Edmund (with a Cold)

Seven thirty five at night.

I really didn’t want to be sick, but there’s no bargaining with this circumstance anymore; a fact is a fact. I tried to reason it away as just a mouth infection, but it’s acting like a typical head cold, from the sore throat stage to nasal congestion, etc. Okay, so I was an idiot. Now I just hope I won’t be too wretched the next few days.

How easy it is to blame everyone and everything, including the stars, but yourself for bad luck. Putting responsibility off of yourself is the excellent foppery of the world. And yet Shakespeare puts these words in the mouth of Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester, and the misbegotten miscreant with no place in God’s orderly world. I don’t know whether to agree with the Bard’s opinion or subvert it with his own created character. As the centuries rolled on, dramatists turned the focus away from nobility and towards ordinary individuals: indeed the individual, rather than the group, became the point of interest. So then, heroes like John Proctor of The Crucible were made possible, and even before that, Nora Helmer of A Doll’s House. Still I’m stuck on what to do with Edmund the bastard: perhaps he should have written Shakespeare into existence rather than the reverse. Maybe nobody would’ve known the difference anyhow. Which would be the more foppish today, the cosmic dance or Machiavellian plotting? Maybe we made a wrong turn after Shakespeare… 

Money

Gloria was here this morning and she vacuumed the family room but with a very inconvenient tool, a Compact machine from back in the sixties with a section of the hose missing, forcing her to stoop over the whole time. She told me it hurt her back. I felt bad about that, so I guess I have to think about buying a new vacuum cleaner. But on the bright side, the work she did on the green carpet looks fantastic, and after a shampooing it’ll be divine. I do have a Eureka upright vacuum cleaner missing the dirtbag; I could look on Amazon for a replacement bag before I invest in something totally new. And then we made another trip to the thrift store to drop off more stuff I don’t need anymore. The weather grew rather inclement at that point; it rained and hailed on us, though by the time we got back home there was blue sky in the west. Springtime is sometimes a blustery mixed bag here in Oregon. I kind of like it when I’m feeling okay.

Before I took a nap I read two more chapters in my Henry James novel. Somehow the story reminds me a little of Jane Austen and her concerns with marriage, especially among the wealthy classes in America (now I mean Henry James) and in Europe. This makes me think very regretfully of my college education and the unfairness of social class in this country and everywhere. In a heartbeat a person in a privileged position can slip through the cracks and be a pauper with nothing to his name. So that I think Henry James is rather shallow in ignoring such realities as poverty and woe, because intelligent people exist at every level of society. Now I think writers like Twain and Melville were much more aware of the truth of money and the people who have it and the ones who don’t. I even have to give credit to Charles Dickens for having open eyes and ears to people at every stratum of our social structure. Just imagine not having a car! And yet this is my situation here today: a pedestrian in the direst of poverty. What would James say to the homeless population here in America? Would he turn a blind eye and go on sipping his English tea in the afternoon, on the green lawn with the Thames River meandering down the hill apace, and his back to an old Tudor mansion?

A Little Gem

Four ten in the morning.

The next to last time Gloria was here we found my old desktop computer. I was just dreaming about that, so when I get the nerve I’ll try setting it up for use again. Out of my bathroom window I saw the moon, full and bright, the same moon seen by people in antiquity from Babylon to Stonehenge. It used to mean something personal to me, but now it’s just an insignificant rock; nothing romantic about it. Outdoors it’s less than freezing.

Quarter after eight.

I deliberated on it a while, but I decided not to go to church for Easter. I have profound disagreements with Pastor on three or more issues, and by now the whole thing offends me. My main observance that is anything like religion is honesty, simply telling the truth and not hiding anything from yourself… From the garage yesterday I dug out a neat little edition of The Portrait of a Lady. A student told me once that Mark Twain hated Henry James, though I think he projected himself onto the former. People say the strangest things between the lines. I don’t remember what my reply was, but I stuck to being a James advocate. We were standing in line at the English department, waiting to register for class. When I spotted Katy, I went to her and we had a better chat. It was fall in 1990, and after that my school life went kind of downhill. It could have been better if I hadn’t been seeing a psychologist… Anyway, I still think James is great, and the weather is blue sky. 

