Light in the Dark

Quarter of eight. The sun pierces the cloud cover momentarily to hit me right in the face. Rain is forecast for the rest of the week. I’ve been to the store already. I saw three guys who worked for the distributors of beer and soda inside the market. Vicki’s attention was on what they were doing. I felt like I didn’t exist. Generally it’s a dark November day so far… It has begun raining steadily, persistently, as the gloom deepens. It occurs to me that I feel lonely, and the present moment seems isolated and devoid of future. My internal radio plays Thomas Dolby a bit ominously. His music reminds me of the night my mother died. However, that time in the past has become an even profounder gulf, a sort of black hole with nothing in it. No memories. Just emotional quicksand to smother the here and now.

Nine o’clock. The kind of drinking I used to do was self destructive. It was born of a death wish. I won’t go back to that. There’s nothing good about drinking yourself to death. Now I can stare the blackness in the face and not succumb to the undertow. My mother’s death left a vacuum behind her. A pit. At first I fell into it and nearly drowned myself… Pale sunlight touches the magnolia leaves. “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” It is quite a test for me to read Ursula K. Le Guin. Some of her writing teeters on the edge of the abyss. But I think the darkness is surmountable and maybe even necessary for one to grow… Overnight, my sign for Black Lives Matter had been knocked down, probably by the wind. Just now I looked out the window and a good elf had stood it back up again. My guess is that it was Bonnie Rose across the street. She passed me in her pickup truck on my way to the store earlier…

Searching…

Three twenty five. I suddenly remembered my appointment with Todd for tomorrow afternoon. It will be a video call, sort of like Zoom or Skype. I asked about Heidi, and they said she hasn’t come back from furlough. Something smells fishy. It sounds like she’s not going to be my case manager after this. Miranda took over part of Heidi’s case load, but I haven’t heard from her since early summer… I hope L— H— doesn’t put pressure on me to be religious or something that goes against my personal beliefs. If they do, then I’ll have to figure out other options. I never did like the Christian character of the agency. It was too much like Serenity Lane: Jesus or nothing. I always will find it unconstitutional and unlawful to shove Jesus down our schizophrenic throats. If push really comes to shove, then I’ll emigrate to Canada or something drastic just to preserve my sanity.

Quarter of three in the morning. Yesterday evening I published a post whose sincerity was dubious from the start. A moment ago I went into my posts and trashed it. The writing of it was probably inspired by my trip to Sacred Heart yesterday morning, a phone conversation with L— H—, and finally a shotgun email from Pastor. I retired to bed at ten o’clock and slept four hours, dreaming strange dreams. At one point, I saw a white crockpot that was full of tube worms but which also yielded up old editions of Tarzan, one after the other. At another juncture, I was walking to the church at night and got hit by a car. Though it hurt, I kept walking. When I awoke, I reflected on the nature of heroes: how was Tarzan different from Jesus? Answer: Tarzan did not depend on supernatural powers to expedite his adventures. His strength was purely physical and mental, never spiritual. I considered that I grew up with heroes like everyone else, but they happened not to be Christ. Not even Luke Skywalker, who relied on the Force for his power. Nor Frodo Baggins, aided by the old wizard Gandalf. If anything, the heroes I read about pitted their wits and strength against the supernatural, in the form of nefarious cults with weird, soul devouring gods. Which type of hero was correct? I only know that Tarzan fueled my fortitude in my youth. 

