Murdoch

Quarter after four.

I’ve been doing an all nighter for some reason. I just don’t feel like sleeping tonight. I don’t believe it’s a symptom of mania, and if it is, then it doesn’t matter much. About an hour ago I bought an edition of Iris Murdoch, totally forgetting the alcoholism in a lot of her fiction. She was an important Christian existentialist of the last century and worth reading. I liked Under the Net and The Bell very much. There’s a lot of Christian mystery about her allegory, like the scene of skinny dipping in the Thames to symbolize baptism. But there’s no overlap of the real and the transcendent in her plots, and the endings are tragicomic… I read Under the Net in October 2004, when I’d been working for an optical business for almost a year. I thought I was on my way somewhere, but after a while the job became drudgery, and all the romance went out of the prospect. I sent my brother a copy of the same book for his birthday, but he misplaced it and never read it. He had no interest in philosophy; it wasn’t his style. In fact, I couldn’t interest anybody in Iris Murdoch because of her intellectual depth. So I was alone with my reading for a long time. Under the Net is also hilarious in some places, like the kidnapping of Mars, the Dog Star.

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The Last Word

Quarter after eleven at night.

The plain English is that I’m ambivalent on sobriety. This goes on at a deep and fundamental level, underneath all my thinking and deliberating. I compare it to the hunt for the white whale, and, having read my Melville, I acknowledge that Moby Dick may come out victorious, dragging down the whole ship and drowning the captain. It’s the ambiguity in the book that makes you wonder what the heck. Like trying to serve two masters, both a god and a devil. Or maybe it’s only humankind having to contend with the devil, as in the philosophy of Schopenhauer. The whole point is to obliterate the Will, and this and the whale are the same thing… Ishmael’s life is saved by the coffin that Queequeg built for himself before the final confrontation with the whale. So the coffin symbolizes death and life in the same image. Or maybe Q. gave his life so that Ishmael could live. Remember that his tomahawk also served as a peace pipe…

Midnight.

What I fear is that religion has no substance. In the chalice of faith there’s not a drop of wine. And on the other side of this reality there’s no ideal world, no sublime: no heaven. So then I begin to ask myself who I’m doing sobriety for. What does this word mean?

The last word is books instead of booze. When you buy a book, you invest in wisdom that will last a lifetime; whereas buying beer is a temporary party: you consume it and eliminate it all by the next morning. Then you wake up with a hangover and a cloud of regrets, guilt, and shame.

Grappling

Wee hours.

I feel like some kind of alien; as if my head resembled an elephant’s. I’m not feeling understood by many folks, and this gives me a sense of my loneliness. Does everyone maybe feel the way I do?

I’ve finished reading the little Whitman volume. Next, it might be interesting to dip into Montaigne or Camus, if I can get onto his style of aphorism. Each of Camus’ phrases seems disjointed and apart from the others, so it’s difficult to follow his argument as a whole… My memory of past psychotic episodes has become hazy, though I know it involved ideas of hell and Satan a lot, and the experience felt very real to me. The more I verse myself in Western culture, the better I can grapple with those ideas. Probably the fear of an infernal afterlife keeps most people from doing what they might otherwise do. Years ago I saw Camus’ remarks on Tirso de Molina, so I actually read The Seducer of Seville, the drama of Don Juan and his fate of going to hell for his amatory crimes. What a strange story. It was the year following my mother’s death, and I read whatever I wanted when I wasn’t busy drinking… At this stage, I’d like to put the psychosis out of its misery for good and live without fear. Life on earth is hellish enough without expecting a hell in the hereafter. Perhaps it’s all just a dream, and all dreams are by definition unreal.

Angel Decorations

Noon hour.

