Quarter of five. I feel pretty good right now. It’s cloudy and yet still bright outside. The thought occasionally rises to me that I love music, for music is the experience of feeling. I can hear a scene from Spartacus in my mind, a piece by Khachaturian, so sensuous and lush, quite voluptuous. And the origin of this word is Voluptas, meaning Pleasure, the daughter of Cupid and Psyche as related in The Golden Ass, and again in Marius the Epicurean by Walter Pater. I doubt if my mother was familiar with Pater, but she might’ve gotten a similar notion from reading The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone when she was in her thirties. I probably don’t even need to read it to know its philosophy. My mother absorbed it and lived it— embodied the book… I could be wrong about that. I only remember how I felt when my siblings and I unearthed the book in a trunk of Mom’s things after she passed away. The fact is that she was not very philosophical, even in an aesthetic way. She had trouble with abstractions and understood everything literally. So, it doesn’t make much sense to discuss her “belief system,” or to puzzle it out behind her back. Most likely there was no ideology to my mother at all. In this regard, she and music had something in common. Her life was a bit like reading “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe: all sound without sense. To say that she was “aesthetic” would miss the point. She was the sound of music itself…
Quarter after ten. It feels very cold outside. I put on my jacket and chattered my way to the market for food and, for a change, a Coke. I told Vicki about the burrito pricing mixup, so she entered the new prices in the register. In addition I asked her when there would be more dog food on the shelf. She answered something vague, but at least I put a bug in her ear. Aesop doesn’t like the Costco brand of canned food anymore, and I said so.
As I plodded there and back, I began to consider the introduction to the Montaigne book. The striking thing for me is how he lets the contradictions within himself remain. He doesn’t impose unifying principles on his own experience, makes no attempt to systematize. And this is called diversity. It impresses me as the very opposite of Joseph Campbell, and even of modern natural science. It seems rather lawless, like chaos to me. And yet it is a valid way of perceiving the phenomena of life. According to biology, without organization a life form breaks down and dies. Without it, perhaps the sciences could not exist as they do today. But still Montaigne reminds me that some people leave the particulars as they are, and they don’t operate on what they perceive. This kind of variety means a minimizing of conflict which in the extreme would otherwise result in bloodshed…
The Coke is a little gross, bubbly and acidic and ultimately unhealthy, though it’s a treat just the same. Tomorrow I have physical therapy again, this time taking a taxi both ways. I plan on not doing the homework. Erin can then decide if I should continue the sessions.
Sometimes I see myself as an aesthetic person, and this applies even to the experience of sitting down to read a book. The volume in my hands is like a succulent meal, like the best prime rib or shrimp scampi. There’s something obsessive about it for me, perhaps even manic. Moreover, taste makes waste. On the other hand, life needs the seasoning of beauty to render it palatable. The weather, speaking of beauty, is cloudless and perfect, the sky a blue pearl. Now the maple leaves begin to change from green to gold. On the fringe of my mind lurks the figure of Neil Peart, whose inconsistencies make me wonder if he ever read Montaigne.
Quarter after one. Some people like to believe that 2 + 2 = 5, but for me it’s very difficult to make that leap. I left a voice message for Polly. I imagine she’s out shopping or something. Abruptly the sun comes out. We really need some rain to help with the wildfires. The church will be ringing the bell again this week. I realize that the antipsychotic throttles my imagination and clarifies my thinking.
Four o’clock. I’ve been on the phone with Polly: it went okay. I can actually appreciate her viewpoint now. She is very stoic about morality, very upright. She believes in hard work. I can’t argue with that, because she’s probably right. But as far as how I live, I’m the laziest person I know. Nor do I condemn myself for this. One way or another, I do the best I can. I received a megadose of bad parenting in my youth, plus I have the challenge of mental illness to contend with. Well, whatever. I don’t have to defend myself against my sister’s stone heart. Mom was entirely different. She had passion and sensitivity. Is it really fair to call such things “selfish?” By its nature, art is egoistic and expressive, individual and eccentric. While my sister is religious, Mom was aesthetic in the purest form. That’s why they didn’t understand each other, and why I’m still stuck in between… This Thursday, I think I’ll go observe the bell ringing at the church just for the romance of it. There has to be a locus where religious and aesthetic meet. “Let there be commerce between us.”
At the crack of dawn I will probably go to the store for a soda and things to eat. And yet the ritual has gone so smooth. The groove has become a rut. What could break the monotony? Just about anything. I could go to Grocery Outlet and buy some banana peppers and some artichoke hearts. But this is for people whose taste buds are all in their mouth. My mother used to say that. I see the first light of day out my front window. The only hope now resides with instrumental music, music with no words. The sounds of music are feeling. Feeling describes; it cannot prescribe. It can’t moralize— and really, it is the moral that we need to get rid of, with everything we face today. The only poetry we need, a most blasphemous thing, is that of Edgar Allan Poe. To recite “The Bells” again over our gravesite is to be sublime. Poe made poetry for the music of it, for the sound, not the sense. His verse slips under the net of language and meaning. Music is the one art form to which the other art forms aspire to be. Walter Pater said this. Poe anticipated the Aesthetic Movement by a few decades, inspiring especially the French… People need something to make them feel good. To my mind, the greatest help to us right now is instrumental music. And the best that words can do is to strive to be music.
