The Kookaburra

Six o’clock.

I’m just up out of bed, and as I gain consciousness, the old kookaburra song comes to mind. It’s something my third grade class used to sing in rounds, led by Miss Otzby the cafeteria coach, way back in 1975. It was the first school year that I felt more or less human after a bad experience up until then. A teacher can make or break you, and Mrs Baggerman was the dawn after a very dark night. She was a Texas sexagenarian, very strict and not popular with the rowdy boys in class, but she liked me because I was quiet. I remember staying in from recess by choice to do SRA readings. My comprehension grew exponentially as I became rather introverted but not unhappy that way. Of course, one of the high points of that year was the Bicentennial, and we took a field trip to see the Freedom Train when it came through. It was just a mobile museum of Americana. I had a little crush on a Native girl a year older than I, named Robin. And I also remember how nice to me Stephanie was. And Karen, whose family was Jewish, so she stayed home for our Christmas party. And the popularity of Freddie, a Black kid, and Fritz. Everyone was so diverse yet we got along fine together. It makes you wonder why adults do not.

Save the Liberal Arts!

Six forty.

They expect rain at seven o’clock this morning. I feel pretty miserable with this cold in my head, but I try to work around it.

I went to the market as I usually do in the morning and saw nothing extraordinary. No rain came down, though I prepared for it with an umbrella. I returned to my accustomed raspberry Snapple tea this time after two days of orange juice, and it has rejuvenated me a bit. I was pondering something last night: just because you can grasp an abstract idea, does that qualify it as valid? Does an aptitude for metaphors mean that reality actually is a shadow of the spirit world? Why do we have intuition— or is this merely a word and not a faculty? And then another part of me tells me to shut up, as these questions are useless child’s play. It is childlike to ask questions to infinity. So what is philosophy for, if it raises more questions than it solves?

Seven fifty. Then again, life without inquiring spirits would be pretty dull. It would hardly be life at all when all opinions were readymade for you to adopt for your own. Unfortunately, this is the future we face unless we turn it around. I believe that we’re better than mindless automatons in this country. Don’t defer your logic to spiritual leaders and politicians who are no more informed than you are. I visualize a world that is one big peripatetic school, a place of free and original thinkers living full lives, happy as only human beings can be.

For a Teacher

Six forty.

I had a little malfunction with my medication for a while but now I’m back on track. I can hardly wait to use my next Peter Pauper journal, the cover design is so pretty. The image is called “Mystic Moon.” Soon I will spoil its virgin pages with the scope of my thought and probably never get anywhere; no kind of revelation that lasts more than a day. Right now I’m stuck on the problem of logic versus poetic language. If you think like a positivist, then what do you do with poetry, unless poetry is grounded in reality like with Carlos Williams? I haven’t looked at Richard Hugo’s poetry in a very long time, but I remember how dense and difficult it was. The difficulty was not due to being abstract at all, but rather the diction was quite deliberate and unexpected, original at every point, with lots of adjectives. The method of contemporary poetry is much different from Romanticism and Modernism. It cuts down all abstracts and employs details to evoke emotion in the reader. Or anyway, that’s what I was taught in my last writing workshop. It’s a lesson I mostly disregard nowadays, though maybe heeding it would benefit my writing today. And I owe this learning to Ellen, wherever she is now. She reminds me that American poetry didn’t end with the Modern movement. 

Footlights

Wee hours.

I thought I would jot some words and see where they go. I woke up with Pat Metheny jamming in my head in the middle of the night, when I’d been dreaming of Shakespeare’s plays. Now it seems that I’d love to read The Tempest once again, if I never read anything else in my life. It would make me think of the crucial mistakes I made in love with somebody at a young and foolish age and try in my mind to rearrange history. On the other hand, it’s better to make errors and learn from them than to dwell on the past and repeat the things we did wrong. Another book on my list is still The Ambassadors, though this also would express a regret in my unconscious mind. I might be better off to open up The Octopus or something I’ve never thought of reading before. Or instead of reading anything, I could go take Aesop for a walk around the hood and have ourselves a little adventure. But not at two forty in the dead of night. There must be a way to go beyond what I learned in school thirty years ago, a way past bibliomania into a wider reality; but the real world offers nothing as exciting as the ideas found on a college campus: ultimately, in books and music, the theater and art exhibits. All the world’s a stage, but it is illuminated by genius. 

Colin Kelly

Eleven twenty at night.

I dreamed I was playing the bass line to an old tune by The Knack that got airplay when I was a seventh grader, which would be 42 years ago. The place where I went to junior high school still stands over on Howard Avenue. I got a good look at it from the backseat of a taxi last Thursday at noon: a creme colored building with red brick, and fixed to the outdoor wall, the propeller to the plane flown by the school’s namesake, a local war hero no one seems to remember. We were known as the Kelly Bombers and our colors were green and white, as I recall from a book bag I bought at the school store. My high school experience wasn’t as good as the time I spent at Kelly. In Stage Band we did a song called “The Sponge” that was fun for me on drums, yet the trumpet players hated it for its difficulty, and our bass player also had a hard time with it. Some other titles we played were “Hurt So Bad” and the theme for Masterpiece Theater, as well as “Fame” and “Staying Alive.” I don’t remember what make of bass guitar our band had; it might have been a sunburst Yamaha. It was entrusted to Brian to play, and I recall how Mr Kuryluk would help him with his parts before class started. But I loved the green sparkle Ludwig drum kit we had, with a Paiste crash/ride cymbal that just rocked. Mr Diller joined us on his saxophone when he wasn’t too busy directing us, and Kuryluk worked the electric piano. A horn player named Dax used to call me “Animal” every day of class, after the drummer on The Muppet Show. Those days are gone but not forgotten by a few people. There are some memories that nothing can really erase; they are a part of you, just like an arm or a leg, and just as vital to your humanity. 

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.