There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object.
Herman Melville, from Moby Dick, Ch 49, “The Hyena”
At last the mood of the day is mellowing out as I relax and kind of coast the rest of it. I haven’t thought anything very deep today, and my feelings were up hill and down dale, peaks and troughs from the time I got up this morning. I believe there’s something wrong with this situation, and maybe what began as schizophrenia has changed to a mood disorder like bipolar or schizoaffective disorder. I think it’s true that everything is in constant flux, even if we need something eternal and immutable to keep ourselves grounded and stable: the one necessitates the other. To be honest, I don’t feel so intelligent lately and can’t offer any wisdom; and besides that, I was never all that smart to begin with. It’s the first of the month and Pastor retires on the 25th, so as a result I feel kind of rudderless and lost when there’s nothing to respond to anymore. The biggest shock of all is finding that my delusions have mostly gone away. My life today is not like life 15 years ago. The present is inevitably the present; and probably every attempt to box up the facts of life or sandwich them in the covers of a book will ultimately fall short. The only thing like a true almanac is the body of work by Waldo Emerson, or more like a Declaration of Independence for American writers and thinkers. He was the pioneer, and everything else has been a postscript or appendix to the main messages of self reliance and firsthand experience.
Here I am being intimate with a device again, like feeding numbers to a machine, data entry for future retrieval. Interesting how synthetic it is, and is the human mind really like a computer or more organic and warmhearted than cold circuitry and binary code? We only socialize with machines for the convenience. With technology and a lot of alcohol, you can build yourself your own Xanadu paradise, an impossible dreamworld that never has to end as long as your body holds up. A comparison might be the Hoffmann tale of “The Golden Flowerpot,” just without the element of machinery. The young student has two lovers, one real and the other a complete fantasy. When he has to make a choice between them, he finally picks the fantasy girl and goes to dwell in Lotusland forever. But there’s something very dark about this story that may not be obvious at first. It’s like the perdition of his soul… Such is alcoholism. Sooner or later you have to reckon with reality and the community around you, however poor in spirit or intellect it may be. This is a sermon to myself more than to anyone else, but hopefully with a didactic message to take home.
The question of what is real shouldn’t be a perplex. And if you were the student in the Hoffmann tale, would you know what to do?
Another thing I observe is how much like AI my iPad is becoming, judging from updates to auto prompts when I’m writing. I’m liking this less and less, and feeling more like a subordinate to machinery.
It’s turning into a world that D.H. Lawrence warned us about a hundred years ago. His writing was not just about sex. He wrote a great deal about industrialization and how this would do us much damage, since we’re supposed to be organic beings. Critics label him an irrationalist, but at the same time, 35 years ago his work was very influential where I went to school. Specifically, he described the situation of the coal pits where his father had been a miner. Also, he wrote of the regimentation of the school system, how the children were treated like robots. And of course he eyed mechanical inventions with suspicion.
I said he was influential, but apparently not influential enough to slow the progress of computers and every kind of technology. The machine dependent age by now is so well established that it seems we’re quite doomed to realize his fears.
Irrational or not, Lawrence had a prophetic vision and a warning that people should have heeded before getting this far. Though misguided, he’s been acknowledged as a genius by literary critics. I remember seeing an interview with Dennis Hopper on tv where he talked about sleeping on Lawrence’s grave in New Mexico, saying what a genius he was. But that was about ten years before the millennium. Everything after the year 2000, as far as I’m concerned, has been out of control. My parents died and life went to hell in a hand basket. I really feel that way.
Eight thirty five.
Aesop scarfed down his breakfast of Purina Beyond, whereas yesterday he didn’t like Blue Buffalo, so I won’t buy that again. It’s just an ordinary day for me, though Gloria is coming at ten; maybe not so ordinary. One thing that The Tempest makes clear for me is the connection between drunkenness and madness. Prospero, toward the end, is saying that he will restore reason and understanding to everyone, break his staff, drown his book, and habit himself like the Duke of Milan again. Or maybe the drunkenness element is not so obvious, except that Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban all get drunk on the wine they find. The sea imagery and the enchanted isle suggest to my mind alcohol, but perhaps Shakespeare didn’t intend this meaning… In general, sobriety and sanity amount to about the same thing: the dryness of the real and literal world, with no magic or metaphysics or any flavor at all. It’s very dull and boring, and I often long for a holiday from it— like reading Shakespeare. It seems to me that drinking and dreaming share the same essence. How many times do you run into the word “dream” in Edgar Poe? And he was notorious for his alcoholism.
I could be all wet, of course.
