Ego and Family: A Letter

I just felt like adding something to what I already wrote this afternoon. Maybe I should write a post instead? Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my family tonight, and how they have responded to my mother and our grandmother. Quite frankly, Mom was more intelligent than Mimi and a lot more complex; not at all conventional or run of the mill, and she was literary. The family resents intellectual people; they feel very anti about it, and unfortunately, my mother happened to be a woman also. She grew up in a world where it was not okay for women to be smart; where the ideal woman was someone like Marilyn Monroe, a dumb blond but secretly very intelligent. Mom was confused about her role for her whole life. So now I look around at my family, my sister and my brother and their families, and really don’t like them very much. Polly isn’t very bright, as I’ve known for many years, and Jeff is an incurable alcoholic who hates me. It’s basically a white working class family that has no time for beautiful things, only the hamburger, the meat and potatoes of life. And of course it makes me feel pretty angry at their incomprehension of me and other people like me. Whatever. I don’t know what I started out to say. The family has made an icon of our grandmother. Mimi had talent in music and in art, but otherwise she was rather ordinary, and self righteous about being dull and dim witted. I was eight years old when she died. I can remember her stupid obsession with people being selfish and so on. You weren’t supposed to think about yourself; but she didn’t know where her ideas came from. And then my mother parroted the same stuff to me, although she was clearly quite confused on the whole thing. Well, I rebelled against that policy and I did very well in college because of it. Polly continues the tradition of not thinking about yourself, etc. It originally came from Mimi’s mother, a very ignorant woman. And before her, who knows how many generations echoed the same silly ideas on the ethics of so-called selfishness, never knowing where it came from?

Another Thanksgiving

Quarter after six.

At some point today I want to pick up my Snapple empties and bag them. This is grunt work that I hate, but I’m lucky that my life is not drudgery like that of many people, including my family. They have an antipathy for books and everything intellectual, despising what they don’t understand. This Christmas Eve for me is like another Thanksgiving, and the thing I’m grateful for is being the smart person I am. There’s an old cliché that goes like this: Which would you rather be, dumb and happy or smart and sad? It’s the same as saying that ignorance is bliss. But I think I disagree. Intellectual work is a lot more pleasant than manual labor, and overall, the life of the mind is a wonderful thing. So today I’ll make a start on the Snapple bottles and bless every moment I get to spend using my brain. Another thing. As students in junior high school, my friends and I used to play chess in the library. Often, a bully would come along and knock all the pieces over from sheer incomprehension and resentment. It was a symbolic scene that still goes on in the present day at some level. What can we offer the bullies now except a little music to soothe their feelings? Meanwhile I move on to celebrate the beautiful things in my life. 

The Love Scholar

Quarter of midnight.

Gazing over the book titles on Amazon and reading reviews of The Bell by Iris Murdoch takes me back to a little trip I made to the university bookstore with a friend in June 1987. In the section of general books I found The Bell and also The Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle, which I bought because I wanted to understand more about the subject of love. It didn’t benefit me very much, however, for my friend dumped me a few weeks later, on the weekend of the Fourth of July. I was devastated by this rejection. Now I ponder if love is a thing anyone really understands in an intellectual way. Perhaps my approach was all wrong the whole time? And yet I can’t change the way I am, so I might as well accept myself as I am. Would this be a kind of love?

Why is there such a disparity between loving and knowing? The first one does, the other one thinks. It’s a sort of dualism, a reflexive situation: mental energy turned back upon itself, like narcissism; like gazing at one’s reflection in a pool or stream. You pursue the stream back to its wellspring, but in doing this you lose knowledge, because perception depends on opposition of subject and object. Two years after I was jilted by my girlfriend, I wrote a paper on “Alastor,” a poem by Percy Shelley, but my essay really said more about myself in its analysis of the water imagery, which was like Narcissus and his reflection… So what have I learned about love since then? It is in the chest and not in the head; something done and not cogitated. Love simply is. 

What It Is

Five forty.

