Same Old Dilemma

I’ve had yet another bad day today, I don’t know why. I feel as if my life were not mine to live the way I see fit. As though it were out of my control, and hopelessly interwoven with the lives of other people. My desire is to break free and be a happy individual, beyond reproach, past judgment and criticism from the world. But the longer I live, the more I see how inseparable all human lives are from each other. Probably the only escape from society is death, and even then, we don’t know what comes after this existence. This afternoon, feeling full of dread, I went to bed and rested for two hours. I just wasn’t up to life and needed a break. I’m feeling the weight of responsibility for myself and also for others. Life in a civilized culture is a kind of contract, I suppose. But from all around me I’m getting the pressure to conform to social norms: the church, Laurel Hill, WordPress, family, and friends everywhere. Sometimes I just want it to end. And when this happens, I feel the temptation to drink and blot out reality. It seems like there’s no escape, no way out of the social contract except to self destruct. I think the worst part of this is the sense of impotence, of having no control over my own life. 

Everyone has an opinion they want to sell you, but it’s only an idea they borrowed from someone else, who took it from someone else, and so on to infinity. Few people judge the truth of things firsthand and act accordingly, but I believe this is the ideal approach to honest living, to any kind of integrity and power over your life. The responsibility for doing this is inescapable, of course, and I wonder how the world would be with everyone thinking for themselves. A world of freethinkers might be chaos, or then again, there may be agreement in their perceptions. 

The only reason I keep going to church is because they seem to need my presence for worship. They expect me to be there, and I feel like I mustn’t let them down. One of them came up to me when I was blowing out the candles and told me I was full of hot air. Just a joke about my tendency to overthink things, but afterwards it kind of bothered me. It reminds me that I can’t do anything at all without repercussions down the line. And this is the responsibility issue again. But now I see that the church is the real issue on my mind right now, the specific thing driving my abstractions and emotions, these feelings of helplessness and despair. I just don’t know what to do! I really want to leave the church, but they won’t let me go. It’s a ridiculous situation that’s been going on for over a year.

Excellent Foppery

Four twenty five in the morning.

Yesterday, Michelle said that the peppermint candy ice cream would still be available through the holiday, so that gives me an idea. The store opens at six o’clock, but it won’t become light out until almost eight. Still I might take my chances with the darkness on my little mission. My mind is beginning to juggle the possibilities for a New Year’s resolution. How about finishing up reading Les Miserables in 2021? It’s such a literary monument, and very French… The dudes and I have set a time for our jam this Saturday: three o’clock. There may be a 53 percent chance of showers, but I think I can hoof it. Bass guitar in my left hand, umbrella in my right. We were going to fart around with the John McLaughlin song. No worries.

Nine o’clock. Been to the store for ice cream and a Snapple tea. Aesop just ate. Michelle wore Snoopy and Woodstock this morning. She thought another customer looked shady, so she kept her eye on him. Moving north of the building, my eye caught the beer cooler, but I realized that I do have the power to say no. Choice is a conscious thing, no mystery about it, no psychodynamic forces beyond our control. Right now, I reject Freud and Jung, and maybe the subconscious too. Everyone has the right to be eclectic, to pick the beliefs that benefit them. We can assign responsibility to entities outside of ourselves, but does that really help our situation? In my opinion, it doesn’t. Therefore I put the responsibility where it belongs: with myself. Anything else is the “excellent foppery of the world,” to quote Shakespeare. 

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… 

Out of the Fog

Ten o’clock.

Michelle was sweet this morning, as usual. Yesterday she wore her Snoopy sweatshirt and I said I liked it. She said it was the last clean shirt on the rack. I left for the store a bit earlier because Aesop needed canned food for his breakfast at nine o’clock. The fog was dense and I met no one on my way there. Coming back, I ran into the old man with his walking stick who lives on the next street down from mine. He was dressed in blue denim with a baseball cap. I was hearing “Sanctuary” by John McLaughlin in my head, a slow dirge in 3/4, definitely dissonant. Right now the sun is burning through the remains of the fog…

I feel a nebulous sense of past things and people from when Obama was president. Eight years was a long stretch. I used to walk Aesop around the neighborhood when he was a puppy. I made myself tea in the morning, then in the afternoon I’d go get a 12 pack of cheap beer. On a soaring drunk I would put The Beatles on the pc speakers and lose touch with reality.

