Praise

Quarter of five. I feel pretty good right now. It’s cloudy and yet still bright outside. The thought occasionally rises to me that I love music, for music is the experience of feeling. I can hear a scene from Spartacus in my mind, a piece by Khachaturian, so sensuous and lush, quite voluptuous. And the origin of this word is Voluptas, meaning Pleasure, the daughter of Cupid and Psyche as related in The Golden Ass, and again in Marius the Epicurean by Walter Pater. I doubt if my mother was familiar with Pater, but she might’ve gotten a similar notion from reading The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone when she was in her thirties. I probably don’t even need to read it to know its philosophy. My mother absorbed it and lived it— embodied the book… I could be wrong about that. I only remember how I felt when my siblings and I unearthed the book in a trunk of Mom’s things after she passed away. The fact is that she was not very philosophical, even in an aesthetic way. She had trouble with abstractions and understood everything literally. So, it doesn’t make much sense to discuss her “belief system,” or to puzzle it out behind her back. Most likely there was no ideology to my mother at all. In this regard, she and music had something in common. Her life was a bit like reading “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe: all sound without sense. To say that she was “aesthetic” would miss the point. She was the sound of music itself… 

Eudaemonia

Ten twenty five. I’ve been back to bed to sleep in, then I got up to feed the dog. I tried to call my sister but the line was busy. So I walked off to the store for the daily foodstuffs. There was a string of customers ahead of me and one person behind me when I checked out. Evidently the market did a lot of business on Saturday during the beautiful weather. From what Michelle said, people are receiving their stimulus payments in a somewhat random order, or at least I don’t know when I’ll get mine, if ever… Still no answer when I try to call Polly. Robert Burns was right about the best laid schemes of mice and men. But to be realistic, not everything is going wrong this morning. It could be a lot worse… I should have some free time today to read a book, but I’m getting a little annoyed with Emerson, so I think maybe Baudelaire is good… My sleep last night was very troubled. My poor brain feels like a junkyard full of wreckage, a forsaken place where I can’t make any sense. Does everyone condemn me the way I condemn myself?

One ten. Polly called back. We chatted for quite a while about Mom… It’s partly sunny out and I hear a couple of aircraft overhead. Euphoric recall can be difficult to fight, and it seems stronger in the springtime… I wish in hindsight that I had encouraged my mother to write or do anything creative. She likely had the ability. What prevented her from it was the anti intellectual feeling of the family, which is really criminal and ignorant of its members. Mom had eight cylinders to her engine and only ran on two. I wonder how many other people are in the same boat. She could’ve been the next Elizabeth Bishop with the right feedback from people. Instead, she met with incomprehension and scorn whenever she took a risk. Now it’s up to me to challenge the bogus values that ruined my mother’s chances at fulfillment. It can mean isolation and alienation, yet ultimately the result is enduring happiness. 

Unguessable

Eight o’clock.

I got myself a one liter of Coke to see if I could tolerate it. The first few sips were really good, though it might not settle well with my stomach. It was cold outside and my body ached for the walk over and back again. Here and there I would make a little groan of discomfort and think, “I’m getting old.” And this is exactly the reason I seek to transcend the physical and material world, as fruitless as my quest may be. My sister asked me yesterday about cab fares in case she wanted to ride to Fred Meyer. She’s feeling less comfortable driving herself places. I gave up driving out of anxiety; I wouldn’t want to have an accident… 

I just remembered my mom’s symbolic activity of working crossword puzzles for hours a day. As if this behavior could unlock the secret of immortality, like the poems of Emily Dickinson, one riddle after another… 

The weather is rather tasteless today, with no appearance of the sun, yet there is sufficient light. I can’t think of another time in the past that compares with this morning, so maybe the experience of life is not cyclical after all. It just proceeds ahead in linear fashion towards an unguessable future. I wonder what more I can do for my sister? I believe she spends a lot of time by herself. Meanwhile the sun breaks through, glancing off Roger’s old Ford. The clouds are a bit blueberry— while Aesop stares me down for his breakfast. 

Dans la Lune

Quarter of noon. I ate the potato salad like a glutton and opened the mango Snapple. I’m in a weird mood today. I know I’m dreading my procedure a month away, and I wonder how I can weasel out of it. My healthcare insurance people have sent me another package. I imagine it’s a cancer detection kit. I won’t open it for a while… Part of me wishes I could drink beer and really enjoy my life again, but drinking enough is drinking too much. When I start to drink, there’s no way I can stop. Probably I’m just looking for a means of escape from the unpleasant situation. It feels rather cold in here. At the same time, the sun is coming out. I don’t feel as if my life were under my control, but I’m going to do something about that.