Autolycus & Gillyvors

Quarter after six.

There’s nothing really on my plate for today except the daily trip to get food for Aesop and me. Daylight will not dawn for another hour, yet sleeping any longer was out of the question. I dug out my beautiful Arden copy of The Winter’s Tale and considered it again; finally I went on Amazon to order The Tempest to read this spring. WT made me think of the church, a little community of Christians kind of like a Shakespeare reality, while my existence there was as a minor character, for example Autolycus, the peddler of bawdy songs and all around reprobate interested only in himself. Or anyway, that’s how a Christian sees me, which may be rather unfair and inaccurate about me. It’s hard to say. The breaking point for me was to realize that my parents were sinners according to church, when I knew I couldn’t condemn them for anything. A very difficult decision for me. Since a year ago I’ve written huge volumes of notes on my feelings about the situation, but I think the conclusion was quite foregone… It was last summer when I read WT the third time and applied it to my life somewhat unwisely. Shakespeare also says that the truth will out. In the end, I’m not “like” Autolycus or any other fictional character, as no one is really like anybody else. Life never imitates art but in our imaginations. So it makes you ponder the role of the half world of art and music and poetry. All in all it’s a didactic thing and something to please the senses… Just now I see the first gray light of day. It’s looking pretty overcast, maybe with some sprinkles, which doesn’t break my heart at all. 

Ineffable

Ten ten at night.

I woke up an hour ago from my evening nap, having dreamt of the bass guitar trio with Stanley Clarke et al, but I wondered why music was still important to me, and what was the significance of the bass clef. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all in a verbal way. It’s kind of like trying to make verbal sense of folklore and mythology, the purely imagistic: perhaps it does violence to interpret these things as language. They ought to be left simply aesthetic rather than meaningful. I know that someone has said this already. It might have been the commentary by Henry Weinfield on the poetry of Mallarme. But more likely it was an old critical biography of Edgar Allan Poe that stated his distaste for allegory and his preference for pure music, especially in a poem like “The Bells.” The point was not to say anything moral or significant. The point was precisely pointlessness, and the experience of sheer feeling instead of an ideology. Not sense, but only sound. I wish I could find that biography again and hang it on my wall. 

Jack London

Quarter of ten.

Business goes on at the market. Michelle is training another new employee, a gray haired woman named Lisa. She seems very nice as well as competent. As I arrived in the parking lot, I observed a woman wearing her jammies and a clownish red and white robe getting out of her car. She cursed when she dropped a bottle on the ground, and had an armload of plastic cups and other debris. Apparently she’s a regular at the store, because Michelle knew her and maybe Lisa too… It was rather calming to stroll off on my errand today. The gray clouds stood around the flat valley floor like sentinels. But there were no people outdoors at eight on a Sunday morning. I’m tempted to look at Russell’s history of philosophy today but his style is so dry and flavorless; quite a chore to read. Still I respect his reputation as a mature and responsible philosopher. Another impulse would have me read more Paul Bowles for his understated writing, a little like Jack London in places: impassive and naturalistic… The expected rain didn’t pan out, and in fact the whole forecast has changed to say cloudy weather all day… Speaking of Jack London, it’s been ages since I read “To Build a Fire.” I tend to underrate his stuff, but really some of it is brilliant.

Quarter after eleven. I found a good copy of his writings on the shelf. As I remember, London was a heavy alcoholic and he died young of its complications. After writing his ten thousand words daily, he permitted himself to drink. Once he tried suicide the fast way by drowning himself. It’s kind of strange to consider being so close to that threshold, yet I did something very similar with my life. The most pertinent question is, Why? 

Pirandello

Six thirty.

I’m in a cloud of worries about a lot of things, but foremost I have to confront my therapist about the future of my sessions with him. I’ve been so confused and messed up lately. I don’t want to drink again, and I don’t think I will, though it’s very difficult for me to resist the call of the beers sometimes.

