I ran into a few people on my trip to market, or rather one significant one I don’t see every day. Lisa, formerly of Karen’s salon, walked in and said hi as she got a couple of items. I wished her a belated Merry Christmas and she said, “Oh you know, Christmas was Christmas, now it’s over, time to move on.” She sounded tired or bored with the whole thing, like a cynical person or someone very smart. Either way she was superior to the holidays, which was fine with me. Kathy also was there, doing something like inventory work plus the usual cashiering, but it was Thomas who helped me at checkout. I got my stuff together and headed out the door. By the time I reached N Park I saw Lisa in her little navy blue Chevy cruising past me toward River Road and probably from there to the highway. As she went by I uttered softly, “There she goes.”
The morning is clear and bitter cold at 24 degrees. I won’t go out in it for a couple of hours. Meanwhile I’m getting more stable on the medication. A few times this month I flashed back to being twenty again, though it serves no purpose to do so. I didn’t know any more then than I know now. I just had my youthful vitality; the rest was folly and stupidity. But still, life had more of beauty when I was younger. As I age, the appearance or the illusion of beauty tends to fade away. I keep expecting a resurrection of youth and beauty that never comes. So, I revive old memories of pleasant times and try to be happy with those… The best myths are the most beautiful ones, the ones that give pleasure, yet it was long ago that I studied Wallace Stevens. Most Christians believe that Jesus is coming back. I’m not sure I want to be judged and then either saved or dumped in the Pit. I don’t know if the New Jerusalem would be so great. “No hell below us / And above us only sky.” Maybe living for today is all right.
In my journal I’ve been working out the problem of horror versus beauty in the corpus of Edgar Allan Poe, though I barely know where I’m going with it or why it’s on my mind. I’m a little shy about sharing my discoveries because I’m not a professional critic, just an amateur with a Bachelor’s degree. But the twin themes of grotesque and exquisite do go hand in hand for Poe, perhaps as flip sides of the same coin. Somewhere I got the idea that beauty is the savior of humanity, especially for the very poor like me and like Edgar Poe himself. And I was thinking that beauty is the good, and the ethic is aesthetics alone, the sugar coating without the pill. Ugliness is very easy to come by; it’s everywhere you look. It is misery and suffering, the stuff of poverty and hunger. Naturally the pauper’s delight will be the sight or sound of something gorgeous and ideal, however ephemeral and elusive the vision. Beauty may be a tantalizing mirage, but is it any the less true? Or maybe the most beautiful things are invisible, like the intellect and rational love. We know and refer to these things without sensing them.
This time I walked to market under the bright stars and directly overhead the small crescent moon shone at the meridian. Lenore’s car is still gone and she left her dog to fend for herself. I hear her barking at night occasionally. At the store, body language tells the whole story. I must have winced yesterday when Lisa’s mouth was so foul, because today she commented that sometimes profanity is not warranted, especially in the workplace. I never claimed to be a saint, though people have said that bad words sound wrong coming out of my mouth. Oh well. Aesop was overjoyed as always when I told him I brought home his chicken strips. Outdoors, the streetlight is on yet, while the daylight is just coming. In some places there will be thick fog.
The ocean breezes cool my mind
The salty days are hers and mine
Just to do what we want to
Tonight we’ll find a dune that’s ours
And softly she will speak the stars
Language can curse or it can bless. Either way, it creates the world we inhabit. With this responsibility, we are wiser to beautify life and go for paradise.
I’ve ordered the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, the second volume. I saw some really tasteless editions on Amazon by insignificant publishers easy enough to weed out. I wanted a copy of the story of Cupid and Psyche since the one I had was lost in the fire.
The birth of pleasure I believe is a very important story because of how my parents lived. The myth is probably older than Apuleius but I’d have to research it to know for sure. He was an ancient Roman, so he came after the Greeks. Cupid is an invention of the Romans, hence the story is essentially Roman and not Greek, ie not Epicurean: although I found the story in Marius the Epicurean, the novel by Walter Pater.
