New Babel

Quarter of ten.

Is there a point where the power of language just melts down and we are helpless? Like the people after the Tower of Babel, our one language broken into many different tongues, forever confounding our aspirations to climb to the most high? Or did Pentecost reverse this curse and unite our separate tongues to one language again? Perhaps it would be worth it to build a new Babel Tower to reach the very heavens. 

The Road to Our Redeemer

Nine twenty.

Some days my shots miss the target wide by a mile, and yet my misses are part of the overall journey of discovery. I believe the dartboard is movable depending on public opinion, so really it’s of no consequence to me… Owing to loneliness, I had a rather crap day. Is it a case of self pity when you admit how lousy you feel? But I was never a stoic kind of person. Band practice was canceled as I anticipated, so that means I’ll spend the weekend by myself unless I go to church Sunday. I guess I’ll write a check to God and make an appearance with the assembly. It just seems like pounding money down a rathole, because I think I’m basically an atheist— but for the human spirit, the human community. Only in my earliest memories do I feel any connection with the Jungian God, an evocation difficult to reproduce today with all my factual clutter. The connection Wordsworth had with Nature was simplistic; he had to clear his mind totally to feel the presence of the divine from the countryside. So, is it really possible to commune with a God in a cityscape of harsh angles, ugly power and telephone lines crisscrossing the sky, whizzing motorcars sending up pollution to the moon, and amid the loud hum of everything electrical? I think it was Thoreau in Walden who wrote a grotesque description of the railroad with the black beastly locomotive intruding on the natural scene. And some people argue that nature and artifice are a false dichotomy! I wonder how they can maintain that point of view after reading a book like Walden?… And so I’ll go to church on Sunday, walking the backstreets to unromantic Maxwell Road, where I might find the graffiti of the prophets written on the sidewalk. 

From an Amateur

Seven fifty five.

Today is a church day. I’m not sure how I feel right now. I saw a young Black woman at the market, which used to be rather rare during the last presidency, a very regrettable four years. It’s amazing what can be done when enough people agree to something, like fascism or building the border wall. With time, it gets to be the accepted norm and it settles into a tradition. Tradition can be used as a rationale for anything, from stoning to lynching, whether or not it’s right.

Quarter of nine. I’m feeling uncomfortable physically and somewhat nervous. I don’t want to read the lessons for the assembly today.

Quarter of noon. Home again. I feel kind of tired, so I’m a little doubtful about having practice this afternoon… The service was just okay. The sermon dealt with the Trinity, almost like a lecture on logic, was rather convoluted and likely lost on most of the congregation. I think a Unitarian system makes more sense because it’s simpler, and pantheism is a great idea: God, like Love, is one essence and is present in everything. But no one asked for my amateur opinion on theology, so take it for what it is. Meanwhile, the clouds have passed on and the sunshine is strong. If we have practice late enough today I might be able to swing it. 

Clues from Victor Hugo

Midnight thirty.

Les Miserables has some grand moments, characteristically French, for you can see the responses of succeeding French thinkers. Hugo says that above is God, below is the soul, and the second is the reflection of the first. He rejects nihilism as illogical, because human consciousness could not have arisen from nothingness— the contrary of what Sartre says in the following century. Hugo: nihilism reduces to the monosyllable No; but theism is the affirmation Yes. All of this logic is phenomenological and impressionistic, cutting away the facts of natural science to leave only what is abstract and intellectual: ideal and essential. He may be right that the universe is conscious and that human consciousness reflects that of God. And that within the abysses of darkness there is light. This is all a priori philosophy and rather an intuition, a gut feeling. It is interesting how Sartre’s nihilistic phenomenology shows a general change of attitude, in feeling and faith, from affirmation to negation. To affirm is to say that God exists, and that there’s no such thing as zero: and that is Hugo’s belief. It’s the precedent that Sartre and Camus would grapple with later… When you think about it, it’s a bit strange to look upon a person, place, or thing and pronounce that it is something or that it is nothing, that it’s light or that it’s darkness, depending on whether or not you believe in God. It makes me ponder the definition of God. Somewhere in the New Testament, it is said that Christ always says Yes and never says No. He additionally is the Light of the world. And in the Book of John, God is Love… Can something be made from nothing? Or can you say that what exists is tantamount to nothing? In the end, we have to take the wager… 

Control Again

Seven o’clock. I took a risk on Coca-Cola because I really wanted to drink beer or something else with alcohol. But I wonder why I picked now for a time to do this. I don’t feel very clever at this time. I feel disappointed in myself for being stupid. What was the stress that pushed me to do this? I shouldn’t be feeling any pressure at all, yet something has been bugging me since the heatwave hit us. Life seems out of control, or rather out of my own control, and maybe by drinking I believe that I could seize some power over events. At least, this is what makes sense to me. It used to be that drinking was one of the freedoms available to me, and by doing so I could assert my control over my life. In the face of everyone who said I mustn’t drink, I stubbornly persisted in doing it in order to be independent and free. Rebellion is absurd sometimes. We go to self destructive extremes in the name of freedom and power over our own lives. What is the contrary of rebellion— obedience? But what is it that we must obey? And this line of inquiry will lead me to Milton’s Paradise Lost. I never bothered to read the whole poem, but perhaps I should.

Church and a Question

Midnight hour. Well, tomorrow morning is church. The service is set up in such a regimented way that I doubt I will go. It’ll be like a one to one with God rather than a social event, which doesn’t interest me much. All the fun is removed from it. I might be able to help Pastor if I do go, however. He hasn’t said anything to me about it. The question of an absolute right or wrong thing to do is a good one. For me, it echoes Robert Frost saying, “The bridegroom wished he knew.” It’s like pondering the stars and what is written there.

