Quarter after eight. Michelle was cute this morning, with a cobalt blue T-shirt that said, “Well bless your heart!” We talked about the products of a regional food company: potato salad, summer sausage, dips, and so on are all good from this place. Aesop needed his canned food, so I looked for that and my usual stuff. The music by Chick Corea I heard the other night was very pretty, particularly the four slow songs I have in mind. Sometimes I really enjoy good jazz fusion. Unfortunately it’s a dying art, just not popular anymore as our culture grows increasingly primitive and selfish. No one has any time for beautiful things, time to unwind and be fully human. It’s kind of an Ayn Rand existence for us: always technical with no space for feelings and sensibility, as if we were slave to our own machine heads. In this regard I am very old school. The technocracy is running our legs off and will be the end of us. And to compensate for this state of affairs we defer all happiness to an afterlife that probably doesn’t exist. The job of a musician is to make people happy here and now, today. You get loose with a little wine and groove on the sound of music and maybe reflect a bit on the lyrics. What are we here for anyway if not for happiness? “It is not the reason that makes us happy or unhappy.” Still, we keep getting it backwards and make ourselves miserable, and life is pointless except for the desert oasis known as music.
Nine twenty five. The psychiatrist I left behind often quoted Freud on the two primary functions of humankind: to work and to love. But what music does sort of combines the two modes… My bass guitar will arrive this afternoon, between the noon hour and five o’clock. I feel excited but also a little nervous about the uncertainty when it comes: what might go wrong? I just hope the instrument isn’t damaged in shipping, and my dog is going to act berserk, barking his head off… The weather is still sunny and bright, though this Saturday it’s supposed to start raining. Tomorrow I have a follow up appointment with my primary care provider, which means a long taxi ride to Springfield again. But it’s okay; I sort of like Springfield sometimes. I miss my psychiatrist when I don’t think about it. I have to remind myself of my reasons for terminating with him four years ago. I feel as if I’d rebelled against a father figure, and done like Zeus to his father Cronus in classical mythology. Not only does he murder him, but he liberates his siblings who had been swallowed up before him. It is a powerful story of rebellion and independence, and the defeat of tyranny…
I’m just beginning to understand the difference between prosaic and poetic, and what poetry is supposed to do. It is something untaught in a book like Perrine’s Sound and Sense, a mere handbook of literary devices. The effect of poetry ought to be like that of intoxication either by liquor or very abstruse ideas. It should transport the reader to heaven and back again, or to the world of Platonic Ideals. Sometimes a dream does more than fulfill a wish: it unveils the reality beyond this shadowy illusion. A dream can be a poem, and a poem can be a dream.
My dog just jumped out of bed and trotted down the hallway to see what I’m up to. In a few minutes I have to take my medication to banish “false beliefs” and perceptions that aren’t true. Occasionally I think this judgment is an arbitrary call. Still, I take the pills dutifully every night to be responsible for my behavior. And it’s worth it to be able to play my music without the assault of religious delusions on the dark side.
When I was a junior in high school, I fell into quite a depression without knowing the clinical terminology for the condition. Now it seems to me that depression is a doorway to more severe mental illness, as well as to substance abuse. These things are colloquially known as “demons.” And after all, maybe certain kinds of music really are unhealthy for the soul. How can we guard against darkness and look instead for the sunshine?
Two o’clock. Some music simply strikes me as intrinsically beautiful. Right now I remember the sound of “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk, with the words, “Funny how I plowed myself an avenue…” Around the same time, I was reading an arabesque by Lovecraft full of fantastic images, such as being aboard ship on a transparent sea and peering down at the life on the ocean floor. And again, these things are not taught in a manual like Sound and Sense.
Seven fifty five.
The clouds appear like molten iron in the east. History never repeats itself. Or not intentionally, like a sleeping Sphinx. The inside of my house is a wreck from negligence. Sometimes it bugs me, other times I can excuse it by some mental trick. The supervisor at my job accused me of doing only what I wanted to do. I resented him for saying that because he was a hypocrite moralist. Probably the one who judges me is myself. Occasionally I run into people who criticize… And sometimes history repeats itself.
Quarter after nine. Michelle said it was good to see me this morning. At eight forty, the store was quite busy with customers. I waited in line for a minute to check out. During that time I looked at myself on the surveillance screen above the sandwich display, wryly noting my male pattern baldness. It’s Monday and people were on break. A small part of me misses the job I had fifteen years in the past, but there was nothing beautiful about labor. Only when Supertramp came on the radio was I pleased, and then I regretted that I hadn’t the time to make music myself.
Today I ought to have plenty of time to soak up some nice French poetry and meditate on the Ideal. Out of the industrial litter of ashes, butts, gravel, and fast food debris rises the full moon, enormous and red, close enough to touch. It’s hard to see the moon when you’re on a hamster wheel, reliving the same day, day after day. Once in the springtime years ago I saw a young student on the campus smelling the flowers. At the time, I sort of judged him for a weirdo. Now I think he was brilliant.
Quarter of ten.
I felt pretty good on my trip to the store, though with a few dark thoughts about my future. No one likes to admit defeat by the whips and scorns of time, this item called aging, walking on three legs in the evening. As usual I met with very few people on the street. Just the old man in blue denim and two children at Darlene’s old house, with their chocolate dog. I bought a can of chili and a sandwich, two Snapples, and treats for Aesop. In my mail I found an advertisement for a cannabis retailer on River Road. I was a little curious, but not really enticed. It would only turn into a very expensive addiction that would screw up my whole life again. I’m not interested in artificial ways to get high anymore. The challenge of living sober is its own kind of high.
