Eleven ten. Outside, it rains, and I just woke up from a nap. Suspense over the election gives me wild dreams. Life can be quite unfair to people, and the only way out of caring is by drunkenness or by Buddhism. To take things with equanimity is foreign to my nature, but then I have to remind myself of what I have no control over, like the weather and like politics.
A song from the era of big bands presents itself: “Rhythm of the Rain,” but does the rainfall really have a pattern to it? It’s the same as listening to wind chimes in the outdoor breeze, or in Romantic times, a wind lyre. Only a bit more sophisticated is the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes. You flip a coin and consult the corresponding hexagrams for your fortune. I once imagined setting the book open on a tree stump outside and letting the wind rustle the pages, thereby deciding the wisdom of nature. Is this randomness or is it intelligence? A passage from a Merlin novel by Mary Stewart has it that he, on horseback, lets the horse pick their path through a wood. I suppose this passivity is a variety of wisdom, as is the rhythm of the rain. Letting go and letting a nameless Something take control. Like the wind. Like the rain. And the pages of the Book of Changes.
The sun is getting ready to go down on another Tuesday. I haven’t done anything out of the ordinary today, except to treat myself a bit more kindly. I’m still the same old pleasure seeker as always. Played some Queen songs on my green Dean bass, including what I could remember of “A Kind of Magic.”
Something made me think of my mother again; it began with my dreams last night, flashing back to January twenty years ago. Life wasn’t too bad back then, although I didn’t feel as free as I do now. Poor Mom never had any friends, and the family from her generation had all passed away. I guess it’s fair to say that she was very difficult to get along with. I wouldn’t want to do it again. Her subjective opinions were so absolute to her as to be irrational. There was no discussing anything with her. She was as hardheaded as adamant. So it was rather odd to have a dream that was indirectly about her. I wonder if it’s because of her memory that I still do rock and roll music? I had another friend whose perfectionism was instilled in him by his bipolar father. He carried his dad around with him in his mind, and it made him depressed and suicidal. Possibly I’m a little bit like him, with the difference of some insight into myself. My mother expected nothing short of rock stardom from me, but maybe this isn’t the lifestyle I want. I think I’m happy enough as a writer of blog posts for right now. But nobody ever said I can’t be both a writer and a musician— again, like Paul Bowles. I reckon some things are just spelled out in the stars…
Quarter of eight.
I feel distracted by the zodiac again, maybe only because my birthday is coming. From the Dictionary of Symbols I just read two entries, on Capricorn and the goat. It upset me last summer when so many church sermons dealt with the sheep and the goats, implying that the goats would not be saved. It interests me that goats were associated with the Greek god Dionysus in antiquity, and that the Greek word for tragedy means “goat song.” Before the rise of Christianity, the symbol of the goat was not a bad thing. My own horoscope shows three luminaries in the house of Capricorn: sun, Mercury, and Venus, all in a row. Now I’d like to research Dionysus more, and maybe the goat god Pan. I read Bacchae by Euripides once long ago, fascinated by the parallels to the Jesus story.
Nine ten. I met only one other person on my walk back from the store, a nice looking blond woman with a ponytail. I guess it would be rather silly to imagine our fates being controlled by distant planets, the sun and the moon, whirling around us in a geocentric plan. And yet this is my logic kicking in, and even astrology describes me as rational and skeptical. Today is the day of our jam over at Mike’s house off of Maxwell Road. I’ll try to keep realistic expectations of the music and go with the flow. “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-glee.” Therefore it’s better for plans to be flexible. The weather forecast says it won’t rain today, but I’ll keep checking it periodically. Nothing is ever predictable, so who can really ponder a thing like destiny? Seems as if fate itself could be rewritten.
I made two posts today that, I see in retrospect, complement each other. The first one affirms individual freedom as a gift from nature, and the second one suggests the agency of fate, in an apparent contradiction. Or, can fate and free will both obtain in the same worldview? Either they exclude each other or not. Sartre would say that the fatalism of the second post is bad faith because I tried to deny the fact of human freedom. I once had an English professor who noted, “Fate and free will are not opposites,” but I never understood his meaning. I believe the play in question was Oedipus the King. He, Oedipus, is warned by the Delphic Oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother. And as the events play out, he does just that, though unwittingly. Oedipus fulfills the fate put in place by the gods, yet his actions are freely chosen. Could he have done otherwise than what he was fated to do? This was never very clear to me. But I think I agree with Sartre: deferring your liberty to something outside of yourself is to shuffle off responsibility. So that freedom and responsibility truly are intrinsic to every human being, and “inalienable,” as I said. But I don’t think Thomas Jefferson was quite the philosopher that Sartre was, and also, Pastor is probably unfamiliar with the latter. One thing is certain: one cannot be held responsible for his actions without first acknowledging his free agency, and the converse is also true. My sister tends to overemphasize the responsibility side of the coin, ignoring the good news of man’s liberty. It’s a rather fascinating topic for me. Do you have any thoughts on this? Pastor only scratched the surface in his Reformation Sunday sermon. He evoked Aristotle and Jefferson in relation to the issues of freedom and happiness, but there’s a lot more territory to cover, particularly Greek tragedy and the philosophy of Sartre. This is an investigation I opened since the lockdown last March. I’m still working on it and hopefully I’ll come to a conclusion before next spring.
