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. 

Responsibility

Quarter of eleven. I’m on the edge of the same painful memories as yesterday. Music is a powerful stimulus for memory and feelings, but the passing of time tempers the irruption of them. It was almost like being intoxicated all over again. And why would I want to go back to being wasted all the time? Nothing ever gets done when you are blasted. Not even the fun stuff. Impairment is just that… I just had a breakfast burrito for lunch. Now I wish I could shake the Beatles music in my head and the alcohol flashbacks. Try to concentrate on tangible things in the present. Also assume responsibility for my mental state: this is something I can control. The weather is beautiful, with clear blue skies and abundant sunshine. Roger is in his garage working on a project across the street. Earlier I spoke with Lisa at Axis about the bill I received. She was puzzled because I shouldn’t have gotten one at all. So she said we’ll get it straightened out over the next couple of days. I also realize that I need a replacement Medicare card, because I lost mine in the fire disaster… I don’t feel very awake right now. It usually motivates me to use the word “freedom.” This and responsibility are inseparable, because responsibility is another way of saying agency, the power to do, to carry out an action. To be able. It doesn’t mean strictly accountability or being answerable for the consequences of your actions. The important part of the word “responsibility” is the empowerment it affords to you. People often bat the word around and make it sound like a guilt trip, a club to browbeat you with. Responsibility is actually very good news to the oppressed. To be responsible for something is to have control over it. It means that you are in charge, and you are the authority… 

Sartrean Hero

Quarter of eleven. The tracking information tells me my bass is coming Thursday. It’s rather weird getting a new instrument in the absence of my mother. Given all that I’ve been through, I think she would approve. I just got home with some chocolate ice cream and Milk Bones for Aesop. I think I’m done with the Baldwin book. I may start reading the Rousseau today out of curiosity… I wonder how I would fare at a blues jam? Maybe Ron and I could go to one, and never mind Mike? But it would be this summer, when things reopen more… My mother’s death left me with no identity and no direction. And I had never lived here alone before. I had been a supporting actor, and suddenly I was in the spotlight. The star of my own show. I couldn’t handle it at first. My life had never been about me. My parents didn’t allow me a voice. My sister turned the idea of responsibility into a conservative burden, de emphasizing the freedom side of the coin. She was not very smart. Of course the bright side of this onerous responsibility is free agency, and realizing this turned things around for me. Jean Paul Sartre was right all along. We are always responsible for the consequences of our choices, but it’s much easier to live with that than to live in superstitious fear of invisible spooks. I don’t understand why people choose to live that way. I cannot. Freedom and responsibility, plus cause and effect, are enough to live by.

Stranger in the Night

I slept hard for about three hours. There’s still one Hot Pocket left in the freezer: meatballs and mozzarella. I might heat up that for a midnight snack. The lawlessness of my life is beginning to take meaningful shape. The dead of winter couldn’t prevail forever. The rain hasn’t started yet. No engagements Friday, but then, four days straight of places to be. It is good. While at Bi Mart, there may be something else I can pick up. Clog remover is a good idea. My brother recommended isopropyl alcohol, but I think I’ll buy Maximum Power in the yellow bottle. A pair of wire cutters might come in handy for changing strings. Eventually I will need a new filter for the furnace…

It’s interesting that I ditched Freud’s theories of human behavior. I don’t even believe his ideas on sublimation now. Freud was a thing of the university. The fact that a group of people accepts a belief doesn’t mean it’s true. Every organization has a philosophy, and to belong to the group is to participate in its customs. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The university is a certain Rome I graduated from 26 years ago. The Rome I now belong to is much different. Although, the existentialism I learned in school I can apply to my current situation. Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard can be particularly useful, but also Camus, and in literature, T S Eliot and William Faulkner. What happens when a story breaks down? When things fall apart? We need stories to make sense of existence, or else life is absurd. Faulkner’s form demonstrates this point, and Camus addresses the problem more literally in his essays. It may be good to revisit The Stranger. I think of Meursault as a microcosm of the absurd universe, and as such, a symptom of his time. He has no values but for the strictly sensual, just satisfying his needs. But to the Christian society he is part of, his amorality is unacceptable. Who is right, this oddball who reflects the absurd cosmos, or the Christian society that condemns him to death? I’ve heard it argued both ways, but I think Camus would say it is desirable to create meaning in our otherwise meaningless lives. But is Meursault guilty of a crime? The sun gets in his eyes and he shoots an Arab to death for no reason. I’ll have to reread the book.

Aesthetic and Religious

Eight thirty.

I’m not inspired to write, yet there’s nothing else to do. It keeps me company. Seems like a conspiracy how everyone disappeared: is this a holiday? Food pantry tomorrow morning. A lot of familiar faces. Some new ones. All of them polite and kind. They have been constant, while I was erratic and unstable, unpredictable as Oregon weather. This is life for me without alcohol. I hope it gets smoother over time. If not, then it still beats nonexistence. What if there’s no difference? This would be the ultimate expression of nihilism, saying that something and nothing were the same.

