I’ve got Gloria at nine o’clock this morning, so while I was at the store I bought her a sugar free Snapple tea. They had forecast light rain soon but I was skeptical and left my umbrella at home. At one point on Maxwell Road I was totally alone: no cars or pedestrians anywhere; just me for that stretch between River Road over the bridge to Prairie Road, a panorama of silent grayness above and below the horizon. Inside, I met with one other customer, a man who wanted to buy two coffees and three bagels, then fumbled for his wallet… which he had forgotten at home. Lisa saved his things behind the counter while he went back to get his money. The same thing happened to me maybe twelve or thirteen years ago, at night when I wanted a bottle of wine. So I felt kind of bad for the guy. I bought my stuff, maxing out my food stamps for the month, and headed out the door. I was on the sidewalk when the prodigal customer returned in his pickup truck and crossed in front of me. A few seconds later the rain started coming down, not hard; so I put up my hood, reflecting a bit on situational irony. And just now the sun comes out.
Seven thirty five at night.
I really didn’t want to be sick, but there’s no bargaining with this circumstance anymore; a fact is a fact. I tried to reason it away as just a mouth infection, but it’s acting like a typical head cold, from the sore throat stage to nasal congestion, etc. Okay, so I was an idiot. Now I just hope I won’t be too wretched the next few days.
How easy it is to blame everyone and everything, including the stars, but yourself for bad luck. Putting responsibility off of yourself is the excellent foppery of the world. And yet Shakespeare puts these words in the mouth of Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester, and the misbegotten miscreant with no place in God’s orderly world. I don’t know whether to agree with the Bard’s opinion or subvert it with his own created character. As the centuries rolled on, dramatists turned the focus away from nobility and towards ordinary individuals: indeed the individual, rather than the group, became the point of interest. So then, heroes like John Proctor of The Crucible were made possible, and even before that, Nora Helmer of A Doll’s House. Still I’m stuck on what to do with Edmund the bastard: perhaps he should have written Shakespeare into existence rather than the reverse. Maybe nobody would’ve known the difference anyhow. Which would be the more foppish today, the cosmic dance or Machiavellian plotting? Maybe we made a wrong turn after Shakespeare…
Well, tomorrow is another Gloria day, and we said she would take me to Bi Mart for the fun of it. I guess I can make a little list of items to get while we’re there. Things for hygiene, maybe. I’ll think of something. But the real reason I want to go is to see some familiar faces at the store and kind of take a stroll down memory lane. Bi Mart is like a time capsule, a place that resists change if it can help it. The same staff has been working there for years and years. Many senior citizens go there to shop, or anyway they used to. My parents and I moved here in 71, and the Bi Mart was already a business. When you think about it, old people are quite amazing because they have such a long memory and have seen so much in their lifetime. This morning I looked back 40 years to when Rush was still on the radio. I was on the sidewalk of Maxwell Road trying to visualize the old days of being a teenager, but it wasn’t easy to do. Changes come and they are incontrovertible. Reality is implacable and doesn’t give an inch before an individual’s imagination, his dream of happier times. Then again, long ago Carly Simon sang that these are the good old days. We could use some of her optimism today.
The same thing is happening today on WordPress: just no enthusiasm to read stuff whatsoever. So, naturally my mind wanders back to when I actually had fun with my life. The last time wasn’t so long ago; it was when Aesop and I lived in the trailer after the fire, and in the fall I’d go to church with my heart full of hope and optimism, and not an ounce of cynicism. I had trust and faith that everything would be all right for me. Also it was before covid came along, and then a series of disasters. And Pastor’s mood grew a lot darker, and the wheels came off of everything after that.
The question is how to restore that old optimism and faith that sustained most of us up until the time of the pandemic. I can remember some of Pastor’s sermons from before the dark times, and they were really pretty good. Once he talked about the “glad game” of Pollyanna, which was like Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide: everything that happens is for a greater good down the line, and events are always for a purpose. Another expression for this is “teleological,” a belief that Aristotle held, and also Hegel much later. Leibniz argued that “this is the best of all possible worlds,” and God always chooses it for us from his infinite goodness.
So I wonder what happened to all of that in only three years’ time? And I think it’s a case where remembering the past can be quite useful in picking us back up again…
I don’t know if there’s a deus ex machina in all of this. I suppose I could choose to believe such a thing, and yet no good fortune happens without an individual being assertive with the situation and people.
Once, a friend told me something humorous on that head. I’d had a phobia of parking my vehicle in crowded places Downtown or on the campus. Mike said, “You see? The parking gods will be kind to you if you show a little courage.” He was mostly an atheist but a great songwriter, leading the band with me in it. The same year I began dating a woman my age who was a Lutheran working in a bookstore. I did a lot of reading in Herman Melville, starting with Moby Dick, though his worldview clashed with the Tennyson I also tried to embrace. The result was a big mess for me, and in the end I lost those friends plus my best friend and my dad died that year: and on the whole it felt like 1999 was the end of the world.
