Epiphany: Is Reason for Everybody?

Quarter of ten. I’ve just awoken from a nap, but it was difficult to relax, to let go and fall asleep. I was asking myself how many people remain with good common sense, and am I one of them. Perhaps it were wiser to stay off of social media for the next ten days, given the magnitude of what’s at stake? Or by the same token, maybe the Internet can use some sound advice, like the voice of reason speaking evenly in a wilderness of tongues? But being a person with issues, I doubt if I can prescribe for the well-being of others. What would my parents say if they were alive to give their opinion? It seems that everyone needs a parent figure in times of obscurity, chaos and confusion. Above all, we need security and safety in order to live and further ourselves on to the future. I believe that the best rudder to steer us through a time of madness is sweet reason, wherever this faculty comes from, in whatever it consists. It’s the kind of calm that prevails upon you when you sit down to read a good book.

An image just reappeared to me from my walk to Bi Mart the other day: the site of the demolition of my old elementary school. I remember how my mother used to volunteer to help tutor students in reading. The effort was led by Mrs Madden, whose job was solely to teach reading at Silver Lea. Mom used to be astonished by the dyslexia she encountered among the children who struggled. When I was in fourth grade, the better readers were forced to tutor their peers who didn’t do so well. Honestly, it was kind of a nightmare for me, because the ones I helped resented me so bitterly. Scott and Paul were especially hard for me to try to tutor when I was only nine years old. The last time I saw Paul, he was working at the Abby’s pizza parlor in a small town north of Eugene. I was still a college student, rather aimlessly going about my studies.

So now, Silver Lea school has been razed to the ground, not a trace of it remaining in physical reality, and the only existence it retains is in the memory of those who went there. It just makes me reflect that some people never do learn the experience of “reason” from sitting with a good book, so how could they possibly get what I mean? Sometimes it all seems so futile. A society of freethinking philosophers will probably never be a reality because most people can’t sit still for that long. Yet, I think of people like Paul and Scott and wish them every blessing. 

Zodiac / Victoria’s Secret

I’ve been sleeping a few hours, and I woke up overheated and maybe dehydrated. I had a number of dreams about the zodiac and the element of Saturn in my horoscope. Somehow, the image of the goat and the similarity of the name Saturn to “Satan” all melted down to the same archetype, I imagine. Traditionally, the devil was depicted in the form of a goat, just like the fauns, satyrs, and the earth god Pan in Greek mythology, and the main idea of the goat was lust and procreative power. Before Christianity took over, goats were sacred to the wine god Dionysus. There was nothing particularly bad or wicked about the goat in antiquity. All of this reminds me that I have a book on the cult of Dionysus in my stuff, written by a Jungian scholar. It might be good. Did you ever read Bacchae, a tragedy by Euripides? Perhaps it is of more interest to me. About fifteen years ago I read it to compare it to Christian tradition, and the parallels between Jesus and Dionysus were rather startling. Both were arrested and brought to justice, and both rose again in the end. Both were too powerful to be conquered… Mythology and its relation to astrology, and the whole subject of symbolism, I find fascinating. It delves into an interior reality of the unconscious, though I think the last word still hasn’t been pronounced on it. The field is still wide open for new scholars and new discoveries.

Well, the mystery of Victoria and her family goes on. This morning I found a thank you card on my mailbox for the chocolate, again from Victoria. This game of note passing makes me imagine strange things about the situation in their home. Maybe Diana is another Republican sore loser like Roger and Alice? I only know that Victoria graduated from the University of Oregon in psychology and wants to be a therapist. Meanwhile, her mother is uneducated and resentful of people who go to school and succeed in something. Victoria probably knows I attended the University a while back, and also her dad is a fifth grade teacher who went to the same school. And then there’s the matter of my political sign outside for Black Lives Matter. Still, all of this is circumstantial evidence and pure speculation on my part. Yet the cards she gave me are very real; I’ve put them up on my bookcase.

