Here I am being intimate with a device again, like feeding numbers to a machine, data entry for future retrieval. Interesting how synthetic it is, and is the human mind really like a computer or more organic and warmhearted than cold circuitry and binary code? We only socialize with machines for the convenience. With technology and a lot of alcohol, you can build yourself your own Xanadu paradise, an impossible dreamworld that never has to end as long as your body holds up. A comparison might be the Hoffmann tale of “The Golden Flowerpot,” just without the element of machinery. The young student has two lovers, one real and the other a complete fantasy. When he has to make a choice between them, he finally picks the fantasy girl and goes to dwell in Lotusland forever. But there’s something very dark about this story that may not be obvious at first. It’s like the perdition of his soul… Such is alcoholism. Sooner or later you have to reckon with reality and the community around you, however poor in spirit or intellect it may be. This is a sermon to myself more than to anyone else, but hopefully with a didactic message to take home.
The question of what is real shouldn’t be a perplex. And if you were the student in the Hoffmann tale, would you know what to do?
For two nights now I’ve skipped my medication, though I couldn’t tell you why exactly. In the middle of the night last night, I dreamed that I met Ron my old supervisor again, and he was quite friendly and benevolent. He sat in a chair with someone else, maybe Sandy or Amy. At first I saw the back of his head, a big round head like a basketball with black hair, and I thought, That’s Ron. It’s interesting how a dream tends to idealize people. Another time I had a dream about Vicky from the little market, in reality a sassy little vixen who lost her job due to her mouth, but my dream made her very pleasant and even nice to be around. I dreamed that she got a better job as a banker or something like that, something more respectable and profitable than store clerk. Thus, what a dream does is to fulfill a wish and make people more or less perfect. The truth about Ron was he was an alcoholic and a few other things not so rosy. Actually, the truth is neither all good nor all bad. It can be tough to choose between real and ideal, or a waking perception and dream. The reality has warts and the ideal has gossamer wings to fly. It makes you wonder how the human mind came to be a colonizer of dreams in one mode and a passive receiver of impressions in the other. And which one is more adaptive and advanced than the other. Probably the opposition of both modes is indispensable for a healthy human mind.
In one of his books, Jung says there are two kinds of thinking, directed and undirected. But I don’t know if he covered the issue of why the unconscious is so romantic or why the ego sees things mostly as they are. Freud may be more specific on this point, though he saw it all as biology and the drive to survive and reproduce.
Tonight I’ll probably take my medication again although I hate how it blocks my emotions and feelings and dreams, the stuff that makes people human and life worthwhile, depending on your values. It’s like a shotgun approach to blocking the delusions associated with schizophrenia, and it works a little too well. Kind of like feast or famine, and never a perfect balance of reason and imagination. Indeed I think the majority of people are emotional thinkers, and maybe that’s why their judgment is unrealistic usually. I think Jane Austen describes it very well in a fiction like Sense and Sensibility. Marianne is the sister full of passion, but her perceptions are often inaccurate for that reason. I think Austen favors Elinor for her level judgment and common sense. The other one jumps to extremes and categorically blesses or condemns the people she meets. All in all, the book is like a study in cognitive therapy.
My friend in Texas lost someone close to her yesterday evening. In general, no one seems really ecstatic with their life right now. But when I went to the store yesterday afternoon I caught sight of Deb, who apparently had recovered from surgery recently. She looks good. I didn’t have a chance to talk with her because she was talking to someone else and I didn’t want to interrupt. Today it’s sunny and the sky is more white than blue. For a long time we hardly saw the sun at all. I am thinking, what usually happens in the middle of April? We already had Easter. In May there’s the Mexican Independence Day, and Mother’s Day and Memorial Day are not far off… I feel pretty tired and it’s getting to be a par for the course, so I cut myself a little slack for being older. One of the doves outdoors calls in a hoarse hooting: do the mourning doves mean anything symbolic? They’ve been hanging out here for a decade. Any meaning I attach to them is imaginative. Carl Jung said to a client, “Here is your scarab.” It was a little beetle rapping at the window while the client had been talking of a scarab. There are different ways to interpret this. I don’t usually go for mysticism, though I know Jung still has a huge following. Psychology as a social science leaves me kind of cold. For a while, though, I was an avid fan of fairytales and folklore, right after I became ill long ago… I don’t know if the doves symbolize something or not. It probably depends on whom you ask.
Quarter of midnight.
I think I should get myself off of Maxwell Road, at least for a while. I compare my imagination to that of the governess in The Turn of the Screw: the whole drama turns upon her hysteria, but for me, the problem is ambivalence on alcohol. I keep resenting the church, but the prohibition is all in my head. The layout of the road around the corner from me is really an expression of my own mind. In itself, the place is indifferent, and it’s my mind that gives it its essence. Thus, maybe I would benefit from a change of scene. And then again, maybe the scene is always passive, a blank canvas for my personal brushstrokes, so wherever I go, it’s the same thing.
Then I need to rearrange a few things in my mind…
Quarter after eight.
The ground is wet from recent showers but now it’s only cloudy. Aesop is all set for a little while. So far, the day is going better than my experience last weekend; I permit myself to relax and enjoy what comes my way. I don’t know if my brother has gone home from hospital yet, and it’s not my concern, regardless that he’s my brother. My sister reported that he asked his son for some Perrier water, which is often what alcoholics drink to ease withdrawals. I don’t want to share fates with him again. I’ve done my sentence and my penance, and I nearly died for something worthless.