For some reason I didn’t go to church yesterday. I can’t figure out why. I had every reason and none. The only fact is that I simply didn’t go. It was sunny all day and the sky is clear right now. Over a long period of time I’ve been trying to debunk psychodynamic theory by going back to its classical sources, eg Plato, Sophocles, and much later, Goethe. If there had been no Freud or Jung, would someone else have discovered the unconscious and its properties? The whole issue makes me question why I bother with intellectual inquiries. I could just as easily get drunk and forget myself every day. Instead, I spend my time on useless speculation, probably with the aim of disabusing myself of all indoctrination to be free at last. I’m always looking for precedents for people’s ideas just to know who had the notion first, if it can be traced to an individual at all. It’s sort of like asking who is John Galt: the one genius operating all this machinery that we see. Maybe my relentless quest reflects an instinct for a reliance on God, which is a Jungian kind of thought. What is the original source for all of our ideas? It’s the sort of question Faust would ask. But it’s all merely a lot of psycho babble. The smart thing to do is get on with my life— and that means music as much as possible. The intellectual stuff is excessive, while the experience of music is very real and shared by most people. I feel like music is all I want to do.

It’s the twilight of dawn outside my window. I hear bird calls, mostly the cawing of crows. I am so tired of religion and even of philosophy and would like to just be literal for a while. Things are what they appear to be, and that’s good enough. 

Eudaemonia

Ten twenty five. I’ve been back to bed to sleep in, then I got up to feed the dog. I tried to call my sister but the line was busy. So I walked off to the store for the daily foodstuffs. There was a string of customers ahead of me and one person behind me when I checked out. Evidently the market did a lot of business on Saturday during the beautiful weather. From what Michelle said, people are receiving their stimulus payments in a somewhat random order, or at least I don’t know when I’ll get mine, if ever… Still no answer when I try to call Polly. Robert Burns was right about the best laid schemes of mice and men. But to be realistic, not everything is going wrong this morning. It could be a lot worse… I should have some free time today to read a book, but I’m getting a little annoyed with Emerson, so I think maybe Baudelaire is good… My sleep last night was very troubled. My poor brain feels like a junkyard full of wreckage, a forsaken place where I can’t make any sense. Does everyone condemn me the way I condemn myself?

One ten. Polly called back. We chatted for quite a while about Mom… It’s partly sunny out and I hear a couple of aircraft overhead. Euphoric recall can be difficult to fight, and it seems stronger in the springtime… I wish in hindsight that I had encouraged my mother to write or do anything creative. She likely had the ability. What prevented her from it was the anti intellectual feeling of the family, which is really criminal and ignorant of its members. Mom had eight cylinders to her engine and only ran on two. I wonder how many other people are in the same boat. She could’ve been the next Elizabeth Bishop with the right feedback from people. Instead, she met with incomprehension and scorn whenever she took a risk. Now it’s up to me to challenge the bogus values that ruined my mother’s chances at fulfillment. It can mean isolation and alienation, yet ultimately the result is enduring happiness. 

The Defense of Books

Noon thirty. Trying to collect my thoughts. I still feel quite up in the air as far as the political transition. And then, Polly has an attitude about books and higher education that sometimes raises its ugly head. My response is to feel guilty, but I don’t believe it’s really my fault. I love books, and I have ever since I was about eight years old. Books form a kind of dividing line: you either love them or you hate them. They are just as symbolic as wearing glasses or having an egg head. In the end, you are what you are, and no bones about it… Dunno; should I feel bad for being a bibliophile? I think there’s no percentage in feeling guilty for anything, so I should heed my own lesson to others.

Quarter of three in the morning.

Now it finally occurs to me that Polly’s phobia of books is wrongheaded, or at least my love of books isn’t a bad thing. It is simply a difference in taste, but my sister’s opinion is absolute in her own mind. I wish she were more tolerant of the things she doesn’t understand. She tends to crucify people with an education, and maybe those who have more brainpower than herself. Somehow she can turn another person’s virtue into a vice. My whole family condemns intellectuals, but that still doesn’t make it wrong. At some point I have to stand up to them and say it’s not a crime to use your brain for something more than meat and potatoes. Indeed, I’ve done this already, and the family excommunicated me. But it’s been worthwhile to start my own blog and write out my ideas just for me. It’s a world of live and let live, of liberty and justice for all, and anyone who tries to deny another person his happiness has a serious problem. 

