Twenty Years

Six o’clock.

It’ll be good when we’ve distanced ourselves a little more from the Millennium and regained our sanity. The 00 decade was very uncomfortable for me, when people tortured each other over their religious ideas at all levels of society and across cultures. Was it all because of a prediction by Nostradamus that 1999 would see the advent of the Antichrist? I remember seeing editions of his books on display in bookshops and even in grocery stores up until the year my mother died, 2001. His prophecies were just the wormwood people needed for crazy stuff to start happening. But the fault was not that of Nostradamus, but of consumerist culture and whoever controls this and the media. I’m still not a fan of sociology, the study of society. There’s always more going on than meets the eye, and what we see is a puppet show. This is not the behavior of people in groups, but rather manipulation by our leaders, though it sounds fanatical to say it. Who was it that ordained the distribution of copies of Nostradamus everywhere for a span of ten years? Was it the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx?

Quarter after seven. The rain started as just a whisper and now it’s coming down in earnest. It’s a soothing sound like a lullaby. Because it’s still dark out, I’ll wait to go to the store. I want to have some visibility on the road, in both directions… The last book I bought of Nostradamus was at the Safeway store on River Road with my mother. I remember the flower bouquets they sold there, vaguely. Mom usually wore a little kerchief on her head when she went out, called a “doobie.” This store closed in September of 2007 for reasons of productivity. I especially recall Tiffany, a young checker with blonde curls who was always pleasant. But with the coming of dawn these memories fade like dreams. And the rain washes them down the gutters. 

Dostoevsky

Eight forty.

Thinking about going to church today. I might be able to make it. If it’s not Pastor Dan, then I can go a little bit later, as long as I’m there by ten o’clock. I keep forgetting that it’s Halloween today. It doesn’t seem very relevant to anything or to me. It’s not supposed to rain at all today, but it’s pretty chilly outdoors. The time is going rather rapidly; before I know it I’ll be out on the road, pounding the sidewalk. I can always hear more than I want to. Right now someone is making noise on my street.

Quarter of noon.

Service was pretty good today. Now it occurs to me how fragmented our culture is these days, mostly because of people like me who are honest and follow their own truth. I saw a funny Halloween decoration at a neighbor’s house: a headstone with the name “Metta Physik.” But this is exactly the problem I have with religion, that is, metaphysics or the supernatural. Without evidence, the spiritual stuff falls to pieces. So it’s probably better if I don’t go to church; just stay home and read my books of analytic philosophy or something else realistic. This is more responsible of me than spoiling a worship service with my presence. There is one argument, however, for metaphysics that gives me pause. It’s that our sense of right and wrong hinges on the spirit, and that with no Lawgiver, everything is permitted. You find this point in The Brothers Karamazov, and the amorality in the story leads to a murder. Dostoevsky is a thinker to reckon with before you dispose of religion altogether. Probably the world needs a good dose of his writing right now, and I might go back for another look at Karamazov, even after I thought I’d exhausted its possibilities. It brings up the serious question, What is existentialism all about? 

Earth to a Martian

I have to piece together my day today now. When I got home from my appointment with Misty I went right to bed and napped for a few hours, feeling as I did tired. I was thinking of how my hometown feels so alien to me these days, especially from the back of a taxi, cruising the streets with so many strangers. The cabbie for the return ride was listening to some weird music: old psychedelic jam band stuff that I didn’t care for very much. The agency closed at five o’clock and left me waiting at their doorstep for my taxi. It came before too long, and he took me onto I-105 briefly and then hopped on Sixth Street, which was pretty jungly with people and traffic. For some reason it seemed quite sordid and unfamiliar to me, the sole survivor of the family with my parents twenty years after their demise, riding ingloriously in the back of a cab; perhaps like Jesus riding in on a donkey, but hearing this bizarre psychedelic music. We hung a right on Chambers Street and drove north to the exit for the Expressway. It rained lightly for the whole trip. My thoughts all the way were diffuse and scattered, so I just held on and focused on getting back home. Even then I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I heated up a Hot Pocket and shared the last bite with Aesop, after which I noticed my fatigue and headed right for bed.

The rest of the day is sort of lost and forgotten. I know I wrote just a little in my journal in the morning, but the content has left me. Suddenly I remember an event that happened in September maybe five years ago, when I had just been trying to stay sober, but unsuccessfully. The mail came to my front porch, a huge Chambers Dictionary, a gift from my friend Kate, which had traveled here all the way from Sweden. It’s supposed to be the dictionary for word lovers, and is peculiarly British. At the time, I even believed I would’ve liked to work as a lexicographer, a writer of dictionary entries complete with etymological information for each word. It’s a beautiful book, and it survived the house fire two years ago. But it was sort of the last word I would ever hear from Europe, sadly. I wish there could be more commerce with the Old World.

Accents

Eight forty.

