Sometimes I do better in the dead of night than during the day, as I remember saying another time to you. Being a night owl gives me a certain freedom that’s unavailable to me by the day when everyone is awake, creating reality their way as a collective whole. Again it makes me wonder about the character of the day today: what are people thinking? How are they constructing the society that we all have to live in together? Maybe this is why my mood is so low this week. It doesn’t seem like people are giving very much of themselves to each other these days: like the old song—
Too many men
Too many people
Causing too many problems
And not much love to go round
That’s how I feel, anyway. To some extent, the future or the potentiality of the next moment is a blind blank wall and it’s just you and what you do with your freedom. Isn’t that a weird idea? And you can do something that really jars on the scene or do something that really harmonizes and makes people happy. It’s all possible for every individual, every moment we exist. Yet it’s easier to say this when nobody else is awake. The waking world is a kind of ogre or octopus, very hard to negotiate due to the sheer numbers: like David and Goliath if you want to get anything done.
But what do I know about life? Does everyone have an equal shot at giving a description of it, not to mention a prescription for making it better? Why do I waste my time writing blog posts unless I have a good reason for doing it? I think everyone has something to say that needs to be said, and that’s why we have democracy and the first amendment.
It almost seems like every human life is a moral purpose to be enacted, to be fully realized and expressed, like the flower growing towards the sun.
But the strange thing is how people are denied the right to speak their minds: you want to climb a mountaintop and broadcast your message for everyone to hear…
Or maybe it’s better that some people be squelched, and the Emersonian vision is too optimistic and romantic. I think again of my conversation with Polly on Tuesday.
Maybe everyone is full of crap? What would Emerson say about that?
I’m just rambling a lot of nonsense while my mind tries to settle into the new season.
Quarter after ten.
Gloria is in the backyard using the broom on the patio. The sky is white with high clouds and it’s supposed to get quite warm today. It’s funny how I can get overwhelmed by religious ideas, trying to get to the bottom of things like freedom, etc etc. Why don’t I just let them go? Even if I solve the riddle, life will go on just as before. If I believe in freedom, then it needn’t be a complicated thing mixed up with god and the devil and all that nonsense. I ought to relax and allow life to happen as it will. Give my mind a holiday. Make some music on my bass guitar and forget philosophy and theology. For that very purpose I will avoid church after this. Boring, long winded sermons— when the truth is more like the red wheelbarrow and white chickens in the old poem. The rest is confusion caused by human minds. We tend to make things complex and difficult for ourselves for the sake of law and order, but the order itself becomes disorderly. So I imagine a palm tree at the end of the mind, like the Wallace Stevens poem, with the bird of paradise in its fronds. Everything else is unnecessary, at least for today.
Eight thirty at night.
I’m feeling kind of sad this evening. Outside it’s a night of high winds, and they warn of flash flooding, but my neighborhood is far from water. I told Aesop to be careful when I let him out for a potty break, and I worried about limbs falling from the oak tree. It was a day of bizarre contingencies, and of people misunderstanding each other like T.S. Eliot’s game of chess. Culture is in a state of fragmentation. We seem to speak different languages, our punishment for the Babel Tower, aspiring to the exaltation of the deity. Or maybe this is the isolation of being a deep thinker. The opossum, my uninvited guest, makes a small racket under the bathroom and Aesop barks his anxiety and frustration, answered by a few other canine voices from far away. The animal kingdom harmonizes, so why doesn’t the human world? People don’t treat each other well. Instead, we thwart and baffle one another. Now I’ve heard the thunder: I say the word, and Aesop barks nervously. Everyone understands what thunder means. Perhaps it’s what this whole day has built up to. Afterwards it’ll be a relief and a release of tension. For now, we just hang on.
Ten thirty five at night.
I had a good day in spite of the heat. I got some reading done in Native Son, so now only 55 pages to go. It’s hard to put a finger on what I think tonight or how I feel. At a deeper level, the different threads of my thought must be unified somehow. One idea I’ve had is that the truth is a mirage: the closer you get to it, the more it fades away. Is the life force a miracle or just a godless accident? I’m still fascinated with the notion of Urschleim, the primordial mud of life discovered by Thomas Huxley, which he then admitted was a mistake. Some people believe that life exists apart from lifeless matter, sort of like a ghost in the machine of nature. But it’s this kind of inquiry that is fruitless and a mirage, a protean shapeshifter impossible to get your hands on. I suppose that true knowledge is having no knowledge in a rational way. And this is like something I read about Zen a long time ago, and even that is elusive to me. What I do know is that I saw the sun go down and the full moon rise in the east this evening, orchestrated like the music of the spheres.
