Gusto

Quarter of eight.

While I was lying in bed having bad dreams, I remembered that these are begotten by masochism. This is when you take perverse pleasure in pain you inflict on yourself. I once had a therapist who believed that masochism was right, so I criticized her for it on the spot. I still think she was dead wrong. Pleasure is much better when it is pure and genuine. Rewarding yourself is good for the soul, and it’s closer to our natural state to be happy. Why punish ourselves when we can build ourselves a living paradise rather than a hell on earth? 

Flight

Quarter of three at night.

For the first time since I can remember, tonight I had a dream of flying. I even flapped my arms like a bird and didn’t seem to fall from my great height. Just now I went on Google and looked up the interpretation of flying dreams: the consensus is that they mean an internal desire for freedom— which comes as no surprise to me at all. In connection with my dream, I now recall reading a passage in Native Son a few weeks ago where Bigger observes a skywriter making an advertisement for Speed Gasoline, and he says he wishes he could fly. It was a perfect figure of speech and an instance of foreshadowing. So now I have to read the remainder of the book to see how it ends for Bigger Thomas. 

Good Enough

Ten twenty.

At eleven o’clock I have an appointment with Sean for therapy. I don’t dread it so much this time because I did my homework, more or less. It snowed for a few minutes an hour ago, when I fed my dog his breakfast. I’m looking ahead to Wednesday night, when I’m supposed to rehearse with my church for our Christmas medley… I won’t get to have lunch until noon today. Music: an old Irving Berlin song, “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.” I think I still have that vinyl LP somewhere in the house. It makes me think of my mother…

Noon hour. My visit with Sean went okay. He seems to like Alan Watts, and keeps referring to him and to Eastern religious traditions, which is fine with me. My sleep last night was troubled with difficult thoughts and feelings. Right now I ponder whether it’s a good thing to abandon your personal desires and act from altruism. It seems like every major world religion has self sacrifice for its ideal and goal. This can be the real test for some people, including myself and my last girlfriend. I was a very selfish alcoholic. I still don’t understand why I can’t just have the things I want for myself rather than letting it all go and trusting in providence for what I need. Bertrand Russell wrote a book called The Conquest of Happiness. Reading Mark Twain is a little like that as well, but you don’t meet many people who think the same way as Thomas Jefferson these days. The Enlightenment appears to be quite dead as our society continues shifting away from reason and freedom. I wonder if I should simply surrender my beliefs and drift downstream with the other flotsam?

One o’clock. And yet I can’t get rid of the idea of “moral paralysis” in Joyce’s Dubliners, and of trying to be the Byronic hero, however selfish people call it, and worse things. What on earth are we supposed to do? Just be ourselves. 

Eduardo’s Piano

Four forty in the morning.

I got just about as much sleep as I could get. The rain has stopped for the next day or so. Yesterday morning I saw that there’s a promo on Snapple drinks again, so today I might buy two of them, or perhaps the two liter of Coke. Michelle bent my ear with more of her complaints yesterday; and it seems like no two people are ever happy at the same time. Also, the happiness of one person often comes at the expense of another’s. Kind of like what Thomas Dolby sang in “Budapest by Blimp:” our thoughtless happiness is built on the ashes of the Jews and signed in the blood of Zulus. Even while I remember these lines, I can hear Eduardo playing “The Submerged Cathedral” by Claude Debussy on his baby grand piano in the sanctuary. Life is an odd jumble of things and events with different meanings for different people. “Is the new world rising / From the shambles of the old? / If we could just join hands…” A few words from Robert Plant as well. Why is it so hard for us to get it together with each other? But this would be utopia, wouldn’t it? I doubt if Christendom is the solution. It will take more than the kingdom come to set things to right. Moreover, it is our responsibility. 

A Cafe Sketcher

Three o’clock in the morning.

