Stigmata

Quarter of two in the morning.

Another night as black as coal. This simile recalls an old U2 song, “The Unforgettable Fire,” for me. The day I bought that record I took my SAT test in preparation for college, and I scored very low on both parts because I didn’t apply myself. If I felt that way, I suppose I shouldn’t have been in AP English that year. The truth is that I knew there was something wrong with me, though it defied definition for another seven years. Well, whatever. The important thing is the here and now and what you do with it.

When I left my psychiatrist’s services, I chose to be out of the closet with schizophrenia, to just take my chances, because deception felt wrong to me. I wasn’t even sure of what I was doing, but I wanted to be honest with people. Now, I don’t believe I sabotaged myself. Someone has to do something to change the stigma attached to the illness and it might as well be me.

Schizophrenic people are no more violent than any other population, according to a person I knew with a degree from Boston University. And Fuller Torrey writes that the majority of them are remarkably nonviolent. Speaking for myself, I have never been in a single fistfight. People with schizophrenia are usually more harmful to themselves than to others. The intelligence and temperament of people are separate issues from the disease of schizophrenia. It’s very unfortunate when the media spreads bad publicity of a schizophrenic person who committed a crime. A therapist told me that another 80 years would have to pass before the public would be accepting of the mentally ill. Until then I contribute what I can to that cause. 

Book Smart

Two thirty five.

I’ve read about 19 pages in Emerson’s journals today and drunk the second Snapple tea. This afternoon is warm and autumnal soft and reminds me of college 31 years ago. For the winter I had an opportunity to take American Romanticism. Actually, I enrolled in it and attended one class, but dropped it because the instructor’s approach was way too elementary for a 400 level course. But now, plainly, I regret that I didn’t continue with it. Our first reading assignment was “William Wilson” by Poe. That class would’ve taken us through Poe, Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson, and also Stowe. Call me an idiot for dropping out.

Three twenty five. Tomorrow I have a meeting with my case manager, Misty, at the agency. I hope it’s another fine day like this one. There are so many books I’d like to either read or reread, and right now I like Walden.

Ten forty. It must have been five o’clock when I went to bed for an evening nap. My dreams were mostly nonsense but I rested well. I don’t count myself a Jungian, but I do like the Romantic literature that was inspired by the American soil, like Leaves of Grass. In this way I guess I am a patriot.

Eleven thirty. Sometimes the convenience and commodity of everything Americans can buy fills me with vertigo. I don’t even have a car, but goodness, look at the selection of books I have to choose from to have delivered to my door! Already I have more books than I have shelf space for. But in the name of love of language it’s worth it to indulge in good books, especially when I can’t drink beer again… If I needed a personal bible that was not the Christian Bible, what would it be? What could I stake my life on between the covers of a book? Maybe the question is bogus, because dogma kills the experience of life in all its dynamism and kinesis. Trust the open book of life alone, and the book of yourself. Remember to read as much as you write. 

Prospects

Six thirty.

The sun is just beginning to light up the east. It’s the first day of fall. Aesop has been sick with a stomach bug lately; not sure what to do about it. Life has been very unkind to us since the spring and summer, unless I just expect too much from it. But if I decided to be disobedient then I’d only drink beer again. I never resented a Democratic government until now. It seems to rule us with an iron hand. And I don’t enjoy going to church at all anymore because of the politics… For a change I’m going to Grocery Outlet this morning. Feelings are interesting things, and who knows where they come from? I think you have to trust them in the end, and the dreams that embody them. It’s okay to surrender to your feelings and do as they say. They give us strength and courage to carry out our projects…

Quarter of eight. It takes me twenty minutes to walk a mile, and that’s the distance to Grocery Outlet. I suppose I’ll get ready to go now.

Nine twenty five. I was there and back again. Bought Aesop some decent food for breakfast for the next week. And I got some deli stuff for me. I didn’t buy anything to drink this time, so I’m missing my caffeine. On my walk, I thought vaguely about my confusion with reason and feeling, and should I trust emotions to guide me? But I know that this approach has never worked for me before, and my best bet is to go with science. I think it’s just curiosity that lures me towards the Jungian ideas like a Siren song. My ship would be dashed on the rocks if I dared it again… It was kind of a nice walk to River Road past the high school, where I saw a lot of teenagers getting ready for class. School is a much different experience from church. The more I think on it the more I really resent the church for laying down the law rather than liberating our minds for whatever comes. The latter is an exciting prospect indeed. 

