Quarter of nine.
During the wee hours this morning I got up and read 15 pages of Richard Wright. He made an observation of freedom that was reminiscent of Sartre, except three years before the publication of Sartre’s big essay. Native Son is a gut wrenching read because Bigger gets himself into such trouble. Sometimes I have to take my reading in small doses… It rained on me on my trip to market today. Michelle had been worried about my reaction to the antidepressant. I’m feeling better gradually. I remember something a meter reader said to me a few years ago when I worried about the condition of my back gate. I stopped her and apologized for the situation. She looked at me like I was stupid and said, “I haven’t had a problem all day.” It only proves that you never know what other people are thinking. You might as well let yourself off the hook and stop feeling guilty. I wonder why people don’t use cognitive therapy anymore. It’s a very useful tool to parry the thoughts that cause depression. I think it’s a lot better than Jungian psychology and everything that overemphasizes religious ideas. Cognitive therapy is realistic and based on evidence, plus it really works for depression and even schizophrenia.
Quarter of ten. A good author for reinforcing cognitive therapy is actually Jane Austen, so maybe I’ll finish reading Sense and Sensibility, focusing on Elinor more than her sister. I could use a good infusion of proportion and sanity today.
I’m in a cloud of worries about a lot of things, but foremost I have to confront my therapist about the future of my sessions with him. I’ve been so confused and messed up lately. I don’t want to drink again, and I don’t think I will, though it’s very difficult for me to resist the call of the beers sometimes.
Eureka! I found my copy of the plays of Luigi Pirandello on the shelf. I’d been dreaming about it during the night and now it’s a reality. I want to reread Six Characters in Search of an Author to explore ideas of freedom versus determinism for human beings. I almost wrote a paper on the topic when I was a student a long time ago but did Eliot instead. Today, it’s like unfinished business for me to learn the truth of human freedom and how it is possible to think about it.
I believe it’ll be a good day today. Daylight has arrived, gray blue and cloudy. Michelle might be back to work this morning; I hope she feels all right on the job. I’ll know for sure when I go to the store in another hour. I’m waiting for the Monday rush hour to die down before I set out.
I read and skimmed the chapter on Sartre in my new book by William Barrett, and I came away from it feeling inspired and rejuvenated. I wrote some notes in my journal, arriving at the conclusion that human freedom has no limits, at least from certain perspectives. I know it probably sounds too optimistic, or “idealistic” in a naive sense of the term, yet what else is philosophy for if it can’t exaggerate a little? And now I’ll finish reading Native Son to see what ideas the story bears out.
I bet I sound like a kook to you with my talk of freedom and so forth, but it’s still important to me. Maybe there’s something kind of Peter Pan about libertarian ideas. However, the implications of liberty in the abstract are far reaching, and it’s a serious philosophical issue with a lot of relevance to our lives. Someday there’s a couple of books I want to read in their entirety: one is Being and Nothingness and the other is Don Quixote. In my experience with Cervantes and Shakespeare, the former is about individual freedom, the latter is deterministic and fixed, more like Freudian psychology. It’s interesting that the two writers were contemporaries and died on the same day in 1616. For me, it’s kind of either/or, one or the other, and I think I pick Cervantes.
I remember when in college I was sort of forced to accept Shakespeare and Freud, the unconscious, the idea of nature, and all that, after I’d been exposed to Sartre and other philosophers, plus Don Quixote. There’s a world of difference between these two angles. It might be said that the idealistic side has no common sense, hence the meaning of “quixotic.” And then you have to consider the role of Sancho Panza, the one who has sanity and a clear head. Sancho is realistic.
I don’t know about all of this, but I’m just getting started with my exploration of the possibilities, and the Barrett book fueled the fire for me today.
Quarter of nine o’clock.
Today I’m kind of glad for the bland weather. We’re actually getting a real winter this year, whatever they may say about climate change. I believe I’m nearly over the virus I had for a week; I feel much stronger and healthier now than last weekend. And my mood is good today. Aesop gets bacon strips, the kind processed by Purina in the yellow pouch. Yesterday afternoon I received the new Ulysses book from Amazon. It is so beautiful that I hesitate to desecrate it with my touch. I know a bookshop owner whose brother can read a book and leave it still looking immaculate. He barely opens it up when he’s reading, to protect the spine. Tsunami is a neat little shop in the south of town on Willamette. I haven’t been there in years but I still think of it. Scott is a good man and very fair in business. When I didn’t have any money I used to bring him books to sell. The very same books had been rejected by shops in North Eugene; they couldn’t use classics, which had no value to them. They were after Louis L’Amour and Danielle Steele… What is it with me and books? But I’m not alone in bibliomania, this worship of totems.