Quarter after ten at night.
I kept having dream thoughts about the Tarzan series, particularly whether the short stories fit into the first or second book, but of course they belong with the first one. I can’t settle on what books to read. A student told me once that there are no new ideas, only new ways of expressing them. His focus was the form more than the content, while mine was mostly the reverse of that. For this reason I was better cut out for philosophy than literature.
I was curious to sample the writings of Eiseley yesterday, but I think as a scientist he’s not so good. I don’t know. Is the best science atheistic, excluding religious ideas, or is some overlap okay? I know my brother’s opinion on this. His universe is deterministic with no Deus ex machina. He’s a purist that way. Maybe I have no business talking about him. In his mind, we are no longer brothers. He denies our relatedness, so why should I care about him anymore? It just seems very cold and hardhearted of him. Maybe I’m the bigger man for respecting him?
Well what the heck, it’s only family, and what does my brother know?
I’ve decided not to be passive today, but to be instrumental in my own moods and thoughts. If it rains outside, then it doesn’t have to rain within me. I can dust off the old idealistic philosophy and make life better. I don’t know why everything is in a slump currently. Maybe it’s not necessary to know in order to fix it. I wish we had more choices than just the same old Christian and Buddhist churches in Eugene, but then it’s really up to you to form your vision of reality. I don’t believe in a Resurrection that Christians are waiting for so excitedly. It’s probably nix on going to service this Sunday. When you don’t believe, there’s no sense in pretending otherwise. It’s also impossible to turn back the clock to peachier times… I reckon what I want is another brain to have an intelligent conversation with; someone who’s not a church pastor or other spiritual leader. Someone for whom Jesus is not the point of reference for every topic of discussion. And finding a person like that requires a trip abroad, or going online in search of international forums. My experience is that this country has gone intellectually stagnant.
I see that my dog is in a better mood today than yesterday, but I admit that I’m still in the pits. Nature doesn’t seem to know that it’s springtime now; we’re getting wintry weather still in Oregon. Maybe that’s better than super hot like it is in Texas. Well whatever. Nobody’s listening to anyone else anymore. No one seems to care on this gray and rainy day. It’s a good thing that most Americans have a dog.
Today was very nice overall. It got up to nearly 70 degrees and the sun was mostly out in a sky with high clouds, white blent with blue. My maple tree shows some leaf buds and I’ve seen other trees blossoming. I opened three windows in the house to let in fresh air, and towards evening it smelled very sweet. Aromas can do odd things with your feelings and thoughts, though I felt comfortable enough just sitting in the family room. Gloria came at nine o’clock and cleaned the kitchen except for mopping the floor. She also fixed the wall outlet for my microwave, so for lunch I heated a Hot Pocket. Probably tomorrow I’ll go to Bi Mart for a mop, a bucket, and some floor polish. In the process of putting away stuff from cardboard boxes, I found four guitar straps colored black, white, and royal blue, plus a few men’s belts. The guitar straps are nylon and I was kind of excited at the discovery. I can put a white one on my pj bass, which also is white with black.
No reading today. I thought about the Baudelaire biography by Sartre again. The blurb on back says that existential psychoanalysis is an alternative to Freud’s determinism, an idea that I had figured out myself, and it’s such a cool concept, that of freedom of the will. It’s also a rather unscientific one, a device of the humanities, of philosophy. But does that render it any the less true? To begin with, the determinism of biology was an idea that Darwin stumbled onto, and before him, it was part of the philosophy of David Hume during the eighteenth century. If it were possible to rewrite the science books from a libertarian point of view then I think Sartre comes close to doing that. At least, Sartre contributes something to psychology. As everyone ought to know, every branch of knowledge originally began with philosophy, so that pure thought is the driving force of human history, or perhaps I’m feeling a little optimistic.