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. 

Crime of Passion

Two twenty. I finished reading the Sartre play, Dirty Hands. My gut response is that it is rather sexist. Or does it just comment that an idea is more important than a passion? The hero, Hugo, kills a man out of jealousy over his wife. He thinks it would have been better if he had killed him on a principle. So in the end he invites passive suicide to vindicate his murder of the other man. It is more complex than that. But what if Sara Teasdale had a little argument with Sartre? To her, a breath of ecstasy is far superior to dying for something intellectual. And again I think Sartre was being sexist, or maybe cold and impassive. Of the two, Sartre and Teasdale, who is more fully alive? And Byron and Joyce might criticize Sartre as well. This is my gut reaction to the play. The playwright is heartless and numb from the neck down. And yet it’s still my kind of play: cerebral and full of ideas. It seems a little odd that the first observation I would make is how unromantic Sartre is in this play. It stuck out like a sore thumb. He considers a passion like jealousy something petty, or “a goddamn waste.” Is he right about that? Are political ideals more important than romantic love, if you have to choose one or the other?

Friday Night

Quarter after five. I noodled around on the green bass again, toward the end using my thumb to get more of an upright bass tone. I once had an old Disney record with fairytales narrated to the accompaniment of acoustic bass and congas. My dad bought me this at Bi Mart when I was probably five years old. The walking bass lines were jazzy and a little strange, which befitted the weirdness of folklore… I just found it on Amazon. It was released in 1969, but I didn’t see any credits for the narrator or the musicians. I may still have my old copy among my vinyl records.

Quarter after six. It’s 88 degrees outside, and will be 102 tomorrow. I learned that I gained about ten pounds while at the doctor. It’s a good sign. Roxanne will be here soon. No sweat.

Eight thirty. Home again. I realized something while at church: most people haven’t learned how to think critically about metaphysics. There’s not an original thinker in the church except for me and maybe Pastor. It’s like a sin to be able to think for yourself. Your mind is expected to be on autopilot in church, or at least at the one I go to. I feel like the last living human being when I’m among the other members, whose intellects are all dead. It is a strange experience, and it feels a little dangerous. The world deserves to be as awake as I am. Freethinking is our natural birthright, so why are so many people in intellectual chains? Nobody dares to do the kind of thing Descartes did anymore— or not at my church. I sense that I’m heading for more trouble with the Lutherans.

Humanism

Wee hours. Sunday will be a day to rest and recuperate. I began to reread A Wrinkle in Time yesterday evening, but realized that I felt light years removed from the mentality of the author. I’m not comfortable with people who are so distant from me in belief systems, just because they can be rather self righteous and opinionated. I prefer to keep my distance from dogmatism in any shape or form, and just remark about how interesting the different perspectives are. Science and religion are likely never to be reconciled with each other, even in my own mind. Those answers lie in wait beyond the grave, or perhaps not even then. Both of my siblings are complacent in their particular worldview, and my birth has been sort of a footnote to their lives. I think that, like my parents, I represent a position of humanism, even like Renaissance intellectuals including Shakespeare. This was my education in college, and it’s still true today. What could be more beautiful than the human form? To exalt our own image is the genesis of reason and reflection, just as Narcissus loved his reflection in a stream. I believe it was Freud who discussed the relationship between narcissism and the intellect, but the wonderful thing about it is how reason is born, and with it, the magnificence of great civilizations and movements like the Renaissance in human history. The nobility of humanity is owing to its own ability to love itself and see itself as something divine and beautiful. We should celebrate not our weaknesses, wallowing in humility, but instead our strengths with a feeling of pride and power. Dare to love and to know, to be human in the highest degree. Humanism has been my response to my sister’s religion and my brother’s science, and this is where I will stay.