The Rough Spots

Four o’clock.

The change to fall is very difficult for me this year. I wasn’t ready for summer to end, and now I’m up a creek without a paddle. The days will only get darker and drearier as time passes onward to winter. I wonder what the problem is? I’m a smart guy; I should be able to figure it out. Probably I simply want to drink beer and get loose with somebody and have a good time. That’s why I’m not very happy with my life today. I grew up like an epicurean, and all of my friends were like me. Now I’m sort of lost in the twilight world in between daylight and the nightlife, or culture and counterculture. It’s interesting that even Thomas Jefferson declared himself an epicurean; and I knew someone who had respect for Jefferson, referring to him often. Another friend of mine told me she liked pleasure and having fun. Wouldn’t a person be stupid to avoid a good time? It’s turning from a philosophical problem to a practical one. I’ll just have to talk myself through it. Maybe it’ll be like this every day for a while until I’ve ironed out the rough spots. And perhaps it’ll take a reevaluation of the place where I got an education a very long time ago…

Advertisement

Epicurus Much Ado

Quarter after four.

It’s funny, the much ado about ethics; but it’s really only me who cares for the subject. There’s still some confusion and controversy regarding the figure and philosophy of Epicurus. But the reason why he was smeared by his posterity was due to his denial of the immortality of the soul. The main thrust of his ethics was certainly not wanton hedonism, as is popularly believed. In fact, his life and attitudes were quite ascetic. He wanted to help people minimize pain in their lives. Two major sources of pain, he thought, were fear of the gods and fear of punishment after death. He answered that the gods take no interest in human affairs; and, there is no afterlife for us to dread. Death is nothing to us, so this should be a great relief. He did say that happiness is the highest good, but it is achieved by the removal of pain and not so much by the pursuit of pleasure.

The English word indolence originally meant “painlessness.” Thomas Jefferson used the word with reference to Epicurean ethics.

For some reason I get an image of my grandmother’s apartment many years ago. She probably would’ve mistrusted the philosophy of a pagan, but I didn’t know her very well and she passed away when I was eight. She could surprise you sometimes. During the summer, she and a friend took the bus to the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, and in the Seventies, some of the hippies went around nude. Mimi and her two sisters were very eccentric and talented people. But I don’t think I would’ve brought up Epicurus with them. To reject the afterlife is a strange thing to consider, and of such historical consequence.

An ice cream vendor in a little white van just drove by to the tune of “The Entertainer.” Aesop finally woke up and let him know he wasn’t welcome. It’s just the way he is.

Defense of King Midas

Nine twenty at night.

I had a sad dream a while ago about my mother; she was lonely and wanted me to drink with her. But it’s not like she visited me from beyond the grave. I simply remember her: she’s a part of my nervous system, which chucks up these images, randomly or otherwise, I couldn’t say for certain. But it’s also true that next month marks twenty years without her, so she’s been on my mind subconsciously. I can recall the first book I finished reading after she passed away: Typee by Herman Melville, and it felt so strange being in the house alone all day and night. Additionally I had the rest of the family to deal with, a totally different culture from Mom and Dad. Is it fair to call her a thoughtless epicure or was there more to her character than that? 

First of all, I wouldn’t say that hedonism is ever totally thoughtless; in some ways it’s an intelligent lifestyle. When two or more people get together who agree on pleasure, life can be paradise for them temporarily. The toughest dilemma ever for me was the decision between Epicurus and Zeno, or between Dionysus and Apollo. King Midas was given a pair of donkey’s ears because he preferred the music of Pan to that of Apollo: he was spiritually deaf, for Apollo represented the divine. But surely there’s another perspective on this story. Certainly Pan’s pipes produced a music that was very pleasing to the ear, though it wouldn’t be preachy like a moral sermon, but rather something sensual and fun to experience: it would make you feel good. And the real virtue of Midas’ preference was the rarity of it. Any garden variety person would have picked Apollo’s lyre, but King Midas was different from the norm. So I guess that’s sort of like my mother, sipping brandy and collecting gemstones from television offers. She was one of a kind. 

Searching…

One fifty five.