Gloria and I were talking about the idea of the dragon in cultures around the world, so I grabbed a book off the shelf and flipped to the entry “dragon.” She liked the Dictionary of Symbols, and for this reason I gave it to her as an early Christmas present. I actually had another copy, but I didn’t need two of them. I told her that I had ordered a green ceramic Christmas tree to set up in the living room, which made her smile broadly. She said she doesn’t have much room for decorations in her home, and a big box of her ornaments was stolen: angel figures she had collected to be souvenirs of different people and places. Maybe we can do something to replace those memories… The sun tries to come out on this chilly day. It was cold when I helped Gloria out with her Shark vacuum cleaner and she put the trash in the blue bin. She’s going in for a surgery next month, so I hope her recovery is quick. Looking around my mind’s eye, I see the parking lot of Carl’s Jr. with rolling gray clouds and the reds and yellows of autumn leaves: and Gloria’s face.

Small Business

Ten o’clock.

I’m watching a house sparrow out of my glass door while hearing Tchaikovsky music inside my head. The convenience store was a desert again, owing to the Black Friday sales around town. It’s kind of nice to hang out home alone with my dog and my memories from when my parents were still alive. My favorite holiday year was 1993. The Musique Gourmet on Fifth and Pearl formed a big part of the experience. Today, Fifth Street looks a lot different. The Public Market is still there but the smaller businesses up and down the street are all gone, including MG and Cat’s Meow Jazz and Blues Corner, plus Escape Books, Perelandra Books and Music, and Monster Cookie Company. It’s like saying goodbye to a Renaissance or a Golden Age to remember them. 

Inside Perelandra they always burned incense, which was a bit irritating in more ways than one. Still, I bought a handful of books at that place. Their specialty was metaphysics. Once I purchased a book called Your Psychic Powers and How to Develop Them. It had a yellow cover and was a reprint of something very old. I guess I was susceptible in those days, and it probably seemed weird for a guy like me to walk into a shop like that. I notice now that my dad didn’t want to go in there, so I usually went on my own in my own car. He wasn’t interested in what he considered “far out” stuff. Also my psychiatrist told me I didn’t belong in the Western world. But it didn’t hurt my feelings… Much.

I still have that yellow book in a bookcase down the hallway. 

Dreiser

Ten o’clock.

I was thinking about the phenomenon of higher education and what it does to people. Is it fair to say that the meaning of any school depends on how you use it? My guess is that my sister blames education for my brother’s demise. It’s a lot like the book by Theodore Dreiser about Clyde Griffiths, his humble origins and ambition to be wealthy. His family is poor and religious but honest and ethical, but he is lured by greed and the lust for pleasure into a very complex society that eventually spells his undoing… I got as far as my undergraduate degree in college, kind of dabbling in various fields like a liberal arts major. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I believe it worked out okay for me. I came away from school with a good breadth of knowledge and I didn’t let the campus corrupt me. Maybe my sister has it all wrong about universities, yet I can understand her opinion on it; and there is some truth to her perception. It’s the way the big engine of society runs, again like An American Tragedy. D.H. Lawrence said don’t trust the poet, trust the tale, and the book by Dreiser stands apart from himself like a sort of testament to the truth. I’d like to take another look at Great Expectations as well. Literature is always moral. Interesting how the story gets away from the author and constitutes a modern myth. It’s almost as if my sister had written the tale herself. 

Misgivings

Nine o’clock.

It’s the beginning of the month, so there’s a lot of juggling of business this week, but luckily enough time to get everything done. I was thinking about Thanksgiving a while ago and what my plans will be for it. Holidays are family times, but I’ve had bitter experiences with my own family, so probably I’ll treat Thanksgiving like an ordinary day. At my age, I permit myself a little license with such traditions. I need to do some research: did the First Thanksgiving really take place, and who wrote it down for posterity? When I think of white relations with Native Americans, I think of trails of tears and so many broken treaties; of passengers on trains shooting buffaloes that Natives depended on; or perhaps of that silly song by Iron Maiden, likely inaccurate, and a mockery of history. The truth is the conquest of the Americas by Columbus and Cortez, forcing the Natives into slave labor and always demanding to see the gold.

Ten o’clock.

Speaking of Natives, it was long ago that I read Island of the Blue Dolphins, a ya book by Scott O’Dell. Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s a story of survival alone, but about a young girl named Karana. Of all the ya writing I was exposed to in school, I liked this the best. The style is simple and realistic, nothing superstitious or fantastic. A very sober read, though often frightening and exciting… I get so tired of the chimerical nonsense of religion, the smoke and mirrors and the man behind the curtain. Real sobriety is quite different from ideas of the supernatural or substituting one high for another. I think I’ve had it with idealism and dumb notions of heaven. I’d rather negotiate the world the way it is.

