Clouds like fish scales have moved in overnight. I got two Snapples and a little peanut butter bone for Aesop. Saw a heavyset woman walking two small dogs, and I passed a skittish cat in front of Kat’s house. Now, my house is exceedingly quiet; the only noise is my tinnitus, a whine in my ears from too many music gigs… Maybe all the music was a waste of my time, because you can’t have the music without the culture. I consider myself a nice guy and probably unsuited for rock and roll, especially when I’m not drinking anymore. I feel myself split between so many polarities. Can we blame a philosopher like Kierkegaard for his either/or principle? Or perhaps Aristotle for the Law of Excluded Middle? Too much of life is forced into a scheme of black and white. Even Jesus Christ had a distaste for lukewarm people, saying you run either hot or cold. Dichotomous reasoning is embedded in our culture, but not necessarily in nature. Sometimes I want to shoot spit wads at Aristotle for being a clod.
Quarter after eight. Aesop doesn’t like his science diet food today. I spent thirty bucks for twelve cans of the stuff and he’s turning up his nose. But with all the things that are going wrong lately, I know that not everything is crap. Life is full of mixed blessings. Whatever else happens, I’m still sober. If the world is coming to an end, I’ll be clearheaded to witness it and write about it.
Quarter of eight.
For once, a cloudy morning. Mostly gray skies, with a small blue patch here and there. I paused on the sidewalk to have a look. The ambience feels more alive now than when it was so warm. I just saw two fox squirrels on the ground out back. I don’t know what to think about spiritual things; if they are real, then it’s a phenomenon like parallelism, and the experience is very human. I think everyone can understand energies of light and dark. They may be felt, seen, or heard, especially in works of art. I’ve satisfied my curiosity about the poetry of John Berryman and decided to put it aside… I was beginning to think I’d never see another cloud since the heatwave that hit Oregon and Washington. When I got to the store today, I encountered a long line of customers at checkout. So I went to the shelf with dog treats first, then crossed the floor for a Snapple and frozen pizzas. In the back of my mind, I can remember how the place used to look inside, and the item I used to always buy, but usually not in the morning. I had a wonderful time being an alcoholic while I could, but ultimately alcohol is a snake disguised as an old friend, a snake that often bites you… A lot of people still drink, which seems rather strange to me because I’m at a different place from them now. A song by Yes occurs to me: “To Be Over,” a very pretty piece from their 1974 album Relayer. I guess I’m just thinking, now that I don’t drink anymore, what’s next for me? And perhaps the rock band project won’t work out. Then what? It’s the journey and not the destination, it is said.
Nine o’clock. My pen pal is late in writing me today, so I don’t know what’s going on. We haven’t been on the same wavelength for a couple of months… I just got her email now: it’s never accurate to assume anything. Also I know I tend to over generalize and try to read people’s minds, but to no avail. But it’s frustrating when people don’t speak their feelings and thoughts. And on the other hand, some people talk too much. They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I imagine it’s an art to be content with your current situation, to be mindful and centered in the immediate reality. As it is, I suppose I flunk the test for today because I have a lot of regrets and frustrations in life. Satisfaction seems so far away to the past or the future. What if, as Carly Simon sang, these are the good old days?
Quarter of seven.
I rose from bed to a cloudy morning and read the email from my pen pal. My band is going to practice this afternoon, so we’ll see how that goes. The one person who supports my music more than anyone is Pastor right now. I don’t know why my sister didn’t call me yesterday. Now I won’t hear from her until at least Monday because her son will be home, and he and I have never gotten along together. In fact, all of the guys in my family don’t like me very much, and Polly is the only relative who talks to me. The situation with my family used to embarrass me but I just expect it to be lousy now. Many people with serious mental illness are disowned by their families. But my family doesn’t have much to offer me anyway. I told my sister that I had deactivated my Facebook account a few years ago, so maybe she’s thinking about that; the whole family is on Facebook except for me. This is just my imagination trying to explain why she didn’t return my phone call yesterday. I can’t read her mind… I’ll be going to the store in a little bit. It’s Heather’s first day working by herself on weekends.
Quarter after eight. I was wrong; Michelle is still training her. I was thinking about trust as I came up to the front door of the market. My brother told me once that he doesn’t trust anybody. But it seems to me that you have to be able to trust somebody besides yourself. One truism from Shakespeare often occurs to me: honest people don’t expect others to be dishonest. “A credulous father and a brother noble, whose nature is so far from doing harms that he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty my practices ride easy.” But the converse of this is also true: dishonest people are the first ones to suspect foul play from other people… I’m probably not missing much in not having a family. If you can’t choose your family, then you can choose your friends. And these people are the ones you can likely trust.
Ten o’clock. Polly did call me this morning, a Saturday, to my surprise. So I was proven wrong again, and all my conjectures were for nothing. She got on the topic of the Bible for a while and I listened patiently. I know her religion is important to her.