I haven’t gone to the bookstore today, but I set up a little space in the living room to sit and do this. The way the movers left my stuff with me was overwhelming; there was no way I could handle it all myself. But it’s a beautiful day and I felt motivated to change a little something. Now I have a view out my front window of my maple tree and the neighbors’ house, and the blue sky. I wish I had a couch to recline on. I didn’t realize how unmotivated I was until today, but hopefully this will get better… I read part of the introduction to my Lucretius book: it’s such a gem. Epicurus, the inspiration for this long poem, said there were two main things people fear that interfere with their happiness: fear of the gods and fear of death. So he taught that the gods are powerless to hurt us and that the afterlife doesn’t exist. Christians found these ideas unpalatable. But after all, they are only ideas, and they have a good chance of being true. Epicurus advocated the simple life of austerity. The greatest pleasure was the absence of pain.

Quarter of midnight.

September has been a time of the convergence of a lot of things in my mind, almost too many to enumerate. Maybe this is just a schizophrenic trait, to remember everything in transparent layers, like gazing down into a well. The rain they promised has started now, as I could hear through the windows. Today it occurred to me how impractical I am, usually with my mind on imponderable things that only children wonder about. Science can explain much of it, but we also complicate it with a spiritual understanding of what is. Even Epicurus made his physics the support for his ethics, or his vision of the good life. So he laid out an atomistic plan of the universe in which the gods were separated from human lives, unable to intervene even if they had wanted to. There was no reason to fear them, nor death, for this was nothing to us. By eliminating these fears, people could be happy in the here and now. And the school of Epicurus was called The Garden… To imagine Greece in the Fourth Century BCE can be kind of mystifying… Also my dad is on my mind, this enigmatic guy who spoke little of his own life and thoughts, and whose parentage was unknown; so that I am left behind in the dark, trying to make some sense of his existence and mine as well. 

Death Is Nothing

Noon.

I feel really good today from the switch in medication, and it’s even better because the change was my decision alone. I had a nice little excursion to the agency to see Misty. She talked me into returning to DDA group, so I’ll see them again in two weeks from Thursday. Actually, it didn’t take much talking. The incidence of COVID-19 has been insane lately; I’ve heard about more and more cases from people I know. I’m finally beginning to think, What if I caught the virus myself? But still I won’t let it get me down. I don’t have much of a life, so I should go for broke and do everything I can. It’s great that I feel so much better now. Everybody ought to feel as good as I do right now. The psychology of the pandemic is a very strange thing. We get to see what human beings are really made of now that we are so tested. And it reminds me of the book by Nevil Shute again, On the Beach, about how people respond to the fallout after nuclear war. Basically, they choose to live life to the hilt while they still can. I think it’s up to us to live up to a book like this and prove ourselves worthy. So far I’ve seen more of cowardice and depression than anything else from people in general. The worst that can happen is you die, and then everything goes black forever; a dreamless sleep from which you don’t awake. People ought to read their Lucretius on not fearing death, for death is nothing to us. It is nothing, therefore there’s nothing to fear after it. Thus reinforced, we should be able to do some good and maybe turn this ship around… I don’t think my church would agree with the Epicurean point of view, but really it’s tough luck if they feel that way. His philosophy, if you are open minded, makes excellent sense. Over the centuries since his time, Christians have blackened his reputation by calling him a hedonist, but what motivated it was his denial of the afterlife. This is a big stumbling block for most people who want to live forever, but they need to grow out of their greed for eternal life, and while they are here, live for today. 

Zeno and Epicurus

Eight thirty five.

I feel tired and irritated due to the heatwave. I don’t have air conditioning, so Aesop and I will just bake. I went to the market. A couple of Mexican guys ordered biscuits and gravy. Their lime green shirts advertised the business they worked for. Michelle helped me at the other register… I spoke with Kat on the way home. She has air conditioning, and invited me over if I feel like I’m getting heatstroke. When I approached her house, she was in the garage, walking on a treadmill. She wore a yellow T-shirt that said, “Volunteer.” …At ten o’clock I’m taking the taxi to Laurel Hill for another appointment. I haven’t heard anything from the guys about band practice this weekend. Some things won’t get done in the near future because of the crazy weather.