Sophomore Thoughts

Four thirty. I’m having fun with my laptop now; no painful memories. The wildfires have been such a shock, and now my mind is settling down a bit. Times don’t seem so apocalyptic as on Monday. We’re planning on having the food pantry Saturday, so, conditions allowing, I’ll go help. Seeing Sue and Nancy should be fun. I played my white Precision for what must’ve been 90 minutes. The classic tone inspired me to pick out some Queen songs from the mid- to late-70s. I guess The Game was released in 1980. I haven’t listened to those albums in years. I’d like to hear News of the World and Jazz in their entirety again. John Deacon was a wonderful bass player… Wow, the smoke is still quite dense outside. Aesop is handling the situation okay… I remember, in the band Blueface, how I wanted to cover “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” But with our inept guitars, it wasn’t realistic. You can’t cop a Queen song with just a rhythm section and a lead vocal. I’ve wondered before why I chose bass over guitar; is it just because it’s an easier instrument? But no, I genuinely love the tone of electric bass. It sounds great to me. There’s nothing better than the sound of Chris Squire’s powerful bass on “The Gates of Delirium.” Suddenly, I feel like I did as a sophomore in high school. I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on. I also started listening to Led Zeppelin…

My taste in reading material changed from ERB to stuff with more magic in it: Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber, especially. Their writing just seemed more mature somehow. It dealt with essential problems of life, such as death, in a more realistic way. Perhaps it came across sadder and wiser than the adventurousness of ERB. The latter was like reading westerns, with clear-cut heroes and villains, and it was gratifying to see evil punished. But in the other two writers, victories often were pyrrhic. Emotions were more complex and confused, and the truth was ambiguous. It seemed that more serious thought went into their content, and feelings ran deeper. Sure, it was only sword-and-sorcery fiction, but it was comparatively well-done. I also enjoyed Roger Zelazny and Karl Edward Wagner. The second raised questions of the rectitude of selfishness. The antihero, Kane, was brutal and ruthlessly selfish, and even megalomaniacal in the scope of his projects. Basically, he wanted to rule the world himself. He was all about gratification. Where Conan had been power hungry, it was presented in a way that made you cheer for him. He was plainly the good guy fighting the bad guys. But Kane’s designs were not so clearly for the general good. And in the whole array of writers from ERB to Wagner, you witness a loss of innocence over time. The naïve romance of ERB beginning in 1912 gradually collapsed to the cynicism of the 1970s. Just as the wars grew more complicated in real life, so did the fiction that was written. Thus, you have the reluctance and remorse of Moorcock’s heroes, the slowness to answer the call to adventure. The adventures were no longer fun and exciting. Heroism was not so heroic anymore…

A Run for Doritos and Salsa

Two thirty. I finished reading “The Whisperer in Darkness” by Lovecraft. He wrote better ones than that, but still it was Lovecraft, and that means fun. His writing influenced one of my favorite authors, Karl Edward Wagner. Bloodstone, a Kane novel, I thought was very good, with its element of an extraterrestrial super race that once colonized the earth. I hope some publisher reissues it someday. In a weak moment I got rid of all my Kane books— a big mistake, as they are worth something now.

I’m not sure why I’ve been revisiting Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith. Not sure of anything, really. I miss doing a little Coca-Cola, but the caffeine last time was almost lethal to me. It clouded up some time ago. I’m on the verge of crying for some reason. Maybe I’m mourning for my brother, who just isn’t the same person he was forty years ago. I remember when everyone wanted to be his friend, but now not even Polly is talking to him. How is he getting along? Is he okay? It must be hard to live without a memory. Jeff doesn’t remember anything anymore, and he’s just killing himself with booze and maybe weed too. Well, today I feel simply lonely and lost, with no daily structure to speak of. I feel a little like going to the store for a snack, maybe Doritos and salsa, something tasty and fun. I wonder if my gabapentin makes me feel worse? I feel the world crowding in around me, what with the curfew and people wearing masks and everything; it’s getting me down!

Four thirty five. I bought the Doritos and salsa: delicious! It was the big bag, and I ate half of it. Last night I listened to one of Bartok’s string quartets to kill time. It was great, but I like his orchestral works better. The more the voices, the greater the ambiance and mood, the texture. The Miraculous Mandarin is still my favorite Bartok piece, a ballet whose choreography I don’t know. What is it about? I should read the liner notes. I was just thinking: I used to believe that people who acted from self interest would go to hell, due to Polly’s extreme ideas. These got into my brain and handicapped me for many years. Polly’s extremism was popular all over the place 15 years ago. Anyone who did something selfish was marked for hellfire in the next life; but of course this is nonsense. I always thought Polly was stupid for espousing such illogical precepts. Yes, altruism is a great thing, but exclusively and perpetually is impossible.

