Ten thirty five. Some days make me wonder about the meaning of it all. After doing my daily shopping, I stopped by the salon and spoke with Angela, who was alone for a few minutes. I asked her how the homeschooling was going, and she said her fifth grader can’t read. Two of her kids have a learning disability. Also, Angela doesn’t understand the new method for teaching math. Then I asked her if anyone was helping her, but everyone she knows is too busy working. I felt like volunteering myself to help teach them to read, except children don’t take me seriously as a disciplinarian. They see me as just a playmate, and they can get away with murder. And then Karen arrived. The retirement home can’t let her in to do hair styling due to the coronavirus… This episode at the salon plus the phone conversation with my sister started me pondering the real utility of my cerebral life of books and music. There are very real practical problems that could use my help. The need is everywhere for help with survival skills such as reading and arithmetic. Meanwhile, I loaf around eating the lotus of philosophy and poetry. Is there something wrong with this picture?
It’s another incredible day as far as the weather goes. I just did a sitting with Les Miserables. The narrative makes some great prose reading. Hugo in 1862 echoes a few thoughts from other writers, particularly Baudelaire on ennui and Thoreau on the railroad and technological progress, though I can’t show that he ever read the latter. I only see a similarity in attitudes. Trends in thinking are airborne by word of mouth, and have diffused this way for as long as there’s been spoken language…
It just occurred to me that I no longer try to emulate my brother or his actions; I am finally a person in my own right. I don’t obsess about being cool in anyone’s eyes. If anything, I attempt to set my own trends. I doubt if there’s such a thing as coolness, or if so, it is a matter of virtue and not shallow sprezzatura. What really is it to be cool? It is not ostentation or showing off, no displays of strength and agility, no pretense to respectability. I think it’s more about being honest with yourself and others. Everything else follows from the truth, and the truth sets you free. Coolness is reality rather than appearance. Some people swear by having a good public image; but this is only a persona, a mask you present to the world. I once knew a friend who had a meetup with an old peer from schooldays. At a juncture in their lunch, she excused herself and repaired to the women’s room. When she came back out, she unwittingly was dragging along a length of toilet paper on her boot. Her old peer was speechless with horror, but my friend just laughed at her. I thought that was pretty cool. To be so humble and earthy and real is, in my opinion, the essence of coolness. Image is nothing, reality is everything. At best, appearance is a window to the real and eternal, as Plato expresses in the Symposium. It all begins with telling the truth and listening to the truth from others— without being guarded or worried about social position. Doing this builds up inner strength to deal with whatever life throws your way. And then your soul shines through, and people respect the true person you are.
Two thirty. The rain may not materialize today, or even tomorrow. I tried three times to call the middle school and finally decided to wait until Monday.
It’s okay to soul search through writing. By four o’clock I may get a second wind for my thinking. Perhaps it’s uncharitable not to fib sometimes, but I think my sister supports my honesty. It does damage to later find out you’ve been lied to. My brother hurt me the same way he hurt Polly, and one night dropped the bomb, saying he despised our mother. Was it a bomb or a gauntlet he threw down? And at the time, in 1993, I was not well mentally, hence it was a low blow. I spent a sleepless night down in his basement, alone with this new secret. I remember reading Women in Love that summer, and listening to Aaron Copland. Appalachian Spring ran through my brain that night. Subconsciously I had to make a plan. And whether my parents were worthy of my devotion could be irrelevant. Mostly they were pretty dull and selfish, yet what they had, they shared with me. We lived a comfortable life at home, so I can’t complain.
