Blake under Pressure

Two twenty five. I ordered a new copy of Blake’s poetry, thinking I could give it to Pastor as a belated Christmas present. To me, Blake is the epitome of English Romanticism, and to know his poetry is to understand what drove progressive rock such as Yes— especially Yes.

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:

Bring me my arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In Englands green & pleasant Land.

The edition by Erdman is still the definitive one. I’m not sure what more I can say. My faith is clouded by doubt of the efficacy of the imagination, our creative potential. There’s no doubt that Blake believed in the powers of the mind to create a meaningful reality, what he called the Poetic Genius. But I’m struggling to maintain such optimism. Rather than creative, I grow more analytical, no matter how I try to resist the change. Still I admire those who can keep that optimism going. Time will be the test of what is true. Perhaps the dreamers of big dreams will win the day? 

Briar Rose

Quarter of ten.

Conditions were pretty normal at the little market this morning. Michelle and the customer ahead of me were talking about the new tax on cigarettes. Because of this, the cost has gone up to ten dollars a pack. Michelle considers the tax to be punishing people with addictions, which isn’t fair. I can see the sense of that. Pricing people out of nicotine is effectively a form of prohibition. It’s a one sided way of looking at things; I don’t smoke, therefore you shouldn’t smoke either. Well, I voted against the tax, though the decision took some thought. 

I bought a sub sandwich, cottage cheese, and two Snapples. The mail carrier mistakenly gave me Diana’s letter, so I went across the street and wedged it in her door. Bonnie Rose passed me on her way back from the espresso shack and waved without smiling. It really puzzles me that I never see Colin outside his house anymore. We had a big windstorm last night, yet the political sign in my front lawn still stands. So does Roger’s black and blue striped police flag, in a strange and silent standoff between neighbors. Most of the time, people around here are peculiarly quiet, the silence rudely broken by my bass guitar nearly every afternoon. No one says anything, and no one has vandalized my sign or any of my property. The magic spell reminds me of a fairytale in the Brothers Grimm. I believe it was “Briar Rose,” or “Sleeping Beauty.” A woman pricks her finger on a spindle and everyone enclosed by the hedgerow falls into a deep sleep, or maybe a paralysis. They freeze as if catatonic. I forget what or who breaks the enchantment, but it was probably a prince happening by the scene… 

Humanity as Family

Wee hours.

Aesop, my dog, stayed in bed while I got up to make a few notes. An email from Library of America tells me that the book of Sandburg has shipped. By waiting a few more days, I saved myself a couple of bucks. Patience is a virtue. I’ve never seen such hard times as those confronting us today. What is it about? Is it about “saving” a capitalist system that doesn’t work for us anyway? Is it about the White working class? Why is it preferable to some people for us to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world? I used to believe that my sister agreed with the right wing. I imagined all kinds of things about her beliefs that panned out to be only partly true. I think that what it comes down to is the fact that human beings live together on this planet, therefore we should learn to get along with each other. Why is this so hard for us to do?… It started to rain a few hours ago. The sound lulled me into a dreamless sleep. James Joyce conceived of the human species as a big family, one of the themes of Ulysses. We may not treat each other like family, yet this fact of biology remains true. If only we could feel the truth of this condition… 

Heroes and Minstrels

Midnight. Yesterday and today I’ve done more than the usual thinking about my brother. He was very admirable when he seemed omnipotent. To my child’s mind he was the real model behind every ERB hero I read about. However, I think heroes fall into at least two classes: the egoist and the altruist, the physical and the spiritual. There’s a world of difference between Tarzan and Luke Skywalker. One depends on his own wits and strength, the other gets his power from an all pervasive Force. The first seeks his personal happiness, the second restores order to the Galaxy… If my brother resembles Tarzan, then I’m still a far cry from Skywalker, but I think the latter is a worthier goal.

One o’clock. I don’t really have the money to buy myself a big birthday present. I heard from Mike the drummer. He says we may have a jam on the weekend just after Christmas, and this in itself comprises a holiday gift. I’ll take along a bass guitar that’s comfortable to play. But the jam is still not set in stone. It makes me feel like a wandering minstrel to hike over to Mike’s house down the lane behind the little market. Minstrels have a place in the grand scheme of things as well as the heroes. Yet I speculate just what that plan really is and where it’s taking us. It’s about more than money and worldly success. And again, “Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot is appropriate. 