Nine fifty. Sheryl’s belief in masochism was very offensive to me as a rational person. I outgrew this kind of mentality by the time I was nine years old. Rational transactions just made more sense to me. Anything else was authoritarian and might makes right. Reason and purpose make right, not force and domination… I’m getting drowsy.
Eleven thirty. Clouds have rolled in, saving us a little from the sun. But I still don’t feel very good. I feel oppressed by life, by factors that I can’t control. It seems like there’s no difference between the weather and society. It is all one force of nature, totally out of my hands. Is that a superstition? A mystical notion? And what governs our fate after all, and can prayer change it? A fire sacrifice to the gods, burnt offerings. It’s a primitive way of thinking, yet we still do it. The whole feels greater than the sum of the parts sometimes. We feel like puppets of the master in the sky. It’s only a feeling, but it may be right. The strangest part is how we’re all doing it together, like a cosmic dance. Like a Shakespeare play… The patchy clouds have become an overcast sky, as if in answer to someone’s prayer. Free will may be a mere illusion. And maybe we’ll never know.
I just gave the second copy of Bishop to Kim, who reported that she loves books. First I had put it in the book share, so I had to walk all the way back and retrieve it. But I think the volume has found a good home. Kim said she would cherish it. I also went to the market for a soda… Yesterday afternoon I had some thoughts about genetic fatalism, especially expressed from my dad’s side. Maybe my half siblings are right about how I resemble him. But even so, I can’t do anything to change it. I believe that I possess my dad’s willpower over things like addiction. He was able to stop smoking by sheer effort of will. I know it does no good to condemn the traits I inherited from him. People can throw a Bible at them, but feeling guilty doesn’t eradicate them. Why repent what you cannot change? Instead, just get on with life. We’ve evolved beyond throwing stones at people who are different… The weather today is partly sunny and more temperate than the last two days. Possibly the best ideology is no ideology at all.
Wee hours of the morning.
Just going with it. I’m up now, might as well write what I feel. Pitch blackness outside and nobody’s awake now. I wrote a poem. Turned out pretty good. I might change the title. It’s about the poet’s intuition, almost a statement of mysticism. The poet grasps truth directly and not from anything intermediate. This will be my new credo. Sure, it exalts the poet, but in a way, everyone is a poet. Everyone who dreams is a visionary. What is it about the sky, the sun, moon, and the stars? What can the heavens tell us about life? I guess everything we see is a mirror of ourselves, so that the truth is always interior. It is dream. I ought to read The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. Joseph Campbell is beautiful. His writing has a flow of eloquence to it similar to Emerson. I think it’s because both of them were steeped in the East, particularly Hinduism, that they were so articulate and poetic.
I don’t know what to do with this time. There’s a chimichanga in the freezer I could eat. To a certain extent I am still free. My parents ruled my life with an iron fist, and I’m rebelling against their ghosts. They weren’t very smart, and they weren’t very good at raising kids. At this moment I am resting potential. In another moment I may be eating or back in bed.
Quarter of eight. Well now I know of a real case of the coronavirus. My heart is penitent because it happened to a young poet. She says she is recovered, so I hope she feels better… Time to go to the store in a few minutes. Aesop needs dry food and treats. I’ll make an effort to be more serene and accepting of what I can’t control. Music may or may not come to fruition. This will have to be okay. It is out of my hands.
Today I read the whole play of Prometheus Bound, largely from curiosity about Greek cosmology and how this affects human freedom. Aeschylus is the oldest known tragedian, coming before Sophocles and Euripides. Reading him in English translation is odd because you know that the translator has studied Shakespeare and Shelley prior to his treatment of the Ancient Greek. My little Loeb edition has the parallel Greek, which I wish I could decipher on my own rather than depend on the English rendering which sounds too much like Shakespeare or the King James Version. Interesting, though, when Zeus is referred to as “God,” as if the Greeks had been monotheistic (which they were not). I’ve seen some English versions of Plato that confounded Christian theology with the Greek as well. Every translator brings a personal bias to the original text, as I know you are aware (we discussed this before). Still, the Smyth translation tries to preserve and to revive the grandeur of the original.