Nine thirty. I had my big burrito for dinner. Creature comfort. I confess I miss seeing Lisa on Sundays. I used to have a crush on her. She could do no wrong in my eyes. Why are things different now? All my superstition is vanished; no trace of illogical ideas like karma or heaven and hell. Does the Vraylar work a little too well? I remember my Kierkegaard somewhat: the absurd leap of faith is what makes the religious person the most admirable and worthy. It’s easy to be a cynic or someone with aesthetic values, as in “The Diary of a Seducer.” But it takes more work to build a system of ethics, and most of all to have blind faith in what our logic rejects… Is Kierkegaard then a bit like Camus in saying that meaning in life must be created? What happens when we don’t do that? Do human beings need significance to be happy? It’s easier to ask questions than to answer them. And then, sometimes the questions imply the answers.

The Bell

Quarter of four. Haven’t been sleeping well. My brain is frozen and no dreams may come. It must be anxiety for Sunday and the coming week. This ain’t no fucking picnic. But did anybody promise me a rose garden? Peter Gabriel: “It is only in uncertainty that we’re naked and alive.” Iris Murdoch: “No one is ever secure.” That was a book I actually threw away when I was twenty years old. The Bell confronted me with issues I wasn’t ready to deal with at that age. Years later I got another copy and finished reading it: the ending was tragicomic. This novel was about the variety of expressions of love, but also how we trespass against each other. The symbolism of the old church bell dredged up from the bottom of the lake goes on at a different level from the action with the characters. I wanted the plot to resolve happily, but instead it was realistic and independent of the bell allegory. Murdoch is like that: mysterious in the transcendent, and no guarantees for her characters in the real world… I wonder how I came to expect a comic ending from a book about Christian love? I assumed that affirming the existence of God would promise some degree of providence to the characters. Everything would turn out for the best. But no; the transcendent is disconnected from the immanent, and just sort of hangs there like a fog. It was never clear to me why the symbolism was even there. But then, I guess God doesn’t guarantee salvation to everyone, does he? Hence why a lot of people reject Christianity. I don’t blame them. My cross pendant broke, and so did my faith. What good is it if not everyone is saved? I can go on puzzling over existentialism for a lifetime, but I accept that salvation is not for me.

Melville’s Epic

Midnight hour. This afternoon I read about 25 pages of the long poem Clarel. He has met a wanderer named Nehemiah who hands out copies of the Book of Revelation. Now together they are peddling the book in Jerusalem, though I think Clarel has reservations about it. The protagonist is aware of the cultural diversity in the place: he sees Jews, Hindus, Greeks, and Muslims all coming to Jerusalem to pay their respects. The omniscient narrator remarks something about an inter sympathy of ethnicities in three or four beautiful lines at the top of page 181. But the narrator and Clarel are different observers. It’ll be interesting to see what the student discovers at the end of his spiritual quest. Will it be greater clarity or added murk? With the multiplicity of faiths parading through the Holy Land, just who was Christ in the flesh and whom did he represent? What if the New Testament, rather than being the one truth, proves to be merely another faith in the crowd?

From Cerveza to Cervantes

One o’clock. It makes me wonder if I can disable the little atom bomb of Puritanism placed long ago in my mind. This is like a computer after all, nothing but hardware and software apps. What happens when we take control of the programming? Granted this freedom, how is it best used? Do we do generous things or selfish? Which is more worthy? The first step was self liberation. Nothing can be done without freedom. But now comes decision time: what does an existential hero do? He can be a Quixote, his judgment lost along with his dry brain, riding out from La Mancha to right wrongs and restore the world to virtue. Or he can be the protagonist of Cockpit, rearranging things in his life only to please himself… Yet surely no one ever became famous for small minded deeds. It would hardly be magnanimity of spirit to wallow in selfish pleasure. The world would quickly forget such an antihero. I think I’ll try for Quixote, starting out today with a big heart and a big task— at Food for Lane County. Where’s my Rocinante?

Is this Nihilism?

Quarter after ten. Control and freedom are good things. Power over your own life… Does that entail atheism? Living by my own rules and not by a god’s is to exercise my free will. I don’t believe in hell or heaven. Pastor doesn’t venture there very much, but emphasizes love and forgiveness. The afterlife he mostly skips over. But Dostoevsky does go there, and that’s what freaked me out. I only want to be free to live my life without fear of punishment. To enjoy my life, indeed. I was doing fine until the sermon on prayer a few weeks ago; I felt like I was under pressure. Well shoot, I still may have to leave the church if it gets out that I don’t believe. How bad could it be to reject the faith? I admit that the Dostoevsky book is good for exposing the doctrine. With time it’ll be easier to refer to it. But I think I’m more with Sartre on freedom and responsibility. Sartre disposes of God and leaves the fate of humanity in our own hands. I always did like his ideas. It is all rather much for my poor brain to process. Without God everything is lawful, but that’s not a bad thing. It only means that we are free to choose our future. Dostoevsky thought that without absolute law our lives would be anarchy and chaos. Camus argues that it is important to create meaning in our lives and live and die happily. I wonder how any human being can be happy without freedom and control? Only we can know what makes ourselves happy. And all the better if we can be happy together.