The Defense of Books

Noon thirty. Trying to collect my thoughts. I still feel quite up in the air as far as the political transition. And then, Polly has an attitude about books and higher education that sometimes raises its ugly head. My response is to feel guilty, but I don’t believe it’s really my fault. I love books, and I have ever since I was about eight years old. Books form a kind of dividing line: you either love them or you hate them. They are just as symbolic as wearing glasses or having an egg head. In the end, you are what you are, and no bones about it… Dunno; should I feel bad for being a bibliophile? I think there’s no percentage in feeling guilty for anything, so I should heed my own lesson to others.

Quarter of three in the morning.

Now it finally occurs to me that Polly’s phobia of books is wrongheaded, or at least my love of books isn’t a bad thing. It is simply a difference in taste, but my sister’s opinion is absolute in her own mind. I wish she were more tolerant of the things she doesn’t understand. She tends to crucify people with an education, and maybe those who have more brainpower than herself. Somehow she can turn another person’s virtue into a vice. My whole family condemns intellectuals, but that still doesn’t make it wrong. At some point I have to stand up to them and say it’s not a crime to use your brain for something more than meat and potatoes. Indeed, I’ve done this already, and the family excommunicated me. But it’s been worthwhile to start my own blog and write out my ideas just for me. It’s a world of live and let live, of liberty and justice for all, and anyone who tries to deny another person his happiness has a serious problem. 

The Picture

Ten thirty five. Some days make me wonder about the meaning of it all. After doing my daily shopping, I stopped by the salon and spoke with Angela, who was alone for a few minutes. I asked her how the homeschooling was going, and she said her fifth grader can’t read. Two of her kids have a learning disability. Also, Angela doesn’t understand the new method for teaching math. Then I asked her if anyone was helping her, but everyone she knows is too busy working. I felt like volunteering myself to help teach them to read, except children don’t take me seriously as a disciplinarian. They see me as just a playmate, and they can get away with murder. And then Karen arrived. The retirement home can’t let her in to do hair styling due to the coronavirus… This episode at the salon plus the phone conversation with my sister started me pondering the real utility of my cerebral life of books and music. There are very real practical problems that could use my help. The need is everywhere for help with survival skills such as reading and arithmetic. Meanwhile, I loaf around eating the lotus of philosophy and poetry. Is there something wrong with this picture? 

Our Way: a Letter

Sometimes I wish I’d taken Ancient Greek at the university, but that might have been over the top. As it was, I got to take Aristotle in the philosophy department with a good old Jewish professor. One of my favorite terms in school was winter 1989. I was 22 years old and taking, besides Aristotle, Literature of the Renaissance and a psychology survey course. The English class was great, although I skipped a lot of the reading assignments. We studied Sir Philip Sidney, and I still want to sit down with The Old Arcadia and absorb the whole thing. I wrote papers on Thomas More’s Utopia and Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. Also we read John Lyly and Mary Wroth, and of course Shakespeare’s sonnet series.

The same winter we had a great dumping of snow in Eugene, but classes still were not canceled. My dad and I rode the bus up to the Campus on a day or two (he was the fiscal officer of the psychology department for twenty years) and on a Friday morning I remember being on the bus with other students. One of them was a music major girl who was busy sight reading a composition from a book. Her name was Dunia, and she’d been the girlfriend of a drummer I’d known. She didn’t recognize me. The afternoon of that day Dad and I waited at the bus stop a long time. My writing assignment was due Monday, on Thomas More, so I was rather preoccupied. On the bus again, we picked up two guys I remembered from grade school, Ron and David. They’d been playing in the snow together and asked each other if they were cold. I felt awkward because David probably knew me, but we said nothing. My education had divided us into different social classes, and even though we went to the same high school, I’d never seen them around. It happened with my nephews as well: we attended North Eugene together, but due to the differences in our coursework, our paths never crossed. I loosely belonged to the academic elite that took AP classes and tended to disregard those in a lower stratum of the school.