Joyce

Nine twenty.

If I were going to see another therapist, I would look into my options with existential therapists in Eugene. As it stands, my blog sort of substitutes for sessions. The therapist is myself. I need to mix up my routine a bit; maybe take a long walk to Bi Mart, or beyond that to Dollar Tree. The last time I saw Abby’s Pizza Parlor, the parking lot was deserted during the noon hour. It just makes you wonder when the nightmare is going to end. An hour ago my neighborhood was fogged in, but through the mist you could see the blue sky. Now it has burned off. 

My pen pal has been reading Joyce and enjoying it, which makes me happy. Dubliners is quite a special little book. I love his idea of “moral paralysis.” And indeed the anesthetic snow is general in the state of Ireland, and everywhere else besides. The professor I had, Dr Wickes, stated baldly that James Joyce was the greatest writer of the 20th Century, and anyone in the classroom who disagreed with him could leave right then. Nobody left the room. There was absolute silence. So then the course could proceed. A few of the students struck me as dilettantes, shallow social climbers who thought it was cool to read Joyce. The others were more sincere and probably did better in the class. One morning, a bagpiper stationed himself on the sidewalk outside our classroom window and began to play. Wickes saw him and said, “I paid him to do that.” … I ought to dig out my biography of Joyce and read it through. Perhaps the highest praise for Ulysses comes from Hemingway’s diary: “James Joyce has written a goddamn wonderful book.” 

The Defense of Books

Noon thirty. Trying to collect my thoughts. I still feel quite up in the air as far as the political transition. And then, Polly has an attitude about books and higher education that sometimes raises its ugly head. My response is to feel guilty, but I don’t believe it’s really my fault. I love books, and I have ever since I was about eight years old. Books form a kind of dividing line: you either love them or you hate them. They are just as symbolic as wearing glasses or having an egg head. In the end, you are what you are, and no bones about it… Dunno; should I feel bad for being a bibliophile? I think there’s no percentage in feeling guilty for anything, so I should heed my own lesson to others.

Quarter of three in the morning.

Now it finally occurs to me that Polly’s phobia of books is wrongheaded, or at least my love of books isn’t a bad thing. It is simply a difference in taste, but my sister’s opinion is absolute in her own mind. I wish she were more tolerant of the things she doesn’t understand. She tends to crucify people with an education, and maybe those who have more brainpower than herself. Somehow she can turn another person’s virtue into a vice. My whole family condemns intellectuals, but that still doesn’t make it wrong. At some point I have to stand up to them and say it’s not a crime to use your brain for something more than meat and potatoes. Indeed, I’ve done this already, and the family excommunicated me. But it’s been worthwhile to start my own blog and write out my ideas just for me. It’s a world of live and let live, of liberty and justice for all, and anyone who tries to deny another person his happiness has a serious problem. 

The Good News: a Letter

I made two posts today that, I see in retrospect, complement each other. The first one affirms individual freedom as a gift from nature, and the second one suggests the agency of fate, in an apparent contradiction. Or, can fate and free will both obtain in the same worldview? Either they exclude each other or not. Sartre would say that the fatalism of the second post is bad faith because I tried to deny the fact of human freedom. I once had an English professor who noted, “Fate and free will are not opposites,” but I never understood his meaning. I believe the play in question was Oedipus the King. He, Oedipus, is warned by the Delphic Oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother. And as the events play out, he does just that, though unwittingly. Oedipus fulfills the fate put in place by the gods, yet his actions are freely chosen. Could he have done otherwise than what he was fated to do? This was never very clear to me. But I think I agree with Sartre: deferring your liberty to something outside of yourself is to shuffle off responsibility. So that freedom and responsibility truly are intrinsic to every human being, and “inalienable,” as I said. But I don’t think Thomas Jefferson was quite the philosopher that Sartre was, and also, Pastor is probably unfamiliar with the latter. One thing is certain: one cannot be held responsible for his actions without first acknowledging his free agency, and the converse is also true. My sister tends to overemphasize the responsibility side of the coin, ignoring the good news of man’s liberty. It’s a rather fascinating topic for me. Do you have any thoughts on this? Pastor only scratched the surface in his Reformation Sunday sermon. He evoked Aristotle and Jefferson in relation to the issues of freedom and happiness, but there’s a lot more territory to cover, particularly Greek tragedy and the philosophy of Sartre. This is an investigation I opened since the lockdown last March. I’m still working on it and hopefully I’ll come to a conclusion before next spring.

