Finally I had the gumption to read a story by Borges called “The Garden of Forking Paths” in the small hours. It was great, an exploration of the contingencies of time, the options taken and not taken all being valid at once, to create multiple futures. But when I read a few pages of Verne last night, it struck me as just an adventure story with very little poetry to it. I’ll give it more of a chance… My oak and maple trees are changing color at last. The first is even dropping some leaves already, and the season still affects my mental state. I remembered a friend with an apartment next door to Knights of Pythias, back when I had a vehicle and things were quite different for me. I forget hardly anyone I meet in my life. Stuff happens and I lose touch with people, yet the memories persist as though nothing had happened. It’s like the music playing in my head: I can be in the worst pickle but the music goes on indifferently, undisturbed… It’s a wonder to me that I ever got sober, but I see it as a preordained event more than an act of will. My stomach saved me, one therapist said. Often it’s the body that makes executive decisions for the whole person. The horse doesn’t need the rider for guidance on its way places. The path he takes he would unerringly pick anyway.
Quarter of ten.
To the west it’s deep blue sky, puffy gray clouds in the east. I had a tuna salad sandwich for breakfast. Yesterday was my baptismal birthday but no one remembers it, including me usually. By now I’ve shunted away my Lutheran brainwashing while my education comes back somewhat. It’s hard to tell education from forcible indoctrination; and again, the mind is probably just along for the ride, a byproduct of biological forces. There is peace in kismet.
Quarter of eleven.
The best I can do is be honest with everyone and me too. I’m really struggling to stay sober, and it has nothing to do with externals at all; it’s on its own autonomous time clock like a bomb waiting to go off. I wish there was a better way to control it, though I think it’s controlling me instead. A counselor said I’d be rich if I could explain why some people recover and others don’t. I believe it’s a matter of biology and can’t be argued with from the outside. Like necessity, it does what it’s going to do: like the awe you feel from experiencing Greek tragedy, where fate and free will operate simultaneously on different levels, but fate is always borne out. Go ask Tiresias. Go consult the Oracle at Delphi. What happens in the end happens all the same.
Four fifty AM.
I awoke 90 minutes ago, my sleeping stint spent, and read a sampling of Whitman. I don’t know what accounts for the crap day I had yesterday; I only know I felt small and helpless and my case manager pissed me off. When I got home, I waxed delusional towards late afternoon: not a happy camper. Perhaps the passing of today will give some perspective so I can see what happened to me. And maybe the outdoor smoke will clear up before Wednesday. Between the smoke and the fog, life has been a study in obscurity for a week both outside and within.
The moon loomed in the blue western sky as I headed for the same little market. I considered church today because I felt lonely and cut off from society. But when I thought of a few members I don’t care for much, I decided against going. It’s romantic to say love your neighbor as yourself, yet the reality is a bit different. It’s the difference between prescription and description, or ideal and real. Usually I don’t want to be preached to. I’m doing my job as long as I don’t drink. Yesterday I finished reading the first book of essays by Loren Eiseley and my impression was confirmed: he is not a materialist and he rejects scientific certainty. There will always be an element of mystery to life on earth that can’t be reduced to a materialistic explanation. It must be a thing of magic and miracle, something romantic. For me to agree with that would take a leap of faith. In a way, Eiseley is kind of pessimistic about the power of science. There are limits to what we can know— so how does he conclude on that?… Colin just walked past my house with his dog Lolo in the morning sunshine. The spark of life animates the two of them, unless it’s the energy from the sun trapped in chlorophyll as glucose, eaten by him to make adenosine triphosphate for his cells to do their work. Is there still a mystery to the scenario? I guess I’m a scientific optimist and determinist, though this doesn’t gel well with freedom and responsibility. I’ve been sober almost five years, which is enough of a riddle.
It is odd how people come and go, even me. Everything changes over time, and we go where it benefits us to go. The hardest thing to face is the essential solitude of every human life, and yet the aloneness creates our freedom. I can see Teri’s face in my mind’s eye, the receptionist for the agency. This somehow becomes symbolic of my fortunes since the time of the pandemic. The church pastor flipped his wig and preached about demonic possession in the same breath as mental illness, which was a very serious mistake as far as I was concerned. After the memorial service for my friend was such a disaster, my mind was made up to walk away from Our Redeemer. Pastor’s misconceptions are incorrigible, unfortunately, and he won’t listen to anyone else. I believe they stem from a phobia of biology and the facts of science, which seem to pose a threat to his ironclad spiritualism. Indeed, this would put him in a very difficult position regarding theology and philosophy, an unavoidable contradiction. So his only recourse is to stick his head in the sand and deny the truth that consciousness comes from brain function. I find it ironic that Pastor’s phobia is the very contrary of Freud’s alleged phobia of metaphysics. This accusation came from Carl Jung after the two friends split over the disagreement.
Quarter of one.
I have nothing to report today except to say that my poor brain is all screwed up, or so it seems to me. Tomorrow I’ll start a new antidepressant to complement the Vraylar, so hopefully I’ll feel better after that. I did an all-nighter with a big Coca-Cola last night and it actually felt pretty good to me. I think I’ve been struggling with depression for a few months, and when you can’t fix the problem through the interior, you must resort to biology for the remedy. And who would be dumb enough to deny biology any validity; although I’ve heard some people say they reject evolution, especially where it affects human beings. This is such a Victorian attitude; I remember a poem Tennyson wrote about being descended from the brutes. He couldn’t accept this idea from Darwin. But Maryann Evans was a Darwinist in her fiction including Middlemarch (another book I should get around to reading)… The proof of materialism is that you take the psychotropic medication and your mental state changes. This also happens with alcohol and anything else you put in your body. As for indeterminism and the idea of freedom, the proof of these things is an uphill battle, and ultimately a crazy making endeavor. I think I’ve learned my lesson and I’ll just embrace the world of sanity and limits; of cause and effect.