Revisiting Rand

I just pulled out my copy of Atlas Shrugged for the fun of it. It makes me kind of emotional; I was only twenty when I read The Fountainhead and then a few chapters of this sequel. I never wanted to finish it because I don’t know if I agree with Ayn Rand about capitalism or even about rationality and egoism. Her thinking doesn’t go very deep into the human psyche like a Freud or a Jung. She applies ancient philosophy to the process of living (especially Aristotle) but somehow this misses a crucial level of human experience. I doubt if people can live like machines one hundred percent of the time, and for a contrast to Rand you only need to read Henry James. I would say that Rand probably lacked self knowledge or maybe was ignorant of human nature and motivation. She was blind on one side. In high school I had a friend who was a huge fan of hers, plus Frank Herbert and Nietzsche. But on the capitalism dimension, I can’t really agree because this kind of system didn’t work for me. I think probably a form of socialism would be better for every human being, not just a few people with an advantage like superior intelligence or some talent, etc. I was extremely lucky that there was a safety net for people with disabilities when I ran into problems with my health. Ayn Rand doesn’t take such things into consideration. So my feelings on the whole thing are quite complicated. I remember being the naïve twenty year old picking up her books at the bookstore and accepting it all like gospel at first. I really didn’t know anything at all at that age and was very impressionable. But it’s amazing how the more you read the more you develop a vocabulary for defining yourself as a human being. Every book is a lamp to illuminate your life, pushing the darkness a little farther away.

Thus I think that Walt Whitman is a far better read than the shallowness of Ayn Rand, but still it’s very interesting to revisit old territories. The deeper things of experience are harder to accept and take longer to understand and come to terms with, but it’s worth it to persist in this hunt for truth and ultimately freedom.

Halloween: An Average Day

Eleven ten.

I have to make a second trip to the store to use the ATM. Damien said he was coming to do yard work this afternoon. He broke his leg a few weeks ago, so I’m going to give him a tip for his efforts. I also want to get Aesop a box of milk bones while I’m there. I hear a song in my head, a solo on the Stick by Larry Tuttle from Through the Gates. I used to own a Stick courtesy of my mother’s generosity but I sold it because it wasn’t very practical. Now, the asking price for a new Stick is double what it was at the millennium. I guess my mother is on my mind today, though it doesn’t hurt me to remember her anymore. I had a drinking dream this morning, but as soon as I woke up I said to myself that the dishonesty and the sneakiness were not worth it. When you abuse alcohol, you always have to lie about it and hide it from people.

Quarter of noon.

I’m actually kind of tired of self absorption. I feel like giving to others. Reading Whitman seems almost silly to me now. The attitudes I see in his poetry are what I lived for real some 25 years ago. Maybe I merely learned them from Whitman, or then again maybe not. It’s hard to tell where ideas come from when they seem airborne and ubiquitous, like on a college campus. But when you finish school it can be quite a shock to be thrown to the lions.

I finally ask myself why I do a half gallon of Snapple tea a day. It only means I have to use the bathroom time after time all morning long, like a person who drinks a six pack of beer on a given day. Some habits are impractical and irrational, which means they are literally without purpose, done for no reason whatsoever. So my admiration for the Greeks increases if they did what they prescribed.

Exhaustion

Reductio ad Diablo

Either I’m insane or I’ve come to the end of the line with literature, especially poetry. Everything political and religious is ethical and couched in poetic language, and for people in the West, the Bible is the code, esoteric or exoteric, for all of it. There’s maybe one more book I might examine: The Great Code by Northrop Frye. But whatever. I think I’ve hit the bedrock of my literary life so now it’s time to turn around and focus on reality as it is to a science mind: physical and factual only; no religious ideas at all. No metaphysics or ethics, but just things as they are.

Or as I said, I could be crazy.

“Finally, from so much reading and so little sleeping, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”  —Don Quixote