Peace; Absent Friends

Eight fifty.

I really don’t like King Crimson, the prog rock band, anymore, due to the element of demonism they trade on. It hasn’t been a healthy influence for me since I started following them in high school. What a strange shtick for a rock band. I don’t understand the point of it. But maybe I’m the weirdo? I remember feeling psychotic after my mother died and seeing the devil everywhere in rock and roll. Perhaps it’s just as well that rock music is dying or dead already. It’s definitely a thing of Western culture, based on something biblical, and the music makes it scarily real. Whatever people were thinking, the strategy worked and we bought it. Was there something more to it than marketing; something more than money? Why did we find it necessary to raise hell? Maybe now there can be peace on earth…

Eleven twenty five.

It’s a day when I realize how much I miss my parents. The October light is amber through the smoke, somehow conjuring up the ghosts of old friends but my parents most of all. And they were my friends as well as my kin. Probably there’s no bond stronger than friendship. It’s hard to write about. I will go and play my bass for catharsis even though Dad and Mom have been gone more than twenty years. I have to work my way through it every autumn and it doesn’t get any easier with time. 

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Maturity

Quarter of seven at night.

I’ve had a great day, with two fun packages for me in the mail.

Quarter after eleven.

I’m very happy with both gifts I got myself. The little Squier Jazz Bass looks, sounds, and plays great. The body is Daphne blue and the neck has pearloid inlays. I had fun unboxing it and plugging it in the first time, setting the tone for my day. Later, as night was just falling, the mail carrier brought my book of four Jules Verne novels, another delight. The pages are gilt edged, the cover probably leather, and the sewn binding includes a ribbon marker… This morning I skipped church as a kind of objection to something I don’t believe in anymore. My journal is full of nostalgia for a band I played in 24 years ago, an alternative groove band called The Owls. It was far more mature than the butt rock band I joined two years on its heels. My dad’s death threw off everything else in my life; sometimes I miss him more than my mother. He gave legitimacy, decency, and taste to the activities I chose to pursue in the Nineties. Even if it was only rock and roll, it could be respectable as well as fun, with a good moral message to listeners as opposed to sheer gaudiness with no substance. Thus I’ll probably think again about returning to church— just for the ethics element if not for the supernatural fluff. 

Tale of Two Lisas

Quarter of noon.

Though I feel exhausted today, everything has gone pretty well anyway. Gloria and I drove to the Bottle Drop in Springfield— and I ran into Lisa from Community Market as we came out of the doors. “What are you doing here?” I said, knowing it was a stupid question. She held up her plastic bag and said, “Same thing you just did. Gas money for the Jeep!” This time I collected $12.20 in redemption value for 5 bags of bottles and cans. While it was clear and sunny here, in Springfield there was smoke in the air from the regional wildfires. Now, at one o’clock, I get my hair cut with Karen just around the corner from home. She’ll set the trimmers for 3 and buzz off the little hair that I have on the sides and in back. Since my twenties I’ve had my dad’s pattern baldness but it never has bugged me. Afterwards I’ll go to the store again and treat myself and Aesop: I could use another Snapple tea.

I think I’ll skip church this Sunday after the lousy sermon I heard last time. Only if I was desperate for company would I go back. And meanwhile I can read some good poetry for illumination, though it may bring me pain. Great writing comes to us at a cost of anguish to the writer and also the reader. I question whether all the rules of the Bible are really for me when my only offense was being an alcoholic. Why bind myself to unnecessary rules if I don’t have to? I think the secular laws are enough to keep things safe and orderly. It must be remembered that a dual diagnosis is not a sin, and disease is not a moral issue, to disagree with the thinking of a hundred years ago. But old traditions die hard even if they are dysfunctional. People don’t test the things they believe in. And I don’t take anything on secondhand report, which is the meaning of “faith.”

Quarter of two.

Karen was busy with two other clients when I arrived for my appointment. There isn’t much to write about it. Very early this morning I bumped into another Lisa at the market. She has a job at the nationwide beauty chain in the Gateway Mall. She told me she was tired. Lisa is tall and very pretty, with black hair, dark eyes, and a few freckles on her face that add to her loveliness. It’s an inspiration to see her when our paths cross on some mornings.