I agreed to go to church at ten o’clock today, but maybe I didn’t get my point across to my friend over coffee at Black Rock. He still operates on the assumption that heaven exists, while I tend to reject metaphysics wholesale. He asked me who was my favorite philosopher, and I said John Stuart Mill, the developer of utilitarianism, the Greatest Happiness Principle. As if to demonstrate my assertion, a man down the table from us was busy making color drawings of flowers and hummingbirds. He told us that he would ask people for a thousand dollars or a smile, and got the smile every time. He opened up his sketchbook to show us the flags of various countries of people he’d met, plus drawings by children of things like dinosaur tracks. The key to what he was doing was the very simplicity of it, sort of like Mill’s ethics, and it made excellent sense. So then, Tim and I left the cafe to walk over to the Dollar Tree in search of American flags. We wandered the store from end to end, not finding them, nor did we encounter any employees on the floor to help with directions. The magic of the coffee bar didn’t follow us to Dollar Tree.

Four o’clock. Next, we drove across River Road to the veterinarian so I could pick up a prescription for my dog. It was good to see Debbie again at the reception desk, though I missed Wendy. The place made me think of my old pug, Henry, who lived 14 years before I had to euthanize him 9 years ago. I also thought of the way things used to be in general, and the people I knew. But it seemed like a time for new beginnings as well, and the daylight coming in the windows was the light of future joy. 

Sermon to the Living

Quarter of ten.

I’ve gotten back some of my confidence and motivation since yesterday. It only took actually doing something: working up my nerve and getting out of the house to do something different. I’d been stuck in a bad cycle, never doing anything for me, and beating myself up. It’s okay to have some fun and forget about the pandemic. Without pleasure and happiness, life is for nothing. Be selfish for a change and spread a little happiness around you. I disregard what St Paul said about self regard; Plato’s position on this is more useful. It’s important to respect yourself, for if you don’t, then it’s a recipe for depression and ill health. So, yesterday I indulged in a little fun, and the sky didn’t fall. It’s a mistake to think that our duty is to feel depressed. The very opposite is true to keep us sane and healthy… It’s a beautiful sunny morning in October. The leaves on the trees are changing, and today I’m living in the here and now, with some anticipation of the future. However, the past is not a bucket of ashes, because our past achievements give us confidence to achieve even more good things. It’s a series of ups and downs with no finish line.

Ten thirty five. It is possible to be selfish and generous simultaneously. Being selfish doesn’t necessarily mean hoarding or thieving, coveting, or whatever. It means being prudent and using your own judgment. You take care of your own needs first, and then help others to their particular happiness. Trying to be selfless is really to be soulless, and a soulless person is no use to anybody. And everyone’s happiness is something different and peculiar to them. So, a collective eudaemonia makes no sense. “One law for the lion and ox is oppression.” 

Prospects

Six thirty.

The sun is just beginning to light up the east. It’s the first day of fall. Aesop has been sick with a stomach bug lately; not sure what to do about it. Life has been very unkind to us since the spring and summer, unless I just expect too much from it. But if I decided to be disobedient then I’d only drink beer again. I never resented a Democratic government until now. It seems to rule us with an iron hand. And I don’t enjoy going to church at all anymore because of the politics… For a change I’m going to Grocery Outlet this morning. Feelings are interesting things, and who knows where they come from? I think you have to trust them in the end, and the dreams that embody them. It’s okay to surrender to your feelings and do as they say. They give us strength and courage to carry out our projects…

Quarter of eight. It takes me twenty minutes to walk a mile, and that’s the distance to Grocery Outlet. I suppose I’ll get ready to go now.

Nine twenty five. I was there and back again. Bought Aesop some decent food for breakfast for the next week. And I got some deli stuff for me. I didn’t buy anything to drink this time, so I’m missing my caffeine. On my walk, I thought vaguely about my confusion with reason and feeling, and should I trust emotions to guide me? But I know that this approach has never worked for me before, and my best bet is to go with science. I think it’s just curiosity that lures me towards the Jungian ideas like a Siren song. My ship would be dashed on the rocks if I dared it again… It was kind of a nice walk to River Road past the high school, where I saw a lot of teenagers getting ready for class. School is a much different experience from church. The more I think on it the more I really resent the church for laying down the law rather than liberating our minds for whatever comes. The latter is an exciting prospect indeed. 