Inalienable

Quarter of nine. Day has dawned, but it’s still pretty dark. Feeling tired and tempted to drink. This is because I’m lonely. Sometimes it might be nice to have a wife, somebody to live with and to love. And who is anyone to say no? My sister would be stupid to tell me what to do. She should have learned that by now… I guess I’ll go to the store and get something to drink. Never underrate freedom, which is inalienable by anyone else. You always have options. This is the endowment of nature, no matter what the system of government. Yet I do feel very tired and heavy hearted. For a treat I could buy a Coke…

Ten o’clock. I passed the salon and caught Karen chewing out Kim for something, so I didn’t stop. Michelle told me she got a new second job. The job as security officer she perceived as sexist, so she left it last month. Now she works in a small grocery store in a small town on the outskirts of Eugene. She is pretty good at taking care of herself. Michelle is always very nice to me, thus I look forward to seeing her on weekends. It was so cold outside that I flipped up my hood to keep my head warm. Just briefly I saw Derek with his two daughters in his driveway. All along on my walk I thought about society versus personal freedom. It makes me think I should check out the writings of Thomas Jefferson myself: just what did he mean by liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And what did the French people think of that? I wonder if Pastor ever read Henrik Ibsen. Somehow I doubt it, but A Doll’s House was such a cornerstone to my education. I am unlikely to ever forget it. 

Is It Just Me?

Six o’clock.

I’ll be glad to get done reading The Farthest Shore. What I can’t understand is what magic has to do with the natural order of life and death. Very strange outlook. I should think that magic springs from an immortal place. But Le Guin denounces those who fear death and crave eternal life. In this case, what is the point in having magic at all? Maybe the book will explain this… I paid my utility bill just a moment ago: it was under two hundred dollars. I might be able to help my church out with another donation this month, but we still have a few weeks to go. Erin made me think about how useless my musical instruments are, assuming that things will never be the same again after the pandemic. But her opinions tend to look on the bleak side of everything. I’m getting quite tired of this perspective. It all reminds me of a rock band I played in over twenty years ago. The singer songwriter premised his whole philosophy on the fact that everyone is going to die. He concluded from this that we ought to let go the ego. I always thought that his ideas lacked common sense. I guess I’m just a Christian thinker at the heart of the matter… I’m going to try to call my sister at eight o’clock this morning. I notice how dark and depressed my mood is already today. Is it only me, or is it everywhere around me? 

Light in the Dark

Quarter of eight. The sun pierces the cloud cover momentarily to hit me right in the face. Rain is forecast for the rest of the week. I’ve been to the store already. I saw three guys who worked for the distributors of beer and soda inside the market. Vicki’s attention was on what they were doing. I felt like I didn’t exist. Generally it’s a dark November day so far… It has begun raining steadily, persistently, as the gloom deepens. It occurs to me that I feel lonely, and the present moment seems isolated and devoid of future. My internal radio plays Thomas Dolby a bit ominously. His music reminds me of the night my mother died. However, that time in the past has become an even profounder gulf, a sort of black hole with nothing in it. No memories. Just emotional quicksand to smother the here and now.

Nine o’clock. The kind of drinking I used to do was self destructive. It was born of a death wish. I won’t go back to that. There’s nothing good about drinking yourself to death. Now I can stare the blackness in the face and not succumb to the undertow. My mother’s death left a vacuum behind her. A pit. At first I fell into it and nearly drowned myself… Pale sunlight touches the magnolia leaves. “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” It is quite a test for me to read Ursula K. Le Guin. Some of her writing teeters on the edge of the abyss. But I think the darkness is surmountable and maybe even necessary for one to grow… Overnight, my sign for Black Lives Matter had been knocked down, probably by the wind. Just now I looked out the window and a good elf had stood it back up again. My guess is that it was Bonnie Rose across the street. She passed me in her pickup truck on my way to the store earlier…