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? 

Sugar and Spice

Five thirty.

The morning is still benighted for two more hours, but even so, I might go to the store at opening time: six o’clock, and see Michelle. What makes a nice person nice and a mean person not nice? Michelle is made of sugar and spice, in accord with the old nursery rhyme. In colloquial French, the word for “nice” is sympathique; and “mean” is mechante. And the person who wears a frown is malheureuse. The rain is forecast to start again at noon today. It’s warm enough outside to go without a jacket. I think Aesop would probably like to get more chicken strips, so I’ll oblige him if they still have those. Pretty soon I will leave the house and just pretend there’s an invisible sun in the sky.

Six fifty five. I heard about Michelle’s weekend while I was at the store. More out of control stuff; her life seems quite unmanageable, so I hope she gets some help. Perhaps she’s been a little too nice and not assertive enough with the people who push her buttons. People generally talk about their “spiritual leader” nowadays, but I’m very skeptical of this, of course. No supernatural power is going to take control over your life and make everything better. It’s all up to you to take the wheel and drive your life like a car, with as many passengers as you wish. Even God can take a back seat if you must have one. I won’t go to hell for saying so, either… Now the sun pushes over the rim across the street from me, illuminating gray clouds. The gibbous moon was directly overhead when I went out an hour ago, accompanied by a few stars through an opening in the cloud canopy. Nature is enough. 

Secrets of the Morning

Seven o five.

It’ll probably be another beautiful day, though this morning the atmosphere is breathless. The street is partly decorated with drawings in colored chalk by children of the renters in Lori’s house. Some of the scribbles pertain to a game that only kids would understand. I encountered no cats or squirrels; no living things at all but for the humans at the little market… and a few black crows when I first opened my front door. They were quiet, and now I hear no birdsongs. The store was pretty busy at a quarter of seven. Everyone’s face was bare— until further notice. Right now there’s a squirrel on the roof. The church has reinstated the policy of wearing masks, so for that reason I stayed home yesterday. Last night I skipped my medication; as a result, I feel better today, more natural and easygoing. I told myself that today I wouldn’t rebuke myself for anything, but would bypass every feeling of guilt or shame. 

Again my neglected Nietzsche book crosses my mind, Zarathustra with its difficult aphorisms that somehow stay with me; not the words verbatim, but the lessons. Are there any existential therapists in my area? The closest one would be a hundred miles away. The city of Eugene still lags behind the rest of the world, offering very few options in terms of counseling. Everything is either Jung or cognitive therapy. I’ve heard only one therapist bring up phenomenology, which seemed to be the cutting edge of psychology.

I don’t know much this morning; I saw nothing new on my trip. Nothing except the cryptic games of children etched in the road. Even the crows were taciturn when I stepped outside. 

The Yellow Signal

Nine fifty five.

I had a nap for about four hours with some strange dreams, quite nonsensical and random… In real life, it tires me to watch people conform to trends like herd animals. After a while it makes us look impersonal and mechanical, as if no one had a heart or a thinking brain, nothing they could call human. Or maybe superhuman. Green means go, red means stop, but what about yellow intersections where there’s some ambiguity and the call is up to you? And there’s a lot more yellow than we admit to ourselves. Everybody wants an almanac to give them cut and dried answers because they prefer to place authority outside of themselves, which is really a recipe for unhappiness. I still don’t have much respect for sociology as a field of study when instead we can opt for ethics. The almanac you seek is your own heart. Don’t read the book. Be the book. 

Hot Day, Hot Air

Nine o’clock.

I feel ambivalent, torn between an impulse to reality and one to freedom. I don’t want to be limited by a diagnostic label, for this is a form of determinism. My dearest wish is to be free and self determined, self driven. This was my experience early in college, but then I sold out my idealism to science. After that, the illness struck and I lost my faith in free will. I could never recover this faith until just recently… I begin to view my past as a seamless and continuous whole, not bifurcated into before and after schizophrenia.

Ten o’clock. The sunshine is nice to look at, but the high is supposed to be 93 degrees today. Heidi is scheduled to call me this afternoon. Another thing I did in college was to gradually shift from the conscious mind to the contents of the unconscious; yet even this distinction may not make much sense in practice. All of these theories are merely words in print. Now it boggles my mind knowing how people live by the ideas they’ve learned. Given the numerous paradigms to choose from, and supposing that one is as good as another, could it hurt to declare myself an existentialist of some kind?… If the belief works for you, then in some sense it is true… The old tv commercial asks, “What did you want to be?” It is so important not to get derailed in this life. I used to use my diagnosis to deny freedom and responsibility, but now I do just the reverse: I embrace free agency to reject the labels that make me a victim.

Eleven o’clock. The garbage trucks are making the rounds, and I didn’t put mine out. I lacked the strength, and after all, it was up to me.

Maybe I’m just full of hot air… 

Long Night, Long Day

Seven o’clock.

I spent a very long night last night. I reacted to the shot rather uncomfortably. It didn’t catch up to me until bedtime, but now I feel only a little bit better. It’s good to see the daylight again. Mostly cloudy with a patch of blue sky. It would be great if I could mind over matter the way I feel this morning. That’s what philosophy is good for, so maybe read a bit of Being and Nothingness… I received a call from my bank yesterday afternoon: they just want to do an annual review of my financial wellness. I can say it’s a lot better since I quit drinking. I’d like to go get myself a Snapple tea but it isn’t obligatory. Suddenly I realize how lonely I feel. I’ll call my sister in a half hour… I wish I had a girlfriend like Kate again.

