The day yesterday went by lonely and boring. I racked my brains for things to kill time. At around noon I plugged in my diy jazz bass and played it for an hour. I thought it sounded good, though the neck on it needs finishing, maybe with a varnish, and the headstock should be trimmed down. Since I’ve got someone for transportation, I ought to take it to Guitar Center, show it to the tech, and ask for advice. While I’m there, I can put feelers out for musicians to jam with… It’s hard to believe the severity of the adversities that have hit the world since 2020. Life as drama is nothing like Shakespeare, but instead like Ionesco and the absurdists. It is a play written by a chaotician or an idiot, or not written at all. Paints are spattered randomly on the wall by a brainless machine. The effects were here before the causes, and the meaning is only secondary. It subverts reason and human knowledge, the patient efforts of an Aristotle to create system from disorder. Still it seems that way sometimes. That’s why we need to make music and inventions like radio and the phonograph. Without the stamp of humanity on the world, it remains a stubborn jungle.
I just had a little dinner that Gloria brought me this morning. Very good. She made round steak with mushrooms, scalloped potatoes, and green beans. I thought it was really nice of her. But earlier today I had a hard time with my thoughts and my mood, and again I could trace it to a conversation with T—; also to D’s sermons. I realize how thin my skin is and how sensitive I am. I can’t seem to help it, or maybe T— really is kind of a jerk. It’s a possibility. Also I think my position and attitudes are rather unpopular, especially with the church, but unfortunately for me, the church is a huge phenomenon these days. C— really rubs me the wrong way when we talk philosophy, because he stresses how philosophers run afoul of the church and get themselves killed, etc etc. The best thing for me is to get myself out of these situations in order to be safe. Of course I really resent these guys. Maybe Oregon is just a bad place to be a freethinker. It’s also bad for Muslims and anyone who isn’t a redneck or a hippie. Even these groups agree about the Bible and hate gay people. I dunno. I’m feeling like I don’t belong as an American citizen, or that I should move to a much bigger city than this jerkwater one in the most bigoted place on the West Coast. It’s driving me crazy and getting worse all the time.
If I laid my cards on the table and bared my soul to the people here, I’d probably be shot on the spot.
But we need a place for confession today, and not as if we’d done terrible wrongs, but because we’re all human beings and ought to be able to relate to one another’s experiences. Instead, I feel like we all are forced to wear a disguise: a face mask for real. It’s been a time of jumping through the hoops and being obedient to authority no matter what they say. I think it’s time for people to say what they mean and that includes me. The situation is getting ridiculous, and I’m just bursting at the seams from all this suppression of important stuff.
People are smarter than we give them credit for. But if you expect stupidity from them, then they’ll be inclined to comply because they want to please you.
Oh well… The sunshine that was forecast today never came. The weather people have been inaccurate for some months now where we’d never had a problem before. Everything is a state of snafu. I’ve ordered a book by Iris Murdoch arriving today unless it’s delayed like the last few packages.
Quarter after seven.
It must be cold outside because the furnace keeps turning on. There’s still hardly any daylight. My curiosity is roused for Montaigne and Camus since last night when I took a peek in a history of philosophy published in 1999. These two were not professional philosophers but men of letters with a great deal of erudition and influence on the current of thought for their time and afterwards. It’s interesting to me that Montaigne calls reason into doubt along with everything else, nor was Camus a rationalist thinker. My question is, what does humanity have if we’re deprived of reason or logic, and how are we distinguished from the animals? And what really is animal and human? Camus suggested that humankind is the microcosm of an absurd universe— just the opposite of Plato’s view that reason pervades the whole cosmos. Whether or not the universe is a friendly place depends on how human beings perceive themselves and each other; this is no one else’s idea, it is mine. What Camus did say is we have to create meaning in our existence. But nothing is very clear or definitive on the whole matter. So I should read Camus myself and draw my own conclusions.
Maybe I should forget philosophy altogether for a while since I’m only making a muddle of it. Besides that, it isn’t much fun anymore. If I went to church today I’d only get more confused and probably rather upset with the pastor and his sermon. So I’m staying home.
Eight twenty five.
There’s something wrong with this picture. I can find no monopoly of intelligence anywhere I go, and I’m all alone with my thoughts and feelings. Everybody has an opinion to sell you, right or wrong. And if you hold something dear, there’s always someone else to come and mess it up. I know that my feelings are inspired by a real person I’ve had a discussion with at some time. I’m just sick of the attitudes of the church and I wish I’d never left the services of my psychiatrist. Another possibility is that all human relationships turn sour sooner or later.