Quarter after eleven. Today I wonder why I drank so heavily. Was there something about my life that I couldn’t accept? I had a psychiatrist who always nagged me for not “doing something.” He had an extreme work ethic and tried to instill this in his clients. He used electro convulsive therapy as a means to “motivate” his severely depressed patients. Interestingly, it was the month after I fired him that I began my sobriety, and this time I succeeded. I’d never made this connection before.

Noon hour. I remember when I received the letter that terminated his services. It was dated August 1, 2017. At last, after twenty five years of torture, I was free. Toward the end of my sessions with him, I dreaded going to every appointment— and I told him so in a phone conversation. He couldn’t say much to that.

Quarter of two. I believe that subconsciously I still rebel against the old psychiatrist. Whatever thing he wished of me, I gave him the opposite. This went on for years. I perceived him as a kind of slave driver. Nothing I did was good enough for him. He became like an authoritarian parent to me. After a length of time I’d had enough of being unfairly bossed around. He used verbal abuse on me as well, and that was the end of the rope. I learned by an accident that I had rights as a client, so I got brave and did what I had to do. 

The Defense of Books

Noon thirty. Trying to collect my thoughts. I still feel quite up in the air as far as the political transition. And then, Polly has an attitude about books and higher education that sometimes raises its ugly head. My response is to feel guilty, but I don’t believe it’s really my fault. I love books, and I have ever since I was about eight years old. Books form a kind of dividing line: you either love them or you hate them. They are just as symbolic as wearing glasses or having an egg head. In the end, you are what you are, and no bones about it… Dunno; should I feel bad for being a bibliophile? I think there’s no percentage in feeling guilty for anything, so I should heed my own lesson to others.

Quarter of three in the morning.

Now it finally occurs to me that Polly’s phobia of books is wrongheaded, or at least my love of books isn’t a bad thing. It is simply a difference in taste, but my sister’s opinion is absolute in her own mind. I wish she were more tolerant of the things she doesn’t understand. She tends to crucify people with an education, and maybe those who have more brainpower than herself. Somehow she can turn another person’s virtue into a vice. My whole family condemns intellectuals, but that still doesn’t make it wrong. At some point I have to stand up to them and say it’s not a crime to use your brain for something more than meat and potatoes. Indeed, I’ve done this already, and the family excommunicated me. But it’s been worthwhile to start my own blog and write out my ideas just for me. It’s a world of live and let live, of liberty and justice for all, and anyone who tries to deny another person his happiness has a serious problem. 

Persistence

Three thirty in the morning.

My old dollar store readers are about to break, so I ordered five new pairs on Amazon, arriving Thursday. I heard it raining out a few minutes ago. Thank goodness for freedom. I remember how S— L— used Tru Thought leaflets to brainwash people that altruism is the only acceptable way to live. This literature was also used on convicted criminals, I discovered by researching it online fifteen years ago. But I never identified myself as a criminal simply for having addiction issues. The real crime was the indoctrination at the treatment facility. I also did myself a disservice to ever enroll in treatment. Many people will try to tell you what is what, but what do they know? S— L— counselors drove vintage sports cars. One of them had a ‘67 Chevelle in maroon with black stripes. No one ever said anything about this extravagance, but to me it was a ridiculous contradiction. Suffice it to say that there are much better ways to invest your money than in treatment programs. You can start by building your own home library, or downloading free ebooks from Project Gutenberg. I even heard of a rebellious teenage girl who thwarted her oppressive father by sneaking 150 classic books onto her Nintendo. He never suspected a thing. He imagined himself a working class hero who despised books or anything intellectual. Video games were okay, books not okay for his kids. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

The Good News: a Letter

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.