The sun came out in a gray sky, an odd contrast. Every day is something new. Memories are all behind me, the future unforeseeable, but coming nonetheless. New formations of clouds in heaven… Time, stars, wings of angels. Sea green sun luster, like emerald on the neighbor’s fence. Pensive, I must be dreaming someplace far away…
Quarter of eleven. Am I too old to rock and roll? But never too old to versify. Those bass guitars get heavier and heavier to hold up. Inevitably my dexterity will slow down. It’s important to be realistic. But the mind retains its versatility as long as you feed it on good things… Everything advances in the medium of time. Nothing travels backwards, and memory is distorted. And yet this twisting of ideas is the means to creativity. What goes in comes out of the process something original, properly yours and beautiful.
A quiet Saturday so far. I just drained a quart of Snapple tea in ten minutes and fed the dog. I’m trying to lay my worries aside for the weekend. My thoughts are with Heidi, whose health is not good right now. Sleeping Beauty waltzes in my head, as if the subconscious couldn’t be bothered with the commonplace. The soundtrack plays on undisturbed. And maybe that is the sublime place sought after by Keats and Mallarme: a place in the human mind after all. A paradise that eludes the efforts of language, except for the mysterious one of music. I wonder if French, of all tongues, comes the closest to being music? Somewhere in my brain is a bucket for the French language. In college I wrote innumerable compositions in French, but I lost touch with that facility after my heart was broken. When I get brave I’ll venture to that place again and recover stolen treasures… The birds in the backyard seem happy to me. The cloudy sky gives an impression of lemon.
Ten o’clock. Again I think of my old friend Todd from the local music scene. Sometimes I could use his advice on technical matters regarding bass guitar. It’s a bummer how the music venues are all closed for now. And for once it would be great to have a clear and sunny day. Only in a perfect world, but maybe not too far away.
I really look forward to our next band jam on Saturday. In the meantime it’s simply today with no expectations on its merits. The future is a window, not a blind wall. Right now it’s black as ink outside; the earth is turned away from the sun. With a bit of a rotation counterclockwise we’ll see daylight in a few hours. I’ve considered swapping bridges on my white Fender bass, but this would make it sound more like the others. I should take the advice of someone who said, “It’s not the bass, it’s you.” I guess inspiration either comes or it doesn’t, but the most important source of this is other people. A couple of lines from Tagore arise, where he says he’s been spending his days in stringing and unstringing his instrument, awaiting the call of his God. The inspiration comes and goes with the visitation of the divine. It cannot be forced to happen. No more than we can speed up the rotation of the earth on its axis.
We’re getting a break from the rain this morning, but only temporarily. As I walked on the Maxwell sidewalk toward the store, I saw the half moon in the western sky. The moon always looks surreal by daylight, like an image out of a painting. I vaguely thought of my actions being compelled by the moon’s gravitational pull, but didn’t take it very seriously. I went inside the store and bought food for Aesop and me, plus a Snapple tea. There were a few older guys shopping this morning, a Sunday. One of them bought a Dr Pepper. Now, Aesop is letting me know that he’s hungry.
Another thought I had was that the past ought to stay in the past. Carl Sandburg: “The past is a bucket of ashes.” Also I wondered if I would ever buy a car for transportation again. How long can I live like a pedestrian, some wandering hobo carrying a US flag shopping bag every day to the market? It makes me think of the Bird Lady in Mary Poppins: “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.” Or the old woman eating prunes from a paper bag in the poem by Carlos Williams, receiving solace from the sweet taste. Long ago, I saw a poster in a frat house showing a man in rider’s breeks with a martini perched on the hood of a Rolls Royce. Caption: “Poverty sucks.” Even so, I wouldn’t trade my freedom for self made riches any day. There are better ways to be wealthy than with money. The cold winter sky is beginning to cloud up, and the promise of rain will be fulfilled.
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 nine.
It’ll be Michelle at the store today, so I’m happy about that. The song in my head is “Speak Like a Child” by Jaco Pastorius, one I hadn’t thought of in a long time. I wonder what prompted it? I got my original copy of this album in the winter of 1989, but not sure where. Someplace Downtown or in the Valley River Center.
Ten thirty. I spoke with a handful of people while I was out just now. Kim gave me a piece of quiche, saying it was her first attempt at it with a crust. It tasted great to me, especially the peppers and ham. She told me a little more about her husband’s life. The first person I encountered was Colin, walking his dog Lolo up our street. We talked a bit about the postal service and receiving our ballots in the mail. At the store, Suk said hi, and Michelle assured me that there will be cottage cheese tomorrow. The weather is beautiful again today, the sunshine soft and orange. Part of me would love to glut my senses with some pleasure, as in the old days. But I have to settle for sunshine and poetry for my sources of beauty. I’ve also been invited to record with the church singers Saturday night, so maybe I’ll go and do that. It should be a colorful time to go see my friends in church. Color is what my life lacks, making it a T or F existence, logical and devoid of quality. It’s like food without flavor, no seasoning of any kind. There’s something to be said for taste in human life. I think most people would agree on the importance of color and harmony, like savoring a good rainbow sherbet. Or maybe a lyric poem by Wallace Stevens? The stark words in black and white belie the impression of a prismatic spray between the lines…
My mother met me in the clearing of
A verdant hill, and wearing weeds of love
She schooled me how to scribe these very lines.
She told me her mistrust of metric feet,
That every word must fall upon the beat
In order so the incantation shines.
Like Hecate to the sisters of the weird
Mum wasn’t, yet the purpose I had feared
Obscurely looms as vapor from red wines.
Innocuous she seemed in sunlight fair,
The beams reflected on her auburn hair,
But her design was one that undermines.
Therefore I concentrate with all my might
To rub this apparition from my sight.