I begin to notice the sparrows out of the glass door. Or maybe they’ve just woken up for the day. It’s hard to tell where reality and the human mind meet. A great big construction truck just drove past my house— unless I dreamed it and Aesop did too. And for soundtrack my mind plays Clair de Lune in broad daylight. Everything is in a state of reverie for me, yet a pipe dream can be pleasant while the world outdoors bites with bitter cold.
The massive truck has turned around and come back as my dog barks and whines at it. I was mistaken: I participate in Aesop’s dream.
Gloria has been here for an hour. She drove me to Bi Mart on River Road to get a few things. The weather is quite dull and cloudy, but probably I could be paying more attention to the little things around me rather than sweating big stuff.
It started snowing mixed with rain before my PCA left here. Then I let Aesop out of his room and gave him a treat of chicken flavor chews I bought just today. It’s nice to relax for the afternoon and maybe open a book in a bit. I sometimes think about reason and its limitations for human knowledge. We tend to take science for granted, this thing it took many centuries to organize and develop into an accurate system. What happens when logic is fallible? Is it like madness and chaos, or does it possess its own order and method, like pure instinct? When logic melts down, is there still a sun in the sky shining down on a field of yellow daffodils, and do you know one thing from another? Maybe you find yourself in a world of myth and twilight, like a filmstrip of Phaeton’s Ride or Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s difficult to express what I mean. Psychosis is not entire madness, but regression to the caveman’s perceptions: to something very ancient but sage in its own right. Underneath the layer of science still lives a wise old prophet, a Druid under the oaks, a builder of stone circles.
Eight thirty five.
Aesop scarfed down his breakfast of Purina Beyond, whereas yesterday he didn’t like Blue Buffalo, so I won’t buy that again. It’s just an ordinary day for me, though Gloria is coming at ten; maybe not so ordinary. One thing that The Tempest makes clear for me is the connection between drunkenness and madness. Prospero, toward the end, is saying that he will restore reason and understanding to everyone, break his staff, drown his book, and habit himself like the Duke of Milan again. Or maybe the drunkenness element is not so obvious, except that Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban all get drunk on the wine they find. The sea imagery and the enchanted isle suggest to my mind alcohol, but perhaps Shakespeare didn’t intend this meaning… In general, sobriety and sanity amount to about the same thing: the dryness of the real and literal world, with no magic or metaphysics or any flavor at all. It’s very dull and boring, and I often long for a holiday from it— like reading Shakespeare. It seems to me that drinking and dreaming share the same essence. How many times do you run into the word “dream” in Edgar Poe? And he was notorious for his alcoholism.
I could be all wet, of course.
I was just thinking about how I celebrated Christmas Eve this last year. Instead of going to church, I stayed home with my dog and daydreamed about my late parents: I made it a secular Christmas that my parents would have understood. And I had a good time in my little reverie, with a lighted ceramic tree and a red stocking by the fireplace, the lights dimmed, and so on. I played Santa Claus with my dog, giving him treats out of the stocking as if we’d had a visit from St Nicholas. That evening, the mail carrier brought a belated package, arriving on time for the holiday. When I stepped outside to get it, I found a little ladybug clinging to it like a sign of good fortune. Perhaps it was all in my imagination, and yet I felt happy, for the spirit of Christmas in some form had stopped by my home, unlike a lot of previous holidays when I felt merely hollow and sad.
Today is partly cloudy and cold. The street cleaner truck just drove by my window and Aesop barked. I fed him at eight thirty and went around the corner past the salon to the market like I do every morning. Again I bumped into Lisa on her way to work. And I saw that Karen was busy with a senior client at her salon; most of her customers are senior citizens, however that came to be. Four years ago I used to visit Darlene there on Fridays every week, up till the time she passed away in 2020. Things change, and though the changes are gradual, they can seem quite drastic in a matter of years. One issue on my mind right now is the role imagination plays in human life, and what weight we should give it. There must be a happy medium between skepticism and blind faith, or between sobriety and madness. When I read David Hume’s wholesale dismissal of imagination, I come away thinking of how William Blake reacted to his assertions. It doesn’t help to know that Blake was probably a person with schizophrenia. Wallace Stevens wrote about how imagination is the necessary angel, so I should go read that and determine why he believed so. But I don’t think that imagination ought to overstep its own turf. When it does, you have a case of psychosis. To what extent do people want to live in a dream? I wouldn’t be comfortable that way at all. But some people don’t know the difference between fact and fantasy, and it’s rather sad to see it.
I let Aesop out of his little prison down the hall after my zoom meeting was done and he barked at me to tell me he wanted his milk bones. The white light of day makes the room appear green, a greenness that reminds me of the cover to a book of Robert Frost I once had when I was a student. If it weren’t so cold out, I’d say it was kind of like the springtime with all the blooms and bird activity, and it stays lighter now for longer. The greens also are souvenirs of a serotonin buzz many years ago from taking Prozac. The drug made me feel impulsive and sociable, but also sleepless and finally suicidal, so I had to stop it. 1991 was very long ago and I can sense how much I’ve aged. It isn’t like Goethe anymore, a creed of seize the day. Rather, it’s a time for quiet reflection and study. Still, the green outdoors is a distraction from cerebral things. It is entirely possible to get too comfortable; security can be a trap that keeps you from pursuing happiness.
And then you ponder the difference between green pastures and ash gray pavements littered with cigarette butts. Where do we go from here?
Quarter of one.
It’s doable to be young at heart. Not to spit in the wind and give up your dream of paradise. They say poverty sucks, but poetry will never desert the pauper. It is there if you look for it, like the kingdom of God. It dwells within you.