Quarter of five. I suddenly noticed that it’s been raining. I hope we get a lot more… I sort of miss being a hedonist back in the day, but life probably wasn’t as honest then, nor as ethical as today. My last girlfriend and I were quite voluptuous, and my alcoholism fueled the fire of desire for a few years. Of course I miss those days! We had a great deal of fun, though we were indulging ourselves with sensation. Like everything, it was fated to come to an end. Or at least, everything physical is transitory, raising the question of what can be eternal and imperishable. But she and I also shared a rational love for one another, and I learned from this that the marriage of true minds is indispensable. Then, the alcohol nearly finished me, forcing a new mentality and lifestyle…
Having church to go to was helpful for a couple of years. I hope the congregation doesn’t feel used or cheated now that I’ve left. Was I merely deceiving them through all those services? Sort of going through the motions? I don’t think it was a deliberate swindle. It was early in my recovery, and I wasn’t quite myself yet. And the falling away from faith was gradual. I was never dishonest about it, but rather, aboveboard the whole way. Pastor didn’t want to believe it. The first barrier I noticed was the problem of prayer, and this came up a year ago last summer. And then it was the whole concept of Jesus, especially since the virus made it appear like the end of the world. The apocalypse would spell out the Last Judgment, and essentially this entailed the dividing of human beings into saved and lost. My whole being found this proposal offensive. Unfortunately, it is built into the entire New Testament. Parable after parable taught by Jesus refers to the righteousness of Christians. When I cornered Pastor about this, he had no defense, no recourse. I think that by now he has finally dropped me and the whole issue. The one who’s still bothered by it all happens to be me. I regret that it couldn’t have worked out for me and the church. If I could rewrite the Bible to make it more reasonable, I suppose I would in order to get along with more people. The scriptures would be an okay thing if the pages were blank. Some churches try to treat the Bible in just that way. Interpretations can be very plastic, almost as though there were no text at all. I think that this was the impasse I came to with Pastor. At some juncture, his latitude with interpretation would hit a wall and break down. Perhaps I really was a jerk to be so insistent on a point. I believe that, at bottom, maybe Pastor acceded my argument. But in saying so, I’m merely mindreading. For myself, anyway, I wouldn’t want life and mind to be circumscribed by the Bible… Pastor wrote something that suggested to me that I’d been “hardhearted” in deciding to leave. But is it hardheartedness or rather toughmindedness? My heart is a reflector of what my mind earnestly thinks. Perhaps it would’ve been softhearted to put on blinders and forget what I had seen. But that wouldn’t have been my way…
This is Thursday. I’m wearing a shirt that reminds me of working years. It’s a nice shirt, though a bit threadbare. It’s a maroon sweatshirt, made by Russell Athletic. My experience at the store this morning was rather negative, and I seemed haunted by fire engine red wherever I went. The new checkout counter is finished in bright red, and the Coke I bought has a red label. I suppose I’m seeing political significance in the color. I can’t find much of anything that’s blue. Very strange. The wildfires rage on, and Angela at the salon awaits the order to evacuate her home out east in Springfield. Everybody is so preoccupied today. I started to contest the price of a couple of burritos at the store, then dropped it. Prices are going up while quantities are going down. The little market is getting expensive. I spent over $14 on 4 items. If I can manage the long walk, I should shop at Grocery Outlet more often.
It’s odd how Christianity is the ideology of the masses, especially the poor, while materialism is reserved for educated rich people. Victor Hugo’s comments on this are spot on. Then what are you supposed to do if you are educated and fallen through the cracks? The Christians you find yourself among don’t understand you. Does this mean that your education is wrongheaded? I may never know the answer. But I do know that I can’t fake my way through prayers of intercession anymore. It isn’t fair to either me or the others in church. And though I keep saying this, Pastor keeps hoping that something will magically change. My policy is honesty, and I’ll just pursue my truth as far as it goes. It will be my dower, for better or worse. But I will have the satisfaction of my integrity. I may end up unjustly dead like Cordelia, or alone and miserable. Still, I refuse to lie.
One o’clock. I can’t think of much else to say. I do think honesty is the best virtue I possess. I might pick up my Lloyd Alexander book that arrived yesterday and give it a flap. Then again, I could look at an old Edgar Rice Burroughs novel to determine what was so appealing about his writing when I was a teen. I read about half of his whole corpus of 90-odd books. I also lost a lot of my collection in the house fire. More than once, I’ve thought about subscribing to one of his fanzines. I even considered starting a blog dedicated to ERB. It would still be fun to meet other fans and compare notes.
Pastor sent us an email with a link to the recorded service and reported that 12 people attended this morning. This was more than I expected. I’m glad I didn’t go. Too many rules and regulations due to coronavirus made a mockery of worship service. And again, I don’t go to church for the God stuff. I’ve changed a great deal since a year ago. Seven months ago I had that conversation with Tim at Black Rock cafe. He said I had become part of the family and people depended on me. Also, D— was concerned about my crisis of faith; but I had already known that about her, based on the nasty card she gave me for Christmas three years ago. All that time I was recovering from alcoholism and not very astute for a while. I don’t remember a lot of things that happened in church because I was barely conscious.
Quarter after two. The sun 🌞 has come out and the sky mostly cleared up. I feel like buying myself a present. Yesterday I browsed the Norton anthologies on Amazon and found a few nice ones. Or I could buy Aesop a nice meaty bone 🍖 just for the fun of it… I ordered a six pack of bones for Aesop, coming Tuesday. Filled with peanut butter. My book of Elizabeth Bishop is due any day now. I could buy a book of Sophocles… Should I ask Roger about helping me finish my J Bass? What color would be good? Cobalt blue would be pretty. But first, the headstock has to be shaved down. I don’t even know what shape I want. Ideally I should get myself a work bench and set it up in the garage.
Four o’clock 🕓. I just played my J Bass: sounds like Geddy Lee. Again I perceive how my bass playing depends on mimesis, on imitating the sound of somebody famous. Otherwise I’m uninspired to do music on a bass guitar. I wonder if all art is basically mimetic? Is creativity simply combining the same elements in new ways? Like Wallace Stevens in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I used to deny this opinion, thinking originality is just what it is. My friends believed so too. But now when I listen to the music I wrote long ago I hear Rush influence all over it. Deep down I wished I could actually be Rush, until I heard Jaco Pastorius and wanted to be his clone. I went to foolish extremities to realize my dream. So maybe all along it was good enough to just be myself in music as well as in life. Whom do I emulate today? Is there anybody I’m trying to be like? I can only think of the character John Proctor in The Crucible for now. Tomorrow it’ll be someone else.