Parallels

Quarter of seven.

If as they say there’s fog outside, it is neither low nor dense. I put on a light jacket with a knitted purple beanie and braved the darkness of six o’clock. On my own street I began thinking that external reality may be the emanation of human minds. I got to the little store without adventure and of course it was quite deserted. I saw one car in the lot besides Lisa’s. Yesterday she had told me she had gout in her foot from her kidney disease. Today she was a bit better… At nine thirty this morning I plan to help the volunteers get ready for the food pantry happening Saturday. I’ll leave the house at nine and hoof it to the church; it should take me fifteen minutes. Now the sun is up behind the overcast but I see no fog. The late afternoon yesterday was nice with mostly sunshine… When I was five years old, I would play by myself in the front yard. There was a pretty girl who lived up the street from me, a high school student named Denise, and she brought me candy or bubble gum from her trips to the convenience store— but she made me spell her name every time. I doubt that my parents knew it was going on. Once she even took me home to meet her family. I very eagerly would have traded my family for hers, but the paradise was only temporary.

Blind Man’s Vision

After midnight.

It’s a night of ineffable dreams.

A blind man I used to know from church wrote me to say that God and religion are two different things; and, he inverted what I’d said about seeing is believing. His statements probably affected me more deeply than I had estimated. They stirred up something in me just at the time of my birthday of recovery. I don’t resent this intrusion, really. He served only to open my sealed eyes and look upon the world afresh like an involuntary vision of a Romantic poet.

Perhaps this revelation to me is untimely, but I accept it in stride and move with it. It’s not like I don’t understand his message: he struck a chord that can either jar on the ear or lull it with sweet harmony.

The blind man invites me to reexamine everything I’d thought was settled and set in stone. The truth is that the truth can’t be captured between the covers of a book or chiseled into stone tablets. It’s a fluid thing like water, or breezy like the wind.

Saturday for Wednesday’s Child

Eight thirty.

It all makes sense now.

I’m kind of nervous about this morning because Gloria is bringing a friend with her today. It does no good to try to imagine the future. I’m not a psychic; I doubt if anyone is. Pastor Dan sent out an email to everyone to urge us to come to church Sunday. It sounds like he’s rather desperate. I’m still not going back.

Ten thirty.

Gloria’s friend is named Laura. It went okay: we went to Carl’s Jr. after Gloria vacuumed the floors. I heard that the Ducks have a game today but I don’t know if it’s a home game or away… I looked it up. It’s here, and kickoff is at 12:30. We’re playing BYU. I actually miss being a fan of Duck football, back when my parents and my best friend were alive. The rest of my family roots for the Beavers but the UO is my alma mater. I think I’m the only one of my relatives left who attended Oregon… Today I’m in a mood of deep pathos. It’s a difficult thing to control, and something you can’t just stick a bandaid on… Now Aesop will be in a funk because of the visitors this morning. That makes two of us in a bad mood. I might as well pop the plastic on the new books that came yesterday to commemorate my birthday of sobriety. The weather is good for the squirrels to play around together, leaping from tree to rooftop and making a patter with their feet. If life were only that simple for human beings. I still ponder the question about happiness and stupidity versus melancholy and wisdom. I can’t draw a conclusion which is the better way. 

Dynamo 2

One o’clock.

I practiced my bass guitar alone for a while. At first I played a bunch of meandering notes without much meaning, until I felt inspired to do some lines by Pino Palladino, a Welsh session player whose work was popular during the Eighties. So I tuned down a step and picked out “Come Back and Stay” and “Wherever I Lay My Hat.” The last song I played was one by Go West called “Innocence.”

The switch to this cool early fall weather has me confused about how to feel. I almost wanted to cry once today. It’s just weird, and I’ve also got the lonelies this afternoon. I recall that twenty years ago in August I was going to volunteer at the UO Knight Library. But the job was so computer intensive and the tasks so numerous that I was overwhelmed and had to abort my plan. I took the bus home and on the way, I remember watching the driver shift gears like a machine servant to a machine: a Lawrentian horror.