I don’t know which impulse won the day, the blackness of Melville or the Christian sunshine, however, life went on with my dad’s passing. A few days later I bought two little books related to Epicurean philosophy but this was soon drowned out by the era of the holy wars and incidentally my mother’s death. And then my whole world was transformed, though I fought it as my addiction to alcohol progressed and eventually took over my life. Just today I pondered what the new hub of my life had become, and it seems to be the written word probably more so than music. As I think about it, a lot of living is adapting to sociological changes out of my control, surviving them and holding onto the wave like the old song by Yes says. Personal freedom is a comforting idea but ultimately it’s a tired illusion, so that my recovery from alcoholism really isn’t creditable to me at all, but rather to something like fate that operates within and without the individual person.
Midnight hour. Well, tomorrow morning is church. The service is set up in such a regimented way that I doubt I will go. It’ll be like a one to one with God rather than a social event, which doesn’t interest me much. All the fun is removed from it. I might be able to help Pastor if I do go, however. He hasn’t said anything to me about it. The question of an absolute right or wrong thing to do is a good one. For me, it echoes Robert Frost saying, “The bridegroom wished he knew.” It’s like pondering the stars and what is written there.
The bridegroom came forth into the porch
With, ‘Let us look at the sky,
And question what of the night to be,
Stranger, you and I.’
The woodbine leaves littered the yard,
The woodbine berries were blue,
Autumn, yes, winter was in the wind;
‘Stranger, I wish I knew.’
If there is indeed an absolute moral code, then what ordained it if not an omniscient God? I only wish I knew what I was supposed to do.
Quarter after eight.
It’s just an overcast morning. Supposed to be cloudy all day, chance of rain this afternoon. I pulled out my book of Frost and read “Design” again, a couple of times. His idea of a malign cosmos brings Melville to mind, also the later poems of Dickinson. Originally, it all goes back to Greek tragedy, about which I’d like to know more. I should review Sophocles, and Aeschylus and Euripides. The ideal would be having total recall of everything I ever read. I can start by reading all the Aeschylus I have.
Nine fifty. Fate in Prometheus Bound is ordained by Zeus, simply enough. But it’s humbling to turn the pages of a drama so ancient and venerable… I’m getting a haircut at eleven o’clock. The name “Prometheus” means “forethought,” which adds irony to a story of fate. The Titan knew in advance what would happen to him for championing humankind. He showed us fire anyway. Now he must be riveted to a rock in manacles of brass as his punishment for disobeying Zeus. With a stake of adamant right through his chest. Till the end he will be defiant and bewail the injustice of his fate. And of all beings, only Zeus is free. But what about Prometheus, when he chose to benefit humanity? Did he will his action, or was it part of his fate?… He is a martyr, as so many figures in antiquity were. Socrates, Aesop, Jesus Christ… The question I woke up with was if the universe is a friendly place. The Greeks believed in the lordship of Zeus, similar in some ways to Jehovah. He was the maker of human fates— but there were also the Fates, the Furies, and the Muses. I wonder how all this worked together? Interesting…
Quarter of noon. Karen informed me that face masks are mandatory starting tomorrow, and sold me five of them for three bucks apiece. I suppose, like death and taxes, it was inevitable… Shasta from the insurance office emailed me the information about earthquake coverage. I’ll call her back tomorrow and approve it. Now I guess I’ll read the rest of my Aeschylus.
I had a donut at the salon and went to the store. Life seems almost normal despite the lockdown. The radio at the market was playing “Rooster” by Alice In Chains. A few times I stopped and told myself that this is reality. I’m supposed to call Todd in a half hour. Darcy was aware of the situation with Ride Source. So I get to have a phone appointment today. She said that Ride Source will be messed up for the next month. I’m beginning to wonder at the process of life. It seems there’s never a respite from the ups and downs. It’s a constant roller coaster, particularly to a sober person. The only nirvana is the delusion of being on drugs. My parents lived in this house as if it had been a safe haven from a world of chaos.
Quarter of one. Todd was concerned about my hemoglobin being elevated, so I called the office of my hematologist. They are working together on the concern right now. I don’t know what to think about that… I guess it indicates dehydration. Again it’s never a dull moment. The reprieve we’re all hoping for doesn’t come, and then we die. For many years, alcohol was my security blanket and shield from the hostile universe. Eventually it became just another item in the same menacing world. Now the force field has been deactivated and I’m a sitting duck. But so is everybody. We’re all in the same boat of danger and uncertainty. I can understand why people get addicted to things. We find a comfortable feeling and want to repeat it. When that comfort zone is used up, we seek another sensation. We don’t realize or admit that we are defenseless. In reality, we survive by our courage and our wits. The logic of the heart is our best weapon for staying alive. The brain can turn traitor on us, and then what do we do? Put one foot in front of the other…
Michelle joked that I didn’t buy any ice cream this morning—- which gives me an idea. Perhaps I’ll go back and get some. It’s raining right now, so hold off until it stops. The sun goes down every day at around six o’clock. Now it’s a hailstorm!