To Each Their Own

Eight thirty.

There’s no end in sight to these sunny days. I suppose you can get too much of a good thing. It was over a month ago when it last rained. I learned today that Heather is a fan of AA, so I didn’t have much to say about that. To each their own. Usually when I go in the store on weekends, she has the radio tuned to New Country music with its stifling Christian lyrics. But if it helps her, then in some sense it’s a good thing: the essence of Pragmatism. The truth of a belief resides in its results. Still, it’s hard for me to keep that point of view, as it clashes with the facts very often and challenges the definition of truth. The first time I heard a lecture on William James, I found it very idealistic and uplifting. But years later, when his ideas were forced on me, I resisted them like a cornered rat and refused them any validity. Maybe it’s just my nature to be perverse to some extent. When you think about it, not even a dog likes to be pushed into things… 

I just fed Aesop, speaking of dogs. Practice with the band is six hours away, and my old body, full of aches and pains, is hard to galvanize to action. The walk to Mike’s place is less than a mile from home; to church is give or take a mile, the same as going to Bi Mart. I can do it if there’s no big hurry to get there. I may huff and puff a bit and break into a mild sweat, but at least I arrive. I don’t know what kind of “belief” motivates me anymore. In the workplace long ago we got clobbered with the doctrine of “karma,” which only succeeded in making me feel guilty and paranoid all the time. I think I’m basically a utilitarian: I function on the Greatest Happiness principle. Whatever promotes general happiness must be good. 

Double Edge

Quarter after nine.

My neighbor Lenore went away and left her dog overnight. The dog isn’t happy about it, barking her displeasure with being deserted. I feel quite dysphoric this morning, just the general bad sensation of aging. I asked for ibuprofen at the store, but they only had acetaminophen, or naproxen for ten bucks. Much of life is balancing pleasures and pains, hopefully minimizing the latter. There’s no question of maximizing pleasure anymore except on rare days. Last night I thought of someone who used to be a clerk at the market maybe ten years ago or more, a redhead named Pam. I only remember that she liked ZZ Top and chili dogs with ketchup, but she was very nice to me. I was such a lush back then, but she never judged or criticized. I think the summertime is playing weird tricks on my mind, bringing old feelings to light. I was never really a saint, notwithstanding the years in the church. I just want to enjoy my life again, so perhaps the rock and roll has superseded my religious identity. Time will tell. There is plenty to be said for liberty, for simply being a natural human. Or is this just crazy?

Quarter after ten. Right now there’s no breeze outside; the air is as still as death. The neighbors are noisy, shouting and banging car doors. I think of my brother from many decades ago, driving a red Volkswagen van he named Barney. Nothing impeded him from taking a road tour across the United States and Canada, living life to the hilt. But he also often said, “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” which might serve as a warning to me today. 

Soliloquy at Night

Quarter of three in the morning.

I wasn’t sleeping well tonight, so now I’m up for a while. Maybe now I’m done with trying to be Sigmund Freud, so it’s time to put myself back together. Recently I noticed some white whiskers in my beard, and together with my crow’s feet and worry lines I look rather old. It is very frustrating to grow older and feel so lonely and hollow inside. Either way, alone or with somebody, is a trade off as far as my freedom is concerned. I was never very good at compromise or even sharing with others. The worst that anyone could accuse me of is selfishness, but you know, my lifestyle might be enviable to some people. Remaining without commitments and responsibilities entails that I am comparatively free as the wind. I don’t have a wife to tell me I can’t play in a rock band. Has life passed me by, or is my maverick behavior paying off? I wish I could find a psychologist who is worthy of my case; but on the other hand, therapy is often more about the clinician than the client. I just don’t want to arrive at my deathbed with the regret that I missed something.