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.

Cartesian Revolution

Noon thirty. I’m so lazy and lethargic, and basically epicurean. It’s all about pleasure. If it doesn’t feel good, then why do it? My mentality is sort of like that of John Keats. Everything boils down to pleasure, and this is just like my mother. My sister is the polar opposite of her. The house my parents established long ago is similar to the Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, and equally forbidden. “Weave a circle round him thrice / And close your eyes with holy dread.” I don’t think I can ever be converted to stoicism. Even the work I do is done for the pleasure of it. But rather than berate myself, I can share my pleasures with other people. I rummaged through some books and found two more copies of The Rationalists. I ought to put at least one of them in the book share. Today I feel lazier than usual, and depressed. 

The funny thing about Descartes and the others is how irrelevant they are to a Christian society. Unamuno writes of the “man of flesh and bone,” which is a Christian, a realistic person, as opposed to the philosophers who were way out in left field. People in the poorhouse have little need for Descartes, or so it is believed. The only thing available to them is religion. But if you think about it, what if the Gideons gave away pocket copies of The Rationalists? What could it hurt to have people thinking independent thoughts about the structure of reality and God? Goodness no, we can’t have that! But due to this attitude of suppression, I’m yet more determined to share the information somehow or other. Original thought is hard to come by in a world that discourages it. The world needs a bunch of Cartesians running around. 

Feeling Good

Five o’clock.

The world holds its breath while the votes are counted. I doubt if I can get any more sleep this morning. So much hinges on the election, for me and for everybody. All I can do is eat ice cream and try to think about something else.

Nine twenty. Rich autumnal colors outside, beautiful to walk through. Aesop needed food, so I took off a little early. I thought a bit about independence, and using your own judgment, especially in matters that concern you personally. As a rock star said, “Watch out for that advice.” Everyone with sense has the right to be eclectic and make their own decisions. All of us are free, but some of us are not aware of the fact. People can tell you that you’re screwed. People can tell you anything, but the judge is ultimately you. This is your life, live it your way. My annual review for Laurel Hill happens this afternoon. She will probably ask me why I’m not seeing a therapist, but I’m prepared with an answer. If I’d wanted my life to be wrecked, I would’ve taken the advice of the first therapist. But I used my own wits instead… I hope I can pick up my Vraylar today. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Let it come down.

Eleven thirty. My sister called, and we had a nice conversation. We agree on a lot more now than we used to, and that’s very encouraging. I think the real demon is alcohol. It destroys lives, but it also obscures the truth… We talked, among other things, about Jack London stories. She saw the new release of The Call of the Wild and said it was great. I described to her the short story of “Batard.” We were on the topic of cruelty to animals, so this story came to my mind… It’s almost time for lunch. I feel good right now, so I won’t question it. Just roll with it through the rest of the day. 

Therapy and Me

Six thirty. I should analyze what went wrong today. Why was I thinking I was gay? I have a Platonic impulse and an Aristotelian. Plato is deeper, I believe. He is round, Aristotle flat. But Aristotle is proud and upright. There must be something in my past influencing my present. It’s been a weird day ever since I got up this morning. I only know that I had physical therapy yesterday, and probably something about it set off queer thoughts today. Time will tell why. Maybe some of the exercises Erin put me through suggested sexual stuff to my mind, even humiliating things. And no, I don’t think I like it, even if it’s just me. One more session, I reckon, then I’ll discontinue the program. Physical therapy is not my kind of thing.

Eight o’clock. I wonder what gives me such a strong attitude of pride, and why is it often wounded? I hate being put in a compromised position by anyone else. A position may be literal or figurative, physical or mental. I hate to be degraded or demeaned by people or situations, likely as a result of abuse somewhere in my past. And it’s awfully easy for new people to come along and abuse me even more. I’m just not the type for therapy for that reason. I’m more inclined to go off by myself and lick my own hurts… 

Magnolia Pods

One twenty five. The phone conversation with my sister went quite well. Polly is a genuine and sincere kind of person. I doubt if she ever lies, so we have that in common. But even so, I still feel uncomfortable and anxious after we talk. Maybe someday things will be better. She finally realizes that the only person she has control over is herself. That’s a big step for a codependent. I wish she had discovered that sooner. It used to really annoy me when she gave bad advice and expected me to take it. Everyone is entitled to their freedom to choose for themselves. Now I’m beginning to relax and feel like my typical self. The sun is out and it’s fifty fifty clouds and blue sky. My magnolia is sprouting strange pods like pine cones with what look like bright red berries. They appear rather unearthly, as something out of science fiction movies, or an illustration from a book on paleobotany. Definitely prehistoric… My gut is still kind of uneasy since the phone chat. I’ve never been one to compromise with anybody on how to live my life. It’s a long story of oppression by everyone in my family. My parents discouraged me from being independent as long as they lived. I was never given any room to breathe and experience things firsthand. Yet this freedom is the most precious gift on earth. Go forward and claim your birthright.