Nice Guys…

Eight thirty five.

It’s a dense fog again today, rather tiresome. A low energy day so far. I’ve gone to market this morning and been accosted by the neighbor who lives next door to Kat and Corey. He remarked that he sees me going to the little store every day and I must be a hungry dude. I answered that I don’t stock up on groceries. He said he got it. This neighbor is the one who flies a Let’s Go Brandon flag on his pole. I didn’t think to ask him what happened to Derek, who used to have a job with him. It’s an HVAC business… Heather told me that someone had broken into her car and stolen her registration card and something else. I told her that I wasn’t feeling as good today as yesterday. Life has become an onerous hamster wheel, punctuated by fewer and fewer pleasures and joys. But it’s up to me to seize the day and maybe permit myself the indulgence of a fantasy that doesn’t self destruct. Everyone needs love, though people don’t give it very often these days. Sometimes I forget that I’m a guy. No one validates my masculinity except perhaps one person I know. The world is going in an unnatural direction, from what I’ve experienced since I quit drinking. I think the world needs to wake up and smell the flowers and hear the hum of bees. Delight in a birdsong and learn to sing along— as long as such things remain. But then it’s more difficult when you are older and not so pretty anymore. It feels like a conspiracy… yet it was my decision to be an honest person with everybody, what might have been a mistake to a Machiavellian. 

The Honest Way

Seven fifty five.

I might be doing too much caffeine lately, and this affects my nervous system adversely. For whatever reason, I feel pretty lousy today. Aesop is moody and pouting because I did three or four things yesterday that he didn’t approve of. He seems to keep score and then punishes me with his cold shoulder. Outside, more winter weather, very dark and wet. Ugly. It’s going to keep raining all morning. I’ll be interviewing a person for the PCA job at one o’clock today. Not very happy about it. Michelle was absent from work for two days, so I wonder if she’ll take the whole week off. Cathy and Heather held down the fort yesterday.

Quarter after nine. The rain was light. I never used my umbrella on my little pilgrimage. I spent eighteen dollars on four items, and Michelle was gone again today. A lot of customers go there in the morning to buy a pack of cigarettes in addition to their grocery stuff. Cathy doesn’t know me that well… I was thinking about the toxic relationship I used to have with my brother. Alcoholism makes life more difficult. I have some regrets for the things I did when I drank; stupid things, dangerous things. I was dishonorable, though a part of me tried to be honest and do what was right. Interesting how the honest way is the way of virtue and not of darkness and disgrace. Of sunshine, not winter rain. The heart knows what is right. 

Prodigal

Quarter after nine.

Some people have all the bad luck, and then it’s so hard to know what to tell them. Christmas is ten days away, yet I see crap happening to my friend. Is it because she doesn’t use good judgment or something? Her life is a kind of trap with her husband and son who saddle her with all the responsibility for their survival. There’s nothing I can do to help her…

Ten fifty. My sister just called and we talked a long time. Now I only want to think ahead to tonight’s church activities. Maybe do a little speculation in the meantime. It’s been a while since I enjoyed listening to classical music from the turn of the twentieth century. More than a luxury, it ought to be a staple of civilized living. I’d really love to hear Night on Bald Mountain again, or The Golden Cockerel, and let the harmonies hit me in a good spot. I don’t get enough pleasure out of life each day, whether people call this selfish or something else. Most people’s lives are full of compromise and not very much fun, which to my mind is a shame. I could be wrongheaded, just a prodigal person, but I think that life without fun is a mistake. Perhaps I’ve listened to other people too much and not to my own heart, that says follow your bliss. My conscience accuses me of selfishness, but originally that voice came from a real person, probably my sister or the pastor of the church. I’ve heard plenty of sermons in my life, and frankly I’m fed up with them. Another possibility is the influence on me of the agency. It all gets to be too much when I only want to be free. 

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. 

Good Enough

Ten twenty.

At eleven o’clock I have an appointment with Sean for therapy. I don’t dread it so much this time because I did my homework, more or less. It snowed for a few minutes an hour ago, when I fed my dog his breakfast. I’m looking ahead to Wednesday night, when I’m supposed to rehearse with my church for our Christmas medley… I won’t get to have lunch until noon today. Music: an old Irving Berlin song, “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.” I think I still have that vinyl LP somewhere in the house. It makes me think of my mother…

Noon hour. My visit with Sean went okay. He seems to like Alan Watts, and keeps referring to him and to Eastern religious traditions, which is fine with me. My sleep last night was troubled with difficult thoughts and feelings. Right now I ponder whether it’s a good thing to abandon your personal desires and act from altruism. It seems like every major world religion has self sacrifice for its ideal and goal. This can be the real test for some people, including myself and my last girlfriend. I was a very selfish alcoholic. I still don’t understand why I can’t just have the things I want for myself rather than letting it all go and trusting in providence for what I need. Bertrand Russell wrote a book called The Conquest of Happiness. Reading Mark Twain is a little like that as well, but you don’t meet many people who think the same way as Thomas Jefferson these days. The Enlightenment appears to be quite dead as our society continues shifting away from reason and freedom. I wonder if I should simply surrender my beliefs and drift downstream with the other flotsam?

One o’clock. And yet I can’t get rid of the idea of “moral paralysis” in Joyce’s Dubliners, and of trying to be the Byronic hero, however selfish people call it, and worse things. What on earth are we supposed to do? Just be ourselves. 

The Absolute

Quarter after nine.