The birth of pleasure would be kind of like my own life story. I am the fruit of the union of two pleasure lovers, and quite thankful for that. The genealogy of beauty and pleasure is a fascinating thing; I owe it to my mother to read the book by Irving Stone before the beauty passes away forever. Perhaps it’ll be handed down from me to you and never perish…
Life may seem like a struggle between the poles of animal and human. But apart from the tension of psychodynamics there is radiance far greater that reclines on a couch neither terrestrial nor celestial, sipping sunny nectar as elegantly as Helen of Troy. She is perhaps the daughter of Cupid and Psyche whom we know as Pleasure. Or she could be a star more sublime; but either way, she surpasses everything for perfect loveliness and grace.
The city installed a cable on N Park to monitor the speed of drivers nearby Randy’s lot. They ought to do that on Maxwell Road, where the limit is 35mph and people actually go 50mph or faster. I didn’t see the moon this morning, though I did the last two days. “Wake up in the morning with a good face / Stare at the moon all day / Lonely as a whisper on a star chase / Does anyone care anyway?” An old Queen song by Brian May. The world needs more beauty instead of the industrial ugliness I see around me every day. To witness something pretty, I have to raise my eyes to the blue and wish upon the moon or the morning star. But this is the curse of the suburbs. The psalm goes that the Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. I ought to be content with my daily bread. And yet so much is still desired. When the reality isn’t very attractive, this is the time to make poetry and pull humanity out of the gutter. “…Some of us are looking at the stars.” Remember that you shall not live by bread alone, but the gospel we need is beauty.
I saw nothing unusual on my daily trip to market, but in the west there was a passenger jet slowly dissolving in the clouds as I watched from the sidewalk. I kind of wish I could be on a Concorde headed for a place in Europe. I know it’s not realistic. Out on River Road I hear a car drag racing; some maniac driver tempting fate… I just got off the phone with DHS about my food stamps: the people are very reasonable to talk with, but the letters they “generate” tend to be rather menacing and intimidating. The very word “reasonable” makes me want to digress on a little discussion, if it works out that way. I just wonder how reason obtains its quality of humaneness as opposed to being cold calculation. For sure, the French philosophes were more than just robots, purely technical people. Those like Voltaire had warmth and humanity as well as a wicked sense of humor. It seems to me that the rationality of the Enlightenment had as much to do with the heart as the head. It took the math and science of the last century to divest reason of its meaningfulness.
Quarter of eight.
It’s another overcast morning. My dog waits patiently for breakfast time. The neighborhood crows make the accustomed noises in their own language. We made it through the storm. A song by John Coltrane enters my head, called “After the Rain.” The version I heard was recorded by Mark Egan with Steve Khan and Danny Gottlieb for the disc Beyond Words. It is absolutely beautiful.
I’ve been writing notes to myself along the lines of appearance and reality, and saying that when I do a Plato, I miss the joy and fun of the surface of things. Maybe there’s something to say for superficial beauty sometimes? Life doesn’t have to be heavy and ethical all the time. A philosopher wants to know the moral truth of everything; to grasp its inner essence: to know and understand it by analyzing it. But dissecting life tends to kill it. Think of dissecting a frog in high school: you learn how it works but you leave it a dead body… I’m not sure how I got onto this topic, though it started when I was reading Eiseley. I took away one idea and now it’s kind of dominating all of my thoughts. Once you’ve learned to be a philosopher, is it possible to will to forget it? I want to be able to enjoy life like I used to in my childhood; to appreciate the aesthetics of everything around me. This is like the approach that Poe takes to write a poem. It’s for the music and not a moral. This and the image are sufficient, and don’t look for allegorical meaning. That’s why Mallarme suggests that music is the greatest art form, and Walter Pater repeats his claims later.
I think it may be desirable for me to unlearn how to analyze and critique everything I see and try to adore things as they appear, not as they are to a philosopher’s mind. To apprehend reality without lectures and sermons; without ethics or anything heavy: with the sugar coating and no pill to swallow. Because, you miss something if you look beyond what is manifestly there. You miss the beauty and the joy of living.