Eight thirty five. I sucked it up and went and bought a Snapple raspberry tea. I got some good news in my mailbox. Feeling better than I did when I first got up. The sky is growing more blue now with a splash of sunshine on the ground. But it’s intolerably quiet in the house, the silence of solitude. It might be a long day.

We may decide to have band practice tomorrow. If Mike doesn’t work on Saturday and if I feel up for it then we could probably do it. I don’t want to miss church on Sunday either. If Aesop weren’t so aggressive towards everyone but me I could take him for a walk around the neighborhood. As it is, he scares people to death. I guess no situation is ever perfect, so you take the bad with the good. I’m glad now that I bought the G&L bass. I think I’ll buy some Ernie Ball strings for it soon. I’d love for life to get back to something like normalcy, but it seems like such a long time coming. Not only that, but maybe there’s no normal to return to. 

Afterthought to a Friend

Just another thought.

In these circumstances, when I feel so helpless and powerless, it is very desirable to take what little responsibility for my life that I have. I do have the option to cancel my vaccination, and if that’s what I want to do, then I ought to do it, just to exercise my freedom. The consequence of this act may be to lose my band, and maybe the church won’t want me around either. However, the important thing is like Polonius to his son Laertes in Hamlet: to thine own self be true.

I repeat that I don’t like the science of sociology, while Pastor Dan has the opposite attitude about it— which is easy for him as the leader of a group of people. I imagine that he relishes the idea of having power over his flock. I guess if I’m a lone wolf, I might as well embrace my life, as solitary as it may prove to be. It’s far more essential to be my authentic self.

No Alibi but Freedom

Eleven thirty five. Sometimes the sunshine gets me down. It makes me want to drink beer again and forget reality. Everyday life is never easy for me. I long for old friends and the few lovers I once had. And the future is a blank sheet of paper, a complete unknown that is actualized with each succeeding word. Time doesn’t make sense until you review the entire page, and sometimes the whole book. History wants to say something to us, to give us friendly advice to inform our decisions. Funny thing, but Tim is a high school history teacher. I must be anticipating our talk this afternoon. Often while I write I can see through to the subtext, a psychological process under the surface. The real issues drive the generalizations I make.

Noon thirty. I feel sort of tired, but really I’m feeling anxious and nervous… Outside, there’s no wind or breeze. I imagine it’s fairly warm. It’s been an uncomfortable week for me, ever since I skipped church last Sunday. I don’t want to do this anymore. Times have changed. The nation has a new leader and the general climate is very different now… I just want to make my music and be left alone by moral spiritual stuff. I make my own decisions and I don’t depend on anyone else to do my thinking. I’m sick of sermons and preaching… and tithing. What does the church want from me? It seems they want my very soul.

Quarter of two. I took an ibuprofen for my back pain. The sunshine continues to do something to me. It addles my wits and makes me irrational. I want an alibi from my life, from the inside of my head. I wonder how Heidi is doing this week? I crave a 12 pack of beer, something to rocket me to the moon temporarily. I counter that by pondering responsibility for my existence minute by minute. My choices created this position I’m in right now. To deny this truth is bad faith. And that’s the amazing thing about philosophy, how it takes precedence over ordinary reality. There’s no schema in your mind that can’t be questioned and replaced, again and again. If common sense has its roots in Aristotle, then can it as easily be challenged by a Platonic worldview? How many idealists are there running around today? 

Tilting at Windmills

Quarter of one. I feel frustrated with myself because I can’t organize my thoughts or find the inspiration to write on the things I love. I’m having a low energy day, regardless that the sun has broken through the overcast and I should be cheerful. I wish it were ten years in the past and I was having a wonderful time with a beer buzz and my friend on Skype. Nowadays I feel old and worn out. Still I remember so many good times I used to have before my brother went off the deep end. Or could he have had the right idea after all? I can’t judge. Last night it occurred to me that drinking was an activity done by my parents, but not necessarily a thing I should do. Also, as long as I drank, it maintained the memory of my mother. Finally I accept her death as a finality and I simply don’t drink anymore. Yet this leaves a little black hole in my heart where she used to be. 

What helps me the most is existentialist philosophy, for it opens wide the door of life, showing options to freely choose from. The determinism of one school of thought may be defeated with the idea of freedom. It’s an attitude you can adopt and, whether or not it’s true, it gives you a sense of control over your life. It’s like following the adventures of Don Quixote, whose madness is really sanity from a certain perspective. Not everyone is cut out for science. This is actually a good thing, because knowledge of facts can limit your options.

One fifty. I think the madness of Quixote is his freedom, while the common sense of Sancho Panza is a kind of bondage. Is Cervantes a greater writer than Shakespeare? They both died the same year, 1616. I believe that of the two, I would choose Cervantes to be my guide on life’s journey. I dare say he invented existentialism. 

Out of the Swim

Four twenty five in the morning.

Pastor’s sociological sermons go against my grain to the extent that I feel it must be sinful to assert my existential beliefs. Either my ideas have to go, or the church has to go. And it’s a foregone conclusion which it will be. I think there’s a difference between existentialism and your garden variety “narcissism.” The latter is thoughtless and unsophisticated, just unqualified self seeking. There’s also a difference between empowerment and power madness, an example of which I needn’t give. We all see the political cartoons… Around here, I frequently run into people who slander the idea of “control.” But when I ask them what’s the alternative, they don’t have an answer. The truth is that nothing else guides your life if you surrender your responsibility. I guess this is a confession of atheism. And as such, so be it. It’s okay for you to be passive in a school of fish, blindly turning this way and that with the others. Where would you be without the other fishes? In that case you would be stuck with yourself, and that might frighten you. Inside of you is a wilderness of thoughts and feelings you conveniently never had to face. The school of fish is okay for you, but I’m done with it.