A Debt

Nine ten AM.

The sunshine this morning is very nice, though it’s extremely cold with a frost on everything. I slept in today and woke up in a better mood. I’ve gone to the store where people were fairly pleasant and polite to each other. It feels like a diurnal time somehow rather than benighted in a melancholy mood. Credit the sunny day, I guess. Aesop has had a half can of breakfast followed by his chicken jerky from the market. I keep forgetting it’s Saturday and church is tomorrow: I have an impulse to skip it because I can’t agree with the pastor’s collectivism, or his emphasis on the rights of society over the individual. A great drama on that topic is The Crucible by Arthur Miller, which I read again 13 years ago. It’s probably time to read it yet again for fresh inspiration… The thought of it reminds me of a teacher from high school, Mrs Taylor, who passed away some time ago. I heard of it only afterwards when I walked into my old school out of curiosity or wanderlust five years in the past. The doors were open, so I let myself in and made my way to the office and spoke with the secretaries. The news made me sad because I would’ve looked up my old teacher and let her know she was appreciated. In a way, I owe her for my recovery. 

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Headaches

Two thirty.

Since this morning the Rush song “Witch Hunt” has played in my head, probably for the last few lines of the lyric:

Quick to judge, quick to anger

Slow to understand

Ignorance and prejudice

And fear walk hand in hand

I’ve heard this song be misinterpreted so ridiculously by those with ultra conservative values and attitudes, themselves the very thing the song criticizes. They are the “madmen fed on fear and lies / To beat and burn and kill.” And then I guess they just disregard the conclusion.

But it’s been on my mind for a reason today, as well as my schooldays when life was really pretty happy for me, from ninth grade to graduation from college. Others in my family tend to disparage education, saying that higher ed is impractical and a waste of time. But simultaneously they hotly resent people more knowledgeable than themselves, or just plain more intelligent. I don’t know whether the situation is fair or unfair, or who’s to blame for the inequality of it. What is the origin of inequality among people? And what am I supposed to do about the yawning chasm between me and some of my relatives? The whole thing gives me a headache. For today, I don’t regret that I’m spending Thanksgiving Day by myself with my dog. Fortunately a dog can’t argue with you or spit nails if you utter one fifty cent word. 

The Underdog

Nine o’clock at night.

I had a dream that a T. Rex killed my dog. Aesop went up against him fearlessly to defend me but the huge lizard chomped him down. Obviously I was sad afterwards. I wonder what the dream means. Does the dinosaur symbolize something, maybe the monster of society or of life itself, and my dog represents the brave but puny individual whose valiant fight is futile? The story ends up the opposite of David and Goliath: the underdog, against tremendous odds, loses the battle. What are they battling over? Still, Aesop’s self sacrifice to the T. Rex kept me alive a bit longer, so his death was not vain. One more observation: the name “tyrannosaurus” means “tyrant lizard.” Thus, the real tyrant could be anything you can imagine: the Church, or perhaps a group of unjust politicians trying to topple democracy. But usually when I think of something threatening, it’s the menace to liberal scholarship and to education as I remember it. And of course, “Aesop” is the fabulist and moral teacher of antiquity.

Afterthought

In the years after Star Wars came out, the cable company here didn’t offer much to choose from. However, we got channels from Portland and also one from San Francisco: KTVU, Channel 2. This last one was a lot of fun for kids in the afternoon. At three thirty or so they had the TV Pow game in between Tom and Jerry cartoons, hosted by Pat McCormick, who also did Dialing for Dollars with a movie every weekday. And then at five o’clock it was Captain Cosmic, who would show old Flash Gordon serials and also talk about Star Wars miscellany for avid fans of George Lucas.

I don’t know when I quit watching Channel 2; maybe after I got to seventh grade and started reading regular books for fun. Also I couldn’t watch tv during the afternoon anymore because I had homework to do every day. And my mother usually helped me with that. In all fairness, I think it was my mother who taught me how to write decent prose, and that was when I was in junior high school. It’s kind of amazing to recognize that now. I learned a great deal in seventh grade from Mom and from my reading teacher, Cathy Cheleen. The latter taught us not to use run-on sentences, and Mom said to make them short and punchy. She told me to use synonyms for the same things for variety; and I still heed her advice even today.

It’s probably the Coke that made me write to you again. Sometimes it makes me feel really good. When that happens, I try to seize the day and take advantage of the good mood.

Ecstasy

Five o’clock.

What do you do when satisfaction is a long time coming? I guess you settle for less than what you really want. And maybe life has a project for you, as in an Emerson essay: we don’t use nature, nature uses us. Perhaps in hindsight it all makes sense to the individual. There was a plan all along, and your ego didn’t form it. I tend to forget this perspective. “But if all this should have a reason / We would be the last to know.” It’s a more religious way of looking at the puzzle. High school taught us to go out and conquer happiness, but it seldom works that way, and I think it’s backwards. Once I was assigned to lead class discussion on “Barter,” a poem by Sara Teasdale, but I had no clue how to interpret it. Many years later, it seemed like a big joke at my expense. What did I know of ecstasy? I was very shy, quiet, and withdrawn. I was more cut out to be a priest than a Don Juan… If Robert Burns is right about the best laid schemes, I try to remember that the real Schemer is not you or me.

“Calcutta”

Wee hours.

I hear rain on the roof and on the patio cover, while it’s pitch dark outdoors. A very old song from Andre Kostelanetz plays inwardly: “Calcutta.” This is a souvenir of my senior year in college when I took a religion class and also biology. I still have a soft spot for the religious studies department at the university. The place was just a hole in the wall on the second floor of Chapman Hall the last I knew. It may not even exist anymore: the department was always on the chopping block. The administration talked about merging it with the history department or moving it over to Northwest Christian College, but as of ten or twelve years ago it still remained open. The university in general makes me think of my dad, who had a fiscal job in the psychology department for at least ten years. He found a good niche there for himself and seemed fairly happy with his occupation. Quite a few times we had lunch together in his office or we’d go out for Italian food occasionally. Life back then was very secular for me because of who my parents were. But today it’s anybody’s guess where I belong, though I’ve been doing the same things for a handful of years, in the same comfortable places… Just now the day is dawning gray and wet. I wonder how the weather is in Calcutta?

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.