Six thirty five.
When I was on the street yesterday morning, I saw a neighbor of mine from around the block, so I saluted her. She was some yards away up N Park but she returned it. I didn’t see if she had her dog with her. She impresses me as a very nice person of around fifty. I haven’t seen her with another person on her walks. Something makes me think of missed opportunities, like the characters in “The Altar of the Dead” by Henry James. You wonder if the living people are just as dead as the dead people. Another writer has it, “Funerals are for the living.” Even as I write this, the room gets cold. My dog is begging me for breakfast: soon his whining will turn to barking. Outside, it’s just another cloudy day, yet the meaning of a day depends on what we do with it.
Quarter after seven.
On Tuesday, Gloria took me to Bi Mart. I went there while she went to the bank, and I ran into a friend from church plus my neighbor across the fence from me. Later I thought about the chaos the church is in now, and is the church fundamental to my recovery from alcoholism? What will happen if this support is no longer there for me? It’s easy to take things for granted, and people too. Aesop the man said it is easy to despise what you cannot get; but it’s also true that you may despise what you have, or believe you have. When it’s gone, it may be irreplaceable.
Ten twenty five PM.
Over thirty years ago, the name of Henry James was huge at the UO English Department; but when I ask around now, hardly anyone has read his work. Last year I began rereading his Portrait of a Lady and got bogged down because I knew that no one else had any enthusiasm for James. If I could, I’d return to school in a time machine like a shot and take the class on James with Professor Hines. At least then I’d have other people around me to discuss it with; whereas in reality I feel transplanted like some anachronism of a better, more civilized time. I was never meant for living in the real world, nor was the real world meant for a person like me. I am an outcast from El Dorado, the Gilded: perhaps Arcadia, where the Golden Age lingered on and never went out of style.
Or maybe school was intellectual Toys R Us: but is the transition to the real world growing up or growing narrow and rigid and poor in imagination? Like the child who is silenced from asking questions by a parent who’s lost all curiosity. Yet in a place dark and forgotten, the same questions are on everyone’s lips.
One fifty in the morning.
I’m up after a nap of about five and a half hours, during which I dreamed a long sequence that was like a modern Henry James fiction. A woman owned a bookshop and she spent an inordinate time helping a younger woman to some purchases. I saw both of their faces blush a little at their interaction together. Meanwhile, the lineup of waiting customers grew longer and longer. And mixed with this plot, my mother was telling me about college football, and it was a Saturday in autumn. The prelude for this dream was where I went to the same bookseller and couldn’t find my wallet or my credit cards or anything, so she agreed to hold my item for two days.
The dream was so tame and quite peaceful like a drama of manners; rather Victorian and slow moving, and interesting for its pure humanness. People today don’t read James anymore, though when I was in school, he was more important than Mark Twain for his contributions to Modernism. So now, his legacy is something a person like me only dreams about.
I just pulled out my copy of Atlas Shrugged for the fun of it. It makes me kind of emotional; I was only twenty when I read The Fountainhead and then a few chapters of this sequel. I never wanted to finish it because I don’t know if I agree with Ayn Rand about capitalism or even about rationality and egoism. Her thinking doesn’t go very deep into the human psyche like a Freud or a Jung. She applies ancient philosophy to the process of living (especially Aristotle) but somehow this misses a crucial level of human experience. I doubt if people can live like machines one hundred percent of the time, and for a contrast to Rand you only need to read Henry James. I would say that Rand probably lacked self knowledge or maybe was ignorant of human nature and motivation. She was blind on one side. In high school I had a friend who was a huge fan of hers, plus Frank Herbert and Nietzsche. But on the capitalism dimension, I can’t really agree because this kind of system didn’t work for me. I think probably a form of socialism would be better for every human being, not just a few people with an advantage like superior intelligence or some talent, etc. I was extremely lucky that there was a safety net for people with disabilities when I ran into problems with my health. Ayn Rand doesn’t take such things into consideration. So my feelings on the whole thing are quite complicated. I remember being the naïve twenty year old picking up her books at the bookstore and accepting it all like gospel at first. I really didn’t know anything at all at that age and was very impressionable. But it’s amazing how the more you read the more you develop a vocabulary for defining yourself as a human being. Every book is a lamp to illuminate your life, pushing the darkness a little farther away.
Thus I think that Walt Whitman is a far better read than the shallowness of Ayn Rand, but still it’s very interesting to revisit old territories. The deeper things of experience are harder to accept and take longer to understand and come to terms with, but it’s worth it to persist in this hunt for truth and ultimately freedom.
My journal is a cool place for figuring things out. This past evening I wrote an idea dealing with my solution to alcoholism using the church. Basically I said that the ritual of worship, repeated again and again, was a form of self hypnosis, and it worked to stop my addiction. As such, it was a psychological thing and not necessarily theological in a literal way. The details of course are debatable, but even Jung couldn’t make the jump from psychology to metaphysics per se. Then towards the end, when Pastor talked of demonic possession as the cause of mental illness, I knew it was hyperbolic and I had to get out of there. I found his attitude offensive and really not very kind to people with schizophrenia; in fact he was ignorant of the truth about psychiatry.
Oh well, my explanation usually falls on deaf ears, and I’m getting sick of it. Suffice it that the agency is a much safer place for me now than the church, and that poor Pastor is full of beans, with his head buried in the nineteenth century, totally disregarding advances made after the end of World War 2.
Americans always subordinate science to religious visions that make no sense, so I think a good question to ask is, Why? If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, but the Jesus thing doesn’t function for us anymore. We have decades to go to catch up to Europe, although the case has been the same even when Henry James lived and wrote at the turn of the twentieth century. It’s a very sad situation for the United States, yet not even a writer like James could remedy it, so why do I bother?
