For Tiffany

Three forty in the morning.

I went to bed and thought about an old song by John McLaughlin on Birds of Fire, “Miles Beyond.” A good friend lent me his cassette tape of the album in the fall of 1987, when we were forming a rock band with one other person. I had been very depressed over a failed relationship, but beginning in November, things turned around for me. I was pondering why I drank with my parents in my youth, and I still don’t know why. It enhanced my sense of self esteem, even out of proportion to reality. This is the narcissism component of alcoholism. It feels great to be in love with yourself, but ultimately it’s a delusion of grandeur. For all those years of alcohol abuse, I could have been someone quite different. At the time, it helped me compensate for feeling like a loser in high school. There was nothing else to empower me, so I fell for an illusion of power. I didn’t realize what a force writing could be until four years ago. An acquaintance wrote to me in January 2007, “Words hold definite power,” and now I believe her. 

Light in the Dark

Quarter of eight. The sun pierces the cloud cover momentarily to hit me right in the face. Rain is forecast for the rest of the week. I’ve been to the store already. I saw three guys who worked for the distributors of beer and soda inside the market. Vicki’s attention was on what they were doing. I felt like I didn’t exist. Generally it’s a dark November day so far… It has begun raining steadily, persistently, as the gloom deepens. It occurs to me that I feel lonely, and the present moment seems isolated and devoid of future. My internal radio plays Thomas Dolby a bit ominously. His music reminds me of the night my mother died. However, that time in the past has become an even profounder gulf, a sort of black hole with nothing in it. No memories. Just emotional quicksand to smother the here and now.

Nine o’clock. The kind of drinking I used to do was self destructive. It was born of a death wish. I won’t go back to that. There’s nothing good about drinking yourself to death. Now I can stare the blackness in the face and not succumb to the undertow. My mother’s death left a vacuum behind her. A pit. At first I fell into it and nearly drowned myself… Pale sunlight touches the magnolia leaves. “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” It is quite a test for me to read Ursula K. Le Guin. Some of her writing teeters on the edge of the abyss. But I think the darkness is surmountable and maybe even necessary for one to grow… Overnight, my sign for Black Lives Matter had been knocked down, probably by the wind. Just now I looked out the window and a good elf had stood it back up again. My guess is that it was Bonnie Rose across the street. She passed me in her pickup truck on my way to the store earlier…

Be Your Own Leader

Three thirty.

I rested in bed for as long as I could, never really falling into a deep sleep, although there was oblivion. I wish I could forecast the future with the new president. But whatever happens, the government is not an excuse for me to drink again. If I do drink, then the responsibility is still mine. It doesn’t matter what the will of democracy is, nor that of the elected leaders. It comes down to my own will. Nothing mystical about it. I can brainstorm a million ways to deliver the responsibility to someone or something else, but even this is my agency. “Shouldn’t be asking why I’m not sleeping / Could be my Election Day.” And it’s true: we are all the governors of our own lives. I won’t be fooled by the fallacy of sociology; it’s a bogus science. “Our destiny relies on conscience / Red or blue, what’s the difference? / Stand or fall.” For the leadership of my own life, I elect myself. 

A Significant Sight

Quarter of eight.

We’re still a ways from a decision on the election. It’s a limbo until then. But the sun is out for now, after a night of constant rain. I have to call and schedule my rides for next week.

Near nine o’clock. I saw something significant at the store: three Mexican guys walked in, on their way to work. These people have been scared over the past year, and made themselves scarce in public. I used to see none of them for months on end in my stomping grounds, but now, finally, there were a few. It’s hard to stand by, wait, and watch while the scene figures itself out. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is on the radio a lot lately. I would like to add a line from Rush: “Those who know what’s best for us / Must rise and save us from ourselves.” But I guess it’s enough to be the masters of our personal fates. Justice is a long time coming. Hopefully it arrives before the deadline… There’s a knocking on my roof: probably a squirrel, or maybe a jay. But no, it just scampered overhead, little hands drumming. Now I’ve got Tears for Fears music stuck in my head. Physical therapy is today. I’m ready to defend myself against criticism if needed. To my knowledge, I’m doing the best I can. If I could do better, then wouldn’t I do it? Who would knowingly choose wrong? Are morals absolute, anyway? Is it all a game of Simon Says?… Suddenly it’s very quiet in here. 

Magnolia Pods

One twenty five. The phone conversation with my sister went quite well. Polly is a genuine and sincere kind of person. I doubt if she ever lies, so we have that in common. But even so, I still feel uncomfortable and anxious after we talk. Maybe someday things will be better. She finally realizes that the only person she has control over is herself. That’s a big step for a codependent. I wish she had discovered that sooner. It used to really annoy me when she gave bad advice and expected me to take it. Everyone is entitled to their freedom to choose for themselves. Now I’m beginning to relax and feel like my typical self. The sun is out and it’s fifty fifty clouds and blue sky. My magnolia is sprouting strange pods like pine cones with what look like bright red berries. They appear rather unearthly, as something out of science fiction movies, or an illustration from a book on paleobotany. Definitely prehistoric… My gut is still kind of uneasy since the phone chat. I’ve never been one to compromise with anybody on how to live my life. It’s a long story of oppression by everyone in my family. My parents discouraged me from being independent as long as they lived. I was never given any room to breathe and experience things firsthand. Yet this freedom is the most precious gift on earth. Go forward and claim your birthright. 

Bold or Foolish?

Five thirty.

