From an Amateur

Seven fifty five.

Today is a church day. I’m not sure how I feel right now. I saw a young Black woman at the market, which used to be rather rare during the last presidency, a very regrettable four years. It’s amazing what can be done when enough people agree to something, like fascism or building the border wall. With time, it gets to be the accepted norm and it settles into a tradition. Tradition can be used as a rationale for anything, from stoning to lynching, whether or not it’s right.

Quarter of nine. I’m feeling uncomfortable physically and somewhat nervous. I don’t want to read the lessons for the assembly today.

Quarter of noon. Home again. I feel kind of tired, so I’m a little doubtful about having practice this afternoon… The service was just okay. The sermon dealt with the Trinity, almost like a lecture on logic, was rather convoluted and likely lost on most of the congregation. I think a Unitarian system makes more sense because it’s simpler, and pantheism is a great idea: God, like Love, is one essence and is present in everything. But no one asked for my amateur opinion on theology, so take it for what it is. Meanwhile, the clouds have passed on and the sunshine is strong. If we have practice late enough today I might be able to swing it. 

Unhooked

Quarter of noon. A few minutes ago I poked through a box and pulled out an old copy of Wordsworth’s selected poems and prefaces. The brown spots of age couldn’t be avoided, but I still really love this book. When I read it the first time, my comprehension wasn’t very good, and getting through it was a struggle. And yet I think I absorbed much of it subconsciously. The year 1993 was an interesting one for me. That Christmas Eve, my dad gave me the complete ballet of The Firebird, which was a big thrill when I listened to it and The Song of the Nightingale… I can hear neighbors mowing the lawn in the sunshine. I feel a lot better than I did yesterday, and now I’m done with the vaccination. It does seem rather like an exercise in conformity, but I guess our government knew what was best for us. Aesop has fallen asleep at my feet. There are times when I wouldn’t mind owning a television, but the cost of cable tv is extortionate in my opinion. About twenty years ago, cable was the first expense I got rid of. And even if I had television, then Aesop wouldn’t be sleeping peacefully as he is right now. I guess the fewer the hooks I have in me the better. Reading poetry is not a hook. It is something I have control over, while tv tends to be the controller of what you see.

Two thirty. I wonder why alcohol and sex, or maybe sex, drugs, and rock and roll, all go together in a bundle. Thomas Hardy observed how drunkenness and sexuality and the way of the natural world all go hand in hand, at least in our culture. These things are the makings of fate, so how is it possible to remove yourself from the plan? I guess you just go to church or something else drastic. It seems to have worked for me, though I don’t know how. Doubtless it’s something cultural. A lot of people would refuse to do what I did. Probably even Hardy would’ve been reluctant to join something Christian— and that’s why his fatalism failed on me, and I discovered a new avenue to free will. I broke the spell of his Casterbridge novel by stepping outside of his world of Wessex— by going where the author himself wouldn’t go. 

A Little Bone to Pick

Three thirty in the morning.

Lead me not into temptation. Deliver me… Such strange words, hinged on the premise of good and evil, when it’s arguable whether there is a heaven and a hell. Evil is proved by its harmful effects on the individual and whoever he touches. Goodness promotes health and productivity. I only hope that the human race knows what is best for itself. As a young person, I learned nonconformity just on principle: be yourself and question everything. Later on, people like me were slighted as selfish or something that made no sense. So now it’s very difficult to know which is right, the collective mentality or the individual, and by the time you reach your deathbed, will it make a difference anyway? Whether we live together or apart, we all die alone, and you can’t take anything with you. As with everything, going with one or the other comprises a wager; either way, you bet your life… I also learned as a youngster that religious norms are fictions created by human beings in the interest of the group. Recently, someone I know opined that all people have belongingness needs, but I don’t know if I totally agree with that. I can honestly say that people are social animals because we enjoy each other’s company. But the thought of mindless obedience to a status quo still makes my hackles rise. There’s always something to be said for individual freedom— of the kind dramatized in The Crucible by Arthur Miller. John Proctor dies for the truth in the teeth of his society that has gone wrong. What is public opinion to you or me? It’s all a waste of breath. 

Back to Church

Seven thirty.

