The Illusion of Safety

Noon hour.

I catch myself being a jerk today and then I have to stop and reevaluate my attitude and behavior. The cabbie for the return ride was interesting. He lived through the great snow of 1969 in Eugene. I mentioned drought after observing that Kelly Pond had shrunk down to hardly any water at all. He said that in ‘69 it was dry for 120 days in a row. I was two years old that year and don’t remember much of it.

My meeting at the agency went pretty well, except as I said, I was kind of a jerk. I look back on my working days now and wonder how I endured the boredom of it. I was not challenged by the type of work I did. There was a coworker who understood that about me. She was very intelligent and incisive, and advised me to get a job in the larger community. But I stayed where I was because I thought it was safer. After a few years it turned into a big mess. The alcohol addiction usurped my life and in general I felt trapped. Today I still feel a little bit that way. Therefore, no situation is really safe. I’d like to do more fun things in the community and try to connect with smart people. Bookstores are a good place for me to start looking for intelligent life, and maybe a trip up on campus. The burden of being smart is that it takes more to keep yourself stimulated. 

Clever Not Lucky: a Letter

Today has been rather blah and lazy for me because everybody was busy doing something away from the internet for the holiday. But I got good news from Heidi this afternoon: it looks like Laurel Hill might hire her again for some office hours. So I’m very happy for her and also for myself if we can reestablish our weekly visit together. Tomorrow at noon I have an appointment with Rebecca, but that should go okay. This morningat eleven Polly gave me a call and left a voicemail, so I called her back for a long chat, which was partly a stroll down memory lane. It’s like talking with people who never grew and never had their consciousness raised, perhaps because they didn’t have the hardware for it to begin with. Kind of like the fable of the city mouse and the country mouse. Of course I feel some regret for this situation, but I can’t let it get me down. Still, I realize that it’s not their fault that they remained behind in ignorance and naïveté. Life can be a rather cruel teacher, and it can divide and separate people from each other. I had an English teacher who compared his class to a professional football team: those students who didn’t make the cut were turned away. And while this protocol was very elitist and unfair, still I suppose it was a hard reality. It brings to my mind the question of equality and justice, but “some people are more equal than others.” So anyway, I talked with my sister for 75 minutes and dredged up a lot of old memories from when things were indeed more equal and everyone seemed to be on the same page. Her oldest son had gone away and left her alone for a few days. I told her that she could call me during the times when she felt lonely at home.

This morning I bought a tub of chocolate ice cream and ate half of it, plus I had a reuben sandwich for my dinner. Every day now I buy a doggie treat to take home to Aesop, who waits for me very patiently for about 20 minutes. My hike to the store takes only about five minutes, and you know, that place has been really convenient for me for all these years. I imagine that regulars like me have provided it with the funds to thrive and expand its horizons a bit. Today, Michelle complained to me that she had made 106 bags of ice in one day yesterday and said how unfair it was that the male employees get away with crap, plus they get paid more than she does to do it. I asked her if there was some agency she could report these practices to, but she didn’t know. She is also starting a second job at RiteAid very soon, so I hope that goes well for her. The other day I asked her about her husband, and she frowned and said he was hanging in there, so I imagine that he has started drinking again… The more I talk with Michelle, the more hopeless her problems seem to be. I wish I could do something, but all I can do is listen to her sad story. I guess what she needs to do is take responsibility for her life in a drastic kind of way— if she’s smart enough to do that. I know it’s hard to make major life changes, but it sounds like her life is unmanageable right now. But as you observed, she seems to be caught in a victim mentality.

I guess that’s enough of that topic. I would only add that it’s difficult to distinguish between luck and cleverness. I believe that it’s okay to have some ego and some self regard in the conduct of your life, because without these things you can’t control where you’re going. By the way, the word “conduct” is related to the French verb for driving a car: “conduire.” And in similar fashion, everyone’s life is like driving a car, whether or not we acknowledge this responsibility.

Life of the Mind

One twenty.

