Idea from Atwood

Eleven twenty five. I’ve been on the phone with Damien regarding my yard work; he’s coming out sometime this week. The band will jam this afternoon at four o’clock. I seem to hear the sounds of someone playing a bass guitar on my street, but sometimes my senses are unreliable, even deceptive. Instead of a solid gray sheet, the clouds are now individually distinct, permitting occasional sunshine through the cracks. I was somewhat paranoid a few hours ago, a little skittish and scared. I feared being hit by a car, and then I thought I’d lost my wallet when I got home. When bad things happen to you, it’s easy to color everything else black. I guess the trick is not to personalize what happens… It’ll be interesting to hear what kind of music comes of our jam today. Go with the flow, don’t force anything. And don’t think too much.

Quarter of one. It’s different when I feel like I have to depend solely on myself, and there’s no providence or intervention of any kind from a supernatural place. God is quite dead all over again, which should mean that more things are allowed for us to do, as Dostoevsky wrote in Karamazov. I guess this is the problem bothering me since this morning. I even dreamed that Belinda, the convenience store ex owner, was one of my English professors. How in the world does that happen, except in the lunatic experience of dreams? She was coaching me on how to write essays that were more organic and less mechanical.

Two o’clock. I’ve decided not to take my new bass with me today. It’s probably going to be a casual practice… I was just thinking that I don’t know what I am or why, or what my purpose is in all of this. I think many people feel that way. A collection of cosmic dust that happens to have some self awareness: this is nihilism, and sometimes I feel like that. I’m losing my religious indoctrination as the weeks go by. They can stain it in your fleece, but it washes out rather effortlessly. All you have to do is stay home on Sundays.

And then what happens?

As Atwood put it, you wait until the fur grows. 

Firelight

Six thirty five. Sun is rising outside my window. I may go to the store a little earlier today, despite the cold morning. A Snapple tea will taste really great, though it isn’t a necessity to me. My brain is trying to pull up the memory of the Tchaikovsky I heard two weeks ago. I’ll probably listen to the disc again soon. It amazes me that I fired my psychiatrist a few years back. I’d believed that I couldn’t live without one. Yesterday noon I feared that I had made a mistake and lost confidence for a little while; and then it all came back to me. My verbal ability has always been reliable, so I was able to use it to establish my independence from authorities. How could that be a mistake? Now I am a much stronger individual than I was four years in the past. My relationship with my shrink was like Prometheus in reverse: I gave my fire to a god instead of to humankind, but the fire was always mine to keep or give away. Isn’t it the same for everybody? What will you do with your fire? The firelight of reason is native to everyone, and educators are people who ought to fan the flame of curiosity rather than douse it with oppression. To think that I deposed the dictator over my life! I guess I’d had enough of parent figures. At some point we all need our independence.

Eight ten. I saw no clouds on my walk to the market, and so far there’s no wind. It is calm. I feel that there is justice in the world, or anyway the world is good to me lately. Aesop is asking me how long until I feed him breakfast, so I tell him in minutes exactly when it will be. I got the store to myself this morning except for one person behind me, a woman with a baby. Suk ran business on his own because it was still very early. Going along on the sidewalk, I was wary of cars passing by me, thinking a person could be driving drunk or something. My back twinged with pain once when I took a step. It’s unpredictable when this will happen. Getting older has its pitfalls as well as perks. I was thinking I would play my Aria bass later today, but now I have my doubts. The instrument probably weighs 12 pounds, maybe more. Take an ibuprofen and forget it. 

Intelligent Life

Nine ten. Yesterday I tried to pay attention to details going on around me on my taxi trip to Springfield, but really, nothing was worth noting. Signs of intelligent life were few and I was unimpressed with Eugene’s sister city. Last night I dreamed that my old psychiatrist was forcing me to get vaccinated for Covid, and I fought him with all my might; a real nightmare. He represents authority to my mind, often authority gone wrong, to the extreme of malign dictatorship. Sometimes a dream shows me more about my feelings than a day’s events. The real person whose authority I’ve resisted for a long time now is the church pastor, especially since his sermon on casting out demons and comparing that to mental illness. I’ve resolved not to go back to church again. It’s difficult to deal with someone with a closed mind. Pastor is scared of biological psychology for some reason, which is very limiting to his understanding of much of life in the world. Fear motivates people to strange behavior. My own worst fear is probably a bottle of beer, and second to that, I think I’m afraid of losing my freedom to choose.

