A Pearl Sublime





I couldn’t sleep; a troubling vision works

A spell o’ my nerves: in the antique wood lurks

An elfin girl, the Pearl o’ The Scarlet Letter

Decked with wildflowers, standing in the sun,

And doubled by a pool, ambiguous one,

Not knowing for the bad or for the better.

Is she the emblem of original sin

Or rather purity? Equivocal grin

As she kissed the letter on her mother’s chest.

Artless and wild, the mannequin of Nature,

Distrustful of the church’s legislature,

A Pearl sublime by nothing is oppressed.

I tossed and turned and finally arose

To find the Hawthorne volume no one knows.

As soon as I had opened to the pages

Pertaining to the child, the spell was broken:

A mystery to occupy the sages.

Was it for nothing that I was awoken? 

Conspiracies

Eight o’clock.

Everything you hear from the media sounds like a scare tactic. It uses fear to control us— because it works. I’m sick of playing this game. I’m not the only one who feels that way. The guy I heard yesterday in the waiting room was whacko, and yet the feelings he expressed were universal. Who is the tycoon in charge of all this? Surely he is jerking our strings, making us put on a mask in perfect uniformity. But now I sound like a whacko too. Everyone says how crazy the times are, but no one knows who is responsible. Maybe it’s just human nature to want to blame somebody… I remarked to Michelle that the market is running out of food. She said there’s a shipment coming in Wednesday. I guess Raj hasn’t been satisfied with the Portland distributor, so he switched to another one. Michelle said it didn’t make any sense. Anyway, I got my run to the store done early to beat the heat. Hopefully the forecast is inaccurate… I heard more weird conspiracy theories in church last night, regarding the postal service. The madness has to stop somewhere. Somebody with some sense must sort it all out for us. Frankly I’m tired of the church group as well. We’re all equally ignorant about what is happening, so stop dreaming up things. We should mind our own business and just hang on until a better day.

Naivety

Five thirty five. I remember the reek of beer and piss in the recreation room of Ken’s roof and floor workplace 32 years ago. I couldn’t understand why all the homophobic jokes among the laborers. I was a city boy visiting this mill in bucolic Harrisburg. The only reason for my presence was the music we were playing. Our practice room was upstairs in the loft. The empty bottles we set on the windowsills attracted yellow jackets like a dog whistle. They would hang hovering above our heads in the middle of the room, then dive down at us. There were numerous blackberry bushes growing outside the building, where the bees usually loitered. Here and there downstairs were pornographic pinups on the wall. Everywhere I felt the pressure to conform, to be macho; and I just wasn’t. Aside from the music, I didn’t fit in at all. Ken had a multifaceted personality, chameleonic even, which he employed to be diplomatic with people. He could change colors to blend in anywhere. He tended to be a social caretaker, stepping in to save a conversation when possible. For my part, I was passive and hopelessly myself. When I spoke, it was often cluelessly cerebral, as if said in a foreign language. Burke was at a loss; then Ken would hear me and translate it for him. I served as the creative leader of our music project, but the camaraderie was mostly between Ken and Burke. They entertained each other with foul and offensive humor and sort of ignored me. I had entered into the situation as a naive dreamer and idealist. The dirty talk always puzzled me, but after more than a year of it I became numbed. The fact is that everyone who encountered my idealism tried to sabotage it, to tear it down and squat on it. I was kind of like the male version of Blanche in the play by Tennessee Williams. People, particularly if they were older, sought to shatter my dreams. Today I wonder why…

Confession

It’s very odd being 53 years old, and having such a wall up with my family. I regret it only a little. Overall I think the division is irreparable. Jeff still hasn’t called back, nor will he. Polly told me some wild stories about him, and she usually tells the truth. But the moral shortcomings all around are really hard to ignore. How do you forgive racism? Or gratuitous lying and cheating— even stealing? I know I’m a lazy person, and proud. Still, I don’t screw anyone over. I do remember a time when I was a chameleon with people I didn’t particularly like. I told them what they wanted to hear and they were completely fooled. Eventually I was exposed, and then the poop hit the fan. I don’t know where I learned to be a deceiver, though I saw my brother dupe the family enough times. His practice caused a great deal of pain. In the last decade I began to see duplicity for what it is. So many times he tried to swear me to secrecy about his feelings toward the rest of the family. Every time it backfired because Polly demanded to know the truth from me. My siblings used me like a shuttlecock in a game of badminton. I think now they finally realize how they feel about each other, so now they have no use for me! Funny how it turned out. Anyway, now I’m free of the mess…

Salon Visit

Eleven thirty. I went and hung out at the salon for an hour. Karen lost her temper at Lisa over the parking lot situation. The latter had tried to be her spokesperson in her absence and it was wrong. Darlene was in good spirits. Her face lit up when she saw me. Poor Karen has quite a Type A personality. I fear for her having a heart attack or something. Lisa is young and capricious. And Angela is sort of a diplomat between these two opposites. Karen is very concerned for success in her business, but she also takes in people who need help; seniors and people on the wrong side of the tracks. I guess that includes me too. Karen knew me when my addiction was so bad. It seems to me now that I was a different person then. Lisa asked my dog’s name, and I was surprised when she recognized Aesop the fabulist. I told her she was one of the few who did know the name. She said she had hung around guys who claimed to know a lot. I began to wonder about myself; maybe I was another such guy? And maybe I really was from the wrong side of the tracks? The dynamic of the salon is interesting, with the customers tending to be relaxed and pleasant but the staff rather tense and anxious. Then there’s me, the bum who comes around to visit Darlene. But of course it’s more complicated than that. I’m not exactly a bum, and Darlene is an old friend. It was a pleasure for her to see me again, and that’s what I do it for.

