An event that happened 35 years ago still has me pondering the meaning of being human versus animal. According to ancient wisdom, humans have a rational faculty that allows them to participate in the divine and rise above animal instinct. But the distinction gets hazier when you move from philosophy to modern anthropology and consider evolution and the continuity of the whole animal kingdom. Then what happens to human specialness and the diviner part called reason? Can we still set ourselves apart? Here, my logic tends to break down.
Yesterday afternoon there was a hailstorm and this morning, the stones are still around to whiten rooftops and litter the lawns of the neighborhood. It’s cold. A while ago I remembered an album by Weather Report titled Night Passage. I bought the cassette as a special order from a small business named Face the Music on 13th Street, up on campus when I was a student. I also remember that the clerk was quite judgmental of Jaco for his chemical dependency, but I was undeterred and really enjoyed the tape. I wanted to play the bass in his style, like a lot of players did. Later on, I grabbed Word of Mouth from the same hole in the wall. I went through a phase of jazz fusion until the genre itself kind of fizzled. I wonder what happened to it?
Quarter of nine.
Maxwell Road and the far side of N Park were really slammed with traffic when I was out walking. The rain has stopped for now and some sun breaks through. My feet ached with old age and the stress of using them every day, or maybe I’m just tired and uninspired. I wonder why Jung said nature is aristocratic and people are basically unequal? Any behaviorist would argue with him on that score; even Mark Twain with his idea of the Man Factory in A Connecticut Yankee, where people could be trained for any kind of job. But probably neither perspective is a hundred percent correct. Nature and nurture are fifty fifty, I heard it said by a Chinese immigrant who was drawn to Western literature and taught at the university. He was young and on fire, not like the emeritus I’d had for English the previous term…
A capitalist system gives everyone an equal chance at success, no matter how low their birth. Or that’s the theory. I wanted to be a writer. Stuff happens to blindside us and derail our plans, but often a window is opened for us to climb through. And this has nothing to do with capitalism.
Ten thirty PM.
Today I read a little from a retelling of myths from the Mahabharata and let it digest, with just a smattering of information about Krishna. It occurred to me that Krishna is a face of the godhead or a manifestation of Brahman in a way similar to Christ’s being the embodiment of God: the Word made flesh. But it doesn’t stop there. I was thinking, what if the scientific certainty of my old psychiatrist was somehow wrong for its ethnocentrism and exclusion of other cultures? As long ago as Emerson, Eastern thought was incorporated into the Romantic tradition in the West; in fact, it was Schopenhauer who opened the door for future thinkers by his reverence for Indian scripture. Then in the last century we had Jung and Joseph Campbell to expand on Eastern and Western unification, plus the efforts of Yogananda and Tagore to do the same.
We hit a snag at the beginning of the new century, as far as I can tell. Does anyone remember who Milarepa was? The Tibetan yogi was well known thirty years ago. I maintain hope that things will get better regarding progress with diversity of culture, and seeing the underlying unity of them all.
Gloria and I were talking about the idea of the dragon in cultures around the world, so I grabbed a book off the shelf and flipped to the entry “dragon.” She liked the Dictionary of Symbols, and for this reason I gave it to her as an early Christmas present. I actually had another copy, but I didn’t need two of them. I told her that I had ordered a green ceramic Christmas tree to set up in the living room, which made her smile broadly. She said she doesn’t have much room for decorations in her home, and a big box of her ornaments was stolen: angel figures she had collected to be souvenirs of different people and places. Maybe we can do something to replace those memories… The sun tries to come out on this chilly day. It was cold when I helped Gloria out with her Shark vacuum cleaner and she put the trash in the blue bin. She’s going in for a surgery next month, so I hope her recovery is quick. Looking around my mind’s eye, I see the parking lot of Carl’s Jr. with rolling gray clouds and the reds and yellows of autumn leaves: and Gloria’s face.
Nine o five.
It’s strange how the neighbors on my street, except for Roger, are not very friendly. The ones across from my house put up their Christmas lights yesterday, a string of all white. But every time I get to N Park and Maxwell Road, I’m received more nicely, especially at the market… where I happen to spend a lot of money. I try not to be cynical of people. This morning, Lisa wore a funny red striped hat tipped with balls of white. She said she was selling more coffee than anything else. Only one biscuits and gravy order, and hardly any breakfast sandwiches… I have “Waltz of the Flowers” going in my brain. I haven’t been sleeping well because my mind is on my sister and her family, worried for the future if something happens to her. She is 74 with a few health issues. At times my consciousness feels ready to melt down or implode on itself when I’m lying in bed. Also she was considering giving our brother a call after a long silence. This could be a disaster if she gets ahold of him. Life isn’t altogether peaches and cream. For once I’d like to get a good night’s sleep.
But Christmas comes anyway.