Memories of June

Ten twenty five. I rested for a little longer, and now Aesop’s been fed his breakfast. I recollect when I bought Going for the One by Yes. It was in June 1983 at the Lloyd Center in Portland. My parents and I had lunch at the Hippopotamus and afterwards I found the record store. The sleeve for the album blew me away: the nude man in the foreground awed by leaning skyscrapers in the gleaming sun.

Vicki was wearing a mask today for the first time. I bought Aesop three peanut butter bones and a Coke for me. I need to wake up a bit more. There’s a book in my mail today, a collection of Conan by the original creator Robert E Howard. The 1930s pulps were generally very good. My favorite is Lovecraft, I think. When I was growing up, the bookstores offered very little poetry, and what was available even in grocery stores was sci-fi and fantasy. In the late 70s and early 80s, a lot of older writing was reissued with fantastic cover art. Edgar Rice Burroughs was a forerunner to the pulps, starting his career in 1912. It was actually DC Comics that introduced me to Rice in June 1976. Also the publication of Burne Hogarth’s Jungle Tales of Tarzan the same year. What was so great about Rice’s writing I don’t remember at this time, but it might have been the idea of primitivism, of barbarism, but in a good way. It was emotionally refreshing to me to feel closer to nature. In some sense it was Jungian. And imaginatively, Rice and the ensuing pulp writers just seemed more sophisticated than the new fantasy of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps I had an antiquarian streak even as a child.

Noon hour. While my parents picked out spy thrillers and historical romances from the bookstalls, I was drawn to heroic fantasy from the pulp era. We were at the mercy of the material that was available in local stores. The occasional trips to the bookstore were heaven for me, and I snapped up all the Conan books I could find. The cover art was beautiful, with contributors like Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo.

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I got ahold of Conan of Cimmeria in June 1980 at B Dalton downtown. As June approaches, these layered memories of my childhood surface. They are even specific to the very month.

More Power

Eleven thirty. I went out to my mailbox and found a small windfall. Quest Diagnostics refunded my payment of about twelve dollars. So I ended up paying zero dollars for the bloodwork. It raised my spirits for my walk to the store. They were doing a good business today because of Mother’s Day. I’m of a mind to call Polly, but she’s not my mother. Roger is out working on something in his driveway. Aesop is a bit happier than the other day. My rhododendrons are blooming in the front yard, pink and lavender. The air outside is perfumed with blossoming things. The feel and the smells remind me of past Mother’s Days, especially when I used to drink beer. I miss my family whenever there’s a holiday. Even if I had a limitless supply of money I would not buy alcohol again. Money is not our only lifeline.

One o five. Spring sunshine brings back a lot of things. When I was in seventh grade we studied The Red Pony and a novel about the Oregon Trail. The following year was The Call of the Wild. Then the next I read A Separate Peace and a lot of mindless books for pleasure, Tarzan and Doc Savage especially. I still can’t guess what I liked about these two Herculean superheroes who could do anything. Anything they willed was not only doable but done. Fantasies of strength and control gave me vicarious power. I don’t think it was homosexual necessarily, but rather compensation for weeny feelings. I wished I could BE Doc Savage and manage my life accordingly. If I had been Tarzan, my wishes would’ve been realized. No sooner thought than done. But I don’t remember what I wished for, and maybe at the time I didn’t know. I had a crush on a girl named Kathleen and never told her until years later.