Eleven twenty. I’m all out of wisdom, and even my sophistries turn out foolish. It’s sort of a sophomoric day today. I hope it gets better, but whatever may come, I’ll try to stay calm.
I kind of dread my appointment with Rebecca, though it’s not her fault. The problem stems from the other guys in the band, who wouldn’t understand why I need a personal care attendant to keep organized at home. The guys are a working class sort and probably want me to be one of them. The more I think it over, the more I see how this band is causing me grief. It started when I bought a new bass for myself, knowing that this was something my friends wouldn’t do, or approve of me doing. I suffered a great deal over my decision to buy this instrument. So now I’m beginning to think these guys are not worth the pain I go through on their account, yet it’s hard to know what to do. I realize that I’m taking responsibility for their feelings, which isn’t the right thing to do, according to cognitive therapy, although some philosophers disagree on this tenet. The point is for me to avoid depression and anxiety as a result of interaction with other people, thus the cognitive perspective is likely my best option. Of course I have the freedom to choose to leave the band if things get out of control. And then there is the issue of their substance abuse, while I’m trying to stay sober in their midst. Maybe the music profession is not what I might wish it to be. I feel myself being pulled apart by the attitudes of other people, their politics, and their personal opinions and backgrounds. It makes it very difficult just to be a person in this world, but there has to be a solution.
Seven twenty. It is a fact that emotional reasoning doesn’t work for determining what is true. We can feel all kinds of things to be true, but when we check the evidence we are often contradicted. Most people are not liars, so usually you can take them at face value when you ask them what they are thinking. Sometimes I need a tuneup of cognitive therapy, and today might be one of those times… I wish more people would learn to be realistic in their interactions with others, but it’s difficult to teach old dogs new tricks. It’s entertaining to play with Romantic ideas, though it doesn’t reveal the truth of situations. But I suppose that people of a Romantic persuasion will always rebel against reason, and this pendulum has been swinging in history since at least the 18th Century. The thing is, the Romantic perspective is no help to those who live with mental illness. For this reason, I never could agree with Twelve Step programs, which aggravate psychosis if anything. Most people still can’t figure that out. It also doesn’t work to fight fire with fire, or use homeopathic remedies such as religion to treat psychosis.
Eight twenty five. I just want to be at peace with myself and the world, but the world makes it very hard to be somebody. However, I know that my opinion is the one that counts in my life. How can others be right when their opinions disagree with each other? All of us are hunters in the dark. No one really knows anything, so the arbiter of truth might as well be you.
Six fifty five.
I guess I’m done sleeping for this morning. I’d be too tired to go to church, but the store opens in just a few minutes, so I can go get food for Aesop and me, and the obligatory Snapple tea.
Eight twenty five. I got some bad news in the mail. Someone used my identity to file income taxes this year. I’ll have to straighten it out tomorrow morning… The rain just missed me again today, and even at that, there isn’t much. I’ve been reading Sense and Sensibility since yesterday afternoon. Jane Austen’s writing calls to my mind my old friend Kate. In September of 2012 I reread Pride and Prejudice and discussed it with her. That was before I had Aesop, and my pug had just been euthanized in the summer. The alcohol addiction still controlled my life. As long as I had money, I spent it on beer. Evidently I had a reason to drink, or else I wouldn’t have done it. Does it make sense to say the addiction controlled me, or instead did I always have the freedom to quit drinking? Sort of like Dorothy’s ruby slippers: she always had the power to return home from Oz, from technicolor to black and white. She just didn’t know how to use the magic…
Nine twenty. The desire to stop drinking comes from within, and it must be strong. You must want sobriety more than anything else, and be willing to sacrifice some things for it. Perhaps what you give up returns to you later, and without the addiction… It gives me pleasure to read Jane Austen and be reminded of the qualities that go into mental wellness. The character Elinor, the rational one, is very evidence based. She doesn’t assume anything or jump to conclusions. She is realistic, the very opposite of fanciful and impulsive. In many ways she is the cognitive therapist’s ideal… I just noticed how quiet it is around here. I guess that’s why I don’t care much for Sundays.
Quarter of eight.
The band agreed to have practice this Saturday at four o’clock. And there are other signs of human life going on around me. It’s yet another clear morning. A song from Keys to Ascension begins to play in my head, making me feel a little sad. I could never take spiritual things literally. But that’s just it: spirituality can’t be understood literally, so it is best expressed in metaphor. A mourning dove coos somewhere near. I think of my brother at some point every day, wishing he would change his mind. His values are simply different from mine, as well as his destiny… I’m going to give myself a break from my conscience, accept myself as I am for today. If other people don’t like it, then tough luck for them.
Quarter of nine. It’s interesting how we have to defend ourselves from our critics all the time, and happiness is when we feel above reproach. The worst critic is internal. It is yourself. Guilt and self loathing lead to despair. My motivation is rather low today, or else I would go trim my beard and smile at myself in the mirror. Maybe I should spend some money on myself to feel better?
