Close Shave / Bi Mart

One o’clock. I went to Bi Mart for my prescription and to get some socks and underwear, but on the way, on the Silver Lane sidewalk I almost got hit by a reckless pickup driver. He ran off the road right next to me, up onto the sidewalk, and eventually drove to the turn lane to get on River Road. Three other witnesses were there, and two of them asked me if I was all right. It was just one of those crazy things. And just as swiftly as it had occurred it was forgotten and I continued to the Bi Mart. 

The pickings from the men’s clothes were quite slim, so I grabbed whatever they had in my size and checked out at the pharmacy counter. The cashier was an old sourpuss who always works on Saturdays. It’s interesting, but when I was a drunkard I thought Bi Mart was a very cool place to go shopping. Today I see through its shortcomings, which even the employees readily admit. Bi Mart is not Walmart or even Jerry’s Home Improvement. It has a small selection of a little of everything you need to survive. They have a good variety of beers and wines, sometimes on sale for cheap. But I don’t go there for booze anymore, so it isn’t very exciting these days. I think of how many ghosts from the past I’ve more or less exorcised since quitting the alcohol. I’ve accepted the losses and let them go.

Then I took my things in a brown paper bag and walked home the same way I arrived, reasoning that another accident like before was improbable. I got home without further incident. 

Serenity: from a Letter

The little market was rather busy this morning, but the line was all gone by the time I was ready to check out. I saw one regular customer, a heavyset girl in her thirties, walking out with a half case of beer at nine thirty. My mission was primarily to buy dog food today. In line at the espresso closet I saw a deputy’s pickup truck. The salon looked open for business but I didn’t see Karen or her car outside. I know, it’s an awkward situation I have with her. I guess it is what it is, to use the empty cliche. From about eleven thirty to one thirty I read fifteen pages of Les Miserables; difficult going with all the names of people and places I’d never heard of. The setting has changed to the lives of Parisian street urchins called gamins. Eventually Hugo will get around to a character named Marius. His writing is always circumlocutory, beating around the bush and baffling his readers, but also what he says is usually pretty fascinating and quite ingenious. His breadth of knowledge is really stunning. So anyway I read up to page six hundred and have another eight hundred and fifty left.

At two o’clock Heidi called me to reschedule our appointment because she wasn’t feeling well today. And then with the beautiful sunshine I began to crave alcohol due to euphoric recall. For an alcoholic, there’s no greater pleasure than intoxication, though I know it’s hard to explain to people who are not alcoholic. The release of endorphins from drinking beer is comparable only to heavenly bliss. So then I emailed Mark, my friend who plays the drums and lives in the Friendly Street community in the south of town. And next, to divert myself, I played one of my bass guitars for an hour. Finally I had a can of dinner and, at four thirty, took a long nap with Aesop.

Now I’m awake again and don’t have the cravings for alcohol. But you know, life can be pretty difficult for me, when the sun comes out in springtime and I want to feel the best I can. One idea that helps me is that of accepting everything that happens without judgment, to just let events flow into futurity without comparison to other times in the past, without trying to idealize them. Does that make sense to you? In other words, I have to let go the past and let the future work itself out as it will regardless of my wishes. It’s possible that my musical projects will never pan out— and what then? Just take things as they come and don’t drink, no matter what happens. This experience of life is quite like reading an Emerson essay, following its flow like a river, never knowing the destination, and really, not having one. It’s also like the process of writing, unintentionally and with no clear goal in mind, and arriving simply where you do. And wherever you do is okay with us. Kind of like the quote by Ursula K. Le Guin about the journey being logically prior to the destination.

So anyway I got through the day without drinking.

Social Animals

Ten thirty. I would feel lonely this weekend if I didn’t go to church tomorrow. Every friend counts, no matter what they believe. I’ve gotten out of the habit of church attendance, and it’s really different anyway with the COVID restrictions. If the weather is fine this afternoon, I can go back and get a bucket of ice cream for fun. My favorite flavor is Espresso Madness, but I have a hard time with the caffeine. I might buy it anyway… or not, since I remember my reaction to those white chocolate pretzels for Christmas: I was laid out for a couple of hours in bed. The buzz and the mood swing were too much for me… I do get lonely and sad when there’s nothing going on in my life. Mostly I yearn for the company of very intelligent people, but it’s very strange how everyone is scared of the virus, as if they had no backbone at all.

