than brain activity. And yes I am a materialist. Religious people can argue with me till kingdom come (which will never happen).

Eight twenty. I’m going through a weird kind of struggle. In 1862, Hugo thought materialistic philosophy was the privilege of the wealthy, while religion was the fare of the poor. I find this to be true in our own time as well, and I’ve been immersed in both worlds. Going from Hugo to Woolf was to revive my college learning, which really was a materialistic thing, with a few exceptions. Now I don’t know which way to turn. My old psychiatrist told me that I had fallen low, in terms of my status. This only made me rebel against him and turn to the church. Was that a mistake? Or will I come out of all of this the wiser? I should probably finish Les Miserables.