Nine thirty five. I hope the taxi service is Oregon Taxi today. I just saw someone towing their boat up the street, probably destined for the marina. I might just take up Kat on her offer…

Quarter of one. I had a nice visit with Todd and also with Darcy this morning. Things were fairly relaxed, though I got a feeling of emptiness from hanging around the agency. I’m not sure why. Life today is much different from when I had a job there. A certain presence is missing now: my brother, maybe? And perhaps my old psychiatrist. These guys were super smart about how to live life to the fullest. I guess I joined a church just out of desperation four years ago when I saw no other way to stop drinking. Now I’m torn between my old hedonism and my sobriety. It’s similar to the classical dilemma of the pursuit of pleasure versus stoicism, plus the middle ground of skepticism: not knowing which way is right… As the taxi was taking me around the corner by Kat’s house, I saw her in her yard, digging the dirt with a shovel. I felt a little regret that I couldn’t stop and say hello again. She also makes me think of the stoic impulse, while I might be just a worthless epicurean. And really, which lifestyle is better in the final analysis? 

Sunday Faith

Quarter of ten.

I walked to the store in the rain this morning. It was warm, so I wore no jacket and just carried an umbrella. When I got there, Heather was very good to me as she always is. The other customer inside the place was talking about the price of the Sunday paper, which had gone up to five dollars… Before I left the house, I was brushing my teeth and I thought of the history of psychiatry, particularly Freud’s theory of what causes schizophrenia. He said it was repressed homosexual desires, but of course he didn’t know anything about genetics. So I said to myself that it makes no sense to psychologize the phenomenon of mental illness. I thought it was surprising that Freud was revived three years ago. But the run of my life since 2017 has been like a Hegelian process, dictated by history and politics. The motivation from within really comes from something bigger than the personal self. I’ve taken a ride on the carousel, deluded all the time that I was free and independent.

Even in time we shall control the day

When what you see

Deep inside the day’s controlling you and me

It’s an old Romantic idea, but I think it’s probably true what this lyric by Yes says. And yet if psychology is bogus, then how can philosophy and poetry be more accurate? I guess it’s better not to generalize human experience into abstracts…

Ten fifty. The weather forecast predicts rain this afternoon, and I have to go to Mike’s house at around two thirty. If all attempts at knowledge are futile, then life as a skeptic is rather difficult. We need to have faith in something, so it might as well be something that gives us pleasure. 

Ancient Ethical Dilemma

One thirty. The guitar stands came, so I unpacked them and set them up. My mood is still pretty rotten, though better than a little while ago… I don’t enjoy much of anything lately, and it’s very rough to experience. Kate liked pleasure, and so did I; we both were sensual and commonsensical about it. Except, it wasn’t rational to drink a half case every day. The Greeks prescribed moderation, and it’s still the truth. I’m a little afraid that I’m close to a relapse of alcoholism, and this could depend on the outcome of the election. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but party politics are what they are, I guess. It looks like my vote went for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The movies will go berserk with a Democratic win, like Pulp Fiction all over again. Life in general will be decadent and liberal, and even irreligious. This is how I see the Democratic Party, whether or not it’s absolutely true. Thus the presidential race still bugs me, and will keep doing so until after November 3rd. It’s possible I voted for the wrong guy. I guess I really want sex, drugs, and rock and roll, or however you formulate sensual pleasure. I used to have too much fun with my old friend Kate. But it’s very difficult to know what is right between the choices of stoicism and Epicureanism. The latter nearly killed me, and yet I want to have fun so badly. Some people are satisfied with just having more money; that’s all they wish for. And then there are those who want to burn the candle at both ends and party like there’s no tomorrow. That was me four years ago and before. I don’t know. Which way is more commonsensical? I realize that alcohol is my curse and not good for me, yet I voted for the liberal party in hopes that everybody could have a good time once again. It’s too late to change my vote now, but I see myself white knuckling it until all the votes are counted. 

Gray Again

Nine thirty.

I’m going without caffeine today, no tea or Coke, no beverage at all. I saw what it did to me yesterday, especially in the early afternoon. It was unpleasant. I left a voicemail for my sister. It isn’t supposed to rain today, so my walk to physical therapy should be uneventful. I feel lonely, and I wish life could be different. I’d like to make another friend like Kate across the Atlantic. The best thing is to keep an eye out for opportunities to meet likeminded people. The sun is making an appearance.