Eleven forty. Forget it. I’m going to read my Nietzsche for a while…

Quarter after one. I realize that reading Nietzsche has been infectious for me. The material has incubated in my mind and hatched out a miniature clone of the German philosopher himself… for better or worse. My memory reels back to December 1987, when my mother and I made a trip to the Literary Lion on the Downtown Mall. She had special ordered a book by a local author titled A Letter Home. It was about the Oregon pioneers. I just remember how soon the afternoon grew dark for the wintertime, and somehow that bookstore makes me think of Nietzsche. It must have been a selection among their classics. I really loved my mom, and I miss her today. She never wanted to stop drinking, but she didn’t overindulge it like I did. My drinking was suicidal up to the point where it was a choice of living or dying. I picked life, sacrificing even the dearest things, treating it as an adventure. Now I don’t know what to do about my situation with the church, but the door stands open for me to come and go… A neighbor nearby mows her lawn. There’s sunshine outside, with some colossal clouds of white and gray. On days like this I used to kill time by drinking beer; I was lonely like today: maybe I should make a visit to Deb at the market? 

Dans la Lune

Quarter of noon. I ate the potato salad like a glutton and opened the mango Snapple. I’m in a weird mood today. I know I’m dreading my procedure a month away, and I wonder how I can weasel out of it. My healthcare insurance people have sent me another package. I imagine it’s a cancer detection kit. I won’t open it for a while… Part of me wishes I could drink beer and really enjoy my life again, but drinking enough is drinking too much. When I start to drink, there’s no way I can stop. Probably I’m just looking for a means of escape from the unpleasant situation. It feels rather cold in here. At the same time, the sun is coming out. I don’t feel as if my life were under my control, but I’m going to do something about that.

Quarter of two. I gave my white Fender bass a good workout, thinking of my old friend JP, a very talented musician who had chronic depression. We met on a beautiful Labor Day in 2003 at his place in the Whitaker neighborhood. His friend Dave was also there and played guitar… I feel very different today. The weather is like spring, a time of rebirth and renewal, but it’s also calling up thoughts and images in my memory. And I ponder why my worldview can’t be Romantic like it was 18 years back. The moon was always a beautiful sight, and the idea of it inspired me with dreams and poetry— and madness. The moon compelled tides of alcoholism the same as the ocean. Eventually I forgot that it exists in the sky or in my mind. I linked the essence of it with my mother somehow. Now it’s merely a stone in the heavens, devoid of personal meaning. Maybe there’s something wrong with that? When I behold the moon above, I’m surprised that it isn’t cracked in two pieces. It has withstood a lot of therapy, but not its copy within my soul. What would it take to restore it to wholeness and light? 

Desultory

Quarter of ten in the evening.

This afternoon went rather difficult for me in that I felt a bit tempted to drink beer again. It was one o’clock and warm outside, so I made a run over to the market for Aesop’s Milk-bones. I saw Kat doing some gardening in her front yard and I stopped to hail her. Thinking now, I didn’t know what I was doing. Human behavior is never without a motive, but I was oblivious to mine today when I left the house. In a desultory way I continued on to the store. Dreamily I heard Deb ask me if I wanted to buy a used electric guitar for $150. I declined, saying I already had a guitar. Then another guy spoke up and expressed an interest in it. Under his arm he had six pints of a cheap ice beer, plus he sounded inebriated. Again I ponder why I was at Community Market at one in the afternoon. The warmth of the day inspired a languid and nebulous longing for something I couldn’t name. I came home then and wrestled with myself for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe nobody would’ve cared if I had bought a six pack of a tasty beer today. Then again, perhaps I was the only one sleepwalking through the sultry winter day. 

Mind and Brain

Five o’clock in the morning.