Quarter of two. I gave my white Fender bass a good workout, thinking of my old friend JP, a very talented musician who had chronic depression. We met on a beautiful Labor Day in 2003 at his place in the Whitaker neighborhood. His friend Dave was also there and played guitar… I feel very different today. The weather is like spring, a time of rebirth and renewal, but it’s also calling up thoughts and images in my memory. And I ponder why my worldview can’t be Romantic like it was 18 years back. The moon was always a beautiful sight, and the idea of it inspired me with dreams and poetry— and madness. The moon compelled tides of alcoholism the same as the ocean. Eventually I forgot that it exists in the sky or in my mind. I linked the essence of it with my mother somehow. Now it’s merely a stone in the heavens, devoid of personal meaning. Maybe there’s something wrong with that? When I behold the moon above, I’m surprised that it isn’t cracked in two pieces. It has withstood a lot of therapy, but not its copy within my soul. What would it take to restore it to wholeness and light? 

Clair de Soleil

Six o’clock.

Less than an hour till the dawn. At two o’clock this afternoon I have a phone appointment with Heidi, the most important item today. I kept dreaming that I was supposed to go to class this morning and turn in my assignment. In reality, there’s a bit of paperwork I need to get done. I can do that today and mail it off as soon as possible. 

I’ll probably call Polly this morning, after her son goes to work. I don’t feel very intellectual right now. A song by Steve Miller Band popped into my head, very redneck sounding, so I thought of my brother drinking beer and singing karaoke. He made a competition out of it. I’m glad I wasn’t there to hear it.

Seven o’clock. I need large envelopes and a postage stamp.

Nine ten. I’ve been to the store already. In the western blue I spotted the thumbprint of the waning moon, cool and aloof as I marched mechanically along Maxwell Road. It’s a sunny morning like tangerine peel. I got ahold of my sister and we gabbed for an hour in rambling fashion, but pleasantly enough. I’m thankful that being sober facilitates our relationship. Later today I might be in the mood for a bag of Doritos and some Pace chunky salsa. The sunshine invites such diversions. Maybe I’ll see Deb and Cathy again. Yesterday the atmosphere was lemon and muggy without the humidity; odd for Oregon, and a sign of constant change… I have nothing to deny or to rationalize. My mind is clear as a bell and free as a bird. But I do tend to put things off, to delay and postpone the inevitable. 

Mind and Brain

Five o’clock in the morning.

I took my Vraylar just now. I don’t remember any dreams I might have had. I woke up with a few lines of poetry in my head, so I got up and wrote them down. A poem was generated from the lines, but nothing great. I figure I need another dose of inspiration, or maybe I can go back and revise it later. I ask myself how one writer like Edgar Allan Poe could have such an influence on a whole movement in France, and be more heroic for them than for his own country. Also I wonder what were the last dreams of Edgar Poe. I feel as if I should have shared his fate as a casualty of alcoholism. In my own mind, it’s hard to discriminate between Poe and my mother, who was his ardent fan, proclaiming him a genius. She never had a desire to stop drinking, so she’s really kind of a bad angel to me— though I say that with regret. What would she have been like without alcohol and tobacco? These were her defenses, her security blankets against a hostile universe that was out to get her. My brother still condemns her, but doesn’t realize his own similarity to her. Now I wonder about the roots of paranoia, this diseased thinking that must come from somewhere. In some ways I’m more like my father, and his optimism and willpower are gifts I can hold onto, and wield them against the rest of the family.

Six o’clock. The phenomenology of schizophrenia gets tiresome after a while, and it’s easier to conceive it as just a biological disease, no different from cancer or some other somatic illness. Mental illness scares people because it attacks the mind, the seat of our thoughts and feelings, and also no one wants to acknowledge that behavior comes down to brain activity, a purely physical thing. The pastor of Our Redeemer is phobic of the reality of biological psychology and neuroscience. He chooses to ignore the facts of mental illness— and that’s a pity for him. But for this reason I won’t go back to church on Sunday morning. 

Wotan’s Day

Quarter of noon.

The sun has come out, and the sky is half full of puffy white clouds. I’m trying to eliminate the layers of negative thoughts in my mind to promote confidence and happiness. Aesop is upset because he heard another dog barking outside. There are some other little noises around the neighborhood. I think Lenore is doing gardening next door, or just something in her backyard. I could criticize myself as a very disorganized person, lazy, hedonistic, and so on, but what’s the point in being depressed? Applying moral labels to experience doesn’t help me. I used to be good at defusing the bomb of guilt and just accepting myself as I am. Eventually things do get done, but for me they happen slowly. Now I will go down the hallway to play the bass for a bit while the sunshine increases, brightening the day.

Quarter after one. So I did that, while my mind speculated on the inner spiritual life as opposed to external nature. I found that I couldn’t rule out introverted experience. The sunlight comes and goes indifferently to the invisible world within, which is permanent. I feel the way maybe Goethe would, yet I still can’t write about it with conviction today. There’s too much pressure from the majority of people to believe in spooks, so of course I fight what is popular and trendy. Should I really take the spirit world literally? It has at least subsistence in the medium of language, but actual existence would be difficult to show. Feelings are one thing, and facts are another. 

