Ego and Family: A Letter

I just felt like adding something to what I already wrote this afternoon. Maybe I should write a post instead? Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my family tonight, and how they have responded to my mother and our grandmother. Quite frankly, Mom was more intelligent than Mimi and a lot more complex; not at all conventional or run of the mill, and she was literary. The family resents intellectual people; they feel very anti about it, and unfortunately, my mother happened to be a woman also. She grew up in a world where it was not okay for women to be smart; where the ideal woman was someone like Marilyn Monroe, a dumb blond but secretly very intelligent. Mom was confused about her role for her whole life. So now I look around at my family, my sister and my brother and their families, and really don’t like them very much. Polly isn’t very bright, as I’ve known for many years, and Jeff is an incurable alcoholic who hates me. It’s basically a white working class family that has no time for beautiful things, only the hamburger, the meat and potatoes of life. And of course it makes me feel pretty angry at their incomprehension of me and other people like me. Whatever. I don’t know what I started out to say. The family has made an icon of our grandmother. Mimi had talent in music and in art, but otherwise she was rather ordinary, and self righteous about being dull and dim witted. I was eight years old when she died. I can remember her stupid obsession with people being selfish and so on. You weren’t supposed to think about yourself; but she didn’t know where her ideas came from. And then my mother parroted the same stuff to me, although she was clearly quite confused on the whole thing. Well, I rebelled against that policy and I did very well in college because of it. Polly continues the tradition of not thinking about yourself, etc. It originally came from Mimi’s mother, a very ignorant woman. And before her, who knows how many generations echoed the same silly ideas on the ethics of so-called selfishness, never knowing where it came from?

Crux

Wee hours of Tuesday.

In my half sleep I was hearing a hymn from church whose words I can’t remember but I know the melody and the key is probably G minor. The music without the words is like a miscommunication between the hemispheres of my brain, or between consciousness and the unconscious. I lay in bed with this music, trying to confabulate the lyric and make sense of the dream. In a way, it’s like reading an old tale by Lovecraft: “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” and the endeavor to live in a dream and maintain some control over its events. It’s like consciousness within unconsciousness, and forcing sense out of the dreamworld. And it’s being a hero in a world to conquer, as in the series of books about Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read all of them as a kid, but now I can’t access my memory of the stories very well, except sketchily. The type of hero here is different from the model of Jesus or the Buddha, or even of Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins. The Burroughs kind of hero gets his own heart’s desire, while the other ones say you should abnegate yourself and swear off your desires. Maybe somewhere in the dreamworld there can be reconciliation of these two opposites. If not, then I’ll have to choose one way and just go for it. But I think I’ve isolated the crux of schizophrenia: it’s the ego versus the other. 

Narcissism

Wee hours of Wednesday.

At times my imagination can hear the rattle and clank of my Fender bass with the Badass bridge. Yesterday I thought a little about what makes a musician sound inspired, and to some extent it seems to be a bit of narcissism, and of course self confidence in his ability. Not very long ago, people were still buzzing about how terrible narcissism was. Public opinion is fickle, running hot and cold on certain things, often doing a total reversal in attitude towards egoism and altruism. Fifteen years ago we said it was not about me, while only four years ago we did a 180 and said it was all about me. I met one person in group who was a natural egoist but hadn’t heard of the word egoism before. He always made jokes about doing things out of self interest, and everyone would laugh with understanding. During that time, my mind was in pretty bad shape, so I believed that if I did anything selfish, my soul would go to hell after death. I struggled with this delusion until about April of 2018, when I finally did something for myself and started playing my bass again. I’d been a victim of AA philosophy: be the hole in the donut, etc etc, and never think of yourself for any reason. But when you think hard about it, we don’t have lungs to breathe for another person, or a stomach to digest for someone else, etc etc. It’s impossible to be 100 percent altruistic, and even this ideal is illogical and unnatural for human beings. So anyway, is narcissism really the demon we make it out to be, or does it depend on how it is used? We should make sure we know what we’re talking about. 

Sermon to the Living

Quarter of ten.

I’ve gotten back some of my confidence and motivation since yesterday. It only took actually doing something: working up my nerve and getting out of the house to do something different. I’d been stuck in a bad cycle, never doing anything for me, and beating myself up. It’s okay to have some fun and forget about the pandemic. Without pleasure and happiness, life is for nothing. Be selfish for a change and spread a little happiness around you. I disregard what St Paul said about self regard; Plato’s position on this is more useful. It’s important to respect yourself, for if you don’t, then it’s a recipe for depression and ill health. So, yesterday I indulged in a little fun, and the sky didn’t fall. It’s a mistake to think that our duty is to feel depressed. The very opposite is true to keep us sane and healthy… It’s a beautiful sunny morning in October. The leaves on the trees are changing, and today I’m living in the here and now, with some anticipation of the future. However, the past is not a bucket of ashes, because our past achievements give us confidence to achieve even more good things. It’s a series of ups and downs with no finish line.