Thinking about that now, it was an awful circumstance to undergo for all of us. My nephews really resented me, and our families divided even more deeply as it was clear that I would go to college while they were stuck with manual labor. There’s a lesson in here somewhere, perhaps an epiphany for me: pride leads to a fall. And yet the school system is set up that way. I remember the insane amount of pressure that was applied to us students who supposedly had a promising future. I also recall a few students who objected to the whole situation, renouncing the opportunity to take AP English, and then sort of coasting out the year with less stress, but retaining their humanity and their sanity. And for that reason, I have to respect their decision. After all, look at what happened to me under all that pressure and stress. Was it really worth it even to graduate from college? And what is the quality that gives people dignity when all is said and done? Maybe with Sinatra we can sing that we did it our way.

Cartesian Revolution

Noon thirty. I’m so lazy and lethargic, and basically epicurean. It’s all about pleasure. If it doesn’t feel good, then why do it? My mentality is sort of like that of John Keats. Everything boils down to pleasure, and this is just like my mother. My sister is the polar opposite of her. The house my parents established long ago is similar to the Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, and equally forbidden. “Weave a circle round him thrice / And close your eyes with holy dread.” I don’t think I can ever be converted to stoicism. Even the work I do is done for the pleasure of it. But rather than berate myself, I can share my pleasures with other people. I rummaged through some books and found two more copies of The Rationalists. I ought to put at least one of them in the book share. Today I feel lazier than usual, and depressed. 

The funny thing about Descartes and the others is how irrelevant they are to a Christian society. Unamuno writes of the “man of flesh and bone,” which is a Christian, a realistic person, as opposed to the philosophers who were way out in left field. People in the poorhouse have little need for Descartes, or so it is believed. The only thing available to them is religion. But if you think about it, what if the Gideons gave away pocket copies of The Rationalists? What could it hurt to have people thinking independent thoughts about the structure of reality and God? Goodness no, we can’t have that! But due to this attitude of suppression, I’m yet more determined to share the information somehow or other. Original thought is hard to come by in a world that discourages it. The world needs a bunch of Cartesians running around. 

The Happiness Crux

I’ve been dreaming that I was reading and making margin notes in Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, trying to resolve the contradiction between Pastor’s definition of happiness and my own. Now I don’t remember how my argument went, but subconsciously it made perfect sense. In reality I’ve never read the essays of Camus, but I know how popular they are. As I begin to think consciously, there’s a passage in my ethics textbook that discusses egoism versus altruism, and then a third alternative Robert C. Solomon refers to as prudence. This is using your own judgment in different situations and acting selfishly or unselfishly depending on what is needed… For some reason this clash of theology and philosophy is important to me. I should take another look at Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill as well, because as I recall, he resolves the problem already… To explain, Pastor believes that happiness is a collective thing, and not so much the pursuit of personal pleasure. But what I learned in school emphasizes the rights of the individual, just the opposite of what Pastor preaches. This opposition forms the crux of our differences, and it pulls my brain apart trying to fix it. But I think I’ll still come away from the problem an individualist. I began to feel strongly this way as a junior in high school when we studied The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I guess I felt that way because I was a loner and a nerd throughout my high school experience. The cliquish nature of school prior to college did a lot of damage to misfits like me, and I wasn’t the only one. And looking around me today, maybe I’m not really cut out for church.

Learning

Five o’clock.

Another pitch dark predawn morning. I had a dream about going to hell, probably inspired by The Space Merchants. It didn’t shake me up much. I woke up and calmly contemplated it. This short novel by Pohl and Kornbluth is the closest thing I’ve experienced to a movie in a long time. It feeds my dreams, so I guess that’s a good thing. Often when I sleep, my mind only thinks in black and white logic. There isn’t much imagery or anything between the lines. Not even a story. I could be overdosing on pure thought, on words; logos. Again the food needs seasoning and the robot wants an imagination… I have physical therapy today at five in the evening. This time I will start out a little later. Obviously I was wrong regarding Santa Clara. People and places change, of course, and it’s difficult to make generalizations about them. I was taught in school to abstract generals from particulars in order to be able to think about life. Now I know that some people don’t do that. Interpretation may be a dying art. And philosophy is definitely on the chopping block. It makes me wonder how people nowadays really do use their heads.

