Two thirty AM.
Last month my brother was honored at Oregon State University but, according to my sister’s report, no one in the family went to see the ceremony. Of course, her perspective on it is unreliable and what she says will be biased against academics. I wouldn’t have gone to it anyway because my brother has been very unkind to me, for all I know as long as I’ve been alive. The curse of family is something I’ve tried to free myself from since starting my recovery. A passage in Absalom, Absalom! says it very aptly. It is the girl’s letter saying you have to be tied with strings to everyone in your family, and everything you do affects everyone else. But is this a desirable condition for any individual? The cognitive therapy of Aaron Beck suggests that each person is responsible only for his own emotions. He says the opposite of Faulkner and Sartre: people are responsible for others as well as themselves. I wonder if this is what is meant by “social responsibility.” And maybe I am irresponsible by trying to break free of family in any form. Now it turns into a philosophical debate of which I’m right in the middle. Jean Paul Sartre versus Aaron Beck; or the Old School against cognitive therapy. Often it seems that the second one is a minority that doesn’t stand a chance. But I’ll keep on fighting for freedom.
It is not owing to family that I have stayed sober for five and a half years…
I’m up again in the dead of night. I don’t remember my dreams just a moment ago.
I’ve got a short little span of attention
And, whoa, my nights are so long
This reminds me of a neat little record shack on the corner of 13th and Kincaid, next to Taylor’s pub on the university campus, called Face the Music. But that was the late 80s and early 90s, and when I was a student I didn’t really know anything. Maybe the same is true today. My parents controlled my life with an iron hand as long as they were alive, so now I ponder the purpose of their tyranny. My guess is they wanted their alcoholism kept secret from the world; also my mother was a bit like Rochester’s first wife, shut up in the attic for her madness. How strange to remember that now with more perspective. Mom needed an evaluation by a psychiatrist, but of course she refused the responsibility for her stuff, and the whole family suffered as a consequence. I don’t know what to think now of her quixotic dreams for me as I was growing up. How does anyone get to be a rockstar in this life?
If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.
So maybe my old psychiatrist had the right idea when he had me read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance so many years ago.
No rockstar chooses his career; the career chooses him, if you believe what Emerson used to say. And maybe people are giving up their old romantic notions.
Could John Watson turn a garbage man into a lawyer? Was Twain right about the Man Factory?
Sometimes it’s just hard to be a human being. And by the way, it was an astrology report that told me I could write.
Seven thirty five.
The mask mandate for healthcare facilities in Oregon was lifted a month ago, so today I don’t have to wear one to the agency. After ten o’clock, the taxi will pick me up for a little ten minute trip. I can’t really speculate what it’ll be like, since it’s a bit different each time I go. The realistic attitude is not to imagine ahead, but take it as it comes and act accordingly. Of my two parents, my dad was the sane one, while my mom, though brilliant, was a nut. When under stress, I draw upon my dad’s genes to navigate a situation. In honor of him and his literary tastes I named my dog Aesop… My poor mother had such a negative outlook, full of fear and paranoia, that life with her was very painful for me. She was defeatist, believing it could not be done. Overall, she seemed to think that the universe was not a friendly place and everyone was out to get her… She must’ve been in college when she had exposure to Edgar Allan Poe, whom she praised as a genius. After she passed away, I photocopied “The Bells” at OfficeMax, had it laminated in a single sheet, then drove up to Rest Haven to her gravesite and stuffed the poem into the flowerpot over the marker. My other choice would’ve been the Intimations Ode by Wordsworth. Either one made a fitting sendoff for my mother.