I learned from it that human fate is determined by the “triform Fates and mindful Furies,” and not by Zeus. Actually, Zeus was a newcomer to Olympus, having overthrown his father Cronus and messed things up for the old Titans such as Prometheus and his brother Atlas. Zeus had planned to wipe out human beings and replace them with a better race, but Prometheus had compassion on us and stole fire kept in fennel stalks of the gods and gave it to humanity. He also says that every art known to humankind is what he taught us. So that the fire comes to symbolize the light of reason and knowledge hitherto unavailable to human beings. People had been living underground with eyes that couldn’t see and ears that couldn’t understand. And these acts of kindness on the part of the Titan were freely willed by him. It is his stubbornness and self will and defiance of Zeus that get him in trouble. His fate would have been to be released from the crag where he is chained by Heracles (Roman Hercules), but instead, Zeus blasts him with a thunderbolt straight to Tartarus, another word for hell or Hades. With Prometheus perishes the secret of the future overthrow of Zeus. The daughters of Oceanus also disappear with him in the end.
It’s interesting to me to consider how Prometheus the Titan is older and more informed than Zeus, who has only now usurped the godhead from his father Cronus. Zeus is referred to as a tyrant, and Prometheus gets a lot of sympathy from other divinities and mortals. And his punishment comes about all because of his compassion for the race of humankind. How deserving were we, anyway? We had no defense and no weapon, not even the fire of reason, to keep us alive, until this old Titan showed us the way. It’s quite a story, isn’t it?
I hope July proves to be a good month. June had its ups and downs. The coronavirus snafu just isn’t going away, so I wonder if I may never get to play music with other people again. A moment ago I thought of my sobriety, which had been so far from my mind during my retelling the tale of Prometheus. Maybe storytelling is a way to occupy my time rather than music in all this uncertainty and hullabaloo. Aesop hates it when I play my bass guitar plugged in. Perhaps he will get his way and the music will not pan out. The future is totally unforeseen, and every day is one at a time. I’m certainly getting tired of the lockdown however. I guess the answer is to surrender. To say que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. Like fate that is entirely inscrutable.
Quarter after eight.
It’s just an overcast morning. Supposed to be cloudy all day, chance of rain this afternoon. I pulled out my book of Frost and read “Design” again, a couple of times. His idea of a malign cosmos brings Melville to mind, also the later poems of Dickinson. Originally, it all goes back to Greek tragedy, about which I’d like to know more. I should review Sophocles, and Aeschylus and Euripides. The ideal would be having total recall of everything I ever read. I can start by reading all the Aeschylus I have.
Nine fifty. Fate in Prometheus Bound is ordained by Zeus, simply enough. But it’s humbling to turn the pages of a drama so ancient and venerable… I’m getting a haircut at eleven o’clock. The name “Prometheus” means “forethought,” which adds irony to a story of fate. The Titan knew in advance what would happen to him for championing humankind. He showed us fire anyway. Now he must be riveted to a rock in manacles of brass as his punishment for disobeying Zeus. With a stake of adamant right through his chest. Till the end he will be defiant and bewail the injustice of his fate. And of all beings, only Zeus is free. But what about Prometheus, when he chose to benefit humanity? Did he will his action, or was it part of his fate?… He is a martyr, as so many figures in antiquity were. Socrates, Aesop, Jesus Christ… The question I woke up with was if the universe is a friendly place. The Greeks believed in the lordship of Zeus, similar in some ways to Jehovah. He was the maker of human fates— but there were also the Fates, the Furies, and the Muses. I wonder how all this worked together? Interesting…
Quarter of noon. Karen informed me that face masks are mandatory starting tomorrow, and sold me five of them for three bucks apiece. I suppose, like death and taxes, it was inevitable… Shasta from the insurance office emailed me the information about earthquake coverage. I’ll call her back tomorrow and approve it. Now I guess I’ll read the rest of my Aeschylus.
One o’clock. I just got back from Bi Mart, where I picked up my prescription. Good to see Shawn and Jeanine. Today has a weird vibe to it, though. I was thinking about how life could have been different if I’d never started drinking. Maybe something would have intervened in my relationship with my mother. As it was, I was trapped and stuck with her. I also thought of how my brother associated me with my dad, which was very unfair. He considered me a miniature replica of him, but I never liked my dad.
Quarter of four. My day is not going very well, mentally speaking. I don’t have much control over my memories, and these things in turn come to control me. I need a stronger ruler over the populace of my mind, all the remembered feelings and states from the past. Probably the heat has much to do with it. And I feel alone and lonely, at the same time that I’m overborne with public opinion and expectations. It was rather odd that I bought a textbook on sociology, for my personal instinct is to fight that kind of mentality. Life at the individual level has always made more sense to me than trying to grasp the spirit of the age. I guess I’m going through some growing pains. For a long time I believed that my only problem was agnosticism; but no, there’s the datum of society to reckon with, from family units outward to the globe. I haven’t managed very well with my family, and maybe I’ll never be popular in any capacity. But at least I won’t die alone and friendless, an old drunk living in a hovel like The Mayor of Casterbridge. I used to believe that my doom was sealed, and I would drink myself to death. Evidently the stars had another plan for me. What that destiny is will not be clear until my life is played out. I’m glad, however, that Thomas Hardy didn’t write the plot!