I feel a little wiped out, but my mood is fairly cheerful. Early this morning the moon shone through my bedroom window, bright and full. Under its spell I thought of my mother in her last two years, after Dad had passed away. We drank a lot! And she made breakfast for dinner often, or else I would get takeout from Tio Pepe, the Mexican restaurant on River Road. I lived in sort of a dream then. My friends in music must have thought I was strange to be living with my mother. But I was comfortable. I had no worries financially. I bought a lot of books and read every day. And I learned more about my mother’s aesthetic mentality, although it was beginning to decay. She told me about a song her parents used to sing for their parties, “The Road to Mandalay,” with words by Rudyard Kipling. On one of my trips to the bookstore I bought a big book of Kipling’s verse that contained “Mandalay.” I brought it home and read it to Mom. I also purchased two novels by Harold Robbins in an effort to make sense of the thinking of my parents. I was very aware that it was different from most people I knew. Quite amoral, in fact, like the poetry of Edgar Poe. Maybe what I sought was the root of schizophrenia. There was such a schism between Mom’s beliefs and those of everyone else that madness could result. But that’s only a theory. Perhaps Mom was simply more intelligent than the average people I knew…
Quarter after three. My Coke is almost gone. The sun comes and goes. The tinnitus is back again. I wonder if the springtime is affecting me adversely? But my poor brain is simply hypersensitive, and nothing I can do about that. I used to anesthetize myself with beer, and it felt wonderful at first. Now it’s just not an option…
I understand why my mother had problems. My dad by contrast was bovine, obtuse; a blockhead. Not very smart. But she was smart enough to realize how the world can be a menacing place. She only needed to be stronger and more defiant of her critics. To just say screw you and do what she wanted. Follow her instincts and be a painter or sculptor, like her hero Michelangelo. No one else understood why her personal bible was The Agony and the Ecstasy. We found it sealed up in an old green trunk after she passed. I confess I had mixed feelings about it. But her mentality was dear to her. She couldn’t choose otherwise. I wonder what she would’ve thought of Marius the Epicurean? She was too inhibited to go that deeply into it. Still, aestheticism was her faith and fascination, and the world contradicted her. The world was too narrow for my mom. I daresay the world was wrong.
Toward noon. I might play my white bass in a few minutes. I love most instruments that have four strings. Something archetypal about the number four…
Quarter after one. The white bass sustains almost too much. It’s because of the Omega bridge I installed about five years ago. Now the instrument really sings. I can hardly hit a wrong note. Probably I could drop the bass on the floor and it would sound coherent. I purchased it from Rondo online nine years ago. At the time I couldn’t play very well because I was always drunk. I almost never practiced. I’m glad that I can play today. What was the advantage in being drunk? Nothing ever got done that way. And I never had any money to work with… It’s tempting to believe that God, if he exists, favors people who don’t drink. Alcoholism nearly ruined my life, and now I see my brother’s life being ruined. He’s making big mistakes and losing friends, according to what Polly told me. I don’t know. You don’t have to call it God, but simply the way of nature. We are not intended to self destruct, but rather to live fully and happily. The world of the alcohol buzz is false. It pulls you into depression and then despair. Finally it destroys you.
Two thirty. I suppose I drank in order to escape from something. Hopefully I’ve addressed the problem and put it in its place. I knew I was going to have to give up my family. They will always say that I’m worthless, lazy and selfish. That I’m some kind of hedonist. Fuck it, I can’t be any other way. I’m just a rock and roll type of person, an entertainer. My relatives can call me the devil himself, but it wouldn’t be the truth. But I admit to being more esthetic than ethical or religious. What’s wrong with that? “Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs…”
The whole family hated Mom, and that just wasn’t fair. I’m her only disciple, and during her lifetime, I was her only friend. People called her crazy, and thought she was impractical, as if lacking sound judgment. But to me, Mom was just an original, an eccentric person. I got to know her better than anyone else. She loved beautiful things and people, with the eye of an artist—- precisely why she was misunderstood. It was not shallowness, for her appreciation had its own quality of depth and meaning. Aesthetics is a religion unto itself, however uncommon. I think Mom got frustrated to the point where she just gave up on life. She should have gone to art school to be around people like herself. I wonder now why I can understand her while her other kin have no clue. We loved going to J K Gill together, inside the Valley River Center, when I was between the ages of eleven and fourteen. I remember a day when we went to Walden Books. Mom bought me a gorgeous collection of paintings and illustrations by fantasy artist Boris Vallejo. I was ecstatic with it. Then we stopped at the Village Inn across the drive from the mall and had lunch. It was a rainy day, I don’t recall what month. I was in eighth grade, my thoughts never very abstruse or deep. Beauty was enough. I have no idea what we talked about, but I pulled out the Vallejo book and thumbed through it at the table. Another time at the same restaurant, Mom purchased a painting on display. It showed a young girl in an orange dress sitting in a wheat field, a wide straw hat in her lap. Her head was bowed down, eyes closed in a reverie. Mom liked it because she identified with the girl’s pensive mood… So, why do I understand Mom while the others can’t? I don’t know. Since her demise, I’ve learned to interpret the world the way of most people. I don’t know whose perspective is the poorer for not recognizing the other. It would be like two strangers with different languages meeting on the street.