At nine o’clock I plan to go to church and get a tuneup of my spirit. Aesop will have breakfast at eight thirty. It’s another sunny morning with hardly a breath of wind. I feel a little anxious yet calm at the same time, as if quietly expecting some minor catastrophe. I’ve been to the store already, and Raj was opening today after a long absence. Sometimes I forget that I don’t have to be perfect, or that perfect doesn’t exist. I dreamed this morning about my old psychiatrist, who apparently wanted my business again. This only means that I miss seeing him, but in reality he was rude to me towards the end of my sessions. The last time I saw him was four years ago. He shared a political joke with me that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t enough to fix the damage.

Eight thirty five. Is the past really a bucket of ashes? Some people want to demonize everything that happened before, but I can actually draw strength and learning from the lessons of my past. It makes little sense to categorically condemn our past experiences. Our lessons give us evidence that what we need to do can be done because we did it before… I have to leave in ten minutes.

One forty. Well I got it done, actually went to church and saw most of my old friends. I think Sheryl was the happiest to see me, but also Tim, Lisa, and Doug. The sermon seemed to harmonize with my situation of dealing with evil in the world, and the difficulty of doing this. I was only away from home for two and a half hours, then when I got back I had my potato salad and crashed with the dog for a little nap. The weather continues sunny like yesterday, except there’s no wind this time, and the stillness and quiet of Sunday feel quite impenetrable. 

Nominalism: a Letter

Thanks for the pretty photograph. The colors remind me of the cover to an edition of Robert Frost I used to have, long ago, as a college senior. I remember reading it in the Knight Library on the third floor, particularly “Tree at My Window” and some of the other early poems.


I had a rather difficult day. I don’t understand what’s going wrong with my life or the way my mind works, but I’m having trouble keeping boundaries with other people, and I’m letting little disagreements really upset me. Why can’t I simply assert myself without worrying about how other people feel? Something has gone wrong. Since last month I’ve become more sensitive to the things people say or seem to believe. I feel like I have to agree with them in order to get along, while asserting myself is the worst thing I can do. All I can see around me is conflict with others. This makes me think of the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, who among many things said that people don’t help each other, but rather they interfere with each other’s interests. In his view, human nature is egoistic, and individuals do what is good for themselves. I guess what I’m beginning to perceive all over again is that people are separate individuals and not just a shapeless mass of humanity. Doubtless my perception is changing since my repeated absences from church over the past two months. The pastor’s collectivism, his tendency to view people as groups, for me is gradually going away, replaced by the individualism I grew up with. Maybe Pastor’s perspective is a convenient way of handling the church group. My meetup with Tim a month ago faced me with some new problems regarding the congregation… I don’t know, but it’s harder for me now to compartmentalize real people in easy categories and classes. It all started with not going to church anymore. I imagine I’ll figure out a way to impose order on what I see, but it’ll take time.


Perhaps I’m not making much coherent sense, but then I have to muddle my way through to get to the next phase. Maybe things won’t be easy for a long time. At least I’m still sober, though life is quite a pain right now.

Poverty Sucks: a Letter

My appointment with Heidi didn’t happen today; she called in sick this morning. So then I had the afternoon to myself and I wrote more in my blank book. I came close to a minor discovery regarding the way my mother brought me up to be the person I have become. Above all, she demanded honesty from me. Also I was raised to despise money and the moiling and grubbing people do to acquire it— which may have been unfortunate because I learned that money is valueless. I guess sometime this morning I’ll be getting my stimulus payment. I should hold onto it to put towards some new gear for the band, perhaps better recording equipment or a PA system, etc. I have all the bass guitars I need. This morning I set up my old white SX bass with a view to giving it away to the guys in the band if they’re interested. It’s an old knockabout axe I bought myself ten years ago for only one hundred dollars. Today, the same product new goes for three hundred dollars. Maybe I’ll just take it to practice next time and then leave it at Mike’s house when we’re done.