Progress

Everyone has to make their own mistakes and learn from them, and I doubt if there’s a perfect way through life. All of the warnings from others in the world are wasted breath. And I think that to a great extent individuals live out their genetic blueprint, and this is the basis for the force we know as Fate. Wow, when I consider the tragedies of the Ancient Greeks, so religious with the Chorus and the characters interacting on the stage, having a primitive yet civilized understanding of natural forces completely out of their control: it’s an awesome thing. I guess all traditions in the world have the same natural conditions to reckon with, plus the peculiarities of their region. Like if you lived in Hawaii with an active volcano, a power of nature beyond human comprehension, this thing becomes your god by its very mystery to a primitive intellect. So it makes me appreciate the state of modern science and the wonderful achievements of human reason over the centuries, and what a pitiful sacrifice if we ever lost all that knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps the existence of religion really depends on humble ignorance of how nature works, as you can even read in Job, where God hurls down challenges to the state of Job’s knowledge. But what if Job had possessed that knowledge of nature? What would’ve happened to God?

I think that religion depends on mysteries, the information that people simply don’t know. We invent gods to explain the phenomena we don’t understand, just as the Greeks did before they dispensed with their pantheon and philosophy replaced religion.

Is there anything really so heretical about knowledge and wisdom? I tend to think that God is a boogeyman for the things we can’t explain rationally. Edith Hamilton wrote that mythology is a primitive kind of science: people make up stories to explain what they don’t understand.

This is the kind of stuff I learned in high school, before I started drinking alcohol and going astray. Now I’m thinking that there’s no substitute for knowledge, especially scientific knowledge. And even Mark Twain was a real optimist about technology and progress. Merlin and his magical tower are no match for modern sophistication in A Connecticut Yankee… I should go back and read that book again. The attitudes are very cocky and irreverent and yet very hilarious.

Darwin or Dickens?

After midnight.

I suppose I’ll be in limbo for a long time, in the cracks between nothingness and being. I’m not sure of the motive for my intellectual quest, especially when the old canon of classics has been dismantled, dropped entirely, leaving nothing to replace it. In my head I hear archaic music from the forties, the era of big swing bands. One time thirty years ago, as I was passing by Gerlinger Hall on the sidewalk up on Campus in the evening, I heard the sounds of swing music through the windows of the second floor, and I knew that people were dancing to visions of the past. I felt half inclined to go inside and check it out, but I was very shy in my early twenties and continued on my way home. The University was such a cool place to be, yet ever since the illness I’ve felt exiled from what was so dear to me. I was seeing a psychologist who assumed I was “normal” but at the end of that year I passed into the hands of psychiatry, after which nothing was the same. My deepest resentments went to the English department for the terrible snobbery of faculty and staff, an attitude that alienated me from school forever. And now my reality is the psychiatric rehabilitation place and the church, these refuges for freaks and geeks. I found my way there by instinct since I fired my shrink, whose insults I wouldn’t tolerate anymore. The world can be a mean place. And really there’s no excuse for people to act that way, except to say that it is done, it is precedent from time out of mind. Thus it’s no wonder that I shrank from Mean Street and sought a softer way of treating each other. When life sucks, it really sucks, so it’s such a gift sometimes to go where Dickens is still observed. 

Eyesight

Seven twenty five.

After four doses of the Risperdal, so far so good, except last night I had some difficulty breathing in bed. But as I lay there, eventually I recalled a recent dream of my first bass guitar, and then melatonin kicked in and I fell asleep. Late last night I made a few pages of notes in my journal, with the rediscovery that I am far more Platonic than I am Christian, as I’ve known from twenty five years back. Probably this is due to my education. Nowhere else than a university will they teach you to think for yourself. Of course it depends on how you use college. It never occurred to me that I was responsible for my student career, and that my actions were chosen deliberately by me. Do I know only what my school wanted me to know? Yet I still don’t feel like a cog in the machine or a yes man to readymade beliefs. Sitting through a sermon nowadays can make me wiggle a little in discomfort. When an argument is bad, my reflex is to raise objections and questions. Not exactly like Christian faith, which is blind and credulous.