On the other hand, I’m not the type to fall for quackery. British empiricism is a very commonsensical and grounded attitude to what we can know. Maybe it’s just that determinism offends my reason in some way.
All of this from an armchair, a philosopher’s pipe dream. But then, look at Darwin again, and the voyage of the Beagle. All it took was an idea.
At eleven o’clock I have an appointment with Sean for therapy. I don’t dread it so much this time because I did my homework, more or less. It snowed for a few minutes an hour ago, when I fed my dog his breakfast. I’m looking ahead to Wednesday night, when I’m supposed to rehearse with my church for our Christmas medley… I won’t get to have lunch until noon today. Music: an old Irving Berlin song, “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.” I think I still have that vinyl LP somewhere in the house. It makes me think of my mother…
Noon hour. My visit with Sean went okay. He seems to like Alan Watts, and keeps referring to him and to Eastern religious traditions, which is fine with me. My sleep last night was troubled with difficult thoughts and feelings. Right now I ponder whether it’s a good thing to abandon your personal desires and act from altruism. It seems like every major world religion has self sacrifice for its ideal and goal. This can be the real test for some people, including myself and my last girlfriend. I was a very selfish alcoholic. I still don’t understand why I can’t just have the things I want for myself rather than letting it all go and trusting in providence for what I need. Bertrand Russell wrote a book called The Conquest of Happiness. Reading Mark Twain is a little like that as well, but you don’t meet many people who think the same way as Thomas Jefferson these days. The Enlightenment appears to be quite dead as our society continues shifting away from reason and freedom. I wonder if I should simply surrender my beliefs and drift downstream with the other flotsam?
One o’clock. And yet I can’t get rid of the idea of “moral paralysis” in Joyce’s Dubliners, and of trying to be the Byronic hero, however selfish people call it, and worse things. What on earth are we supposed to do? Just be ourselves.
It’s a fact that stress makes the experience of psychosis worse. This afternoon I resorted to taking a gabapentin for my anxiety and it worked very well. I didn’t get around to reading the next story of Paul Bowles. When I look at his writing, it pulls up memories of being a client in Serenity Lane, whose approach to recovery was not a rational one but rather psychological like the old school, drawing on Freud and Jung mostly, and throwing in mega doses of the Bible, justifying it all with the Pragmatism of William James. My attraction to Bowles’ stuff harmonized with the other ideas I was exposed to over fifteen years ago, but that irrationalism just felt kind of wrong for me. It was everywhere at the time in my hometown and across the nation as well, and Alcoholics Anonymous enjoyed huge popularity.
So anyway, about a week ago I was browsing the Library of America website and found this Paul Bowles book sale priced and I couldn’t resist the temptation. I had really forgotten what his writing was about. I guess I’m still figuring that out, along with all the ideas I learned up to twenty years ago. Funny but many people I knew back then are either dead or changed beyond recognition. I wonder if I might be one of them? A face among a lot of ghosts in an old photograph no one ever saw… which is dug up, restored, and presented to the daylight of the post millennial public?
Eight forty at night.
There are strong elements of the irrational in the two stories I read by Paul Bowles this afternoon. I think “Tea on the Mountain” is mostly about the conflict of two wills in the same individual woman’s mind, about saying one thing and doing quite the opposite. And for some reason, the irrational will gets its way in this story. I guess it depends on the model of psychology a person learns. Even the idea of “the irrational” is something rather dated and old school, though it can still be entertaining in the context of a horror story. It is a bit horrifying to think of human behavior being out of our conscious control, and subject to the caprices of the Freudian Id, similar to the symbol of the whale in Moby Dick. Or more abstractly still, like the forces of good and evil battling each other for supremacy within the human soul. It is chilling and entertaining if you don’t take it seriously, and sad and pitiful if you do.
More and more, I think psychodynamic theory is on its way out. The words “rational” and “emotive” come to mean something entirely different from the old school of psychology. Nowadays, “irrational” means thinking in black and white, whereas this used to describe rational thinking: as in Aristotelian logic, with the middle excluded… More and more, it becomes apparent that our concepts are made real or unreal by the language we use. So that we can talk ourselves right out of old ideas of irrationalism… and what use have we for Aristotle or Freud anymore?