Some weird things happened to me after I worked at the agency, however. In September of 2009, my brother and I were watching college football together and drinking beer. The sports commentator said the Arizona State quarterback hadn’t thrown an interception all day. I told my brother that he was jinxing him. About three plays later he threw an interception. Jeff nodded credulously and said, “Jinx.” 

Life and Books

Eight twenty.

Early this afternoon I’m going back to the hematologist to follow up my Thursday labs. I’ve been feeling like too much of a Faust lately, cloistered with my books, looking for the truth that likely doesn’t exist. It’ll be good to get out of the house and see a little of the town. Going out to the mailbox, I could remember how it used to feel to walk off to church a few years ago. It was more fun before the pandemic hit us. Pastor’s attitude and demeanor have changed since these dark times began. My idea is that we should go out with a bang rather than a whimper, have a big party and celebrate being alive… I just realized that I should call my sister this morning, but for some reason it feels like a chore. I don’t think we agree on rock and roll and the importance of having fun. It is nothing evil or wicked to let your hair down… Too many times in the past she has scorned my interests as mere playthings and children’s games. Whatever, I don’t feel like giving her a call.

Nine twenty. As time goes by, things will get easier for me as far as my mental health. If church were about having a good time, then I’d be interested in attending. Instead, we get preached at concerning the end of the world and who is going to be saved. 

My backyard right now is busy with various birds and fox squirrels. My Mallarme book came yesterday afternoon. Having pondered it somewhat, I notice that I’m better at philosophy than prosody, so my curiosity for the poet deals more with his themes than with the arrangement of sounds. Where does the poetry take you with regard to metaphysics? How did it affect Mallarme? Did he in effect write himself to nothingness, being so absorbed in his language? It is similar to the artist’s power in Poe’s “The Oval Portrait.” The demands of the craft suck the life out of the subject and into itself. It’s a counterintuitive observation, making language larger than nature. I’m not sure I buy it; the birds and squirrels outside don’t know their names, yet they know enough to survive. 

Sunday Truant

Eight thirty five.

Though I spend it alone, today could be a good day. Hours ago I ordered my favorite bass strings on Amazon. They ought to sound great on my Jazz Bass copy, at once bright and deep… Aesop just had his chicken dog food for breakfast, plus some dry kibbles. He likes Purina stuff better than anything else. He’s a very intelligent dog, the same way poodles are smart.

Nine thirty five. Church will be underway, and I’m not there to see it. It’s so quiet in the house right now. My mind dwells on events from nine years ago, when Kate was my girlfriend in a remote way and my pug dog was 14 years old. But now I wonder how I ever could rationalize the exorbitant drinking I did every other day. It seems like such a feat of mental gymnastics. Part of it was being close to my brother, another alcoholic. But I finally realized that he didn’t care about me at all; booze was number one to him, and all human relationships secondary. It’s a heck of a way to live. I understood that I was no different to him than his wife who was number two to his alcohol. So then I prepared myself to sacrifice what I believed in for the purpose of recovery. Yet I don’t embrace my sister’s beliefs either. Gradually I’m coming into my own as an individual. My mother was right about the importance of beauty in our lives.

Ten thirty five. By now, church is done. I’m glad I didn’t go. I wasn’t interested in hearing another gloomy sermon. “Hey you, don’t help them to bury the live / Don’t give in without a fight.” And how can the church call us Pharisees and Sadducees when the ones who are lifeless are themselves? The shadow of the church disfigures people to inhumanity, turning all colors black and white. For some of us, the veneer of indoctrination was thin enough to shed. It’s like reading the early Margaret Atwood: waiting until the fur grows… 

The Iceberg

Nine thirty five.

Polly called me an hour ago. She never got over the sickness of last week and had to go to the emergency room Saturday evening. A doctor at the hospital told her she had probably passed a kidney stone and the pain of this made her nauseous. All the tests they ran came out okay. She said her oldest son hadn’t been spending much time with her in this adversity. I urged her to call me during the week if she feels lonely or bored and maybe unwell still… Meanwhile I had what felt like a small stroke last night. I thought I was going to pass out or even die on the spot. Being honest, I haven’t felt good in the past couple of weeks, maybe for psychosomatic reasons. Life all around me has really sucked ever since the November election, when people behaved their worst under pressure. There’s no excuse for the BS we’ve allowed to thrive as if it were acceptable. If I had a rocket ship and a lifetime supply of oxygen I’d fly to the moon where I could be by myself. But no. “Every mistake we must surely be learning / While my guitar gently weeps.” We’ve forgotten our history, and we are paying for our stupidity. Is the pen really mightier than the sword? Are books stronger than rifles? Is knowledge power? Then we need to do something wise to save ourselves. There’s no one else who can do this for us: no invasion by extraterrestrials, no Second Coming of Christ— nobody. It’s like the ending to Lord of the Flies: who will save humanity from its own wickedness?