It’s going to be a long day…
Quarter of ten.
I got a statement from my bank: they wanted me to know that I earned one cent on my savings account. After the mail, I walked to the little store as usual where Thomas held down the fort and we both forgot to say Happy New Year. Things are ordinary and kind of dull but this is better than distress. Church will be starting now and I’m already not there. Maybe I’ll finish The Tempest today so I can be done with the problem of Caliban as the evolutionary missing link.
I haven’t been thinking much about Christmas today. I’ve read the first two acts of The Tempest. Pretty good. The slaves of Prospero both want their freedom. These are Ariel and Caliban. The latter is a deformed anthropoid brute, smelling of fish, who was taught language by Miranda and whose mother was Sycorax, a witch. There’s something interesting about a monster learning to speak and express feelings that are barely human. It’s much like the monster in Frankenstein, who is not human, and represents the sublime. Or how about teaching sign language to gorillas and chimpanzees? Or the voice of the raven croaking Nevermore from the bust of Athena over the door? Another thing: Caliban says that learning English was only convenient for him to curse with. He really doesn’t like his master, kind of like Frankenstein’s monster systematically popping off his family… Anyway, I’m about halfway through the play.
I still haven’t heard the news from Gloria, and she didn’t come to work today, as I wouldn’t have expected. Aesop and I spent a quiet day alone together while the wind howled and once some sleet came down mixed with rain. The only excursion was to the store this morning, which was nothing unusual for me, though Lisa reported having a bad day so far. When I thought about that later, it seemed like the fragmentation in Mrs Dalloway, with everyone locked in their private worlds. It’s impossible for people to truly share their perceptions, even through the seeming agreement of language.
This is just the mood I’m in today. Tomorrow I have to go to church like I agreed to do. Hope for the best.
I got the H.G. Wells book yesterday. Found it on my doorstep when I went out for the mail. It’s very nice, with a format very similar to the Verne volume.
I probably hang out too much with my dog here at home, but it’s quite fascinating to observe how his mind functions. His intelligence is nearly human, unless I project much of myself onto him. Strange to consider such a relationship between animal and man, as if we could really communicate together. Some dogs are a little too smart, I suppose. What we have here tends to blur the boundaries of one nature and the other. I guess that’s why I feel a little confused on what defines a human being versus the definition of animals. Now I’ve finally put my finger on it.
Aesop is not a person!
Another question I pondered was whether humankind is vain or simply noble and dignified. Newton’s rule applies the same physics to the earth and human beings as to other bodies in space. Ultimately, this paved the way for Darwin to link people with animals in The Descent of Man. But to this day, many Americans reject evolution or make people exempt from it: they may reject science wholesale and embrace religion instead. In Europe, Creationism is not even taught in schools. They’ve gone with evolution totally and it’s an accepted fact in their culture. Why do Americans resist Darwin’s discoveries? What is at stake if we give up old prejudices? Is it just the ethic of altruism that we fear will be lost? We seem to believe that moral behavior hinges on God and the diviner part of ourselves. We take spiritual things literally. We don’t trust the evidence right in front of us. That’s why I ask if people are vain or just noble when we keep humankind separate from the natural world. Is there a reason for keeping our self image divine— sort of like what Edith Hamilton said of Greek culture? Should we despair if we see ourselves as animal and ugly?
The sky was beautiful ninety minutes ago: partly cloudy with shades of lavender and rose. I must have been only half awake for my daily pilgrimage to Maxwell Road. “So breathe in deep / You’re not asleep / Open your mind.” Carl Sandburg wrote that nobody will be remembered in ten thousand years. On either side of us there’s a stretch of ten thousand years, a thought to humble the reader. Will anyone recall Moses in so many years? Chances are that no humans will exist to do the remembering… It angers me when some people pretend that “God” is on their side, making them superhuman. It’s even worse when they say their way is the only way and try to mess up your projects. These people should try being human for a change. Unless their blood is green, they are ordinary like you and me. Is it just an American thing? On this side of the Atlantic, people are put on the spot for their religious beliefs, but over there it’s no big deal… I daresay that when people no longer exist, then their god will perish as well.
Quarter after nine at night.