I’ve learned that caffeine makes my paranoia worse, so the obvious solution is not to drink Coca-Cola. This is something I can control. Last night I had a lot of dreams, some of them very complex and emotionally distressing. Is my real life that complicated? And it’s the world beyond me that weighs on my mind as well. It’s a perplex my subconscious is trying to work out. I wonder, still, to what extent people are free in the midst of a pandemic. I had my little music jam last Thursday evening, just two guys, though now it seems I did something bold. I heard from another musician yesterday who wouldn’t have dreamed of getting together for a jam. People’s responses to the lockdown are individual and various. Perhaps I pushed the envelope a little, but I was determined to do something. My head was full of philosophy Thursday morning as I set about cleaning house. I didn’t think about how nobody else was doing music. But maybe it takes one or two people’s civil disobedience to change the general attitude. Time will tell if I did something foolish. Yet I think I will keep pushing for freedom until others get the idea. As long as it’s left up to you and me, we ought to do what is right according to our hearts. A lockdown cannot suppress the healing sound of music.

Justice: a Letter

I’ve had yet another lousy day, but right now I feel okay. When is this summer ever going to end? I was worried that my sobriety was compromised by my addiction to gabapentin, so I emailed Pastor this afternoon about it. He called an AA leader he knows who says that gabapentin is fine as long as I don’t take more than is prescribed. Pastor called me and let me know. This made me feel a lot better. Isn’t this summer the pits? What more could go wrong? The worst part of it is the fact that we’re all impotent to do anything— except pray, as if that were any consolation. That’s about as useless as our vote. Not even the weather cooperates with the people’s interest. What’s the most responsible thing you and I can do? We want to stand on a mountaintop and scream for justice, but the best we can do is lie down in the middle of the street in protest for Black Lives Matter. It isn’t as though what is right and wrong were not obvious to everyone. We all feel it in our hearts. But for some reason, injustice tyrannizes over the whole world. Why??? Perhaps life would be too easy if justice were simply handed to us on a silver platter. Maybe the pits of life make the occasional triumphs of justice that much sweeter. The best thing I can do, however small it seems, is to stay sober and take the blows on the chin every worthless day.

What Is Success?

Five o’clock. I played my Dean bass and did some contemplating. I thought about how immature I am in the eyes of people who work hard for a living. And maybe they’d be right. And maybe it wouldn’t be fair to them that my life is easy. I could be shameless and unscrupulous regarding having a job. But still, my choices have been authentic, and they were mine to make. To me, anything was better than drudgery for another twenty years. The more pressure they put on me to show up and be productive, the more I wanted to get out of there. What did making glasses have to do with me? I had no interest in eyewear. It was just a job, not a career.

And so I plucked my green bass thoughtfully, tuning down to D a couple of times and experimenting with the intervals and harmonics, gazing out the window at my maple tree and the clear blue sky. I thought this is life, and we create every moment of it— through the notes on the green bass guitar. We all choose the life we live. Even if we don’t, it’s desirable to own responsibility for what happens. With the existential hero, we can say, “I know who I am, and who I may be, if I choose.” No one is a failure who wills his past, present, and future.

PS.: Control Freak

Quarter after five. The above doesn’t sound like me much. What helped my mood at three o’clock was my success with the screwdriver in fixing the door knob. This gave me proof that I have some control over my circumstances. The reason why I was despairing was because I can’t control the hot weather or the spread of the coronavirus beyond just myself. I felt overwhelmed by the heatwave, from which we won’t be getting a break. At my most fundamental level I am a control freak, so having no control over a situation tends to depress me. Admitting powerlessness is not in my method for recovery, and maybe this is my problem with Alcoholics Anonymous. My belief system depends on freedom and responsibility. In every situation we have a set of options and are free to choose from among them. We are never denied this free agency.

Reading Nietzsche

Noon hour. I’m going to pull out my Nietzsche books and have a look at Zarathustra. His aphorisms are difficult sometimes. Also I don’t like what he has to say about women and their role in social life. Further, I associate Nietzsche with the nerds and freaks who read him enthusiastically, like a friend I knew from high school. In the wrong hands, his writing can be a little dangerous. But if I connect him with James Joyce instead, it might be an illuminating read. Some Christians think Nietzsche was an infidel.

Quarter after three. Feeling stymied for words. I guess I’m just uninspired. What Nietzsche says about creators must have influenced Ayn Rand, since she also exalts those people. But his thinking goes a bit deeper when he suggests that man’s reverence is properly for himself and not for a god. When I was very unwell I wrote a poem that reversed the Prometheus myth, saying in one line how “we steal back the fire of our reason.”

The eleven eyes of God are on us now,

as we an astral body sans our person;

the myths of houses larger than earth life

have gotten out of human fictive hand,

evolving consciousness apart from us,

awake, aware, messiahs to nowhere.

 

It seems as if some Titan robbed our palm,

stole fire from us and gave it to the gods:

Prometheus in reverse redeems himself

while putting us at mercy of a daemon

whose diamond intellect inscrutable

determines destinies without a care.

 

What difference, though, twixt an amoral God

and no immortal deity at all?

Deny it being in our human minds

and we steal back the fire of our reason,

the houses and their myths collapse like cards,

and eleven eyes are planets, moon, and sun.

 

12/4/08

I see in my poem some resemblance to Nietzsche’s idea of placing the credit where it is due: in human hands. For me, it was the first step in my journey out of madness, a madness that seemed to grip everyone around me. Then so far, I don’t find anything Nietzsche claims offensive. I will probably go on reading Zarathustra.