I don’t know how to describe this day, really. Pretty lonely, and nothing going on around here. I think I was up for five hours last night, but now I don’t know what for. I guess I’m sort of in a daze this week, and all these memories crowd in to plague me. Like yesterday, when I reminisced on the last decade before the 00, from the middle to the end. In my journal I recollected part of my old route to Chris’s house in Springfield. He led the band I was in. Things have changed so much since 97. Not even the roads are quite the same anymore, and when I go to Springfield now I’m really lost. I think I kind of miss driving my own car. There are pros and cons either way. It’d be tough for me emotionally to drive around town and see how nothing is the same. Even just riding, I saw Autzen Stadium, home of the Ducks, a year ago or more, on MLK Blvd and marked the changes to it. Today it’s a huge black structure, really scary looking, like nothing my parents had imagined. And I suppose that’s the bottom line. So that it’s more comfortable for me to walk into places like Bi Mart, a capsule of frozen time resistant to change, perhaps to perversion. You go in there on a Tuesday and check your lucky number, like they’ve done for fifty years. Maybe you’ll win a toaster or something cool.
I’m just rambling, trying to get my feet under me to understand my feelings today.
It’s partly sunny just now. Yesterday evening there was blue sky from five until sundown… I need a way to drop anchor in this emotional sea, because I’m feeling kind of seasick. It helps me to make notes in my diary and to read them back later on. I often find that in hindsight, all my writing makes perfect sense. So, the words themselves serve as anchor for the seasick passenger on deck.
Seven thirty five.
There was a slight suggestion of rain when I made my excursion to the market around the bend. It’s very peaceful on this Sunday morning, whether a person goes to church or not. Although it’s still early, some people are out of the house and the daylight is bright and white.
One thing that disturbs me is being unable to contact my sister last Friday: should I be concerned? But always I find ways to borrow trouble and worry over nothing. We never know anything until we interface with other individuals and get it from the horse’s mouth. A lot of the information we get is filtered through a person’s perspective, which will be biased no matter who it is. An exception to this is the fictional character Benjy in The Sound and the Fury, a book that was on my mind last night. I remembered that the family sold Benjy’s pasture so that Quentin could go to Harvard, just another burden on Quentin’s overwrought conscience.
I haven’t yet heard of the model family in my experience. My own is very enmeshed and rather dysfunctional. Five years ago I deactivated my Facebook account to get away from my relatives and try to be free. The next year, my sister caught up with me after I’d had a house fire, with mixed feelings on my part… I think it’s the very principle of family that I tend to reject. And it’s not like my family has my own best interests in mind. The interests of the family come before any individual: a microcosm of society.
I thought I saw a marauding starling make a ruckus with the sparrows just outside. The sparrows were freaking out and raising the alarm to all the others that things were not safe. What’s it like to be a starling? Perhaps an ugly duckling? My dog came up and put his paw on the arm of my loveseat. I believe he had a question for me. I wish I was a better answer man for his sake. And the rain keeps hanging fire as morning advances.
The day starts out mostly sunny with some high clouds. The thought of things like Arthurian legend transports me back 25 years, to when my parents still lived and life was a different ballpark: and I wish like heck I could return. If the same sun shines today as back then, then why is my experience so different now? I pin it mostly on the death of my dad. When he passed, it was like a cataclysm that tilted the axis of the world. I can remember listening to music like The Orb in that last year, and people expected something very strange to happen for the Millennium. There were books of Nostradamus on the stands in bookstores and even supermarkets; I bought a few. I had a girlfriend who gave me a book describing the quest for the historical Avalon, the island where King Arthur was buried… But all that really materialized for me at the turn of the century was the loss of my parents. Since then, it’s been a fight for my independence, forming an identity for myself while beating down the jackals who would steal my soul. “It don’t really matter to me, baby / Everybody’s had to fight to be free.” There’s always someone to carry on the search for Noah’s Ark. But somehow it seems to me like selling phony pieces of the cross.
Six thirty AM.
I thought of how my brother taught me to draw a star when I was five years old: it was actually a pentagram, so I was drawing pentagrams all over the place. Then I started hearing the old song by David Crosby:
Guinevere drew pentagrams
Like yours, milady, like yours
Late at night
When she thought no one was watching at all
On the wall
It’s a beautiful song on the first album by CSN, way back in the late Sixties.