Eureka! I found my copy of the plays of Luigi Pirandello on the shelf. I’d been dreaming about it during the night and now it’s a reality. I want to reread Six Characters in Search of an Author to explore ideas of freedom versus determinism for human beings. I almost wrote a paper on the topic when I was a student a long time ago but did Eliot instead. Today, it’s like unfinished business for me to learn the truth of human freedom and how it is possible to think about it.

I believe it’ll be a good day today. Daylight has arrived, gray blue and cloudy. Michelle might be back to work this morning; I hope she feels all right on the job. I’ll know for sure when I go to the store in another hour. I’m waiting for the Monday rush hour to die down before I set out. 

Effect Like Murdoch

Ten thirty at night.

When I set out on foot for the veterinarian I was bareheaded with no hood or umbrella. About an hour after I returned home it started to rain, missing me as if by providence. Also provident was the phone call I received as I was ambling back on Armstrong Avenue, with the news that my PCA had been approved and after a couple more steps could begin her job for me. The thoughts I’d been having were totally unrelated to these events, and also the circumstance of my walking to the veterinary hospital to treat Aesop’s fleas. The whole scenario together feels like an Iris Murdoch novel, particularly Under the Net or The Bell. Detached from the world of natural and social events, a mystic reality is playing itself out for an overall tragicomic effect for the characters. The mundane reality goes on uninfluenced by the sublime, yet that allegorical level is still there, making you wonder why. So out of nowhere, we see a stay of the rain or a phone call from somewhere remote, with celestial laws inscrutable to humans on earth. Once in a while, life bears a resemblance to art to make an effect like Iris Murdoch: something mysterious like a dream. 

Camus

Quarter of ten at night.

By now, church feels very far away from me, nor do I ever intend to go back. I feel pretty much like I used to when I was twenty years old, minus the alcohol I did daily. The booze only engulfed me when life got onerous and unrewarding; when my time was not my own and I couldn’t be its director. Feelings of guilt and shame contributed a great deal, although all I needed was to assert myself with the people who made life hell for me. And most of self assertion is the ability to say no when you mean no. Life runs away with you when you make inauthentic choices for the sake of being loved by others. It takes strength to let them down, but better than letting yourself down. Or does that sound rather Machiavellian?

Last night I read something interesting about the difference between Albert Camus and his French rivals including Sartre. He was a moralist and humanist above all, even though he was an atheist and said life is absurd and meaningless. He still believed in humanity. His lessons for us were often derived from the Bible, with the supernatural element taken out. He would not throw in with the existentialists because his humanity was ineradicable; because he wouldn’t be a Machiavellian. And these facts make me stop and think for a minute… 

Quixotic: A Letter

I read and skimmed the chapter on Sartre in my new book by William Barrett, and I came away from it feeling inspired and rejuvenated. I wrote some notes in my journal, arriving at the conclusion that human freedom has no limits, at least from certain perspectives. I know it probably sounds too optimistic, or “idealistic” in a naive sense of the term, yet what else is philosophy for if it can’t exaggerate a little? And now I’ll finish reading Native Son to see what ideas the story bears out.

I bet I sound like a kook to you with my talk of freedom and so forth, but it’s still important to me. Maybe there’s something kind of Peter Pan about libertarian ideas. However, the implications of liberty in the abstract are far reaching, and it’s a serious philosophical issue with a lot of relevance to our lives. Someday there’s a couple of books I want to read in their entirety: one is Being and Nothingness and the other is Don Quixote. In my experience with Cervantes and Shakespeare, the former is about individual freedom, the latter is deterministic and fixed, more like Freudian psychology. It’s interesting that the two writers were contemporaries and died on the same day in 1616. For me, it’s kind of either/or, one or the other, and I think I pick Cervantes.

I remember when in college I was sort of forced to accept Shakespeare and Freud, the unconscious, the idea of nature, and all that, after I’d been exposed to Sartre and other philosophers, plus Don Quixote. There’s a world of difference between these two angles. It might be said that the idealistic side has no common sense, hence the meaning of “quixotic.” And then you have to consider the role of Sancho Panza, the one who has sanity and a clear head. Sancho is realistic.

I don’t know about all of this, but I’m just getting started with my exploration of the possibilities, and the Barrett book fueled the fire for me today.