Ten thirty. I just voted and put my ballot in the mailbox… Some of the measures dealt with substance abuse, so those were easy to decide on. I hope it’s a clear day for my stroll later. A thought on the edge of my mind keeps offending me. I think it’s about Santa Clara. I have to go there today, and it makes me feel like a child somehow, or a helpless victim. I’ll be in my sister’s jurisdiction while I’m there. People really believe in spooks in that part of town. It just gives me a feeling of sadness and a little anxiety that I could be caught out as an alien unbeliever. Worse, I fear psychosis and delusions of frightful things. It’s no joke when you have schizophrenia. I once had a frenemy who thought it was cute to make me watch horror movies with him. He was neither very smart nor sympathetic.

Noon hour. I don’t feel very good, but I guess that’s okay. My thoughts are all confused, enough to make me cry. I wish the truth were objective and not plural and divisive. We can be taught that round objects are really flat, or that two plus two equals three— and we believe it for a lifetime. And some will tell you to forget the truth and get on with your life; but what is life without pleasure, without fun? It is pinning the tail on the donkey blindfolded. Pushing a boulder up a hill repeatedly and uselessly. It is work with no play. It’s gray. 

Sunday Morning

Eight thirty 🕣. Aesop needs wet food again. I’ll go to the store in a little while. The oak in my backyard keeps dropping acorns on the patio cover. I’ve decided not to go to church today. I’m beginning to get it together again, and I wonder if my old psychiatrist is taking new patients. How conspicuous will my absence from church be? Maybe the turnout will be rather low. I’m just not interested in taking communion and singing hymns. It’s all a lot of smoke and mirrors. For once I agree with my brother on something. But his alcoholism I don’t agree with, nor his mendacity. Of my two siblings I think I like Jeff better, but not when he’s drinking and ruining his life. Polly is just sort of there. A very dim blip on my radar. What I’d really like is to brainstorm a new way to avert alcoholism. I would save my brother if I could. Is it a matter of letting go of selfish desires? Mostly I think it’s about getting rid of the guilt and shame. How was I able to stay sober? Make this the starting point of a new program for alcoholics. I certainly didn’t use the 12 Steps. I know that it takes a sincere desire to quit drinking. Also it requires a healthy fear of dying. Nothing will work if you are bent on suicide. You must be made aware that alcoholism will kill you. And you have to care whether you live or die. I don’t know if Jeff really wants to be alive. Does he love himself enough to be saved? I should try to call him again.

Nine fifty. Back from the store. Raj’s uncle is named Suk. I introduced myself today. I bought dog food and the usual junk food for me plus a ginger ale. I’m in a good mood right now, so why question it?… I’ve had two American girlfriends, and both of them were religious. Both relationships ended over a disagreement on God. I told the second one baldly that I couldn’t be a Christian, and that was the end of our friendship. The year 1999 was very interesting for me. I played in a band of atheist hippies on one hand and dated a Lutheran on the other. My parents were alive until September when my dad passed away. A few days after his death I went to Borders and bought a book of Epicurus and of Lucretius. The problem of the afterlife was bothering me. One of the slogans of Epicurus was that death is nothing to us. You simply cease to be conscious, as in a dreamless sleep. I’m still inclined to agree with that. So the third girlfriend was an atheist from Scotland, someone I never met in person. We corresponded for six years. It was a great thing. But I drank daily, and way too much. It was out of desperation that I joined the church. I compromised my beliefs just to have some local friends for support of my sobriety. Even as I write, church worship is going on without me. Another variable is the Vraylar I take every day. The longer I’m on it, the less religious I become. Today I feel like I did at 20 years of age. It’s a great drug. I don’t know how it acts on the brain, but it works well. I also don’t know how I fell ill with schizophrenia but I’m quite certain it’s a biological disease, no different from cancer or diabetes in being somatic. The effectiveness of Vraylar is proof that the mind is simply brain function. Alter the chemistry and change the behavior. Moreover I maintain that talk therapy can never be as helpful as drug therapy. The only problem with it is the cost. If you don’t have good insurance, then the expense of the medication is simply not doable. This is why I opted to stay in the system and receive benefits… Well, church will be over by now, and I wasn’t there. I still feel really good this morning. It’s cloudy and cool, a nice summer day. I’m going to give Aesop his snack presently.