Ten o’clock. Today might be good for reading Nietzsche. I’ve grown tired of being directed what to see. Instead, I think I’ll start acting on instinct, what comes from within me. This works best when the world is in confusion. And then part of me would love to leave the country for greener pastures across the Atlantic, to someplace where intelligence still prevails. 

Speak Up!

Six twenty five.

Total blackness outside my west window. There should be daylight at seven o’clock. Mentally I can hear the bass line to “Take Five.” I think the band is on for practice this Saturday. I’m concerned about my back pain, but I plan on gutting it out. I got as much sleep as I could, and then had to admit defeat. Is it a matter of inference that the sun will come up each day? I look to the east, and now I see the gray dawn. My immediate neighbors still behave very strangely. Roger makes no effort to be friendly with Lenore across the street from him. But what I find eerie is the silence around here; I never hear the sound of a human voice outside. It calls to my mind the book by Ken Kesey. Everyone in the hospital is quiet and obedient until the silence is broken by one new patient. When his life is sacrificed in the end, it inspires the big Native to crash out the wall and run to freedom in the sunrise. Or anyway, that’s the film version. The story seems allegorical to me, and applicable to our lives today.

A few purple clouds show in the east. Sky is powder blue… Heidi gave me homework to do before Tuesday: attend an AA meeting. But that might be very difficult for me. I don’t like Twelve Step programs or anything numbing to the intellect. I’m a maverick, I guess. Probably no one wholly agrees with readymade institutions, so they pretend to get along, and keep their thoughts private. Emerson said that a great man is one who speaks what other people merely think. This takes audacity.

Quarter of eight. Pretty soon I’ll make my daily pilgrimage to Community Market. I don’t expect anything unusual on my trip, but you never know. Everything is in perpetual flux and anything can happen. The trick is having resourceful wits, the ability to think spontaneously. 

Finding My Voice

Noon. Overall I feel pretty good, except my back pain has gotten worse since Sunday morning when I stooped to pick up a book from a box on the floor… An advertisement from Fender has given me the notion to try playing my neglected Stratocaster. I wish I could get the sound of The Pretenders on my own guitar, but it takes a lot more practice than I’ve given it. I’m probably not driven to pursue the guitar, though it makes me feel kind of sick to admit it. I prefer playing the bass because it’s a rhythm instrument that gets people to move. Maybe I just need a stimulus to motivate me: I wonder what Mark has been up to? I like the way he plays drum kit. I believe I’ve grown more social and extroverted than in my youth, so that practicing solo doesn’t do much for me anymore. Dunno. I feel quite restless. I want something to do that isn’t solitary… I no longer entertain the delusion that I’ll be a famous rockstar someday, nor that my playing sounds like a famous musician. I’m not a member of Rush, so it’s rather silly to pretend to be something I’m not. Have I found my “voice” on my instrument, a character uniquely mine? Sometimes it all seems so futile; yet this is my perfectionism talking, and it’s more about the journey than the destination. Anything we do ought to be an extension of our individual personality. At first we have to be a clone of someone we admire, until a voice of our own comes through the guise. This is strength from the heart. This is self realization. 

Self reliant

Eleven thirty. It’s nice when I get likes from European readers. There aren’t enough of them. Kate, as I recall, was very literal and realistic, and she disliked extremism in any form. She was not religious or even Romantic. She thought I was crazy when I joined the church and the American way, which I can understand now. I really miss her and her sophistication, so different from my own country. It was this foreignness that attracted me to her. It seemed like a healthy way out of my illness. The problem was that I couldn’t stop drinking all during that time. Today I’m just kind of in suspense to see what happens next. Everybody is. The light of the sun is bright again like yesterday. Is psychology an overrated science? Sometimes I could do without it. I think it’s an American concern, more so than across the Atlantic, from what I’ve experienced.