It might be nice to fly over the rainbow or fall down the rabbit hole, find myself in an alternate reality of timelessness. I’m avoiding church this morning and just lazing on a Sunday. Trying to drop all my troubles to achieve peace. I’d like to discover a romantic space like a Pleasure Dome, but this also calls to mind hookahs and opium dens. This wouldn’t be very responsible, yet just for a day it is good to dream… Now it’s time to feed my dog… The day clouds up, perhaps to fulfill the forecast of rain. I saw nothing today to really complain about, except the general mood is very blah.

Years ago at the store I occasionally saw a woman from Wales whose accent was a delight, though as an individual she wasn’t sympathetic to people with disabilities. She told me about her experience at WinCo, when a person in a wheelchair blocked her view of the soups. She got quite upset and said something to the disabled person. Basically, get out of my way. It was a lesson to me that out group homogeneity is a fallacy. No two British people are exactly alike, and it’s a fool who thinks so. I haven’t seen this Welshwoman in a long time, but it was a treat to hear her talk. The foreigners around here have all disappeared over the last four or five years, and I’m sad to see them go. Maybe they’ll begin to trickle back in before long.

It’s early and I have all day to take out the trash and recycling. The weather is not pretty, just kind of lemon. But there is a ray of sunshine on the ground. 

Naked Masks

I’ve just had a nap for a few hours and now it’s black as ink outside. This afternoon was interesting with my trip to the bookstore. Nice to see Nancy. She was looking for the new biography of Ron Howard. We talked a little about Pastor Dan’s sermons, which have taken a dark turn since the pandemic started. Of course she asked me if I was coming back and I said I’d consider it… I bought two blank books with lined pages and a brown cover showing a Tree of Life image. And I looked at the bargain classics: they had a nice one containing the first five Oz novels by L. Frank Baum. Maybe I’ll grab it next time. It was only eight dollars. While I was there, nobody looked at me funny or anything; I seemed to blend in pretty well. Everyone was very nice.

One of the first things you see when you walk in the door is the section of bibles, shelf upon shelf, off to the right side. I guess this is the American scene nowadays, or maybe it’s always been that way. I wonder how I could have missed it before? Something about my upbringing wasn’t right, because my perspective is like an outsider’s. My parents both hid away from the Christian USA, drinking martinis and smoking cigarettes with the front drapes always closed to keep the world out. So maybe the program I ran into in treatment for addiction was not far from the truth. It taught that dislocation from your culture is a big part of substance abuse. Perhaps the same thing is involved with schizophrenia? Or maybe I’ve been a client at Laurel Hill for too long. This can also skew your perception of otherwise indifferent things. And maybe everyone gets brainwashed all the time.

I just do the best I can. The more I think about it, the more I feel I’ve been jerked around by social norms that don’t care anyway. And everything cultural is entirely relative and made up. The only constant truth is our biology, which is valid across all cultures.

In the Evening

Ten ten at night.

Before sunset this evening the mail carrier brought my new bass pickup. It’s the Di Marzio Model P, a ceramic hum bucker I plan to install in my Mexican Fender. This should be a lot of fun, maybe when I feel better again. At the same time, I feel almost too old to rock and roll any longer: 55 years old in January. Then again, what do people 55 years old do in our culture? I won’t be running any marathons. Until now I never pictured myself as an old man; it’s an image I didn’t think about in connection with me. I know of some people who sort of retired from their lives in their fifties, and then just marked time until they died. But that can’t be what society expects of us who are under 60. I also know people in their sixties who deny their age and try to act 21 years old. It leads me to think, what is this thing called age, and what is appropriate to it? Some say that you’re only as old as you feel. The riddle of the Sphinx: what walks on three legs in the evening? The evening of life does befall people, so then we ought to feel thankful that we even made it this far and didn’t get picked off by some natural predator along the way. Kind of like the race of baby green sea turtles towards the surf in the Galapagos I saw in a National Geographic tv show as a child. 

Chessmen

Quarter of eleven.

I must have a touch of ADD myself, for I feel like quite a scatterbrain; I can’t pick something to read and adhere to it. The most rewarding read might be the Goethe I’ve been putting off. I managed to listen to INXS this afternoon and really enjoyed it, even though music from that era all sounds quite homogeneous. The experience of listening got me thinking about rites of passage and initiations to society, and how I contrived to avoid ever getting married with children— or was I just unlucky in love? But I always held back and checked my impulses, remaining free for all these years. I knew a guy from college who, after graduation, surrendered totally to his Catholic faith, got married and started a family of eight kids, perhaps just to prove his manhood to a world that doesn’t care anyway. He is a perfect example of what the poem by W.H. Auden talks about: “The Unknown Citizen.” In fact, everybody is, however we may fight to feel like individuals. You name it, there’s a class or category for it all provided by the big machine. Is it just a waste of time to try for originality in your life? And then you begin to wonder, Who is John Galt, or some other imagined tycoon who pulls everyone’s puppet strings?… 

I often wish I could talk to my brother again. He played the game with society a different way from me, though he was always aware of what he was doing. He worked his butt off up until retirement, and now I don’t hear much about him. My own strategy in the conduct of life was really no strategy at all; and I’m reminded of the chess matches my brother used to play with me when I was a kid. My game was entirely passive and defensive: avoidant as opposed to aggressive or assertive, so the best outcome I could hope for was a stalemate. 