Ten thirty five. It is possible to be selfish and generous simultaneously. Being selfish doesn’t necessarily mean hoarding or thieving, coveting, or whatever. It means being prudent and using your own judgment. You take care of your own needs first, and then help others to their particular happiness. Trying to be selfless is really to be soulless, and a soulless person is no use to anybody. And everyone’s happiness is something different and peculiar to them. So, a collective eudaemonia makes no sense. “One law for the lion and ox is oppression.” 

Tuesday Blues

Seven thirty five.

The sun is just coming up, and there’s frost on Roger’s rooftop. I got a better sleep last night but my dreams were not lucid. At midnight I finished up another blank book, commenting on the faces I saw at Bi Mart yesterday afternoon. They were all unfamiliar to me, so how can I love them all universally? It is Christian doctrine to love your neighbor as yourself, but when everyone is a stranger it can be quite difficult. I think this is why Joyce is important to remember, pointing out the relatedness of all humanity, like a big family. But for me, family is a problem, and has been ever since I fell ill thirty years ago. A lot of bad feeling between our homes, a Hatfield and McCoy feud. Or more like a Cold War. So that my family appears to me as those strange faces in the Bi Mart parking lot yesterday… Aesop doesn’t feel well right now, so I’m going to watch him for a little while.

Quarter after eight. I know that my mother never would’ve wanted for her family to be so divided. Perhaps it ought to be a family unified in Christ, and the same church for all of us. It’s only resentment in me that gives me the defiant independent spirit. Or maybe these ideas are just learning from books, not from experience? I get a bellyful of ideology and would like to level everything down to what you can see and hear, taste and smell and touch. Now the sun blasts into the front window. A few leaves have turned on my maple and oak. I’m ready for a little adventure, but I fear that my dog is unwell this morning.

Nine twenty five. The people at the store looked rather shabby, including me, and spirits were pretty low. I ran into Melissa and her boy at checkout and said hi. Cathy arrived at nine o’clock and finished my transaction at the register. When I was going home I thought of Melissa’s kid, asking myself if I’d ever be mature enough to be a father. I’m probably too egoistic to consider such a thing. And I thought what is it all for when you bring a child into the world. 

Because It’s Worth It

Quarter of eight.

I had a nap for three hours. My last big day on the town was lousy, though it’s hard to describe what my feelings were in the doctor’s office. I guess I was depressed since it was so difficult to find a redeeming thing about the experience. On the way home I tried to remember the feel of my parents and happier days when I looked upon the great stadium where the Ducks play football. But inside I felt hollow and sad for this abyss where good times used to be. And the same for the backstreets of the Whitaker district: I used to have friends who lived there, when Eugene was a smaller place with a true heart and spirit, and we all drove our own cars to each other’s house to make music and have fun. Today, the homeless have more or less taken over Downtown, so Fifth Street is not the same wonderful place anymore. Everything in the city is getting bigger and more impersonal, with less of a human soul than two decades ago.

Be that as it may…

Nine o’clock. Sobriety is just another life lesson you either learn or you don’t. When you do learn it, there’s no real need for a spiritual “program” or whatever. Recovery is a certain language that people can bat around, but it’s meaningless if you can’t stay clean and sober. Brass tacks: if you don’t like yourself then you’ll probably keep drinking and using. What’s the secret for liking yourself? And how do you overcome fear and guilt? The answer is different for every individual. But for me, being hit over the head with indoctrination about selflessness and altruism didn’t work at all. If anything, life is only worth living if you care for yourself first. The world won’t come to an end if you love yourself, whatever the majority may say. Your first duty is to you. 

Fidelity to Yourself or Compromise?

Quarter of eight. Now the sun is coming out. Heather at the store seems very nice. I used my food stamps plus my debit card at checkout and she had no trouble with it. Her last job was at Dari Mart on River Road. I haven’t been there in many years; when I did go there, it was an alternative place for buying beer, usually late at night… I made a connection of my past alcoholism with something that happened with my psychiatrist a long time ago. Once I attempted suicide when he put a lot of pressure on me to finish my degree. How was that different from the drinking I did up until the time I fired him? All of this reminds me of the importance of being authentic in what you say and do. If you mean to say no, then don’t say yes. Do what is right for you, not for others.