Four ten in the morning.
I can hear it raining right now. Yesterday I noticed how the oak tree is beginning to drop its leaves, which now are a deeper gold before they turn to burgundy. My brother used to say he remembered when Mom planted that tree, sometime in the Seventies, and today it towers over the whole neighborhood, an arboreal giant. Many of the leaves fall in my neighbor’s backyard and onto the roof of his shed, but he doesn’t say anything. When life was less harmonious for me with my sister, I didn’t appreciate the red oak; but currently it gives me some happiness to think of the leaves it has shed every year since my mother passed away. I tend to forget that trees are living things because they don’t move around the way animals do, and that’s very foolish of me. Every cell of every tree has a nucleus that serves as its brain and intelligence, and every tree has to breathe like you and me. The only difference is that they breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, which benefits us who breathe oxygen.
My brother was quite a naturalist when I knew him last, or rather he was torn between this and civilization. He was always at home in the woods or at the coast, the mountains, or wherever it was pure wilderness without the taint of humankind. I wonder if someday he might just vanish in the woods with a fishing pole and a few beers?
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.
My letter to S— this evening was pretty good; it became a discussion of William James quite out of the blue. He sidesteps reason altogether and looks instead at the practical consequences of any belief an individual holds. This method may be the best way to save metaphysics from the logical positivists. And maybe this was the reasoning of the movers and shakers two decades ago when my mother died and the real world blindsided me. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing bogus quantum mechanics or faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the intelligence of water crystals, Intelligent Design Theory, and discovering a Boeing 747 on Mars. The rationale for all of this became the figure of William James, especially his Pragmatism and The Will to Believe. As late as winter 2010, his philosophy was resurrected to sort of usher out the crazy millennium, or perhaps give it another last gasp. In August 2002, I had an assessment for addiction issues at an agency downtown. I told N— what my beliefs were, and was there anything wrong with that. She replied, “It depends on how you use it.” This was a statement of Pragmatism very early in the game, which would drag on for another ten years. I first heard about Cognitive Therapy the following year, but it wasn’t available here until spring 2006. It ran contrary to Jamesian philosophy by being evidence based, almost too little too late. Simultaneously there were these two competing ideas, Pragmatism and something more akin to science: enough to split anybody’s brain into halves at war with each other.
One twenty five. So what is the solution to this pandemic of schizophrenia, which literally means “splitting of the mind?” Because ultimately it comes down to the nature of the human brain, with its two cerebral hemispheres, each with its own mentality. They communicate with each other by means of the corpus callosum and the cerebral commissures, bridging the gap between them. They inform one another. Some people are more dominant on one side than the other. And some people fiercely deny the truth of hemispheric lateralization, that is, the specialization of each half of the brain. My brother and I got into an ugly argument over it twelve years ago, before he retired from his career as a professor. He told his students that hemispheric lateralization was a myth after our disagreement. But he wasn’t aware of the studies done with split brain epileptic patients, where the results suggested a recognizable difference between the left and right brain… Whether you accept lateralization or not, the solution is to improve communication of one side with the other— and to educate people about psycho physiology.
The summer of 2020 was not just a fluke. We can expect summers to get a lot worse from year to year. I say this because I believe what scientists tell us about climate change. When we reject this information, it’s because people are too vain and selfish to accept the truth of modern science. We don’t want to believe that we belong to the animal kingdom and that Darwin was absolutely right. It may take forever for people to be disabused of their religious ideas and the fluff built into their languages. This stubbornness partly explains why some people still support the president in denial and delusion. Our policy on the ecology has always been that of the ostrich.
During Victorian times, Tennyson wrote a poem that grapples with the problem of being “descended from the brutes.” He had a hard time countenancing the implications of Darwin’s ideas. Unfortunately, we in the 21st Century are not much closer to acceptance than he was. We’ll never feel the full force of the ecology and our participation in it until we acknowledge what Darwin had to say a century and a half ago. And since his time, there’s been the whole field of biological anthropology and paleo anthropology, which deals with our hominid ancestors and the lines of the hominids that became extinct. But first we have to accept evolution for a fact in this country, and not just an idle theory. And yes, human beings are subject to evolution as well as every other species on earth. It’s time to stop exempting ourselves from nature and the biosphere on the pretext of flattering old traditions.
Aesop, my dog, stayed in bed while I got up to make a few notes. An email from Library of America tells me that the book of Sandburg has shipped. By waiting a few more days, I saved myself a couple of bucks. Patience is a virtue. I’ve never seen such hard times as those confronting us today. What is it about? Is it about “saving” a capitalist system that doesn’t work for us anyway? Is it about the White working class? Why is it preferable to some people for us to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world? I used to believe that my sister agreed with the right wing. I imagined all kinds of things about her beliefs that panned out to be only partly true. I think that what it comes down to is the fact that human beings live together on this planet, therefore we should learn to get along with each other. Why is this so hard for us to do?… It started to rain a few hours ago. The sound lulled me into a dreamless sleep. James Joyce conceived of the human species as a big family, one of the themes of Ulysses. We may not treat each other like family, yet this fact of biology remains true. If only we could feel the truth of this condition…