Even in sleep, it’s the same old ambivalent feelings on things old and new. I had three good friends I gave up when I decided to quit drinking— friends a little on the shady side: they bent the rules whenever it served them to do so. I know a guy today who reminds me of the same thing. I run into him occasionally at the little market. His face is a bit red, presumably from drinking alcohol, yet I really like the guy. He summons my brother to my mind and the good times we used to share on our trips to the coast. I feel as if I had to make a choice like that of Prince Henry when he said to Falstaff, “I know you not.” …I don’t think there’s anything great or distinguished about being sober, especially when it’s such a struggle for me to maintain. Often I feel like saying screw it and getting drunk just to be my natural self again. Suddenly I remember a day a decade ago at Grocery Outlet when I bought some English breakfast tea and later told my friend in Scotland about it. I miss those kinds of things. I miss my old friends.
Seven o’clock at night.
My energy level is pretty low right now. I just had a nap in the sunshine from the window. I remembered having delusions of people looking like apes, as with Darwin, when I had my initial episode of the illness. A strange experience. It makes you consider what about humanity gives it its particular distinction. This question goes back as far as human history. Aristotle: man is a rational animal, also a political animal. But by the time you get to Rousseau in the eighteenth century, it is rather the feelings of the heart that define humankind apart from other animals. Somewhere I have a copy of his novel La Nouvelle Heloise. It wasn’t so much raw emotion that Rousseau praised as very fine sentimentality, as I recall from the introduction… But then I consider my dog Aesop, who obviously has intellect as well as feeling. It seems to me that humans are only different from animals in quantities of the same attributes, and not by virtue of some magical essence like logic or sentiment— or a moral thing like altruism or generosity. Yet it seems Loren Eiseley says the opposite of this. To be sure, I should read the whole book and then give my thoughts on it.
It still is 81 degrees in my hallway. But hopefully this is the last day of the heatwave. Yesterday I asked myself what good is reminiscing on things, other than that it makes you feel happy temporarily. Now I ask what’s wrong with that. I think a revival of the Renaissance is a great idea, after we solve our most pressing problems. Some people believe that the root of our situation is laziness, so we need to be industrious and diligent to fix it. But this wouldn’t help with our inhumanity. “Can’t we find the minds to lead us closer to the heart?” Nobody is a poet anymore. I should have gone to see Primus doing A Farewell to Kings last year. They came to a place near Portland to play the old Rush album in its entirety in August. Tribute bands are on the rise currently. This might be the way for me to go if I want to keep being a minstrel. The only problems are transportation and the drugs that musicians often use… Now it’s the same old question: church or no church this morning? There seems to be no other outlet for someone like me. My objection to it is the religion. There’s a drawback to everything, so you just pick the lesser evils as long as you have any choice at all. When those options are all gone, I guess you create your own options. But life is making it much harder to pull off. I wonder why that is? The parameters are shrinking a little more day by day until no one can be a real human being anymore. This is the course America is on. The concept of the individual is going away. I hear a breeze in my maple tree outside, and in my head, the last chord to a piece by Schoenberg done in 1909. Beauty in the dissonance.
I’m sick of church.
Eleven twenty at night.
I dreamed I was playing the bass line to an old tune by The Knack that got airplay when I was a seventh grader, which would be 42 years ago. The place where I went to junior high school still stands over on Howard Avenue. I got a good look at it from the backseat of a taxi last Thursday at noon: a creme colored building with red brick, and fixed to the outdoor wall, the propeller to the plane flown by the school’s namesake, a local war hero no one seems to remember. We were known as the Kelly Bombers and our colors were green and white, as I recall from a book bag I bought at the school store. My high school experience wasn’t as good as the time I spent at Kelly. In Stage Band we did a song called “The Sponge” that was fun for me on drums, yet the trumpet players hated it for its difficulty, and our bass player also had a hard time with it. Some other titles we played were “Hurt So Bad” and the theme for Masterpiece Theater, as well as “Fame” and “Staying Alive.” I don’t remember what make of bass guitar our band had; it might have been a sunburst Yamaha. It was entrusted to Brian to play, and I recall how Mr Kuryluk would help him with his parts before class started. But I loved the green sparkle Ludwig drum kit we had, with a Paiste crash/ride cymbal that just rocked. Mr Diller joined us on his saxophone when he wasn’t too busy directing us, and Kuryluk worked the electric piano. A horn player named Dax used to call me “Animal” every day of class, after the drummer on The Muppet Show. Those days are gone but not forgotten by a few people. There are some memories that nothing can really erase; they are a part of you, just like an arm or a leg, and just as vital to your humanity.