My dog just had his breakfast of canned food. The air outside is as still as death. A while ago I saw a fox squirrel through the window, but there’s no sound of birds at all, not even crows. I wonder what happened to them? When I was younger I used to listen to a local radio station that played elevator music, but it was really quite good. Often they put on George Benson’s “Gimme the Night” and “Follow the Sun” by The Beatles; also “Do You Want to Know a Secret.” It was good for me when I felt anxious or depressed, in the days before my illness. Above all, I’m very thankful that my virus is gone.
Another dreary winter morning with a touch of fog. Cold: 37 degrees out. Frankly I’m depressed lately, so it was an effort to drag my feet to market today. Heather had on her Ghost of Gatsby T-shirt, an advertisement for a local rock band. I understand that they’re pretty good, though I imagine they are much younger than I am. I’m a dinosaur of rock, pretty much. I like most things that are done intelligently and with quality. Accordingly, this morning I bought myself a new hardcover copy of Ulysses, and I realized then that this year is the centennial of its publication in 1922 in France. Its theme of universal love makes me self conscious of the way I proceed about my life: am I a hypocrite? I’m just an old bachelor, irresponsible and free as a bird, instinctively pulling away from entanglement with women. I don’t want to compromise in any way for any reason; and the price of this is the loneliness I often feel. Can I honestly say “I love everybody” when everyone is a stranger to me, or is this a kind of intellectual stunt, a delusion by dint of mental gymnastics? It’s the sort of objection that Sartre would raise. Maybe it’s easier to feel universal love with a bellyful of beer or wine? Aesop is hungry for breakfast, so I won’t put it off any longer…
Ten o’clock. I’m trying to think of a counter argument to support Joyce. The world would be a better place if everyone held the same love in their hearts and shared it with everybody. It is good to read Ulysses because we all could use a dose of humanization. We all need to be churched in James Joyce.
Quarter of nine.
Michelle is in quarantine with Covid for two weeks, I was told just today. Getting to market this morning was a bit tricky because of a work crew tearing up the sidewalk. The guys were quite unconcerned about a pedestrian like me going through; I felt invisible. The cars were beginning to back up all the way to the Maxwell overpass, awaiting directions from the men in lime green. When I got up today at eight o’clock, it was incredibly dark outside. Some days have a bizarre vibe to them. In general it feels like history can’t decide which way it wants to go. Even stranger to think that people are making history with every passing moment. Roger just fired up his old Ford and idled it for a minute. Before I left the house, an impulse made me pull out a book given to me by a friend in 1999. It is Journey to Avalon: The Final Discovery of King Arthur. At the time, I was surprised that anyone could take the legends historically, as if they were founded in fact. But a few years later, a counselor asked me if I understood the Bible as history. And the answer was no. Anne Sexton wrote that the need for belief is not the same as actually believing. I still wonder why I fished for that Avalon book this morning; what am I going to do with it? Now, Roger drives away in his gargling old truck. It’s breakfast time for my dog.
Quarter of ten at night.
I’ve found some interesting passages in Native Son that make a worthwhile study of the novel. In the poolroom scene where Bigger is giving Gus a hard time for cowardice, the narrative says that he had never been responsible to anyone else in his whole life. But it goes beyond that to his responsibility to himself and his own emotions which he usually projects onto others. Does this refusal of responsibility explain why he kills Mary Dalton at the end of Book One? I imagine this will be examined in the rest of the novel. I won’t really know until I’ve read the entire book.
