It rained last night, thank goodness, so now you can see the sun and ordinary clouds. I walked to the store and bought a sausage biscuit with egg and cheese. These things lead me to inquire about nature and artifice, or nature and what is man made. During the Renaissance, people believed that nature is God’s art, and that human art imitates nature. Like Plato, they thought that our art was a process of making copies of nature, which in turn copied the spirit world. Some people believe the dichotomy of art and nature is a false one. I don’t know, but it’s very nice to see the natural sun and clouds again. I was also thinking of how the world is “too much with us” when we don’t drink or escape some other way. We are all bound together as current events unfold day by day. What impact does this have on human freedom? Are we like pilot whales who beach themselves following the leader? There’s a song in my head by The Police called “Truth Hits Everybody.” The nostalgia of forty years ago…
Nine fifty. Yesterday morning I began rereading Macbeth. Although the “instruments of darkness” are at work everywhere, Macbeth is still responsible for his ambition for the throne. A murder is just a murder, regardless of the activity of the devil. The prophecy of the weird sisters incites Macbeth to assassinate the King of Scotland, and the deception of the powers that be have set a trap for him— but still he should resist the temptation. Perhaps his will is weak. His decisions are easily swayed by external influences. I guess the bottom line is that Macbeth really wanted the throne for himself. He envisioned the dagger before him from his own wishes… What a gory play! But I think Macbeth was overall rather spineless. As for the element of the supernatural, I don’t really know. Some of it is purely his imagination, as when he sees the ghost of Banquo… I should be finishing the play today, and then I’ll do more thinking on it.
Finally I perceive church as it really is, a place and time of worship, and now, worship makes no sense to me. What are we worshiping that we cannot see? And the communion, the ritual consumption of Jesus Christ. The whole ritual of a worship service seems hollow to me now. This is why I can’t participate in it anymore. Who’s going to pull the curtain aside and expose the Wizard of Oz? Are dogs allowed in church?… Vicious comments, I suppose. Pastor told me that my email to him hurt. I understand that and regret it a little. He thought about it for a long time and then suddenly showed up here last Thursday morning. I guess it’s really over for me with the church. Until now, I hadn’t been able to process my feelings about it. Am I just too smart for my own good? My mom and my brother have both been brilliant people. But you know, now that the end of the world seems to be a reality, does it make sense to divide people into the saved and the lost? How do we really feel about that now? Any one of us could be marked for hellfire according to scripture. I’d rather see the world continue through the pandemic, and human life with it. And together we can build our heaven right here on earth 🌍. Why not? We’ve fulfilled many of our other visions. You know we’ve got the power to pull it off, and yet we sabotage ourselves with petty greed and folly. Can’t we call together our greatest geniuses and put them to work on making the world a better place? Or do we have to stand by and watch it self destruct again and again? Are poets just fools, or instead should we start listening to them? I envision a great convention of poets and musicians and other sensitive artists with a heart ❤️ to lead us in the ultimate project of building a paradise for all the world’s citizens. It can be done. We shall do this in time or else all perish together.
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…
Two o’clock. I just started reading A Cold Spring. So far, much better than North & South. Bishop’s use of details is really great. I like her idea that the world is her teacher, her source of knowledge. And she substantiates this with her love of travel. Her sketches are so realistic, with surprises here and there. Lots of colors. She interprets landscapes and scenes on their own merits, gives them their own expression, as little biased as possible. In A Cold Spring, she advances from being simply personal to being a chronicler, transmuting these places with her poetic voice into a revelation. It’s like the art of Van Gogh in this sense, except more realistic and not so impressionist. And the difference between a poem and a photograph is exactly this kind of Platonic revelation that a poet can give. A poem reaches in and pulls out the sublime essence of an image. Emily Dickinson was a genius at doing this.
I miss the soda I didn’t buy this morning. I might make a run for my cranberry ginger ale even now. It doesn’t feel too warm this afternoon, so why not?
Quarter of midnight. I am halfway through the Salinger book. Something about Holden being an ancient, gray haired teenager is symbolic. Also his question of where the ducks go when the lake in Central Park freezes in the winter… It seems impossible to me that I was at Bi Mart 12 hours ago. The trip wasn’t really necessary but I wanted to go for some reason. I went in search of lost time, sort of reeling in the years. The only discovery I made was the natural flora that grows in the community and has always been here. Yellow headed dandelions, for instance. The nature around me reminded me of D.H. Lawrence and took me away from the age of technology and information. And industrialism was exactly what Lawrence kicked about a hundred years ago. He saw it as something that sterilizes human life, makes it dispassionate and inorganic. It’s hard not to agree with him.
Quarter after three. The scene in Sons and Lovers where Mrs Morel takes refuge in the flower garden after a fight with her husband is particularly to the point. Now I wonder what happened to the times of great writers like Lawrence and Joyce. Who will be the next big groundbreaker in letters? Who can do a revival of Modernism and be the new Modern Shakespeare? …Queen’s “Millionaire Waltz” sneaks into my awareness with joy… The revival really depends upon a reconnection with Mother Nature. If we can find her in our hearts and pull the dream out from within, the New Renaissance is accomplished.
Ten twenty five. I rested for a little longer, and now Aesop’s been fed his breakfast. I recollect when I bought Going for the One by Yes. It was in June 1983 at the Lloyd Center in Portland. My parents and I had lunch at the Hippopotamus and afterwards I found the record store. The sleeve for the album blew me away: the nude man in the foreground awed by leaning skyscrapers in the gleaming sun.