Outside, the cloud cover is thin and they say it’ll be sunny today. I haven’t been to the store yet, but I kind of look forward to seeing Lisa, and Aesop will want his treats. Gloria won’t be here for work today, but her book arrived yesterday evening and she’ll get it from me on Saturday. I felt rather disappointed when she canceled for today yet I know it’s nothing personal and I was being childish.
I thought of drawing stars because in my journal I use an asterisk to mark off paragraphs sometimes. But also, my brother’s been on my mind a lot lately…
Nine thirty at night.
I resolved not to overindulge in caffeine again at least very soon. I think I can philosophize myself out of it. The real underlying desire is for alcohol, and everything I do is a mask for this innate impulse. It’s like a weed that grows with you: you can whack it down to a crack in the floorboards, but it’s impossible to uproot it. Moreover it’s a thing that my family understands; all the males have the heredity for alcoholism… I just had a flashback to an old trip to the Coast with my brother. When we got to Florence we always stopped to buy a case of beer and some food before winding north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Yachats and Waldport. Now he is 70 and still acting like a 21 year old rebel, though it’s hard to say if he’s very dumb or very smart. I don’t know if alcoholism is a disease, especially with its historical roots reaching back to the ancient cult of Dionysus. Our culture of today sticks a pejorative label on drunken behavior. And maybe it’s an excuse to glorify it with mythic precedents and words like “Bacchic” and “Dionysian,” etc. Whatever it really is, my brother took the wager and went with Mr Hyde, when Dr Jekyll might have been able to invent the “reverse nuclear bomb.” And perhaps when you ponder it deeply, his fate has been a damn shame. The only question is, is “fate” the right word?
Quarter after nine.
And maybe there’s nothing more to say just now. It won’t be a big day for me on WordPress, and I guess that’s fine. I might get another surprise in a different way. Late yesterday afternoon a flock of starlings passed through. I don’t know how to feel about them; they remind me of leopard seals: mean and aggressive as well as spotted… The weather today is gray with overcast. I could call my sister in a half hour for a long chat. But I know Aesop would hate it like he hates every intrusion. So I’ll probably put it off till Friday. You can’t please everybody. Sometimes you can’t please anybody at all. Everything you do is blessed and cursed at once. You end up simply doing it and facing the guilt afterwards. David Burns wrote that personalization is the mother of guilt. So, don’t take responsibility for the feelings of others. It’s enough to manage your own emotions. But a lot of Old School people don’t understand this and try to be like Sartre: we are responsible for what other people do. The worst situation I can think of is enmeshment, everyone tied together with strings. This is my church group, and they call it being a family. If only we could get everyone on the same page, like computers with the same operating system.
It’s ten o’clock and I won’t call my sister today.
The morning with Gloria was really very pleasant. A few times the sun has come out but not for long. After she left, it started raining. This afternoon I’ve been sitting with A Princess of Mars and got up to the fourth chapter. It’s a strange kind of book, and doubtless I liked the cover art at the time more than the story. The comic book illustrators did a fantastic job with the strange creatures as well. But as far as things like social justice are concerned, Burroughs had some rather incorrect attitudes. Now it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable and maybe embarrassed to see it for what it is. And did I tell you that I come from a white working class family? My sister carries the same torch onward— or she did, and the family she calls her own still perpetuates those values. Maybe this is what I’m embarrassed about when I look back and see my similarities to my racist family.
It’s hard to judge whether they’re responsible for their ignorance. I really don’t know. But I think their attitude of anti intellectualism is willful and stubborn, and comfortable for them because blood is thicker than water. By the way, I don’t agree with this old phrase anyway. An individual can choose his friends but he’s stuck with his family.
It’s pretty weird to remember back to the seventies, being in grade school and going on trips with my parents up and down the West Coast, only as far east as the Snake River. And all along the trip to California, picking up a comic book here and there. I also looked at National Geographic magazines and World for kids. There’s a lot I remember but choose not to think about usually. Maybe it’s just too painful for me.
Times were definitely different forty years ago, or fifty and on back.
Also we see some politicians who want to flip the calendar back that many years. It’s hard to watch as our country cracks up like a great ship before it sinks.
I guess that’s what I was trying to say.