Six o’clock. No daylight for another hour and a half. Perhaps I’ll read a book for a while until the sun comes up. I think it’ll be a good day. Take note of life’s surprises along the way, let them teach us new perspectives. Usually it is fruitless to assume or even try to predict about people and things. We feel safer when we can forecast the future with accuracy. We guard against surprise, but this emotion and joy are often linked. And this is the fabric of learning. 

Melancholy and Moliere

Ten o’clock.

I just got off the phone with Polly. We talked mostly about dogs, and that was okay. My taxi is coming at ten thirty. I feel a little nervous, but I think it’ll be a good trip to Springfield. Not much to talk about right now. It’s another sunny day. I can’t predict what will happen today, so I’m playing it by ear.

Eleven o’clock 🕚. Here I am at the doctor’s office. There’s some lame classical music on the hifi. The weather is beautiful except for the smell of smoke in the air. The cabbie was quiet but nice enough. Steve Miller was on the radio, uncensored for the “funky shit going down in the city.” I had to chuckle at that. It was nice to be driven by a young woman.

Quarter of noon. I got done early. Waiting for my return ride. Everything seems more optimistic than two weeks ago. Human life has a future, possibly.

Two o’clock. My mood has taken a nosedive. I feel like crying because I’m just not happy with modern life. It has gotten to me. And there’s no self indulgent solution to the world sorrow I feel. Drinking beer wouldn’t help anything. I stopped and visited with K— and Angela over a donut. Thursday is Angela’s birthday, so they invited me for lunch at twelve thirty. Mexican food. It feels kind of wrong to me because I disagree profoundly with K—‘s attitudes. This is probably why I feel so low since getting back home. I’ve said before that I don’t really belong in the Maxwell community. I have to fake everything in order to get along, and that goes against my grain. People will believe I’m something that I’m not. For some reason, it’s important to me not to be an impostor. It may be because I studied Moliere in college. I was only 19, and I never forgot what I learned. My freshman year contained many lessons in integrity; it was the dominant theme in everything I read and heard. I don’t know what other people take away from their college experience, but integrity hit me over the head. If your life lacks authenticity, then it lacks soul… Thus I came home wanting to cry from having betrayed myself. But it’s Angela’s birthday, and I like her very much. It’ll just be rather a challenge for me socially. I’m not good at dissimulation.

Wildfires

Two thirty. I wonder if I should fire up my P Bass and rock out for a little while?

Three fifty five. I kicked out the jams on my white bass. Sounded pretty cool. This is something I couldn’t have done four years ago, when I was drunk all the time and had no time and no money for my hobby. I’d like to buy some Rotosound stainless steel strings for my other P Bass and just rock the house. Someday I’d like to run into my old friend Dave and tell him what he can do. He was so ungrateful to me after I helped him on his way. Or perhaps I just felt ashamed of my own alcoholism as it took over my life. I couldn’t stop drinking yet I didn’t know why. I believed that I was defying someone, but really I was only destroying myself. Alcohol gave me a false sense of power, a feeling that I could do anything. It made me feel evil, but also I felt safe and comfortable. Actually, I think I was in a lot of emotional pain from losing my mother. I had no other way to cope. It took me at least ten years to get over her death. But Mom was not a well adjusted person. She had huge problems and never sought help with them. As I look back, maybe my college years weren’t so happy after all. I received a thoroughly secular education that makes little sense to me now. Was there any truth to what I learned at the university? And by now, the old canon has collapsed anyway. 

Mentally, I seem to be having a bad day. The squirrels skitter across my rooftop and gather acorns in the backyard. Aesop is resting on the floor at my feet. And I am doing just one thing: staying sober. Sometimes that’s all I can manage to do, get through the day without drinking. My mind can do whatever it wants, but the point is not to drink, no matter what. I guess Polly won’t be calling me today. Maybe tomorrow. The smoke outside is still bad, and firefighters are still working night and day to control the wildfires. In a similar way, I work to put out the wildfires of my mind. But it’s really just a matter of waiting and watching as the thoughts pass by like clouds of smoke. And they do pass.