Three thirty. Church went just fine, and Sheryl gave me a lift home. Pastor worked hard on today’s service, doing the lion’s share of everything. I asked our musician, Eduardo, if he would someday do “Jumbo’s Lullaby” by Debussy for a prelude or postlude to worship, and he said he would look into it. Once he told me about a website with a lot of free classical sheet music that you can download, including stuff by Erik Satie; anything public domain where the copyright is expired. The thought of this makes me drool a little, even though I don’t do much sight reading…

Quarter of five. The band did a lot of improv yesterday, and some of it sounded good to us, though I don’t know how an audience would appreciate it. Self indulgent music doesn’t usually go over very well with a crowd. Generally people want to hear songs they know from the radio or other media, stuff they’ve heard before and can recognize. Once I was doing a gig in a Cottage Grove tavern and we warmed up with some self indulgent noise. A man who was shooting pool shouted, “Quit f—-ing around and play some music!” So we started our set with “Can’t Get Enough.” But sometimes if the crowd is wasted you can get away with jamming onstage. It all depends on variables. 

What Is Selfish?

Five thirty. I took the plunge and ordered the bass I wanted! And the guilt and fear were all my responsibility. I overcame those feelings and did what I wanted to do.

Ten thirty five. I’ve been lying in bed torturing myself with thoughts of egoism versus altruism, and now I finally understand why. It’s because I went through the same thing three years ago when I was first getting sober and the medication hadn’t taken effect yet. Today has been like a flashback to that time. Maybe the weather contributed. It was sunny and warm all day. Another item is that my big Plato book arrived this afternoon, as iconic as the philosopher himself… I took the plunge on the G&L bass— so now will I go to hell for selfishness? For this was the delusion I had in 2018. Some accident of the atmosphere brought it back. It was also in April of that year when I had a big breakthrough against the same delusion and started making music again in spite of my illness. It was kind of like Huckleberry Finn taking his chances with hellfire for doing what he wanted to do. Yet isn’t it right to do what is pure and authentic of yourself?

Eleven thirty. It started with a red SX bass I bought in November 2016. It arrived damaged in shipping and then it just sat in a chair for a year and a half. One day in April I worked up the courage and motivation to pick it up and play it, defying my dog who hated music. This went okay, and a few days later I had my neighbor drive me to Guitar Center to get the instrument repaired. The victory of this was that I’d really wanted to play my new bass, and now I was finally doing it. The take home lesson is that people don’t know what they’re talking about when they condemn egoism. Of course you have to do some things out of selfishness. It’s impossible not to. And to this day I disagree strongly with Twelve Step programs for their overemphasis on abnegation. 

Some Ego Is Okay

Quarter after eight.

Lately I’ve noticed myself being more perfectionist than usual, which can stress me out. It’s like thinking that the slightest mistake could be fatal. I haven’t heard from the guys in the band since last Friday. A significant part of me wants to quit the project and do something else just for the risk of relapse. They’re not going to change their habits, and I’m certainly not going to lose my sobriety… There’s a fog over the roofline and it’s cold outside. A two Snapple day today. The ambiance outdoors reminds me of something I can’t put my finger on, a recollection of happier times. The church is so jazzed about vaccinations, but I plan on learning by observation. Let them be laboratory rats for these new serums. I’m very suspicious. If the world of people jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? Or, if your turn to be executed was coming, and the way was clear to bolt for the river, would you take the bullet? Some people would, but it’s not the intelligent thing to do.

Nine o’clock. On that note, I recall the leaflets we were handed out in the treatment program long ago: Tru Thought, and the precept for it was self sacrifice, with no invitation to discuss it critically. A few people believed treatment was an education. Luckily I got out of there still retaining my knowledge from school, so today I can think and write about the experience. There are better ways of staying sober than by self abnegation. It comes down to prudence and judging what’s right for you personally. Forcible indoctrination is a very unfortunate thing to undergo. I don’t recommend it to anyone who cares about the quality of their experience. Instead, build your library. Read good stuff and use your brain. 

By the Roots

One thirty. I feel myself flashing back to ninth grade, still the happiest year of my life. I think it was happy because of Rush, such a joy and inspiration to me for many years to follow. I had a minor crush on Gail W— in ninth grade pre algebra. Junior high school was weird, the beginning of a strange odyssey to college. It began and ended with egoism, the very antithesis to the churchgoing mentality I’ve since learned. Then why did I say that ninth grade was a happy time? The egoism led me inevitably to alcohol abuse three years later. Wasn’t my formal education instead a mistake? The soundtrack to the whole mad pursuit was Rush. And the basic text for Rush?: Ayn Rand. So now it’s nearly Christmas, 39 years after ninth grade egomania. Have I learned anything? No, but I’ve gained perspective enough to make an important distinction between school indoctrination and that of the Church. Perhaps Rush as a “soundtrack” is disposable. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

Quarter of three. It may be better to keep a critical distance from Ayn Rand, but then, the seeds of egoism were sown in me forty years ago. Better to acquaint myself with the enemy in order to weed it out by the roots. In my experience, alcoholism naturally follows from “reason, egoism, and capitalism.” Thus, the precepts of Alcoholics Anonymous are not far from the mark.