Eight thirty. Reason is a power of eyesight and insight, a bright light that shines a path through your life. Feed it on good things and it will grow to be a great lighthouse in the storm of BS… It is still early in the morning, the sun not yet up very high. I’ve got no agenda for today, which suits me just fine. 

Wednesday Words

Four fifty five. As I was playing my bass guitar, I fell into doing some passages from “The Gates of Delirium” by Yes, one of the most impressive songs by a progressive rock band ever recorded… It put me in a sort of dreamy mood, reminiscing again on my high school years with so much great music. At my school, not many kids listened to art rock, but the old Yes albums of the seventies happened to get reissued on vinyl in the early eighties. So, like a person with good taste I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on, and my plastic brain memorized all the music like a tape recorder… But now I’m getting older and not as dynamic as I used to be. The good news is that I’m not so paranoid or delusional anymore, which frees me up to do more things with my life. 

I left a voicemail for my sister today but she hasn’t returned my call yet. I thought of her just now because she is a pious Christian. My faith in a literal God, Jesus Christ, and all the other supernatural beings is total toast. I don’t see any way to recover my credence. It isn’t that I don’t believe in being kind to each other, or that love is the greatest thing a person can experience. It’s just the metaphysical nuts and bolts of religion that I can’t accept anymore. There’s no evidence at all for the superstitions that most people take for granted. 

I wonder why Lord of the Flies was such a staple of the old literary canon? We students were brainwashed with this book at the age of fifteen, and the precept of it was that human beings are naturally evil, a contemporary version of Hobbesian philosophy. But why sow this seed of learning in young minds? Forever it would rule our fates as we graduated from school and sought our fortune in the secular world. A few kids rebelled against the curriculum; they were the smart ones, dropping out of advanced English and finding an alternative way. They were the ones who disappeared from my sight in the high school halls, while the rest of us took the full dose of the indoctrination and headed off for college— perhaps to end up many years later writing blog posts for a lucky few followers to puzzle their heads about. 

Erased

Quarter after five.

Aesop is going nuts because the opossum under the house is making noise. Outside the front room window it is gray twilight before the dawn. Maybe I’ll go back to bed, as it’s still very early.

Eight fifty. I was feeling nostalgic about my sophomore year in high school, particularly for the New Wave music I experienced on MTV when it was good. So I went on Amazon and bought a cd by INXS with a song called “The One Thing.” Memories from my boyhood are getting harder to retrieve for some reason, yet still I think they’re important. This is especially true because my old high school building might not exist someday soon… I researched the fate of the old building: it won’t be torn down, but will accommodate the middle school and Japanese immersion school. These big changes make me feel like a real dinosaur, a species that ought to be extinct, but even so, like an odd paradox my life keeps going on. People propose rewriting the history books, but what does that mean for those like me who remember what really happened, or the language that was used to describe it? It’s a strange process to be able to watch, being between ages, so to speak, and having memories that will be written away as null and void by popular demand. Though we exist as bodies in space, we’ll be told that our recollections do not. I hear a lot of seniors talk about the same thing. I am not quite a senior yet. I can identify with both generations of people, the older and the younger, and of course the younger ones will inherit the earth. But without a truthful history, the young people are doomed to repeat the mistakes already made by their elders. Maybe there’s no way to prevent this from happening.

Ten twenty five. I’ve paid my monthly bills. My utility costs were much lower than I expected. And, the ibuprofen I got yesterday is doing the trick, so I feel better now. 