Eleven o’clock. Melissa had on a funny T-shirt about wtf-ing her way through life. I got a late start to my day due to a phone appointment with Rebecca. Tomorrow I might give my sister a call for the fun of it. My mind is crowded with should statements and other depressing thoughts. I could use a review of the basics of cognitive therapy to pull myself out of the pits. Wouldn’t it be weird if reality were constructed of nothing but language, only the words we use in dialogue and monologue? But there’s still the element of feeling, tone, body language. Music is closer to the truth than words, yet my dog doesn’t understand it. To him it’s just noise… I’d thought maybe Rebecca would stand me up this morning, but my assumption was all wrong. She was just a little late in calling. Evidence is everything, and usually you can take people at face value and trust their word.
Quarter of ten.
It’s mostly sunny this morning. I feel pretty good. I saw two young women in dirty clothes at the store; Michelle eyed them suspiciously. It was cold out, with frost on the grass everywhere. I worried a little about my situation with the church, but I think I’ll be all right. They can manage their own feelings. I’m leaning toward a revival of cognitive therapy in my mind. It might be good to read Jane Austen, picking up where I left off in Sense and Sensibility. There’s so much polarity in the world now and not much wisdom to see both sides. Early this morning I had some dream thoughts that were very difficult to verbalize. They had something to do with the concept of the unconscious mind. I ponder whether it’s possible to dissolve the dichotomy of conscious and unconscious and eliminate traditional psychotherapy. Some people are still stuck in Jungian thinking. I just want life to be more balanced and sane… I spent ten dollars on Aesop’s Dog Chow: his favorite since puppyhood. Michelle noticed that the potato salad I’d chosen wasn’t very full, so I exchanged it for a different container. That was nice of her. Without the ibuprofen, my back would still hurt, hence I take one pill every morning.
Quarter of eleven. Also during my walk, I thought about how I don’t seem to belong in the world anymore. It has changed so much and left me behind like a beached whale. Particularly, education is not the same as when I went to school. People are being trained to function like robots rather than humans. No one is encouraged to think their own thoughts. If you do choose to discover your own truth, you’ll be either very rich or very poor. But again, wealth or poverty is not necessarily financial.
Three thirty. The weather is beautiful now, so I made a run to the market for some beef jerky— very expensive. I spoke with my neighbor Jeff for a couple of minutes. Boats are his hobby. He even has a pirate outfit. When possible, he puts his boat in over at Fern Ridge Lake, a man made body of water with a reservoir. Jeff says we’ve been short on rainfall this year and the level of the lake needs to come up a couple of feet. The marina has been closed, but opens again on the First… While I was in the store, I sort of wandered around looking at the different jerky snacks. It was like being in a new world, a world where I don’t have to drink anymore. The other customers appeared rather rough and ragged to me, as if they lived in poverty, so I fitted right in— up to a point. Suk manned the cash register. He asked me if the jerky was everything… I also saw my neighbor Steve, though he didn’t notice me passing by. There were two children in his yard. Somebody on a motorcycle came down Fremont Avenue and nearly stalled. Right now I hear a lawn mower on my street. Things are getting back to a new kind of normal while the sun shines on carelessly in a sky of blue dust.
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.
Seven twenty five.
We’re getting a very hard rain this morning, for the first time this fall. You can barely see the daylight. Michelle should be the clerk at the store today. The darkness outside is actually very miserable and gloomy. I assume there’s church tonight, but I’m not looking forward to it. I always stumble over the block of Jesus. How can any human being be a demigod? Besides, I don’t feel like listening to sermons anymore. I want to accept the fact of mere existence and let that suffice.
Nine forty. Michelle was super nice this time. And as I was returning on Maxwell Road, Karen was just arriving at the salon. I waited for her while she opened the shop, then she gave me a chocolate donut. I also bought a green and yellow Duck face mask from her for five dollars. She wore a nice royal blue sweater. For my trip this morning, the rain stopped as if by providence. But there was a huge puddle at the intersection with Fremont I had to navigate. It’s the same thing every rainy season. The storm drain doesn’t work very well. I got myself a Pepsi today for a change. Tastes pretty good… The future promises to be complex, with a new set of associations in my mind. Family is usually difficult, though I’m still free to shut that door if necessary. The trick is the avoidance of guilt. It’s so easy for our feelings to get hurt. Relationships take work, but it seems like my family is particularly narrow minded and cold hearted. Prejudice is likely a function of ignorance. Whatever, I’ve had more than my share of guilt heaped on me over the years, until I vowed that it would stop. And yet the one piling it on was mostly myself. There is no telepathy. When the internal critic kicks on, it is only us berating ourselves. No one else really has the power to condemn you. When you grasp this truth, it’s the most liberating thing in the world.