I took my Vraylar just now. I don’t remember any dreams I might have had. I woke up with a few lines of poetry in my head, so I got up and wrote them down. A poem was generated from the lines, but nothing great. I figure I need another dose of inspiration, or maybe I can go back and revise it later. I ask myself how one writer like Edgar Allan Poe could have such an influence on a whole movement in France, and be more heroic for them than for his own country. Also I wonder what were the last dreams of Edgar Poe. I feel as if I should have shared his fate as a casualty of alcoholism. In my own mind, it’s hard to discriminate between Poe and my mother, who was his ardent fan, proclaiming him a genius. She never had a desire to stop drinking, so she’s really kind of a bad angel to me— though I say that with regret. What would she have been like without alcohol and tobacco? These were her defenses, her security blankets against a hostile universe that was out to get her. My brother still condemns her, but doesn’t realize his own similarity to her. Now I wonder about the roots of paranoia, this diseased thinking that must come from somewhere. In some ways I’m more like my father, and his optimism and willpower are gifts I can hold onto, and wield them against the rest of the family.

Six o’clock. The phenomenology of schizophrenia gets tiresome after a while, and it’s easier to conceive it as just a biological disease, no different from cancer or some other somatic illness. Mental illness scares people because it attacks the mind, the seat of our thoughts and feelings, and also no one wants to acknowledge that behavior comes down to brain activity, a purely physical thing. The pastor of Our Redeemer is phobic of the reality of biological psychology and neuroscience. He chooses to ignore the facts of mental illness— and that’s a pity for him. But for this reason I won’t go back to church on Sunday morning. 

Tilting at Windmills

Quarter of one. I feel frustrated with myself because I can’t organize my thoughts or find the inspiration to write on the things I love. I’m having a low energy day, regardless that the sun has broken through the overcast and I should be cheerful. I wish it were ten years in the past and I was having a wonderful time with a beer buzz and my friend on Skype. Nowadays I feel old and worn out. Still I remember so many good times I used to have before my brother went off the deep end. Or could he have had the right idea after all? I can’t judge. Last night it occurred to me that drinking was an activity done by my parents, but not necessarily a thing I should do. Also, as long as I drank, it maintained the memory of my mother. Finally I accept her death as a finality and I simply don’t drink anymore. Yet this leaves a little black hole in my heart where she used to be. 

What helps me the most is existentialist philosophy, for it opens wide the door of life, showing options to freely choose from. The determinism of one school of thought may be defeated with the idea of freedom. It’s an attitude you can adopt and, whether or not it’s true, it gives you a sense of control over your life. It’s like following the adventures of Don Quixote, whose madness is really sanity from a certain perspective. Not everyone is cut out for science. This is actually a good thing, because knowledge of facts can limit your options.

One fifty. I think the madness of Quixote is his freedom, while the common sense of Sancho Panza is a kind of bondage. Is Cervantes a greater writer than Shakespeare? They both died the same year, 1616. I believe that of the two, I would choose Cervantes to be my guide on life’s journey. I dare say he invented existentialism. 

Free Agency

Quarter of nine.

I’m stuck with having to go see my hematologist tomorrow. I feel a little nervous about it because I don’t know what to expect. But they did tell me that I don’t need a phlebotomy this time… It’s almost time for Aesop’s breakfast, and he’s letting me know he’s hungry.

Quarter of ten. Sometimes I recall what it was like to be on a soaring drunk. During 2013 and 2014 I was a mile high every day, but now I don’t understand why, or how I could justify doing that. Maybe I just didn’t feel equal to my responsibility for myself, or strong enough to tackle it sober. It could have been just a guilty conscience, something instilled by my working class family that believed there was nothing wrong with me; the schizophrenia was a phony excuse to be lazy and selfish, etc etc. I think most of my family still believes that. When I decided to stop drinking, I was prepared to give up my family and take care of myself in spite of the guilt and shame they imposed on me. My brother gave me the hardest time for being unemployed, and he begrudged me every service I took advantage of as a disabled person. He tried to argue that I didn’t have schizophrenia once when he was drunk on the phone. He behaved like a complete jerk to me, but I say he can screw himself.