The wake of a beautiful sunny and warm day with a lot of social activity outdoors. During the mid afternoon I wandered over to the salon to chat with Kim about her successful divorce. She seems to feel quite good, or as she said, relieved. The first thing she will do is purge her house of everything that reminds her of her ex husband. And from there I strolled to the market for the usual treats. Deb asked me about my dog, so in kind I asked her about her cats, which she said were big and fat. She has tomorrow off, when she said she will mow the lawn and simultaneously get some sun. Every spring and summer Deb basks in the sun and turns a deep brown… Later, I waited at home for my yard guy to come and mow my lawns, but evidently he had other plans or something came up. Out in the street I could hear Diana calling to a neighbor, “Are you looking for your dog?” And I guessed the rest… I’ve read up to Chapter 8 of The Portrait of a Lady, impressed more by the style than the plot, which isn’t very kinetic, but kind of holds still for a dozen analyses. The writing is anything but crude. Its fineness and sensitivity are Victorian, a little bit boring, though the book may be worth getting to the end of.
Gloria was here this morning and she vacuumed the family room but with a very inconvenient tool, a Compact machine from back in the sixties with a section of the hose missing, forcing her to stoop over the whole time. She told me it hurt her back. I felt bad about that, so I guess I have to think about buying a new vacuum cleaner. But on the bright side, the work she did on the green carpet looks fantastic, and after a shampooing it’ll be divine. I do have a Eureka upright vacuum cleaner missing the dirtbag; I could look on Amazon for a replacement bag before I invest in something totally new. And then we made another trip to the thrift store to drop off more stuff I don’t need anymore. The weather grew rather inclement at that point; it rained and hailed on us, though by the time we got back home there was blue sky in the west. Springtime is sometimes a blustery mixed bag here in Oregon. I kind of like it when I’m feeling okay.
Before I took a nap I read two more chapters in my Henry James novel. Somehow the story reminds me a little of Jane Austen and her concerns with marriage, especially among the wealthy classes in America (now I mean Henry James) and in Europe. This makes me think very regretfully of my college education and the unfairness of social class in this country and everywhere. In a heartbeat a person in a privileged position can slip through the cracks and be a pauper with nothing to his name. So that I think Henry James is rather shallow in ignoring such realities as poverty and woe, because intelligent people exist at every level of society. Now I think writers like Twain and Melville were much more aware of the truth of money and the people who have it and the ones who don’t. I even have to give credit to Charles Dickens for having open eyes and ears to people at every stratum of our social structure. Just imagine not having a car! And yet this is my situation here today: a pedestrian in the direst of poverty. What would James say to the homeless population here in America? Would he turn a blind eye and go on sipping his English tea in the afternoon, on the green lawn with the Thames River meandering down the hill apace, and his back to an old Tudor mansion?
Four ten in the morning.
The next to last time Gloria was here we found my old desktop computer. I was just dreaming about that, so when I get the nerve I’ll try setting it up for use again. Out of my bathroom window I saw the moon, full and bright, the same moon seen by people in antiquity from Babylon to Stonehenge. It used to mean something personal to me, but now it’s just an insignificant rock; nothing romantic about it. Outdoors it’s less than freezing.
Quarter after eight.
I deliberated on it a while, but I decided not to go to church for Easter. I have profound disagreements with Pastor on three or more issues, and by now the whole thing offends me. My main observance that is anything like religion is honesty, simply telling the truth and not hiding anything from yourself… From the garage yesterday I dug out a neat little edition of The Portrait of a Lady. A student told me once that Mark Twain hated Henry James, though I think he projected himself onto the former. People say the strangest things between the lines. I don’t remember what my reply was, but I stuck to being a James advocate. We were standing in line at the English department, waiting to register for class. When I spotted Katy, I went to her and we had a better chat. It was fall in 1990, and after that my school life went kind of downhill. It could have been better if I hadn’t been seeing a psychologist… Anyway, I still think James is great, and the weather is blue sky.
Quarter of four in the morning.
I’m still thinking about the irrational. It’s possible that the unconscious still exists, but due to the medication I take, I’ve been blinded to its activity in my own affairs. I know that off of the drug I would be perceptive of Jamesian subtexts in ordinary speech that point to a subconscious will. But I’m kind of uncomfortable with this theory because of my sobriety. They say that “the beer jumps in your hand” in circles of addiction counseling. If there is a beast that lives within us and ultimately controls our actions, then what can we do to tame it? Like a black panther pacing in its cage and saying, Nothing you could do, as in Ezra Pound, the unconscious is discontent with its prison. So we take the antipsychotic med and forget about it. But even in so doing, does the panther forget about us?
The weather today will be much like yesterday, sunny and around 90 degrees… After seeing my friend’s total misinterpretation of a Joyce story, I feel compelled to comment on how sexless our society is nowadays. I believe it started with George Bush and his policy of abstinence being the best contraceptive. That was 15 years ago, but it seems we never recovered from his attitude. And then there was the general American obsession with dogs, as if they could be more important than human relationships. Not to mention the fact that we neuter and spay them without giving it a thought… I just gave Aesop his breakfast. It’s an odd thing to consider the sterilization of humanity over the last two decades. And it’s a wearisome uphill battle to try to remedy the situation. It makes me want to print a story like “Altar of the Dead” by Henry James a billion times over for everyone to see. People can probably look it up on Project Gutenberg anyway.
Hopefully you can read this story without missing the irony. If you decide to go ahead with it, know that you’re in good hands.