The Good News: a Letter

I made two posts today that, I see in retrospect, complement each other. The first one affirms individual freedom as a gift from nature, and the second one suggests the agency of fate, in an apparent contradiction. Or, can fate and free will both obtain in the same worldview? Either they exclude each other or not. Sartre would say that the fatalism of the second post is bad faith because I tried to deny the fact of human freedom. I once had an English professor who noted, “Fate and free will are not opposites,” but I never understood his meaning. I believe the play in question was Oedipus the King. He, Oedipus, is warned by the Delphic Oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother. And as the events play out, he does just that, though unwittingly. Oedipus fulfills the fate put in place by the gods, yet his actions are freely chosen. Could he have done otherwise than what he was fated to do? This was never very clear to me. But I think I agree with Sartre: deferring your liberty to something outside of yourself is to shuffle off responsibility. So that freedom and responsibility truly are intrinsic to every human being, and “inalienable,” as I said. But I don’t think Thomas Jefferson was quite the philosopher that Sartre was, and also, Pastor is probably unfamiliar with the latter. One thing is certain: one cannot be held responsible for his actions without first acknowledging his free agency, and the converse is also true. My sister tends to overemphasize the responsibility side of the coin, ignoring the good news of man’s liberty. It’s a rather fascinating topic for me. Do you have any thoughts on this? Pastor only scratched the surface in his Reformation Sunday sermon. He evoked Aristotle and Jefferson in relation to the issues of freedom and happiness, but there’s a lot more territory to cover, particularly Greek tragedy and the philosophy of Sartre. This is an investigation I opened since the lockdown last March. I’m still working on it and hopefully I’ll come to a conclusion before next spring.

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?


Two twenty five. I forget why I started reading the Sartre play yesterday. It isn’t very life affirming or romantic. The situations are extreme and no fun at all. People are popping each other off right and left. I don’t think I’ll finish it. Too grim, like Norman Mailer or something. I might take a nap now. I didn’t sleep very much last night.

Four thirty. Until I was about 24 years old, I never had any Romantic thoughts. That was when I was introduced to Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous, and the effect of those doctrines was not healthy for me. But once I had discovered his theories, I was stuck with Jung for another 20 years. Finally I took cognitive therapy seriously and began to apply it to my life. My mind had been in the habit of “splitting” everything into dichotomies, or pairs of contraries, like Aristotle with the law of excluded middle, only much worse. I was 39 years old when this was happening. After I turned 40 I began looking for the shades of gray. I learned that predicting the future was impossible, and how to avoid magnification and personalization. Eventually I mastered all of the cognitive distortions. Now it seems I’m sort of waiting around for the next movement in psychology. Something will doubtless come along. Hopefully it’ll be more accurate than the previous two trends. I heard some talk of phenomenology being absorbed into psychology two years ago, something along the lines of Sartre and existential psychoanalysis. There are no new ideas, just new terminology for the old ones. I guess I’ll finish that Sartre play now.

Coloring Book / Commodity

Six twenty.

Even before I begin to write, my brain wants to shut down. It’s odd how we refuse responsibility for our perceptions, as if thoughts were inserted. But consciousness is very much an active thing, creating and constructing at will. The sky is overcast: to say this is a fact, but what it means is up to me. I choose to name it good because it suggests cooler weather today. This positive thought accordingly lifts my mood. Morally, we create our own reality. Why is this so easy to forget? Objective reality itself is a coloring book, but we provide the colors from our imagination. The colors are moods and meaning… The atmosphere appears bluish, giving a hint of rain. At times I ponder psychosis: just what is this separation from reality? Does it serve a purpose? It could be an indicator that something is not right… I listened to Aaron Copland in the wee hours and still enjoyed El Salon Mexico the most.

Eight twenty. Sometimes I wonder why I shop at a convenience store every day. Perhaps because it’s convenient? Or maybe part of me longs to be able to drink beer as in happier times. I know I won’t do it, and the self restraint feels kind of good because it is a form of control. It’s almost like a rebellion against myself, and of course I’d be into that. Being rebellious is often what motivates me. At the store a bit ago, I played mind games with myself, thinking of instances where I could feel paranoid, but don’t anymore. And it seems to me that a lot of people have paranoid schizophrenia. They go around blithering about “karma” and “angels” and other bs that they can’t prove yet “believe” anyway. I suppose it helps them cope with life. Then there are some who never stop to think about what they believe.