Polly called me up and we chatted for an hour and a quarter. I was able to remember a lot of things that happened back in the ‘70’s when we were young boys. How interesting it would be if our family could somehow come together again in the near future. But it takes a strong desire on all sides to make this a reality. Also, a lot of things I’ve learned on my own will have to be suppressed if we are going to get along. Maybe it’s not worth doing. Yesterday afternoon I read the first 30 pages of a Henry James novel, which is about the furthest thing from my family background. I don’t know: when a person has the intelligence to aspire to something a little better than his kin, should he go for it or should he let it stagnate? It is a real ethical dilemma, yet I’m more inclined to concur with my first psychologist who advised the use of my brain rather than letting it rot. My brother, in my opinion, has made some bad decisions regarding his health and mental well-being. So again I assert that it’s better to be true to yourself, however selfish that appears… Today is a nice 80 degree day with no clouds. I don’t feel like allowing anything to prune my life of the mind. Let it flower like the blooms on my magnolia tree, large and white soft petals to the sun… 

Dare to Know

Eight thirty.

It’s been raining softly since last night. Band practice today looks unlikely, so I get the weekend to myself. Not going to church tomorrow, and maybe never again. Religion is only a political tool of control. I’ve given up metaphysics at last; there’s no evidence for the supernatural, no reason to believe. I may be turning into a Nietzsche nut or something, even without being versed in his writing… It should be Melissa at the market today. I wonder what her shirt will say this time? Aesop is getting hungry. Rain in the spring always evokes for me the memory of being in college 33 years ago. I carried a green and yellow Duck umbrella with me between classes. I got a good dose of Nietzsche in school that year.

Quarter of ten. Melissa’s sweater said “Mama saurus.” She was busy with the muffins when I walked in. During my promenade I thought ruefully of my parents and schooldays— ruefully only because they are gone. Still, the stuff I learned is very difficult to unlearn, and I’m thankful for that. I got a very good education, very broad and comprehensive. I’m not sure how it happened, but no one tries to brainwash me anymore. Maybe they figured it was wasted energy to attempt it. Why should one opinion be master over another? It should be enough to let them coexist. Evangelism drove me crazy in the years after my mother died. But now, Jesus to me is merely a sociopolitical construct for controlling people. The idea of sin and repentance doesn’t sound good to me at all today. As for kneeling down in humility and obedience, forget it. So, I won’t be missing anything at church tomorrow… The rain has started again, very lightly from a white cloud cover. It missed me an hour ago; just a few drops hit my head. People ought to dare to know and be clever. There is no divine punishment for being smart. The image of hell is a deception, a threat of a spanking to you if you do what’s good for yourself. Don’t let the internal critic get the upper hand and bring you down. Your worst enemy is you. 

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. 

Crossed the Bridge

Eleven thirty five.

I don’t want to believe in karma, so I guess I just won’t. No heaven or hell, either. I think I’ve lost Pastor’s trust. It seems that he hadn’t thought through the matter of the saved and the unsaved. I feel very lousy today. When do I ever feel good? I think I should forget about the church, seeing how Pastor is avoiding me. Don’t email him anymore. He doesn’t have a good line of defense against my arguments, so that it only hurts his feelings. I think it’s over with… Gee, he’s just a little church pastor. My brother used to reproach me for flashing my brilliance. Now I kind of see why. But then, where is an intelligent person supposed to go? I feel like an enemy of the people, doomed to be unpopular for the observations I make. Yet there must be a place where I belong, and something constructive I can do… It’s not as though my brain were severed from the rest of me. My deepest emotions are those of a very smart person. Well anyway, I think my problem with the church is resolved already. Now I have to figure out my next move. But first I think I’ll take a break for a while. 

On a Brubeck Song

Four forty. I rested in bed for a while. Towards the end I began to hear “Strange Meadowlark” in my head, an old Brubeck classic that always lifts my mood. The temperature outside is dramatically down from the summer heat we were having before. Currently it’s 70 degrees. This relief makes it easier for me to function again. It was fun to play my Strat a while ago, and I might do it again tomorrow. Maybe even plug it in. I don’t have many thoughts about literature and life right now. Perhaps something about learning from our regrets but not beating ourselves up. I remember that I asked a woman cabbie out once. I never saw her after that, yet I don’t regret doing it. Life was strange early in my recovery. There are things I don’t recall, but mostly I just wish I’d had more self respect at the time. It didn’t matter that I had a diagnosis of schizophrenia at all. It finally becomes clear to me. What counts is that I am a very intelligent human being, and very worthy for that reason. I don’t know where I got the misconception that having a brain is a terrible sin. There’s not an iota of truth to that. So, it would have been nice to avoid all the therapy and the abuse and suspicion I received from the professional people who really didn’t know what they were doing. I’m so much happier now, without being stigmatized. All I needed was to take the Vraylar. Over the time since the fire, my blog has metamorphosed from being about schizophrenia to being about human life without labels. But this doesn’t subtract anything from the beauty of “Strange Meadowlark,” does it? The bird is an ugly duckling destined to be an awesome swan. 