Quarter after two. The sunshine goes on, with the sky mingled blue and wisps of white. There’s a tree frog screeching in my front yard, but otherwise it’s quiet as a deserted church. Only one other sound: an air conditioning unit next door or somewhere close by. Seems odd for January. Now a prop plane overhead. I just finished playing my Dean bass for today. Saturday afternoon I’m taking my blue Fender to practice again. It’s my favorite instrument and my main axe. It feels unreal that I don’t drink anymore. Certainly if I did, I couldn’t do music with other people, and my life would be useless even to me. Drinking beer is extremely expensive and it takes a huge toll on your quality of life. I still have dreams about alcohol at night sometimes, usually connected with my mother and my brother. My brother is still alive, yet I doubt if I’ll ever see him again. He seems to think that you can’t have a good time without alcohol. Even if he called me one day, I’d probably have to keep him at arm’s length. We’re not in the same situation together, and we have nothing in common anymore. I used to crave his approval so desperately, but now I don’t see why. I used to need my sister’s approval too, but since being sober for three years, family is expendable. I’ve discovered that I can think for myself and solve my own problems without depending on other people. I’m not anybody’s perfect poster boy, but still I hold my own… Sunlight filters through the kitchen window and shadows glow a little green. Except for a bit of a hum outside, the room is silent. I like myself. 

Out of the Swim

Four twenty five in the morning.

Pastor’s sociological sermons go against my grain to the extent that I feel it must be sinful to assert my existential beliefs. Either my ideas have to go, or the church has to go. And it’s a foregone conclusion which it will be. I think there’s a difference between existentialism and your garden variety “narcissism.” The latter is thoughtless and unsophisticated, just unqualified self seeking. There’s also a difference between empowerment and power madness, an example of which I needn’t give. We all see the political cartoons… Around here, I frequently run into people who slander the idea of “control.” But when I ask them what’s the alternative, they don’t have an answer. The truth is that nothing else guides your life if you surrender your responsibility. I guess this is a confession of atheism. And as such, so be it. It’s okay for you to be passive in a school of fish, blindly turning this way and that with the others. Where would you be without the other fishes? In that case you would be stuck with yourself, and that might frighten you. Inside of you is a wilderness of thoughts and feelings you conveniently never had to face. The school of fish is okay for you, but I’m done with it. 

Out of the Fog

Ten o’clock.

Michelle was sweet this morning, as usual. Yesterday she wore her Snoopy sweatshirt and I said I liked it. She said it was the last clean shirt on the rack. I left for the store a bit earlier because Aesop needed canned food for his breakfast at nine o’clock. The fog was dense and I met no one on my way there. Coming back, I ran into the old man with his walking stick who lives on the next street down from mine. He was dressed in blue denim with a baseball cap. I was hearing “Sanctuary” by John McLaughlin in my head, a slow dirge in 3/4, definitely dissonant. Right now the sun is burning through the remains of the fog…

I feel a nebulous sense of past things and people from when Obama was president. Eight years was a long stretch. I used to walk Aesop around the neighborhood when he was a puppy. I made myself tea in the morning, then in the afternoon I’d go get a 12 pack of cheap beer. On a soaring drunk I would put The Beatles on the pc speakers and lose touch with reality.

Quarter after eleven. Today I wonder why I drank so heavily. Was there something about my life that I couldn’t accept? I had a psychiatrist who always nagged me for not “doing something.” He had an extreme work ethic and tried to instill this in his clients. He used electro convulsive therapy as a means to “motivate” his severely depressed patients. Interestingly, it was the month after I fired him that I began my sobriety, and this time I succeeded. I’d never made this connection before.

Noon hour. I remember when I received the letter that terminated his services. It was dated August 1, 2017. At last, after twenty five years of torture, I was free. Toward the end of my sessions with him, I dreaded going to every appointment— and I told him so in a phone conversation. He couldn’t say much to that.