It’s funny how people once believed that nature sympathizes with human affairs. Shakespeare and all the Romantics thought so. Emerson was serious about it, but he might have been the last one. Melville explored more of the possibilities for cosmology, and ultimately a sympathetic nature was discarded from the mainstream. I was always frustrated with AA because they revived old Romantic notions that didn’t hold water anymore. The evidence didn’t support their claims to mysticism, so I reckon they were a bit deluded. People in a group can make any belief real if they wish, but it’s still a delusion. One need only gather the proof. I never saw a reindeer that could fly, nor has anyone else, except on television.
Meanwhile, here I am, waiting out the rain. I’ve been watching the weather reports, judging when might be a good time to execute my plan.
Five ten. Success! I brought home pistachio almond ice cream. The rain was light, so I hardly got wet. I shared a couple of dollops with Aesop, of course. He deserved it since being brave for the vet on Thursday morning. I suppose I earned my ice cream too.
Sun’s just coming up. This is Friday. I hear police sirens. Sometimes I play mind games with myself.
Eleven o’clock. I feel sluggish this morning, but the sunshine is beautiful. I’m contemplating taking my amp head to Mike’s today, before six. Going after one is better, because Oregon Taxi is very busy at noon. The cab fare will be expensive, the repair cheap. I had a dream last night of being on a hell ride with somebody. I had hitched a lift home with him. He moved to the edge of the road and popped a wheelie at one point. He had almost a head on collision with a truck in the left lane. I felt helpless and horrified, and he just laughed and said this was normal for him. It was the price I paid for risking a hitch. We wound up at his place, which might have been on the coast. I wondered how and when I was ever going to get home. The dream ended there, or transitioned to something else. I had censored it out of my awareness quite well, until writing about taxis jarred it loose. I think I know who the maniac driver was in reality, because of the detail about the coast.
Two thirty five. I feel just terrible today, so I should stay home and try to be comfortable. I wish I knew what was wrong with me. Maybe some diagnostic writing will help. When in doubt, I usually resort to blaming the Vraylar for the malaise. It’s a nice day, partly sunny and temperate. There may be a fear of relapse into active alcoholism, and the weather is a trigger. My magnolia tree really is beautiful and inviting to the backyard. On a warmer day, I could go out there and read or write. It could be a sort of pleasure garden, if I knew anything about flowers. Trees and plants give us oxygen to breathe, thus a garden is a place to relax. Seven years ago, I would go outside to drink beer for part of the time. Aesop was still a puppy, and we played with his toys together… I beat on my Fender bass for about an hour, and getting this out of my system got my mind off the alcoholic past. Making music was something I couldn’t do when I drank heavily. Today, everything is back. The clouds are on the wax, darkening the ground. One of my favorite naturalist writers when I was young was Stephen Crane, whose “The Open Boat” I returned to once or twice. I preferred him to Twain because his style was more serious and more studied… And again, I recall my junior year in high school, the last one before I started drinking. What about life was it that drove me over the edge? What couldn’t I cope with? I wasn’t ready for independence, was not prepared. I was just a skinny boy with long hair like a poet. Too sensitive for my own good, and never aggressive or even assertive. Even today, I can handle controlled chaos, but less so total mayhem. I crave sanctuary from what I perceive to be a hostile universe. Some people have faith in a personal God who loves them. I don’t. Instead, my lot is to be frail and sickly, but hoping for a horizon of health that may never come.
Four o’clock. A universe friendly or unfriendly, asks Einstein. So did 19th Century American writers from Emerson to Melville and beyond. Moby Dick constitutes a monument to thoughts about the cosmos. When I played bass with Satin Love in the late 1990s, I tried to solve this intellectual problem myself by intensive reading. At one point I read Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Jude the Obscure back to back to ascertain the truth about the friendliness of the universe. They contradicted each other. I followed these with The Sheltering Sky and As I Lay Dying, both of which were pessimistic, and they influenced my mood while I was playing with the band. All the while I was listening to atonal music such as Schoenberg and Penderecki, and Webern and Berg. In fact, I dreamed recently about the Lulu Suite by Alban Berg. All this cacophony I learned and heard inside my head through my adventures with the disco band, accompanied by the ideas of Thomas Hardy. We took a trip to San Francisco in September 1997, and I was a wet blanket all the way. Lying in bed the last night, I heard Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra and wondered how I ever got to this place so far from home. I had insomnia for the whole trip. When we finally got home I went to bed and slept like a dead man. Life seemed as chaotic to me as the atonal music I constantly heard. Was the universe friendly? I don’t know, but the band I was in was definitely unfriendly…