In my real life today, nothing of much consequence happened. I tramped through the snow and slush off to the market this morning to get my Snapple teas and cookies for my dog. Michelle offered me some microwaved food that would otherwise have to be discarded, but I declined because I didn’t want to be loaded down with too much stuff for my trek home. As I walked away outdoors I kind of kicked myself for turning down free food. It was actually the look on Michelle’s face that I regretted, so then I struggled with feelings of guilt and remorse. At around noon I did my reading and also wrote a little in my journal. I never did play the bass guitar today. The mail carrier left a package on my front doorstep at five o’clock: I’d been expecting this copy of Paul Bowles for a few weeks. And finally I took a nap this evening. Tim has a friend who might be able to fix my 25W bass amplifier. We’ve been texting each other about that yesterday and today.
Five in the morning.
Yesterday at noon I started reading Native Son, and after a while I reflected a little on the abstract of power in our personal lives. I used to hesitate to use this word, but now it seems like the best one for the condition. By the way, yesterday the thought of alcohol never crossed my mind. It only occurred to me when I was asleep and dreaming that I’d been drinking occasionally for the past four years. I could hand control over to my subconscious mind, but who would be so foolish to do that? This would overturn rule by reason and create tyranny of the soul by the instincts, according to Plato. The Platonic model is something I learned very well at the university, and it resonates with Freudian psychology. I kept running into these ideas in Renaissance literature, for instance in Sir Philip Sidney. Now I wish I had read the whole book of The Old Arcadia, yet I think I learned the take home lesson… I don’t think I’ll leave the house at all today due to the snow, which by now is frozen and treacherous. In my head I hear Pastor’s acoustic guitar playing our holiday medley last Friday night. We sucked at our performance but nobody cared, though this apathy is precisely why we continue to be bad.
Quarter after ten.
The sun is out in the blue sky and everywhere there is snow. I picked up three bags full of empty bottles and left them in the kitchen. My visit with Sean is probably still on for today. I kind of dread it because the dog doesn’t like me being on the phone or my iPad with someone else. Generally I feel rather uncomfortable with the circumstances today. After a tough holiday we get this weather disaster. I also miss my Snapple tea this morning. I just have this exaggerated sense of immobility, of being stuck at home when I don’t want to be.
Quarter after six.
At some point today I want to pick up my Snapple empties and bag them. This is grunt work that I hate, but I’m lucky that my life is not drudgery like that of many people, including my family. They have an antipathy for books and everything intellectual, despising what they don’t understand. This Christmas Eve for me is like another Thanksgiving, and the thing I’m grateful for is being the smart person I am. There’s an old cliché that goes like this: Which would you rather be, dumb and happy or smart and sad? It’s the same as saying that ignorance is bliss. But I think I disagree. Intellectual work is a lot more pleasant than manual labor, and overall, the life of the mind is a wonderful thing. So today I’ll make a start on the Snapple bottles and bless every moment I get to spend using my brain. Another thing. As students in junior high school, my friends and I used to play chess in the library. Often, a bully would come along and knock all the pieces over from sheer incomprehension and resentment. It was a symbolic scene that still goes on in the present day at some level. What can we offer the bullies now except a little music to soothe their feelings? Meanwhile I move on to celebrate the beautiful things in my life.
Quarter of seven.
It should be a restful day today. For the moment, the rain is absent in the predawn darkness. Everyone was very kind to me last night at church, even when my amplifier had technical difficulties due to dust and dirt and I had to use Pastor’s all purpose Peavey. Tim gave me a padded vest for the winter and he also thought they could open up my amp to fix the problem. Perhaps some canned air would do the trick. I have nothing to lose by this because the amp cost me only a hundred dollars… I still can hear the sounds of the Holden Evening Prayer in my brain. The rain last night was insane, and more is forecast for today and tomorrow. But as they say, everything turns out for the best, or is that Panglossian optimism, to think that this is the best of all possible worlds? There are also people who say that life is worst for those who want to criticize it. They tend to be bibliophobic, but it’s no use arguing with idiots… The rain has started up again as the sun behind the clouds lights the sky by degrees. Before I got out of bed I was dreaming about the essays of Montaigne, full of contradictions from one to the next. I might have a look at his writing later today because I miss studying the Renaissance in school.
Eight twenty five.
The rain was actually pretty light and I could get by without using my umbrella. I like my new vest; it works well under my rain jacket. Aesop got two cookies and had one already. The day is low key so far. The rule of thumb for my life is persistence, whatever may happen, and curiosity keeps me going forward. And I try not to underestimate the importance of having good friends.