Quarter of two. I believe that subconsciously I still rebel against the old psychiatrist. Whatever thing he wished of me, I gave him the opposite. This went on for years. I perceived him as a kind of slave driver. Nothing I did was good enough for him. He became like an authoritarian parent to me. After a length of time I’d had enough of being unfairly bossed around. He used verbal abuse on me as well, and that was the end of the rope. I learned by an accident that I had rights as a client, so I got brave and did what I had to do. 

Persistence

Three thirty in the morning.

My old dollar store readers are about to break, so I ordered five new pairs on Amazon, arriving Thursday. I heard it raining out a few minutes ago. Thank goodness for freedom. I remember how S— L— used Tru Thought leaflets to brainwash people that altruism is the only acceptable way to live. This literature was also used on convicted criminals, I discovered by researching it online fifteen years ago. But I never identified myself as a criminal simply for having addiction issues. The real crime was the indoctrination at the treatment facility. I also did myself a disservice to ever enroll in treatment. Many people will try to tell you what is what, but what do they know? S— L— counselors drove vintage sports cars. One of them had a ‘67 Chevelle in maroon with black stripes. No one ever said anything about this extravagance, but to me it was a ridiculous contradiction. Suffice it to say that there are much better ways to invest your money than in treatment programs. You can start by building your own home library, or downloading free ebooks from Project Gutenberg. I even heard of a rebellious teenage girl who thwarted her oppressive father by sneaking 150 classic books onto her Nintendo. He never suspected a thing. He imagined himself a working class hero who despised books or anything intellectual. Video games were okay, books not okay for his kids. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

Our Way: a Letter

Sometimes I wish I’d taken Ancient Greek at the university, but that might have been over the top. As it was, I got to take Aristotle in the philosophy department with a good old Jewish professor. One of my favorite terms in school was winter 1989. I was 22 years old and taking, besides Aristotle, Literature of the Renaissance and a psychology survey course. The English class was great, although I skipped a lot of the reading assignments. We studied Sir Philip Sidney, and I still want to sit down with The Old Arcadia and absorb the whole thing. I wrote papers on Thomas More’s Utopia and Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. Also we read John Lyly and Mary Wroth, and of course Shakespeare’s sonnet series.

The same winter we had a great dumping of snow in Eugene, but classes still were not canceled. My dad and I rode the bus up to the Campus on a day or two (he was the fiscal officer of the psychology department for twenty years) and on a Friday morning I remember being on the bus with other students. One of them was a music major girl who was busy sight reading a composition from a book. Her name was Dunia, and she’d been the girlfriend of a drummer I’d known. She didn’t recognize me. The afternoon of that day Dad and I waited at the bus stop a long time. My writing assignment was due Monday, on Thomas More, so I was rather preoccupied. On the bus again, we picked up two guys I remembered from grade school, Ron and David. They’d been playing in the snow together and asked each other if they were cold. I felt awkward because David probably knew me, but we said nothing. My education had divided us into different social classes, and even though we went to the same high school, I’d never seen them around. It happened with my nephews as well: we attended North Eugene together, but due to the differences in our coursework, our paths never crossed. I loosely belonged to the academic elite that took AP classes and tended to disregard those in a lower stratum of the school.

Thinking about that now, it was an awful circumstance to undergo for all of us. My nephews really resented me, and our families divided even more deeply as it was clear that I would go to college while they were stuck with manual labor. There’s a lesson in here somewhere, perhaps an epiphany for me: pride leads to a fall. And yet the school system is set up that way. I remember the insane amount of pressure that was applied to us students who supposedly had a promising future. I also recall a few students who objected to the whole situation, renouncing the opportunity to take AP English, and then sort of coasting out the year with less stress, but retaining their humanity and their sanity. And for that reason, I have to respect their decision. After all, look at what happened to me under all that pressure and stress. Was it really worth it even to graduate from college? And what is the quality that gives people dignity when all is said and done? Maybe with Sinatra we can sing that we did it our way.