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.

From Zorba to Zola

Quarter after nine.

I have two appointments piggybacked this morning and I have to be ready to go at nine thirty. I feel kind of resentful of a lot of things going on these days, mainly the feeling of oppression and the lack of freedom. The last time I felt happy was when I still drank beer and had a good friend in Scotland. Maybe all I want is the freedom to drink again? To drink and to live like Zorba the Greek, sort of. I guess I’m at war with myself. I used to love to get drunk. I don’t even know what I mean when I write about freedom.

It’s time to go out and wait for my taxi… It’s 30 degrees out here and I’m freezing my fingers off. I can’t think right now. I hope my taxi gets here very soon.

One ten. Home again at last. I feel quite exhausted from having two visits and then walking to the store to get food for Aesop and me. It’s so fine to see the sun in the blue sky on a frigid winter day. I can relax now that those hurdles are past and I’ve got the rest of the day to myself. The cabbie for my return ride was pretty cool, playing Dylan on his car stereo, a song called “Hurricane” from the early seventies. I observed that the song was very long, with a lot of words telling the story of a boxer wrongfully sentenced to prison for a murder. The story reminds me of Emile Zola’s defense of a Jewish man in a very similar situation. The real suspect couldn’t be found, so they randomly arrested a Jewish person because they thought no one would know the difference. Zola smelled a rat immediately and eventually freed the man they had framed. Imagine a writer having the balls to do something like that!… My case manager, Misty, looked tired and stressed out, and I know she’s been very busy recently. I hope she doesn’t get too run down with high needs cases. And Todd and I talked a bit about literature. He said he admires the poetry of T.S. Eliot, especially The Waste Land for its difficulty and ingenuity (my paraphrase). I agreed that it’s a beautiful poem about cultural fragmentation. Thinking of it now also calls to mind Virginia Woolf, and of course Joyce… It was nice to see Cathy at the market when I finally got around to going there. And now, as I said before, I can take it easy for a while. 

A Bradbury Scenario

You asked me if it’s difficult to sell a musical instrument for a fair price and the answer is yes usually. As soon as you walk out the door with a new instrument the value drops by half.

Right now I’m not so concerned with my musical future. Frankly I don’t think it’s going to happen again. There’s no end in sight to the pandemic. Also I can’t afford the cost of a vehicle to get me to rehearsals and gigs— and I don’t want to drive a car anymore anyway. I like the feeling of being a pedestrian, I guess; and when I don’t drive I don’t contribute to greenhouse gases quite as directly. The expense of a car is more than I want to pay. Either way is inconvenient, with or without a car, from a different perspective. Society has to figure out how it wants to solve the problem of transportation with regard to the ecology over the next ten or twenty years— if it even happens. Probably we won’t be hauling around a lot of stuff from place to place anymore, and the internet will make rock and roll obsolete along with the same old rock instruments. The people who make rap music and post it to SoundCloud or whatever are the wave of the future, no matter how I kick at it and how untalented they seem to me to be. I’m just being realistic and honest with myself. You only have to look around to see where things are going. The Age of Dinosaurs is really over with. There will be no more stadium rock in this world except as a memory, a thing of history that few people will recall. Rock is irrevocably dead. And rock instruments will be found only in a museum someday soon. This is the wave of the mainstream; although, I can imagine a scenario like Fahrenheit 451 coming to pass, where a small band of intelligent people break away from a culture headed for World War 3 and preserve what is good for the human spirit, namely music and books. It could be like a New Romanticism, people living in the woods and committing wise words and beautiful things to memory for posterity: it’ll be a culture of Poetry.

2 February

Nine twenty five.

I walked through the foggy morning to the market where it surprised me to see Doug behind the counter. I have no idea what the situation is, and maybe it’s none of my business. I got in and out of there and didn’t say much to anyone. Again I observe how the store has become less personal and human than when Belinda owned it. Now it’s an economic enterprise, a game of numbers and quantities above all else. The customers themselves are numbers as well… On my way there and back along Maxwell Road and N. Park I went very carefully, keeping my eyes open to the traffic. I dunno anymore. Everything seems so desolate and lifeless— dead, like the Ireland of the James Joyce story. We need an infusion of humanity in our lives, but we stubbornly persist in error. We’ve made a desert of the places where we live, refusing to love each other, rendering ourselves robotic and heartless. I’ll be looking forward to Groundhog Day, which happens to be Joyce’s birthday, and the anniversary of the publication of Ulysses a hundred years ago. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Perhaps the centennial is a test of this proverb.