Today is partly cloudy and cold. The street cleaner truck just drove by my window and Aesop barked. I fed him at eight thirty and went around the corner past the salon to the market like I do every morning. Again I bumped into Lisa on her way to work. And I saw that Karen was busy with a senior client at her salon; most of her customers are senior citizens, however that came to be. Four years ago I used to visit Darlene there on Fridays every week, up till the time she passed away in 2020. Things change, and though the changes are gradual, they can seem quite drastic in a matter of years. One issue on my mind right now is the role imagination plays in human life, and what weight we should give it. There must be a happy medium between skepticism and blind faith, or between sobriety and madness. When I read David Hume’s wholesale dismissal of imagination, I come away thinking of how William Blake reacted to his assertions. It doesn’t help to know that Blake was probably a person with schizophrenia. Wallace Stevens wrote about how imagination is the necessary angel, so I should go read that and determine why he believed so. But I don’t think that imagination ought to overstep its own turf. When it does, you have a case of psychosis. To what extent do people want to live in a dream? I wouldn’t be comfortable that way at all. But some people don’t know the difference between fact and fantasy, and it’s rather sad to see it.
Quarter after eleven.
I was dreaming of the composition of Debussy’s “Clouds.” It is a piece of impressionism that evokes an image of moonlight illuminating clouds at night, tracing their movement across the sky. My dream adds the element of the composer being alone in a wood, hearing the strains of this music from afar, borne on a sublime breeze. Perhaps I remembered a description by Victor Hugo where Valjean and Cosette are in a churchyard at night, having vaulted the walls to elude their pursuers, and suddenly rapt by the sounds of this inexplicable music from nearby. Later, Valjean learns it’s the singing of the choir of the convent, where he and the little girl will take residence and she will be educated over a course of years. The convent is their refuge from persecution by Javert the detective. As long as they stay there, they are safe.
I just found an email from a music prospect. It was actually a rejection notice, but it’s nice to hear anything back at all. They gave me due consideration at their meeting tonight and were fair and reasonable about the whole thing. Now I can move on to new things.
Quarter after four.
I’ve been doing an all nighter for some reason. I just don’t feel like sleeping tonight. I don’t believe it’s a symptom of mania, and if it is, then it doesn’t matter much. About an hour ago I bought an edition of Iris Murdoch, totally forgetting the alcoholism in a lot of her fiction. She was an important Christian existentialist of the last century and worth reading. I liked Under the Net and The Bell very much. There’s a lot of Christian mystery about her allegory, like the scene of skinny dipping in the Thames to symbolize baptism. But there’s no overlap of the real and the transcendent in her plots, and the endings are tragicomic… I read Under the Net in October 2004, when I’d been working for an optical business for almost a year. I thought I was on my way somewhere, but after a while the job became drudgery, and all the romance went out of the prospect. I sent my brother a copy of the same book for his birthday, but he misplaced it and never read it. He had no interest in philosophy; it wasn’t his style. In fact, I couldn’t interest anybody in Iris Murdoch because of her intellectual depth. So I was alone with my reading for a long time. Under the Net is also hilarious in some places, like the kidnapping of Mars, the Dog Star.
Nine thirty five.
I’ve been to the store and back in the rain. The wind made it hard to use my umbrella, so I ended up putting up my hood and just shivering through it. Didn’t see much of anything new for the trip around the bend. A book I ordered of Paul Verlaine is delayed a couple of days, no explanation why. The deeper I go into Western literature, the farther I have to go to find my way out. I feel like pulling the plug on all of it and following nature, the world of ordinary things. The thing that puzzles me about Baudelaire is his jump to metaphysics from everyday reality, spontaneously addressing prayers to the devil and so forth, just assuming the existence of such beings. It seems naive to me not to know the difference between material and spiritual, and yet he uses the term “ideal” freely. Maybe I’m the one who’s naive? And maybe the natural world I seek doesn’t exist… The rain keeps coming down. On a good day I’d say it was a shower of fine wine from heaven. Today is rather blah; the rain is merely water, the sky a vapid gray.
The City of Eugene finally sent out a team to pick up the leaves at our curbs. This is just ordinary stuff. Lord or Lucifer had nothing to do with it.
I feel like some kind of alien; as if my head resembled an elephant’s. I’m not feeling understood by many folks, and this gives me a sense of my loneliness. Does everyone maybe feel the way I do?
I’ve finished reading the little Whitman volume. Next, it might be interesting to dip into Montaigne or Camus, if I can get onto his style of aphorism. Each of Camus’ phrases seems disjointed and apart from the others, so it’s difficult to follow his argument as a whole… My memory of past psychotic episodes has become hazy, though I know it involved ideas of hell and Satan a lot, and the experience felt very real to me. The more I verse myself in Western culture, the better I can grapple with those ideas. Probably the fear of an infernal afterlife keeps most people from doing what they might otherwise do. Years ago I saw Camus’ remarks on Tirso de Molina, so I actually read The Seducer of Seville, the drama of Don Juan and his fate of going to hell for his amatory crimes. What a strange story. It was the year following my mother’s death, and I read whatever I wanted when I wasn’t busy drinking… At this stage, I’d like to put the psychosis out of its misery for good and live without fear. Life on earth is hellish enough without expecting a hell in the hereafter. Perhaps it’s all just a dream, and all dreams are by definition unreal.