Amberites

Quarter of two. I’ve been sleeping with interruptions, but well enough. Weird dreams, vaguely about powerful people, superheroes with ingenuity but also a bit of ruthlessness. Machiavellians: doing anything to get their way. The ends justify the means. What counts is that we acted authentically, did what we wanted to do, and no remorse. But I think I know where I got the idea; it’s from the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. The whole family of characters are a super race from the ideal realm of Amber, calling upon each other with a pack of trumps. Corwin wants to usurp the throne from his brother Eric, and his family is divided between devotion to him or his brother. I read Nine Princes in Amber when I was 15 years old and just starting high school. Evidently it made a big impression. The story was cleverly done, introducing the reader to the characters and situations by describing Corwin’s amnesia from his own perspective. He’s been in an automobile accident and lost his memory. It’s the reverse of dramatic irony, for the reader is as uninformed as the narrator. We learn about the world of Amber and its royal family while Corwin is recollecting it by degrees… I read it in the fall, perhaps even in October. I didn’t get around to reading The Guns of Avalon for another decade, but I enjoyed it too.

Tolkien Notes

Quarter after ten. WordPress informed me of my third anniversary with them. I don’t remember my very first post, but it wouldn’t be great because I was still drinking. In the present, the Tolkien I’m reading is having an impact similar to that of D H Lawrence when I was a big fan of him. Both are anti industrial and even Luddite in their beliefs and attitudes. I agree that a return to what is most natural would be desirable. Break the machines and work with our hands; live off the land as much as possible. But nothing can stop technology and progress, for better or worse. Who am I to say? I’m just a dissident, but even I depend on modern medicine for my sanity. Without the Vraylar I’d be in deep dodo. It’s getting cold in here again; time for the space heater. The rain starts and stops at intervals. I’ll be glad to finish reading LOTR once and for all. Then I’ll be ready to discuss it intelligently. My impression of it right now is that it is a tremendous wish fulfillment, a dream of a better way of living. The naturalist good guys against the evil technocrats with their soulless machines and monsters: and the good side wins, though just barely. Perhaps the Power of the One Ring is simple industry, science and technology. It must be destroyed before it destroys us. The fantasy takes us back to greener times, more romantic and magical and consonant with feeling. Tolkien wants to turn back clock and calendar to his Middle Earth that never existed, but ought to have. Tolkien wishes for regression to a state more primitive, but also more humane and less coldly scientific. It is a worthy dream, if an impossible one.

Coming to Grips

Quarter of four. I guess I’m a shallow person for being so egoistic. I always preferred my Edgar Rice Burroughs novels for the same reason. The so called heroes were in life for themselves, to conquer the world and conquer happiness their way. They were in service to no one but themselves, and whatever infrastructures they came upon they could master and eventually dominate. John Carter becomes the Warlord of Mars after three short volumes. I reckon what makes Burroughs less worthy than Tolkien is the difference in motive for writing. The former is a control freak, the latter a great altruist. Both write about the phenomenon of power, but one hoards it while the other throws it away. Tolkien is about service to higher ideals than oneself, and that’s where Burroughs falls short. I grew up on Edgar Rice, just by natural affinity and attraction, but all along I knew the story of LOTR in the background. Now I’m in a position to come to grips with both storytellers and judge their merits in light of morality. I’m going to find that Tarzan and John Carter are far inferior to Frodo.

The Pulps

Midnight hour. I just dreamed that I was searching for clues to my identity in the pages of Conan and Kane books. The twelve of the one and five of the other formed the encyclopedia of my soul. I read them all between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Now, their contents are quite a mystery to me, and the images I projected onto their pages. They went down with the sinking of Atlantis, down to the bottom of my being. What obscure codes of ethics might I have learned from the pulps? They couldn’t have been much more sophisticated than the one of courage to face and fight the enemy, or the wisdom to turn and flee. And these books, plus a couple by Lovecraft, dealt a little with the subject of madness. Did these authors hold the secret to insanity? And could the way in also be the way out? The last pulp era story I seriously entertained before I started drinking was The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, an arabesque by HP Lovecraft. I never finished it, yet I remember how Randolph Carter mastered his dreams and sort of lived in them. There was one scene where an ocean he was crossing was so still and transparent that he could look over the side and see to the bottom, where some strange things were going on… That would be like my own dream of poring over old books from my adolescence, questing for a clue to my existence.