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. 

Life and Music

Quarter after five.

“Never let the music die,” said the drunken guy I encountered on the road to Mike’s place yesterday afternoon. In one hand I carried a bass, and the other an umbrella. The man weaved in the lane ahead of me, holding a white plastic bag in his left hand and mumbling to himself. I believed he was homeless until I saw him head for a certain house around the curve, where he stopped and waited for me to catch up. He was barely articulate, but I understood his speech about being a musician at Lucky’s tavern prior to the pandemic. He said how unfortunate it was that people can’t get together and play. It made me reflect on the reasons people have for picking up an instrument and banging out their feelings. Also I wondered at the illegality of the local music community: why are so many musicians in trouble with the law? Are we just not very smart?

Our band had a few tense moments, but I still enjoyed playing “The Mincer,” just a slow jam in A7. The original version was quite atonal and noisy. Our rendition cleans it up a bit, saving the Wetton bass line and building up from there. We made no recordings this time; Mike thought it was a distraction, and also the mic is not set up yet. I got a good tone from my kit bass through the Fender amp. It made a difference to set the amplifier on the floor.

Now it’s after six o’clock and the little market might be open, though because it’s Sunday the hours could be different. I’m just sitting here awaiting the dawn of day, anticipating my Snapple raspberry tea. Aesop needs wet food again, so that’s the first thing on my list. 

Ironies

Eleven thirty. I’m very anti Carl Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious, which is founded on something spiritual, sort of like the Hindu Brahman. I guess I’m getting farther away from Eastern thinking, for better or for worse. Carnap reduces a word like “essence” to absurdity because it has no referent in physical reality. I’d forgotten how much Eastern thinking depends on intuition. Jung and Campbell both were steeped in Indian philosophy, and this is a fact I have to respect. I recall the first time I read a sampling of The Upanishads, how it made me feel. The concept of the One was a beautiful thing. “That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature.” This statement in the Rig Veda is entirely intuitive and introspective, but for this reason should we reject it? A whole culture was based on this style of reasoning, so how can it be ruled out as fallacious by a small group of people?

Noon hour. The weather is lightening, with a breakthrough of sunshine. Usually I feel pretty lousy, but my mood today is better than average thanks to the band. We’re going to have fun… There was a dramatic irony in my last post. A point came across that I didn’t intend, yet it stands there in spite of myself, and without my knowledge. Abruptly a shower appears in the sunlight, followed by the newsflash that Trump was acquitted… Wordsworth writes how nature and the mind of man are somehow fitted to each other as part of a divine design. It’s a thrust I can’t rightly parry as the sunshine grows and intensifies. 

Rock and Roll

Three twenty five. I played my FretWire bass for a long time and got it to sound pretty awesome. There’s nothing wrong with my old amplifier; it just needed some experimentation to give it some masculine muscle. Also I tweaked the truss rod on the bass and fine tuned the bridge— and the rest was up to me. I played a King Crimson song, plus UK and Rush. I felt inspired. Everything sounded great. And now I reflect on the role of rock and roll in our society: it certainly isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a cathartic release for people who need to escape from daily life, the old grind of the workweek and every other duty and responsibility. We need a break from having to be a machine as part of a bigger machine every workday. It’s no fun being stuck in this condition all the time. We made the counterculture for a good reason, and that is entertainment and relaxation. Everybody needs that. It’s impossible to exist like a computer one hundred percent of the time, so we created rock and roll as a relief from the industrial revolution… I think I’ll give two of my instruments away to my band mates. I have plenty of bass guitars for one person. I’ve gotten pretty good at being a bass tech for myself. With the right hardware and setup you can make a cheap instrument sound fabulous. The key is knowledge and experience— and a little self confidence. 

Black Monday

Noon hour. November is packed with memories for me. Sobriety is hard to keep up, but I think about what my financial situation would be like if I drank daily. A 12 pack of good beer goes for about $15 or more. I don’t think my liver can metabolize alcohol anymore. It’s the worst thing for my health. Addiction is a steamroller, and it doesn’t care whom it crushes. This afternoon I might go buy my usual Snapples… Suzanne had to delay writing to me this morning. People are preparing for the holiday, everyone except me. But my book of Sophocles is coming tomorrow.

Quarter of two. I’m at physical therapy right now. My mind is a blank…

Quarter of four. The idea of sociology returns to tease my brain again. Maybe it’s a higher function of human minds to obey the unwritten rules, to conform and cooperate with the group. On the other hand, there are always square pegs and misfits, and these people help to make life a diverse experience. The unity of a given culture is one thing, but diversity from individual to individual is also inevitable. Rousseau: “Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” The social contract is not something that comes naturally to us. And yet I put on a face mask in public like everybody else. I suppose the most antisocial behavior is substance abuse, when you isolate yourself and get high. You disconnect with culture and create your own reality, totally out of touch with people. Maybe people constitute the common denominator, the bottom line. Thus sociology has a point. But I think I’ll re-examine Rousseau’s political philosophy, though I know he concludes with the necessity of the general will. We sacrifice our native freedoms in order to have a civilization. We go at the green signal and stop on the red. Or perhaps we do something different when no one else is around? 

Twilight

Six ten.

The same old questions concerning sexuality occurred to me again when I rolled out of bed. Perhaps that therapist only tried to help me? It’s true that I laid my soul bare to her and made myself quite defenseless… I think there’s a truth that goes deeper than Christianity, and Freud might have hit close to the mark. Isn’t it better to leave no stone unturned? Why live your whole life without knowing the whole truth? Often, culture is an obstacle to self knowledge. It is better to know. Culture also throws extraneous trappings onto the truth. This may be a passing mood, but for now it obtains… Outside comes the predawn twilight, the glimmer before the dawn. Bars of sunlight will shine down and create our prison of self consciousness and restraint. The social world will wake up and hold you responsible to your contract. But how much more can we smuggle into the light of day? And doesn’t everybody feel the same way? 

Open Doors

Two thirty five in the morning.

I couldn’t sleep any longer, so I got up. It seemed to me that the Eugene population is being thinned of Mexican people, so I did a little research with Google. I learned about an agency called ICE, a division of Homeland Security. But most of the articles I found were from last year. Who knows what’s happening right now? I only know that I don’t see many Mexican people locally anymore. They used to be very visible. One of them overcharged me to do my yard work all through the Obama presidency. The alternative was to hire a white guy who charged even more, and who insisted on a contract that would last a year… I don’t know what to think about the current isolationist attitude of the United States. We don’t want anything to do with the rest of the world. It’s a formula for stagnation and cultural poverty. Republicans don’t perceive it that way, caring only about money— a huge mistake. My life was a lot richer when I had a friend from abroad. She introduced me to Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry— the whole ‘70s glam genre in the UK. John Wetton played bass guitar brilliantly on Ferry’s solo album. Was it only a dream? A lot can happen in eight to ten years. The trend I see is the social withdrawal of America, so how can we really understand what it means to be fully human? We can learn a lesson from the life and writings of Henry James, the American expatriate who enriched literature forever. And from The Beatles and the British Invasion of the ‘60s, and again from New Wave in the ‘80s… The same sun shines on the rest of the world as on America. It makes no sense to put up walls.