In October of the same year I placed an ad in the paper seeking other musicians to jam with, and got a call from a guitarist who was friends with some local celebrities. So we got together at the lot on W 11th and I auditioned with Marc and Tim. It worked out pretty well, so we kept doing that, and did a gig somewhere downtown and made some recordings. My family meanwhile was skeptical of my activities and my mom had been gone for a year. On the sidewalk beyond the lot of woodsheds was a hotdog cart dubbed Dawgs on the Run. When the days were abominably dark and rainy with the autumn I would go buy a Coney Island before rehearsal. But I often got the nagging feeling that I was in the wrong place, hanging with the wrong people. And my mother wasn’t around to justify what I was doing. For a while I was screwed.

Keeping the Dice

Eleven thirty five at night.

It was a day of autumnal mildness and gentle breezes, the sky clear and a deep azure, while people in their cars came and went to visit friends in houses in my neighborhood. Also it was a time when I was visited by old memories of college, particularly 1989, the year I studied Joyce with an expert professor. What I remembered especially was the humor in Ulysses. And later, in the springtime, I had Chaucer with a hilarious teacher and we all laughed our brains out at the bawdy jokes in The Canterbury Tales. The following summer, I flew back to Michigan to see my brother and his pregnant wife, and he and I would watch the standup comics on HBO and likewise have hysterics. I was 23 and hadn’t been hit by real adversity yet; this would come in another year and a half. After that, it became harder to laugh at myself or at the absurdities of everyday life, thinking that a lot of humor is denial of what gives us pain. The boss of my job said, “If we weren’t laughing we’d be crying,” but I solved the problem by getting out of that situation. 

I chose a life for myself that allowed me to go slower and easier, like the old song by CSN titled “You Don’t Have to Cry.” I went from a Type A personality to Type B, doing things at my own pace because there was no other way I could live. “You are living a reality / I left years ago / It quite nearly killed me… In the long run / It will make you cry / Make you crazy and old before your time.” The main thing I had to learn was how to manage the guilt and shame feelings, and basically tell my family to go to hell. The other thing was to teach myself a new language that liberated me from my family’s dynamics. Today they have no power over me whatsoever. What I did with my life was absolutely necessary to my sanity and relative happiness. And now I’m in the process of scraping the church off my shoe.

Everyone has options, more options than they acknowledge to themselves. It’s like when Michelle left her dead life in Eugene to take a job in Wyoming: a clean slate. She gave up the victim mentality and took control of the dice herself. The jaws of uncertainty lurked ahead of her, but she moved fearlessly forward.

I wonder what I’ll do after the church fiasco is blown over. 

On Labor Day

Midnight.

For the sake of old times and also as a birthday gift to myself, I just ordered three little volumes of poetry from the Library of America. Vitally, one of them is of Walt Whitman, who wrote the bible of American poetry with Leaves of Grass in 1855. I also picked Poe plus an anthology of Civil War poetry.

I had a gruesome dream tonight about my poverty, having no car and shuffling around the neighborhood like some kind of hobo. I dreamed that a couple of guys were going to beat the shit out of me just for sport. It’s like what happened to Robin Williams in The Fisher King. He winds up in the hospital, but then Jeff Bridges goes and steals his “Holy Grail” from a rich residence and puts it in his hands.

It was a movie I watched on the recommendation of a friend two decades ago. We’ve lost touch long since, yet I still remember him and something that happened on Labor Day weekend that year. Namely, I started drinking again, but I may never know exactly why. If I knew, then would it guarantee that I’d never relapse again?

Exile

Quarter after nine at night.

Even in sleep, it’s the same old ambivalent feelings on things old and new. I had three good friends I gave up when I decided to quit drinking— friends a little on the shady side: they bent the rules whenever it served them to do so. I know a guy today who reminds me of the same thing. I run into him occasionally at the little market. His face is a bit red, presumably from drinking alcohol, yet I really like the guy. He summons my brother to my mind and the good times we used to share on our trips to the coast. I feel as if I had to make a choice like that of Prince Henry when he said to Falstaff, “I know you not.” …I don’t think there’s anything great or distinguished about being sober, especially when it’s such a struggle for me to maintain. Often I feel like saying screw it and getting drunk just to be my natural self again. Suddenly I remember a day a decade ago at Grocery Outlet when I bought some English breakfast tea and later told my friend in Scotland about it. I miss those kinds of things. I miss my old friends.