Again today the weather was very beautiful. Another thought I had deals with my recovery from alcoholism: whether or not it happened by the grace of a higher power, such as a God or maybe even Jesus Christ. Perhaps it wouldn’t be ludicrous to think so. I also look at the face of nature in these days since the election of Biden and regret that it has lost its divine luster. Maybe it’s just my imagination? What do you think of that? I’m looking forward to going back to church this weekend to see all my old friends. My new shoes arrived this noon hour: extremely lightweight and possibly rather flimsy, but very comfortable. I doubt if they’ll last very long…

Still another idea of mine regards my life of dire poverty. Usually I don’t consider it very much. How did Baudelaire put it? The old paupers nourishing their vermin? There’s also a poem by Yeats where a beggar scratches for a flea. But as I always say, there are better ways of being wealthy than with money. I look around me and the other guys in the band don’t have a lot of money either. Mike plays a drum kit he bought in 1988. And two of Ron’s keyboards came from thrift stores, also his amplifiers. Our studio is a glorified toolshed, though comfortable enough. It seems to me that some of the best artists have been poor, like James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Baudelaire was rather indigent as well. Wealthy people such as my brother look down on us with contempt and call us names. But in the end, the truth is that you can’t take your money with you. This reminds me of the Grimm’s fairytale in which a rich man is admitted into heaven, and what a celebration there is in his honor! I’m pretty sure my brother never read that one. It is very difficult for the wealthy to go to heaven from the point of view of a peasant. I guess the truth is relative after all.

Easter Sunday

Quarter after eight. Sheryl from church texted me a while ago and said it would be nice to see me for the Easter service. So I replied with my reason for not coming to church as often anymore. Interesting; she said she misses my singing voice. And I do have some fond memories of singing with our choir a couple of years ago. The people were so nice and we had a lot of fun together. The only relationship that went kind of sour was the one with Pastor himself, and that’s a regrettable thing for me and the others… I am still very excited about my band. I thought our rehearsal yesterday was the best one ever so far. It seems to me that the three of us feel more comfortable with each other now; we’re becoming better friends, so the music flows a bit more easily than before… It’s another partly sunny morning. The sunlight splashes down and dapples the magnolia tree in my backyard. About two weeks ago I spotted a raccoon jumping into the same tree and settling there in the lower limbs. Even at the time, I thought maybe I was hallucinating; it was so surreal and bizarre to see. Since then I haven’t seen the raccoon again, thus maybe I really was deluded. “Cold hearted orb that rules the night / Removes the colors from our sight / Red is gray and yellow white / But we decide which is right / And which is an illusion?”

Sheryl just texted me back; she’d assumed that my absence was due to Covid. But no, it was the sermon on demonic possession that alienated me from church, at least temporarily. I’m going to stay home today except for my daily trip to the market on Maxwell Road. I had an exciting day yesterday and need a rest today.

Ten o’clock. As with most Easter Sundays, the neighborhood has fallen very silent, and the silence is rather disturbing to me. It is the silence of the tomb, of death, and maybe of intellectual poverty. It is the quiet of oppression, perhaps, when nobody dares to speak their mind. My closest neighbors behave very strangely, not very amiably with each other or with me, keeping to themselves and basically being quite self centered. I find this is true of many conservatives: they’re paranoid and care only about what is theirs. They scoff at people who don’t have a home or a job; people who are unfortunate. They figure that it’s tough luck for them; we got ours, so screw the people who have nothing. Such a selfish attitude, and essentially asocial. How can my neighbors be happy with such narrow views and feelings? They cloister themselves in their homes and watch tv all day… The book of Plato I ordered was probably delivered to the wrong address, but do you think the erroneous recipient will bring the package to me? No one practices common courtesy around here. Every house is an island on my street, and finders keepers, losers weepers… I jumped to a conclusion. The computerized Amazon chat assistant said the book probably hasn’t arrived yet. But this is another example of the dehumanization of society. “It’s so hard to stay together / Passing through revolving doors / We need someone to talk to / And someone to sweep the floors.” 

Unchurched

Nine twenty five.

Cloudy morning. I met with nothing extraordinary going to the market. Just another day. But later I received an email from the people who will help me find a personal care assistant. This will help me out a lot.

Ten ten at night.

It was kind of a mixed up day. I was still doing fine when I read and wrote about the Ideal and the Sublime, etc etc, but when I thought of Jane Austen unifying opposites I began to get a little lost. Why would I remember her novels in the springtime? Or maybe the season is irrelevant. Possibly the name of Austen stands for a real person I used to know.