My brother thought my madness had a method, but you know, it really never did. 

The Day after Christmas

Quarter after six.

I’ve probably done a bad thing today, but I said what I had to say to my friend in Texas. Maybe we won’t be as close after this. Life for everyone has changed a great deal since this year began. Dunno; I had a long and lonely weekend with a lot of frustrations and pains in the butt. I keep saying to myself how unhappy I am with my life currently because I don’t feel like I’m free. Life is strange, though I wonder if I’m trying to blame other people for my own situation? I knew a friend who said that the only limitations you have are those you place on yourself. And what could be freer than verbal self expression?… I think I might pop the plastic on my book of Jack Kerouac and do some reading. I suppose some relationships wear out with time, or when things get to be a strain on each person. I only know that I haven’t been happy for a long time and I feel ready for a change. Christianity doesn’t make me feel good anymore. I chafe against it, striving for more freedom just to be myself. The cookie cutters that form every individual are each so different. Life for me is less like Jesus and more like Walt Whitman.

Seven twenty. I guess I’ll go take a nap for a few hours. Tomorrow there’s still nothing on my plate, so I’ll have to make a trip to Bi Mart or something to break the monotony.

Quarter after eleven.

I dreamt about a little Jewish guitarist friend that I used to know in the past two decades and who was kind to me, though he was illicit and rather dangerous to be around. He used to work as chef at Hole in the Wall Barbecue in Springfield, but I’ve lost touch with him since July 2012. I just wonder why I keep dreaming about him… Before I fell asleep, I started thinking of the series of events I set in motion as of last December, when the band came together again to practice the day after Christmas. Gradually over six months, I have separated from the church in spirit as I committed myself to rock and roll with the guys… which might be a mistake. It’s been a process of secularization, stepping away from the sacred and toward the profane, though such terms are too general and dramatic for the real things that happened. It is hyperbolic to say something like I’ve been dancing with the devil or whatever, and it borders on psychosis or some other extravagance of the imagination: it’s just a fantasy. And yet, without my medication for schizophrenia, this daydream would be very real to me, and terrifying. So now I ponder why society has a counterculture like rock and roll: and why do we call the devil the Beast? Probably there’s no devil except for ourselves, and our dark animalistic instincts simply need a place for expression: et voila the rock and roll revolution.

After midnight. I still have doubts about what I’m doing with music, however. I feel as if I’d gone astray like Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep. “Let them alone and they’ll come home / Bringing their tails behind them.” The myths we live by can be larger than life sometimes. I just don’t understand why I have to take a drug to reduce cultural fantasies to a manageable size. What’s up with that? 

Boxes, Bottles, and a Ballad

Seven fifty five.

In my driveway I paused to examine the sky: light blue with white swirls. Right now the sun is partly covered. I’ve just received a package in the mail, left on the doorstep. Aesop will have a fit when I go out and get it. I actually ran into the mail carrier at the store a little while ago. She was not exceedingly friendly; rather businesslike and maybe a bit shy. While I was there, Michelle worried to me aloud again, which is pretty normal each day. It’s weird to observe how people in society are functionaries, robots operating in the big machine, everyone’s job linked to all the others, with very little free time to be fully human. This is why writers like Henry James are important, or the makers of popular music. The world needs some beauty, or else we’d go bonkers as servants to the neon god… It promises to be a fine day, probably not too hot. I was wise to invest in an air conditioner. I saw a headline reporting that the Northwest is in for another heatwave.

Nine o’clock. There’s a lot of cardboard recycling I should do; boxes from Amazon and other places. What’s the difference between being unmotivated and laziness? The second is a moral imputation, but essentially they amount to the same thing. Anyhow, I brought in the package and cut it open. The seat cushion I ordered works great; I’ll use it when I play the bass guitar or listen to CDs in my hard chairs. I never did buy any furniture after the house fire two years ago. The inside of my home is an obstacle course of boxes and Snapple bottles because I just don’t have the gumption to pick them up and get myself organized. I’ve also developed a bad back since the disaster. But the PCA ought to be able to help me with all that… A very old ballad by Duke Ellington plays in my mind: “Sultry Sunset.” I was three years old when my parents gave me the compilation record from the era of the big bands. My dad was always grumpy on weekends, and my mother was rather indifferent to me— although she did take me to a child psychologist that year. Apparently I would run across the room and bash my head against the wall, probably to make the music stop. Now I know that it won’t stop until my last heartbeat… 

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.