I’m watching a house sparrow out of my glass door while hearing Tchaikovsky music inside my head. The convenience store was a desert again, owing to the Black Friday sales around town. It’s kind of nice to hang out home alone with my dog and my memories from when my parents were still alive. My favorite holiday year was 1993. The Musique Gourmet on Fifth and Pearl formed a big part of the experience. Today, Fifth Street looks a lot different. The Public Market is still there but the smaller businesses up and down the street are all gone, including MG and Cat’s Meow Jazz and Blues Corner, plus Escape Books, Perelandra Books and Music, and Monster Cookie Company. It’s like saying goodbye to a Renaissance or a Golden Age to remember them.
Inside Perelandra they always burned incense, which was a bit irritating in more ways than one. Still, I bought a handful of books at that place. Their specialty was metaphysics. Once I purchased a book called Your Psychic Powers and How to Develop Them. It had a yellow cover and was a reprint of something very old. I guess I was susceptible in those days, and it probably seemed weird for a guy like me to walk into a shop like that. I notice now that my dad didn’t want to go in there, so I usually went on my own in my own car. He wasn’t interested in what he considered “far out” stuff. Also my psychiatrist told me I didn’t belong in the Western world. But it didn’t hurt my feelings… Much.
I still have that yellow book in a bookcase down the hallway.
I stayed in bed a little longer than usual but I couldn’t sleep. In fact I didn’t sleep all night, and I was thinking about how I lack libido since I quit drinking. Is this a typical side effect of sobriety? I often feel like an empty shell with nothing like an unconscious mind. It could be my age… Aesop had his breakfast but I haven’t gone to the store yet. I can agree with the cab driver who said, “My shit giver is broke.” If people don’t like it, I suppose they can throw stones at you, though it’s unlikely. This cabbie was a bass player and a Harley rider. Once he rode up to the Cooler on his motorcycle to see his girlfriend and she wasn’t happy about that. When he was young, he and a friend lived out of their cars and went to high school. He made it sound as if there were two paths in life: the religious and the experienced, and his friend went with religion. It’s a bit like a Hermann Hesse book titled Narcissus and Goldmund. But only a bit… Aesop is staring at me to inquire when I’m going to market for his treats. Let’s wait till it gets a little warmer this morning.
Since this morning the Rush song “Witch Hunt” has played in my head, probably for the last few lines of the lyric:
Quick to judge, quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand
I’ve heard this song be misinterpreted so ridiculously by those with ultra conservative values and attitudes, themselves the very thing the song criticizes. They are the “madmen fed on fear and lies / To beat and burn and kill.” And then I guess they just disregard the conclusion.
But it’s been on my mind for a reason today, as well as my schooldays when life was really pretty happy for me, from ninth grade to graduation from college. Others in my family tend to disparage education, saying that higher ed is impractical and a waste of time. But simultaneously they hotly resent people more knowledgeable than themselves, or just plain more intelligent. I don’t know whether the situation is fair or unfair, or who’s to blame for the inequality of it. What is the origin of inequality among people? And what am I supposed to do about the yawning chasm between me and some of my relatives? The whole thing gives me a headache. For today, I don’t regret that I’m spending Thanksgiving Day by myself with my dog. Fortunately a dog can’t argue with you or spit nails if you utter one fifty cent word.
I was thinking about the phenomenon of higher education and what it does to people. Is it fair to say that the meaning of any school depends on how you use it? My guess is that my sister blames education for my brother’s demise. It’s a lot like the book by Theodore Dreiser about Clyde Griffiths, his humble origins and ambition to be wealthy. His family is poor and religious but honest and ethical, but he is lured by greed and the lust for pleasure into a very complex society that eventually spells his undoing… I got as far as my undergraduate degree in college, kind of dabbling in various fields like a liberal arts major. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I believe it worked out okay for me. I came away from school with a good breadth of knowledge and I didn’t let the campus corrupt me. Maybe my sister has it all wrong about universities, yet I can understand her opinion on it; and there is some truth to her perception. It’s the way the big engine of society runs, again like An American Tragedy. D.H. Lawrence said don’t trust the poet, trust the tale, and the book by Dreiser stands apart from himself like a sort of testament to the truth. I’d like to take another look at Great Expectations as well. Literature is always moral. Interesting how the story gets away from the author and constitutes a modern myth. It’s almost as if my sister had written the tale herself.
Nine twenty five.
A gentle wave of nostalgia. Music from 1987, a long long time ago, though it feels like right now. I’ve got sparrows at my back door, same species, different individuals every year, like the swans in the Yeats poem. I should call my sister pretty soon because time is slipping away. Both of my siblings are over seventy now.
When I was young, I strongly wanted to believe that humans are divine and free rather than animal and determined. I started taking a class in physical anthropology but wound up dropping out of the term totally. I still have the textbook we used. One of the first lessons was the Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin’s revelation of natural selection. A year later, I took psychology and came to be able to accept science, though it was very difficult for me because I still had the gnawing desire for freedom.
Is there any way that the ideal and the real can coexist and intersect? Descartes struggled with this problem, but there’s no philosophical hocus pocus that can permanently solve it. Sartre was the last thinker who tried to save freedom. Who’ll be the next?