One Foot Out the Door

Quarter of five. Mom had no faith and no hope. But I don’t have to be like her. Dad was more optimistic, so I want to use him for a model. Think about Stravinsky again, as I did before Christmas. Do some classical music. Dad’s influence was healthier. I love The Firebird and the way I felt in 1993, at Christmas time. I loved Fifth Pearl Shops, the Music Gourmet especially. My dad wasn’t the jerk my family deemed him to be. I got into classical music big time from that Christmas on.

Five forty. I scheduled the ride to Mark’s house no problem. Pickup time is six thirty: perfect. This jam should be a lot of fun. Jeez, Mom really had problems with her outlook. Negativity is the root of mental illness I think. Nobody can live like that without severe consequences. Mom needed help. Life is supposed to be happy and good. Mom defeated herself with her pessimism all the time. It was fear, but it was unfounded… In ten minutes I’m putting my stuff outside and waiting for my taxi. Remember that people are nice and not evil as my mom used to think. Money can corrupt people, as can alcohol and drugs. But mostly human nature is pretty good.

Disillusion

Eleven thirty five. I was thinking as I lay in bed that I want to get away from people for a while. I can’t believe the drama I’m seeing from Nate and Chad, their shameless squabble over money. Nate is saying Chad sucks; Chad is saying Nate sucks. Neither wants to work with the other ever again. All the while, Nate is dangling 70 thousand dollars over Chad’s head and taunting Merry Christmas. And all I can do is stand by and watch. But it’s my damn house they’re fighting over. I need a break from people, a separate peace from the constant furor. Just one week alone with my dog should be sufficient. I may be feeling like a misanthrope, which is always self contradictory. Still, I’d prefer an insular life with my dog for a holiday. While I’m away, the human comedy can go on with the almighty dollar fueling its progress. Contra naturam.

Allegories

Two thirty. Strangely, now I’m back to the old dichotomy of good against evil, no matter what cognitive therapy had to say about it. Aaron Beck promotes the shades of gray rather than black and white, but life may be more like Christianity than he realizes. How can we have morals without the precept of smiles and frowns, of positive and negative, of good and bad? LOTR is a moral teacher, like most great literature. Monochromatic thinking about conduct is an ineradicable part of human nature. I left cognitive therapy behind long ago and just trusted the Vraylar for the psychosis. With grayness, there’s no direction one way or the other. With that, one might as well drink his life away. But I don’t. I analyze the allegory of Moby Dick and its similarities to LOTR and Star Wars, seeking a common Christian thread. So far it has borne fruit. What are the stories we tell about if not morality? In the time of Christopher Marlowe they had what were called morality plays, and they were always allegories of good and evil. Doctor Faustus was one of them. But notice that the same kind of allegories are produced by human imaginations by the millions now as ever before. They come about in the face of evidence based therapy, the Aaron Beck school. Why? It is an irrepressible human instinct to believe in good and evil and live our lives accordingly. The old stories are ever being made new again and again, spontaneously from the human spirit. I can’t agree with CBT anymore, knowing what I know about our mythologies and religions. Grayness and Christianity contradict each other and don’t belong in the same paradigm. For now, anyway, the latter has triumphed in my soul.

Mind Food

Quarter of midnight. Church this morning was average. Before service, B— opened up to me a little in the foyer about her job. She told me about a second grade teacher she knew who was arrested for pedophilia. I wondered a bit why she was telling me that. I guess it was because the incident had disturbed her not a little. Maybe she needed reassurance. The news didn’t ruffle me at all, but my humanism knows a broad scope of experience. The great novelist Henry James had a lust for young boys, never acted upon of course, but acknowledged to himself as being a part of his soul. Everybody has something like that, however we may obscure it from ourselves. It can be a shock to discover it, especially when we can put a societal label on it and condemn ourselves. Usually we will be our own worst critic. It is said that no individual is innocent, therefore what kind of position are we in to condemn other people? Spinoza had some amazing insights about crime and punishment. Above all, he impressed me with this quote: “Things are not more or less perfect according as they delight or offend human senses…” And when an offender is apprehended, he is to be turned in to the proper authorities, but without a feeling of moral outrage. In other words, it shouldn’t be like the yellow journalism I used to see on Dateline NBC, stuff that panders to the deplorable need in some people to work themselves into a moral frenzy. Thus I guess I felt like sermonizing a bit to B— on the spot, but instead saved it for material for this post.

QED

Quarter of one. I’m really at my best when I report on human and moral things, with the objectivity of a dream. And conscience is indeed a moral tape recorder constantly taking in and playing back. It cannot be shut down. I believe Emerson was absolutely right that nature is always moral. No one may cheat nature without consequences down the road. What is meant by “nature” by the way? This collective conscience is understood by everyone and everything that sleeps and dreams. Literature wouldn’t exist without it. The world’s writing is a chronicler of rights and wrongs and history itself is a record of conduct. It is not, as my mother believed, a mere series of names and dates telling a trivial story. Every tale has a moral tone, from which the “literalism” I encountered is an attempt to escape. But nature and history are consciousness, and every awareness is conscience. It doesn’t matter where you came from or where you are going, the mirror of your mind can’t help reflecting. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Still I say the world is conscious and can’t avoid dreaming, and everything we think and feel contributes to the record not of the senses but of the soul.