The bridegroom came forth into the porch

   With, ‘Let us look at the sky,

And question what of the night to be,

   Stranger, you and I.’

The woodbine leaves littered the yard,

   The woodbine berries were blue,

Autumn, yes, winter was in the wind;

   ‘Stranger, I wish I knew.’

If there is indeed an absolute moral code, then what ordained it if not an omniscient God? I only wish I knew what I was supposed to do.

Holy Ghost

Quarter of nine. I lay down in bed with Aesop for a few hours and fell unconscious, hearing a church hymn in my head. I wonder how the food pantry went this morning? I missed seeing Sue and Catherine. But I think doing the worship was more important this time. It’s interesting how participating in church is more or less symbolic of participating in society, in the world here and now. So maybe the spirit of God really is the world Holy Ghost or whatever name you want to give it. As long as it is in the present, and observed together, the name doesn’t matter much. People feel it and express it and call it God, and for convenience that makes sense. What do I know? I’m just another meat puppet, an incarnate soul on a journey with everyone else. Emerson refers to a Power in one of his poems, a universal spirit, which is the same thing as the God that people worship today. Even when unfelt, God is not unseen by his effects. The spirit comes out particularly in the songs we sing, but also in everything that has movement and life. God is observable in human togetherness…

Word of Mouth

Quarter of eleven. I know it would be vain of me to think God is on my side for staying sober, and yet it’s kind of flukey the way the Coronavirus came and dropped money in my lap. The house fire did the same thing. Maybe letting go and letting God really works, as long as you don’t drink. Anything is possible, and you can’t rule it out. Roger told me that he couldn’t get a haircut, so I clued him in to Karen’s salon around the corner. He wouldn’t have thought of that, thinking that it’s only for women. Now he might consider it. I double checked the price list in the window as I passed the salon: men’s haircuts are 12 bucks. Meanwhile, Vicki is waiting to hear from her neurosurgeon regarding further action about the tumor. Hank and a few other guys were discussing how and where to get a fishing license. One man said it was free to native Oregonians. They agreed that Bi Mart was the place to go. My next trip there will be Monday or Tuesday to pick up a prescription. While I’m there I’ll see about buying a furnace filter and some socks. Today I bought a Coke just for a treat, and Milk Bones for Aesop. The sky is motley with cumulus clouds and powder blue, the sun hitting the ground at intervals. A perfect day in May.

Something and Nothing

Four thirty five. I did a little bit of book shelving while hearing the sound of Jo jamming up the street. I’m not tempted to go play because Jo isn’t serious about music. He drinks and smokes weed while practicing. Late last night I found my readers of Derrida and Foucault and peered into the first. I could make only a little sense of the writing, but it falls under the category of philology. I got a feeling of there being no difference between being and non being in Derrida, of a present absence and an absent presence, and all of it in the interstices, the spaces between words and lines. It seems to me like the ultimate nihilism, reducing all something to nothing. He makes private thinking seem dependent on signs, but he says that thinking in solitude is impossible. It was Paul Bowles’ character Port Moresby who said that the difference between something and nothing is nothing. To me, this is sheer blasphemy, and I pick up the same attitude from Derrida; also from Sartre, and before him, Mallarme. How can something be nothing and vice versa? It is like the concept of black light, or black sunlight. The idea of being from non being, or from nothingness, strikes me as abominable because it goes against Christian theology. There’s supposed to be a Light of the world, and the Light is Christ, and it is a positive something, not nothing. It is affirmation not negation, a powerful yes declaration… Jo’s little jam is still going on, as it sometimes does on Sundays. Is the universe a friendly place? Einstein raises the question, but hasn’t the answer. I had a friend once who liked Paul Bowles and was drawn to the darker nuances of music. His concept of God was a single being with both light and dark modes along a continuum. It was his AA God— and I couldn’t agree with it. God to me was all light, and the darkness was the devil. The two were not continuous, but dichotomous and separate. My idea was essentially Christian, and perhaps for that reason my friend and I broke it off. Nor did I join AA years later, but a Christian church, and it appears to be working for me.

Design or Delusion?

Six thirty five. At last, some time to myself. A time for a little sadness, having realized that I was taken advantage of, much like Charlie at the beginning of Flowers for Algernon. When he has his surgery to make him smart, he no longer hangs around his tormentors, but meets other intelligent people. Also I’ve lost my illusion that my remodeled house would be great. The quality of the work turns out to be inferior and hacked rather than done skillfully. For months last spring and summer I imagined that my new house would be a beautiful reward from God for my sobriety. And my time in the trailer was a metamorphosis from the old to the new. It was all very Romantic and dramatic, a thing willed by God. Now it all looks like I was deluded, and the fire was not purposeful or psychological at all. My sister was the first one to be critical of the construction work. And then it gradually dawned on me that she was right… or was she?

I had been satisfied before she said anything. I was still idealistic for a while, but now I perceive myself as someone falling for fool’s gold. My big psychologized and Romantic notions that sustained me through trailer time have all but evaporated. What was that about providence and teleology, about grand designs and purpose in my life? God has disappeared to leave only a world of people who don’t give a damn. I could wring my sister’s neck for being so realistic— this supposed Christian. I’m determined to hang onto my idealism, my dreams, my happiness, because these are all I’ve got. Polly is just as cynical as my brother, and likewise materialistic. She’ll never agree that intellectual beauty is better than home improvement. I can refer her to a book and she will sneer in scorn. It is imperative to me to fight for my vision, my dreams, and to hell with my sister’s pragmatism. She believes I got screwed, but in the end, she’s the one missing the boat. I won’t be misguided by dollar signs, which apparently are all she can see. And that constitutes a kind of blindness.