Mandalay Moon

Eight ten.

I feel a little wiped out, but my mood is fairly cheerful. Early this morning the moon shone through my bedroom window, bright and full. Under its spell I thought of my mother in her last two years, after Dad had passed away. We drank a lot! And she made breakfast for dinner often, or else I would get takeout from Tio Pepe, the Mexican restaurant on River Road. I lived in sort of a dream then. My friends in music must have thought I was strange to be living with my mother. But I was comfortable. I had no worries financially. I bought a lot of books and read every day. And I learned more about my mother’s aesthetic mentality, although it was beginning to decay. She told me about a song her parents used to sing for their parties, “The Road to Mandalay,” with words by Rudyard Kipling. On one of my trips to the bookstore I bought a big book of Kipling’s verse that contained “Mandalay.” I brought it home and read it to Mom. I also purchased two novels by Harold Robbins in an effort to make sense of the thinking of my parents. I was very aware that it was different from most people I knew. Quite amoral, in fact, like the poetry of Edgar Poe. Maybe what I sought was the root of schizophrenia. There was such a schism between Mom’s beliefs and those of everyone else that madness could result. But that’s only a theory. Perhaps Mom was simply more intelligent than the average people I knew…

Tuesday Morning

Quarter after nine.

I feel lonely this morning, but then we all have to suffer for our truth. The church deposited my check to them yesterday, of course. I don’t have any energy to bathe the dog, but I may water my trees in the backyard. Invest in the future a bit. I’m definitely an avoidance kind of person as opposed to approach. In grade school dodgeball, once I was the last person to be hit, but I wasn’t catching any balls to bring other players back in. The coach asked me if I wanted to forfeit. On the sideline, Paul was screaming at me, “Yeah! Say we four foot!” So I agreed and we started a new game. My strategy was the same in chess: avoid being taken and hope for a stalemate. I guess that’s the way I live my larger life. Passive, and keeping out of danger. Was it because of what Jiminy Cricket sang in the safety film we saw?

I’m no fool, no siree

I’m gonna live to be 103

I play safe for you and me

Because I’m no fool

On the other hand, they say that temperament is genetic… Aesop is whining for his breakfast again. Not a breath of wind outside, and forecast to be 91 degrees… Someone described Percy Shelley as “a beautiful, ineffectual angel.” I can identify with that. Maybe the pen is not mightier than the sword, or the word processor than the gun. In any chess match, a bully can crash the game by knocking over the pieces. The bell curve is dominated by those in the middle.

Still, we do what we can.

From a Letter

I reread the “Proteus” chapter of Ulysses, and have decided that it really is art, not to be dismissed as madness. There is a coherent line of thought to it in connection especially with the sea and how “the sea is a great sweet mother.” Stephen takes this idea and amplifies it with biblical notions of everyone’s umbilical cord going back to Adam and Eve, and Eve had no navel, as he says. The thinking he does is so big and complex that it appears lunatic, but I think the main idea is that all humanity is interrelated like a great big family. And this thought is indeed a very big one, and beautiful too. Further, if you read the whole book and start to think about it, Joyce really proves that the Catholic Stephen and the Jewish Poldy Bloom are paradoxically related like son and father. The conclusion to draw from this is that there is no excuse for antisemitism; or anyway, we ought to stop and consider the truth of this profound relatedness. The unfortunate thing is the extremely difficult way Joyce has chosen to present this theme, but then I guess that’s part of his art.
A note about intelligence: it is not a sin to be smart. My family condemns everything intellectual, but I’ve finally realized that it’s not anti religious to have a brain. This is a huge relief for me. In a way, my self liberation from family is like that of Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce… Is it true, do you think, that a very high iq can border on insanity? Or is that just a platitude, a cliche; shop talk?