Inalienable

Quarter of nine. Day has dawned, but it’s still pretty dark. Feeling tired and tempted to drink. This is because I’m lonely. Sometimes it might be nice to have a wife, somebody to live with and to love. And who is anyone to say no? My sister would be stupid to tell me what to do. She should have learned that by now… I guess I’ll go to the store and get something to drink. Never underrate freedom, which is inalienable by anyone else. You always have options. This is the endowment of nature, no matter what the system of government. Yet I do feel very tired and heavy hearted. For a treat I could buy a Coke…

Ten o’clock. I passed the salon and caught Karen chewing out Kim for something, so I didn’t stop. Michelle told me she got a new second job. The job as security officer she perceived as sexist, so she left it last month. Now she works in a small grocery store in a small town on the outskirts of Eugene. She is pretty good at taking care of herself. Michelle is always very nice to me, thus I look forward to seeing her on weekends. It was so cold outside that I flipped up my hood to keep my head warm. Just briefly I saw Derek with his two daughters in his driveway. All along on my walk I thought about society versus personal freedom. It makes me think I should check out the writings of Thomas Jefferson myself: just what did he mean by liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And what did the French people think of that? I wonder if Pastor ever read Henrik Ibsen. Somehow I doubt it, but A Doll’s House was such a cornerstone to my education. I am unlikely to ever forget it. 

The Happiness Crux

I’ve been dreaming that I was reading and making margin notes in Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, trying to resolve the contradiction between Pastor’s definition of happiness and my own. Now I don’t remember how my argument went, but subconsciously it made perfect sense. In reality I’ve never read the essays of Camus, but I know how popular they are. As I begin to think consciously, there’s a passage in my ethics textbook that discusses egoism versus altruism, and then a third alternative Robert C. Solomon refers to as prudence. This is using your own judgment in different situations and acting selfishly or unselfishly depending on what is needed… For some reason this clash of theology and philosophy is important to me. I should take another look at Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill as well, because as I recall, he resolves the problem already… To explain, Pastor believes that happiness is a collective thing, and not so much the pursuit of personal pleasure. But what I learned in school emphasizes the rights of the individual, just the opposite of what Pastor preaches. This opposition forms the crux of our differences, and it pulls my brain apart trying to fix it. But I think I’ll still come away from the problem an individualist. I began to feel strongly this way as a junior in high school when we studied The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I guess I felt that way because I was a loner and a nerd throughout my high school experience. The cliquish nature of school prior to college did a lot of damage to misfits like me, and I wasn’t the only one. And looking around me today, maybe I’m not really cut out for church.

Dignity

Four ten.

I seem to be quite discontent with my life as it is today. I guess it’s just the absence of pleasure that gets me down. I keep saying what a gray existence this is, how colorless and insipid, and essentially unhappy. When this depression hits, I take recourse to a past when I had more pleasure. Basically, I feel unloved. Loneliness eats away at my very soul, and the November weather doesn’t help. I might be happier if I could drink beer, yet even this is illusory. I’m an epicurean living in a stoic world, a complete fish out of water. My parents lived that way all their lives, selfishly sucking the most pleasure out of existence that they could. I look around me and see no other way than hedonism. To be a hedonist without pleasure is indeed a meaningless life, and that is life without alcohol for an alcoholic. But I know that for me there’s no moderation in drinking, thus I am stuck with anhedonia. As we move into the winter, the memory of my mother returns… I don’t know. I’m just a wreck. 

Occasionally I take comfort in the idea of individual freedom. But freedom in the world of the pandemic seems like a delusion, because we’re all chained together in the same condition. In fact, as I consider it, personal liberty is precisely what my life is missing today. There’s too much focus on sociology, the study of society and culture. This may be coming from the church. The libertarian influences on me have deserted for a while, but I know that freedom is my inspiration and not the chains of collectivism. I suppose I have a disagreement with my church, and maybe I need to change my lifestyle accordingly. I’d like to revive my ideas of Renaissance humanism and restore my reverence for the beauty of the human form. Religion has corrupted my image of humankind as a noble thing: heroic and strong, pure and honest. The individual molds society, not the other way around. The greatest human being is the one who can stand trial against the world and win.