I don’t deny that I made my own decision to quit the office job I had 15 years ago. The CEO of the agency wrote that she knew I’d given it a lot of thought. I deliberated it for a whole year, in fact. I concluded that the poverty was worth the free time I would have to think and read whatever I wanted.

Eleven o’clock. I’m not a Nietzsche nut, but in Zarathustra he says it’s desirable to say you willed your past, that everything was an intentional decision. This is part of his idea of the will to power, and I think it’s a good idea. Feeling empowered is a way to abolish addiction. Leaving it up to a Higher Power, a power greater than yourself, didn’t work for me. Nor did the injunction of self abnegation really help me to overcome alcoholism. What works best for me is taking responsibility, the flip side of freedom. It’s a great thing to be an autonomous agent, and such a pity to be a pawn in someone else’s game. Even if free will is an illusion, it makes you feel better and gets good results. 

Tempted

Nine thirty.

Here in the south of the Valley, we were charmed; no snow or freezing rain, and today the temperature is 48 degrees. The forecast says rain for the next week. Like every day, I walked to the market for my daily groceries. I saw nothing extraordinary. My thoughts are still occupied with realism versus Romanticism, and the possibility of transcendence by means of poetry and music. Can art unite us with the sublime like the nightingale’s song, or is it just an illusion? It was long ago when I read “Endymion” by John Keats. Vaguely I remember how he dreams that he makes love to Diana, the goddess of the moon. The poem takes you from the mundane to the beyond and back again. He awoke and found it truth… But why is the imagination important to human life? I regret that my medication puts the brakes on my capacity to dream and create poetry… I haven’t gone to Grocery Outlet in a very long time. Being there again is like bursting a time capsule, and I feel tempted to buy a half rack of beer or a gallon of wine. Life without alcohol is gray and prosaic, and yet the stuff is so toxic and lethal if you overdo it. That store is rather slippery for me, though I can get away with a trip to Bi Mart…

Ten thirty five. Maybe I confuse imagination with intoxication? And maybe it’s a fine line between them. Mallarme wrote that drunkenness is a foretaste of the real bliss of heaven. I suppose that’s what makes alcohol hard to resist in earthly existence. But heaven has to wait, however insipid each day is. What else affords us a glimpse of heaven in the meantime? 

Sunday Truant

Eight thirty five.

Though I spend it alone, today could be a good day. Hours ago I ordered my favorite bass strings on Amazon. They ought to sound great on my Jazz Bass copy, at once bright and deep… Aesop just had his chicken dog food for breakfast, plus some dry kibbles. He likes Purina stuff better than anything else. He’s a very intelligent dog, the same way poodles are smart.

Nine thirty five. Church will be underway, and I’m not there to see it. It’s so quiet in the house right now. My mind dwells on events from nine years ago, when Kate was my girlfriend in a remote way and my pug dog was 14 years old. But now I wonder how I ever could rationalize the exorbitant drinking I did every other day. It seems like such a feat of mental gymnastics. Part of it was being close to my brother, another alcoholic. But I finally realized that he didn’t care about me at all; booze was number one to him, and all human relationships secondary. It’s a heck of a way to live. I understood that I was no different to him than his wife who was number two to his alcohol. So then I prepared myself to sacrifice what I believed in for the purpose of recovery. Yet I don’t embrace my sister’s beliefs either. Gradually I’m coming into my own as an individual. My mother was right about the importance of beauty in our lives.

Ten thirty five. By now, church is done. I’m glad I didn’t go. I wasn’t interested in hearing another gloomy sermon. “Hey you, don’t help them to bury the live / Don’t give in without a fight.” And how can the church call us Pharisees and Sadducees when the ones who are lifeless are themselves? The shadow of the church disfigures people to inhumanity, turning all colors black and white. For some of us, the veneer of indoctrination was thin enough to shed. It’s like reading the early Margaret Atwood: waiting until the fur grows…