Clever Not Lucky: a Letter

Today has been rather blah and lazy for me because everybody was busy doing something away from the internet for the holiday. But I got good news from Heidi this afternoon: it looks like Laurel Hill might hire her again for some office hours. So I’m very happy for her and also for myself if we can reestablish our weekly visit together. Tomorrow at noon I have an appointment with Rebecca, but that should go okay. This morningat eleven Polly gave me a call and left a voicemail, so I called her back for a long chat, which was partly a stroll down memory lane. It’s like talking with people who never grew and never had their consciousness raised, perhaps because they didn’t have the hardware for it to begin with. Kind of like the fable of the city mouse and the country mouse. Of course I feel some regret for this situation, but I can’t let it get me down. Still, I realize that it’s not their fault that they remained behind in ignorance and naïveté. Life can be a rather cruel teacher, and it can divide and separate people from each other. I had an English teacher who compared his class to a professional football team: those students who didn’t make the cut were turned away. And while this protocol was very elitist and unfair, still I suppose it was a hard reality. It brings to my mind the question of equality and justice, but “some people are more equal than others.” So anyway, I talked with my sister for 75 minutes and dredged up a lot of old memories from when things were indeed more equal and everyone seemed to be on the same page. Her oldest son had gone away and left her alone for a few days. I told her that she could call me during the times when she felt lonely at home.

This morning I bought a tub of chocolate ice cream and ate half of it, plus I had a reuben sandwich for my dinner. Every day now I buy a doggie treat to take home to Aesop, who waits for me very patiently for about 20 minutes. My hike to the store takes only about five minutes, and you know, that place has been really convenient for me for all these years. I imagine that regulars like me have provided it with the funds to thrive and expand its horizons a bit. Today, Michelle complained to me that she had made 106 bags of ice in one day yesterday and said how unfair it was that the male employees get away with crap, plus they get paid more than she does to do it. I asked her if there was some agency she could report these practices to, but she didn’t know. She is also starting a second job at RiteAid very soon, so I hope that goes well for her. The other day I asked her about her husband, and she frowned and said he was hanging in there, so I imagine that he has started drinking again… The more I talk with Michelle, the more hopeless her problems seem to be. I wish I could do something, but all I can do is listen to her sad story. I guess what she needs to do is take responsibility for her life in a drastic kind of way— if she’s smart enough to do that. I know it’s hard to make major life changes, but it sounds like her life is unmanageable right now. But as you observed, she seems to be caught in a victim mentality.

I guess that’s enough of that topic. I would only add that it’s difficult to distinguish between luck and cleverness. I believe that it’s okay to have some ego and some self regard in the conduct of your life, because without these things you can’t control where you’re going. By the way, the word “conduct” is related to the French verb for driving a car: “conduire.” And in similar fashion, everyone’s life is like driving a car, whether or not we acknowledge this responsibility.

Fly Me to the Moon

Nine o’clock.

On my doorstep I found a new package: the selection of John Berryman had arrived, and it’s in time before our next band practice. So I opened the box but left the book wrapped in the plastic for delivery to Ron this weekend. Now I have to think of something for Mike; maybe a music CD, but which one?… I walked off to the store to get a few things. The sky is mostly cloudy and it’s cooler than yesterday. When I came home from church the other day I saw a big white prop plane low in the blue sky. I thought that I’d rather observe it from the ground than be a passenger on it. The same day, I stopped and said hello to Johnny in the green house on Fremont. He told me he hadn’t built the book share himself. It was someone who lives three blocks away from him. Then he wished me a happy Father’s Day, whether I was a dad or not… I think I’m going to opt out of DDA group. There’s one person who lords it over the rest of us at every meeting and I can’t tolerate it anymore… The Tuesday garbage trucks are making the rounds and it feels like an ordinary business day in the neighborhood. I have a renewed sense of individual freedom today.

Ten o’clock. Colin and Roger were just talking to each other in the street; I wonder what they have in common? Generally I don’t like a lot of my neighbors. North Eugene is sort of a purple zone, leaning towards the red in many places. Roger said he would like to move to a red state like Montana. He tunes the radio in his garage to conservative political talk and eats his heart out. What a waste of energy, so full of resentment and pure hate. He told me that education was excessive but for reading, writing, and arithmetic. No wonder he’s an ignoramus… I used to work in an office with a bunch of turkeys who mostly had a phobia of books and learning. The only way I could keep going to work was by pretending my education ended at eighth grade. But as with all self delusions, this situation couldn’t last. The truth comes out. So now I’ve changed my mind about that big twin engine plane: I’d prefer to fly the friendly skies.