Vicki was wearing a mask today for the first time. I bought Aesop three peanut butter bones and a Coke for me. I need to wake up a bit more. There’s a book in my mail today, a collection of Conan by the original creator Robert E Howard. The 1930s pulps were generally very good. My favorite is Lovecraft, I think. When I was growing up, the bookstores offered very little poetry, and what was available even in grocery stores was sci-fi and fantasy. In the late 70s and early 80s, a lot of older writing was reissued with fantastic cover art. Edgar Rice Burroughs was a forerunner to the pulps, starting his career in 1912. It was actually DC Comics that introduced me to Rice in June 1976. Also the publication of Burne Hogarth’s Jungle Tales of Tarzan the same year. What was so great about Rice’s writing I don’t remember at this time, but it might have been the idea of primitivism, of barbarism, but in a good way. It was emotionally refreshing to me to feel closer to nature. In some sense it was Jungian. And imaginatively, Rice and the ensuing pulp writers just seemed more sophisticated than the new fantasy of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps I had an antiquarian streak even as a child.
Noon hour. While my parents picked out spy thrillers and historical romances from the bookstalls, I was drawn to heroic fantasy from the pulp era. We were at the mercy of the material that was available in local stores. The occasional trips to the bookstore were heaven for me, and I snapped up all the Conan books I could find. The cover art was beautiful, with contributors like Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo.
I got ahold of Conan of Cimmeria in June 1980 at B Dalton downtown. As June approaches, these layered memories of my childhood surface. They are even specific to the very month.
Midnight hour. I had unpleasant dreams about my mother. She wanted to punish me for something, I don’t know what. The maddest she ever got at me was when I’d do something to magnify her feelings of guilt. She didn’t realize that the feelings belonged to her and not me. The way I feel right now, I didn’t care much for my mother. For too much of the time she was completely irrational. She made me feel unwelcome in her life. I think my dad was a little afraid of her as well. If Mom was unhappy and frustrated with her life, she shouldn’t have given me birth. She felt trapped in a loveless marriage, but she had only herself to blame for blocking her exits.
In hindsight, it seems like a lot of Mom’s lifetime was spent fleeing from herself or from reality. So much of her existence proceeded from her own bad decisions. She figured that loveless company was better than none at all.
What really alienated her from people was not her quantity of intelligence but its quality. Mom’s place was among artistic people. One day she confided to me, “I don’t fit.” The other homemakers on our street tried to involve her in games of bridge and going out to lunch, but Mom disliked gossipy gatherings. That kind of activity wasn’t real to her. She craved intimacy and sincerity with others, but unfortunately she couldn’t drop into a groove anywhere. If she had only taken an interest in confessional poetry such as Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath, or anything creative along these lines, and risked a little rejection from critics… But Mom was afraid of rejection. Thus the end result is a conflicted life whose theme music is the chorus to “Eleanor Rigby.”
It must be time for me to read a book again, since I am devoid of ideas today. Victor Hugo always gives me food for thought, although the thoughts tend to clutter up my own attitudes. Probably Virginia Woolf was more to my taste. How can you go wrong with classical beauty? It was interesting how she meditated on the durability and perishability of beauty, and was unable to decide which was true. Is beauty immortal or not? Jacob’s Room is a very fine short novel, exemplary of some of the concerns of Modernism. For fun I might take Hilda Doolittle off the shelf and sample a few poems. She was the childhood sweetheart of Ezra Pound. Funny how the one who paved the way for Modernism was Henry James. He did this by opening communication with the old country across the Atlantic. The stuffy isolationism of the nineteenth century caused American art to stagnate. There was a sore need to reunite with our roots, or so James and many other creative people felt. It was sort of like the British Invasion in popular music. What would American music be like if The Beatles had never happened on the scene? We’d still be stuck with Elvis Presley. So, the same with Modern American literature. And Henry James made it all possible, blazing the trail for Pound, Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and other American writers to cross the ocean and soak up the culture. Finally there was commerce between the Old World and the New, resulting in very fruitful times for the art of the Western world… Another such reopening is necessary for America and Europe. It might take place depending on how the election goes this fall. The MAGA policy is going nowhere. When the pandemic dust settles, it will be interesting to see what happens all the way around.
Eleven thirty. I made my trip to the store. I feel much better from the gabapentin. Ran into Bill on my way there, and we agreed that the lockdown is getting old. Only Mike is paranoid about the virus. Maybe this band won’t work out. Wearing a mask was supposed to be voluntary and left up to the individual. A lot of people still don’t wear one. I won’t until I just have to. I suppose I’m a skeptic, or maybe I’m a bit suicidal. I’m definitely rebellious and will fight for my freedom… I bought a Dr Pepper that tastes awesome. Life feels much fuller and more whole since starting the new drug. Currently it’s cloudy outside. I looked at my rhododendrons and saw buds not yet opened. My oak and maple are all leafed out. It is springtime… I feel uncertain about the band now. I love music, but not always musicians. My temperament is better suited for literature. I should take a day and write a poem soon. Maybe today. Use blank verse and just see what comes out…
One forty one. I wrote a poem that turned out quite good, especially the last line. I should write more poetry. As and when the mood strikes me. Do it because it is good. The last line of the new poem is ominous like Melville or Stephen Crane.
Six thirty. Wrote two new poems today and played my white bass like a wild man. I really love the Omega bridge: such sustain and depth of tone, clarity and growl. How would it sound on the real Fender? The experiment might be worthwhile… Suzanne really liked the second poem I wrote. Said it was beautifully written. It may be because of the Virginia Woolf I read. My brain is a digestive system. It regurgitates stuff transformed into something new. Sometimes I am uninspired and can’t produce anything good. But I had a good day today.
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.