Quarter of five. It’s very warm in the house, making it hard to breathe and concentrate on anything, and yet I read a bit more of The Catcher in the Rye. My reading investigations are a mode of self analysis. I’m trying to solve a problem and satisfy my curiosity about what went wrong with my life after my sophomore year in college. Losing my virginity was extremely traumatic at age 20, an event I never did recover from. While I was in love, she used me like a weekend liaison, treated it so casually. I learned that I cannot live that way. The second experience I had with a woman was a mistake because I didn’t love her at all, didn’t allow myself to. I should have let well enough alone. A bug in my ear said it was important to have a relationship. Many years later I read in a self help book that it’s okay to live without romance. I think I hung out with too many guys who made a macho thing out of dating. As if you weren’t a man if you didn’t prove it to everyone. I always thought it was silly, and mostly I avoided entanglements. Some people get married before they ever go to bed together. Maybe this is better, except for legal complications if the marriage doesn’t work out. I don’t feel very sexy anymore, fortunately. After I quit drinking it all went away— except for the mess-up with Sheryl. Finally I’m getting over that trauma as well. I probably will never like therapists again since my bad experience. So I undertake my own psychoanalysis to try to heal myself. The Salinger book was influential for me the year I was hurt in love. Funny how Holden criticizes the world as being phony, as I once did when I was in high school and young and sensitive. I wonder if there’s truth in that perception? How much of human life is purely artificial and fictive, just a matter of conformity to social constructs and conventions? Conversely, how much of life is authentic and genuine? When we are young, perhaps the artifice is easier to spot. As adults, seeing the truth is reserved for the sensitive people who remember, especially writers, musicians, and other artists.
Quarter of five.
Up before the birds again. I feel a sense of what a stuffed shirt I appear to myself. I dreamed that I had written a novel, but the first few pages were copied from Henry James, so now I had to go back and rewrite it. Awake, I mused on being a failure, since blogging is not the same as real writing. To write like Henry James required much more work than simply jotting down short posts with an iPad. And to aspire to write in his tradition is probably rather shallow and unworthy. My family would be the first to attest to this discovery. In my head I hear “The Unforgettable Fire” by U2, maybe significantly. I guess what I’m trying to say is I need be a bit more humble and respectful. It could be a mistake to bypass my natural feelings of remorse when I’ve done a bad here and there. Cognitive therapy has its pitfalls. My sister once asked me if I respected her and her family, and I sidestepped the question by saying, “Do you want me to make you a list?” She called me childish and said she had a great number of friends who loved her. It was all occasioned by the previous night, when I had used the word “didactic” to my nephew. The next day, he was beside himself with fury, and complained to his mother about it. But on the issue of respecting them, I have to say I really don’t. This is the sad fact, and my honesty compels me to admit it.
I grew tired of trying to sleep. There’s a question on my mind. It concerns love and marriage, and how to go about it. Many women insist on marrying before there’s any sex. The problem with this is that they might refuse to have sex after tying the knot. Is it worth the risk? I read Jude the Obscure twice, and its lesson was not lost on me. The legal complications of marriage may not be worth the hazard. You stand to lose everything that you own. Women love this arrangement, but men such as I have to be very careful. As it is, my situation is quite safe. (I just had a deja vu. I’ve written this before.) Do I want to mess up my security for the sake of Eros? What if the sex isn’t very good? I tend to get bored easily. Maybe I should just forget the whole thing…
I hope for a quieter day today. I don’t have to go to River Road this time. No guilt trips over wearing a mask or not, or leaving my bag at the front of the store. If Aesop weren’t so scary to other people and animals, I would take him for a walk. But he’s like a pit bull in being aggressive. For this reason I would never own another blue heeler.
The way I ended up with this one was a fluke. I was afraid to say no to my sister, who often gave notoriously bad advice. Jeff knew this about her and tried to protect her from the truth. He swore me to secrecy all the time. The family situation was an incredible mess from all the lies and deception usually for the purpose of emotional caretaking. Don’t tell So and So because she will be upset. Polly and Jeff learned this mode of operation growing up together, but I learned just the opposite in dealing with Mom. I could not adapt to my siblings’ protocol after Mom passed away. It wasn’t my fault. I was brought up to be honest. If it turned out to be a virtue, it was by a coincidence and not from adherence to a particular doctrine…
Anyhow, Aesop is in a rut of waiting for his next snack. Just lies there and does nothing for hours at a time. He doesn’t know how to entertain himself when I’m busy with something else. I believe he’s too intelligent to sit and gnaw on a bone. He needs to interact with me in a meaningful way. I have to figure something out.