Pastor argued with me that Jane Austen was a Romantic, while I said she was just the opposite, a realist, especially in her treatment of psychology. She was very cognitive two hundred years before the popularity of CBT. She also didn’t want to be associated with the Romantic period. I’m not sure why we were arguing about this, or what, subconsciously, we were really talking about. It now occurs to me that Pastor is unacquainted with the principles of cognitive therapy. He only understands C.G. Jung and the Romantic tradition that gave him rise. Even this is overstatement, because he doesn’t know Romantic poetry… I guess it doesn’t matter what he knows or doesn’t know. Then again, do I really want to sit through his sermons?

Eleven ten. I feel tired and my back aches, and my mood is rather grumpy. I feel like Childe Harold or Frankenstein’s monster, alienated from society and doomed to wander the earth in search of a mate who can sympathize with him. Somewhere among the Arctic ice floes, the monster still keeps a low profile. He drops in on the social world here and there, then vanishes again.

Midnight. In plain English, my relationship with the church is spotty and probably destined to dissolve altogether. 

Life and Books

Eight twenty.

Early this afternoon I’m going back to the hematologist to follow up my Thursday labs. I’ve been feeling like too much of a Faust lately, cloistered with my books, looking for the truth that likely doesn’t exist. It’ll be good to get out of the house and see a little of the town. Going out to the mailbox, I could remember how it used to feel to walk off to church a few years ago. It was more fun before the pandemic hit us. Pastor’s attitude and demeanor have changed since these dark times began. My idea is that we should go out with a bang rather than a whimper, have a big party and celebrate being alive… I just realized that I should call my sister this morning, but for some reason it feels like a chore. I don’t think we agree on rock and roll and the importance of having fun. It is nothing evil or wicked to let your hair down… Too many times in the past she has scorned my interests as mere playthings and children’s games. Whatever, I don’t feel like giving her a call.

Nine twenty. As time goes by, things will get easier for me as far as my mental health. If church were about having a good time, then I’d be interested in attending. Instead, we get preached at concerning the end of the world and who is going to be saved. 

My backyard right now is busy with various birds and fox squirrels. My Mallarme book came yesterday afternoon. Having pondered it somewhat, I notice that I’m better at philosophy than prosody, so my curiosity for the poet deals more with his themes than with the arrangement of sounds. Where does the poetry take you with regard to metaphysics? How did it affect Mallarme? Did he in effect write himself to nothingness, being so absorbed in his language? It is similar to the artist’s power in Poe’s “The Oval Portrait.” The demands of the craft suck the life out of the subject and into itself. It’s a counterintuitive observation, making language larger than nature. I’m not sure I buy it; the birds and squirrels outside don’t know their names, yet they know enough to survive. 

Deeds in the Rain

Three o’clock. Outside, the rain is heavy and constant. Aesop likes his ribeye steak treats; I bought more of them this morning, and battled with the cold and wet on my walk there and back again. The raspberry tea I brought home tasted great, but the caffeine and sugar made me feel woozy. I noodled about on my homemade bass for a while, satisfied with the lowest frequencies through my old GK amp head… I didn’t see much as I marched to the store. One car passed me on Fremont, cruising around the corner of N. Park. No other pedestrians. The neighborhood is a ghost town. And it was just another gray morning for a recovering alcoholic in the middle of the pandemic. Perhaps late this spring we’ll all be vaccinated and the music venues can open again. But nobody really knows what’s what. How effective are face coverings and vaccines against Covid? It’s the blind leading the blind… Something made me think of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. I have a nice omnibus volume of his novels. I left off in the middle of Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Wee hours.

I’ll probably skip church again Sunday and gradually let them go. Pastor is leading them in a direction I don’t agree with. While they wait around for the Resurrection, I’m going to live my life more like a bohemian in quest of happiness. I was always a lousy Christian, having no faith in the possibility of a demigod or even a virgin birth. Mythology is full of immaculate conceptions, but these don’t make a pretense to reality. I gave Pastor that book of William Blake a while back because my own belief was very shaky. He didn’t seem to like it much. He told me he read the introduction by Harold Bloom, which was probably not Christian but rather secular humanist. But Blake is about as close to faith as I’ll ever get. So this was sort of my last offering before saying goodbye to the Lutherans. It couldn’t have happened any differently. In the blackness outside, the rain comes down with benign apathy to human affairs.