If I don’t play the bass with the church for Christmas Eve then I have no other gift to give them, or nothing else as valuable. My situation is like that of the Little Drummer Boy: “I have no gift to bring / Pa rum pa pum pum.” Vaguely my mind ponders the idea of the Word made flesh, the nativity scene with the Lord as a newborn baby, and the whole mystery of Christ. Four years ago I went for Christmas Eve worship and the turnout was very big. A beautiful young Croatian lady with glittering dark eyes and two boys almost as big as she was sat down in the pew behind me. Pastor was really in his element that night, very confident and officious, but also enjoying the moment. At the time, it was a new experience for me, so I didn’t criticize it so harshly, and moreover it was before I started the Vraylar medication. 

If the desire to believe is strong enough, can a group of people “drag the dream into existence?” Will reality yield to human fiction and make our wildest dreams come true? And then I remember the poem by Robert Frost, “Love and a Question”: the bridegroom wishes he knew the absolutely right thing to do; and this is the revelation that everyone craves. Because, human beings are a moral species and we seek the truth like characters in a drama in search of an author. Perhaps religion is itself a science of morals, which would be the supreme knowledge of nature; we want to know, like the bridegroom, what we ought to do. So we turn to the night sky, where the “stars expound our conscience,” in the words of the old Yes song. 

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. 

Is Anybody Immune?

It was gray and cloudy all day here with an occasional shower. At some point today I lost my concentration and decided to take a nap. I had a couple of things on my mind that worried me about whether I was a good person or not. Probably the hardest thing for anybody to live with is other people’s judgment and criticism of ourselves. So I dug out my book of Albert Camus and considered reading some of it. It’s been a long time since I read The Fall, and I never did read all of The Plague. I think it’s John 8:7 where Jesus says, “He who is without sin among you, throw the first stone at her,” and the accusers of the adulteress exit the room because not one of them is innocent. Camus picks up this idea and elaborates on it in The Fall, but he doesn’t incorporate the element of the supernatural. Many people get some inspiration from reading Camus. He shares a few interests with Dostoevsky, mostly crime and guilt. 

My brother’s interpretation of the Bible turned a great deal upon the idea of judging and being judged by others, but unfortunately he himself was very critical of everyone else. He also gathered from the Bible that love is sacrifice. Probably he read the whole book like a continuous novel, which actually makes good sense. When I lent him my original copy of The Fall about eleven years ago, he never read it, and he misplaced it somewhere and I didn’t see it again.

I remember many times seeing my ex supervisor getting on a soapbox and preaching the most absurd stuff; absurd because he was guilty of the same thing, or something very similar, and he didn’t even realize his stupidity. But I should go easier on him. He was positive for HIV and he spent eight years as a meth addict. It was amazing that he could get up and go to work every day. I didn’t like him very much, but he was only my boss, and our jobs threw us together by random chance.

There’s probably a lesson in this letter somewhere.

Predawn Blues

Five twenty five.

The opossum under the house is making a big ruckus. He will quiet down after sunup. Aesop just jumped off the bed and came down the hall to be with me. “And the animals I’ve trapped have all become my pets / Something in the way…” I didn’t have any plans for today except my daily shopping trip. My sleeping cycle is erratic yet it’s been the same way for four years now. I’ll do four hours here and another four hours there, in windows of time. Maybe it was the word “windows” that reminded me of a painting by Winslow Homer used to illustrate Huckleberry Finn. This image just popped up to my mind. It shows two boys eating watermelon outdoors. I guess I’m still rather sleepy. Another thought is how judgmental my brother used to be of me; but people with problems tend to be the most zealous accusers of others. He must have a guilty conscience the size of a house from having lied and cheated his way through life.

I might go back to bed because it’s dark outside and nobody is awake right now, technically not even me. There are many kinds of self referential absurdity, pointed out to us by the Bible and by Shakespeare. The phrase, “the pot calling the kettle black” is from Don Quixote. My own conscience is cumbersome today, but the problems I have are not my fault. Maybe it’s possible to exculpate everyone with a mental health diagnosis. In that case, church ministers would be out of a job as well as some kinds of counselors. Why do we even have ethics in everyday life? In his state of melancholy, Hamlet says, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And it’s still another hour until daylight… 

Dostoevsky

Eight forty.

Thinking about going to church today. I might be able to make it. If it’s not Pastor Dan, then I can go a little bit later, as long as I’m there by ten o’clock. I keep forgetting that it’s Halloween today. It doesn’t seem very relevant to anything or to me. It’s not supposed to rain at all today, but it’s pretty chilly outdoors. The time is going rather rapidly; before I know it I’ll be out on the road, pounding the sidewalk. I can always hear more than I want to. Right now someone is making noise on my street.

Quarter of noon.

Service was pretty good today. Now it occurs to me how fragmented our culture is these days, mostly because of people like me who are honest and follow their own truth. I saw a funny Halloween decoration at a neighbor’s house: a headstone with the name “Metta Physik.” But this is exactly the problem I have with religion, that is, metaphysics or the supernatural. Without evidence, the spiritual stuff falls to pieces. So it’s probably better if I don’t go to church; just stay home and read my books of analytic philosophy or something else realistic. This is more responsible of me than spoiling a worship service with my presence. There is one argument, however, for metaphysics that gives me pause. It’s that our sense of right and wrong hinges on the spirit, and that with no Lawgiver, everything is permitted. You find this point in The Brothers Karamazov, and the amorality in the story leads to a murder. Dostoevsky is a thinker to reckon with before you dispose of religion altogether. Probably the world needs a good dose of his writing right now, and I might go back for another look at Karamazov, even after I thought I’d exhausted its possibilities. It brings up the serious question, What is existentialism all about?