I was like that once, when I was on a working and drinking treadmill. Nothing else mattered but those two things. It must have been October 2007 when I had a car accident in a drive thru at 11pm. Sandy secretly gave me a black tarantula doll for Halloween. I had to drive a rental car until my truck was repaired. But my poor mind was all over the map in those days. Instead of working to live, I lived to work. Memories from that time are difficult to retrieve; I was such a different person. Money meant more to me then because I got bad advice. Finally my inner voice gained the upper hand and now I’m closer to being authentic. Moiling in survival mode is not for me. It seems like the things we need have a way of falling into our lap if we simply believe in ourselves. That’s the only faith we require.

PS.: Control Freak

Quarter after five. The above doesn’t sound like me much. What helped my mood at three o’clock was my success with the screwdriver in fixing the door knob. This gave me proof that I have some control over my circumstances. The reason why I was despairing was because I can’t control the hot weather or the spread of the coronavirus beyond just myself. I felt overwhelmed by the heatwave, from which we won’t be getting a break. At my most fundamental level I am a control freak, so having no control over a situation tends to depress me. Admitting powerlessness is not in my method for recovery, and maybe this is my problem with Alcoholics Anonymous. My belief system depends on freedom and responsibility. In every situation we have a set of options and are free to choose from among them. We are never denied this free agency.

Sartrean Hero

Quarter of eleven. The tracking information tells me my bass is coming Thursday. It’s rather weird getting a new instrument in the absence of my mother. Given all that I’ve been through, I think she would approve. I just got home with some chocolate ice cream and Milk Bones for Aesop. I think I’m done with the Baldwin book. I may start reading the Rousseau today out of curiosity… I wonder how I would fare at a blues jam? Maybe Ron and I could go to one, and never mind Mike? But it would be this summer, when things reopen more… My mother’s death left me with no identity and no direction. And I had never lived here alone before. I had been a supporting actor, and suddenly I was in the spotlight. The star of my own show. I couldn’t handle it at first. My life had never been about me. My parents didn’t allow me a voice. My sister turned the idea of responsibility into a conservative burden, de emphasizing the freedom side of the coin. She was not very smart. Of course the bright side of this onerous responsibility is free agency, and realizing this turned things around for me. Jean Paul Sartre was right all along. We are always responsible for the consequences of our choices, but it’s much easier to live with that than to live in superstitious fear of invisible spooks. I don’t understand why people choose to live that way. I cannot. Freedom and responsibility, plus cause and effect, are enough to live by.

Sunday Thoughts

Eight fifty.

I pulled out the biography of Virginia Woolf I’ve had for many years. Somewhere I have one of James Joyce as well. I wonder what year it was when the old canon was abandoned completely? Not just a canon but a curriculum. Now it’s just history. It wouldn’t do me any good to return to the university because it’s all changed. A lot of my old professors are deceased. Time flies. I drank away over ten years. I wasted time feeling resentful but also dependent on other people’s opinions. I finally learned that the worst that can happen is you make a mistake. The good news of this is that all along, you were a free agent. I reject the idea that a divine power rewards or punishes us in our process of living. We alone are responsible for our fates. We alone have power over our own lives. We are absolutely free— and responsible. It is bad faith to deny this freedom… Then again, does it make sense to say I was responsible for the schizophrenia? It was a circumstance beyond my control, but still I could take responsibility for my reaction to it. It is very important to take advantage of our freedom in every situation… I feel like a Coca-Cola today.

Ten ten. As I walked to the store, I was feeling under the weather. Probably from allergies. I noticed a lot of tree pollen on the street. I considered volition with every step I took. How do free actions start, and at what level? Hume thought that matter is infinitely divisible, and as deep as you go, causation obtains. Free will didn’t exist for David Hume. It would be a holistic view to believe in freedom and responsibility. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As if to fill in essential cookie cutters; this is the view of Aristotle. It’s been three decades since I read The Winter’s Tale, and a year since any Shakespeare at all. Freedom boils down to faith in an idea. As long as you believe you are free, you can act as if it were true.

Life Is Short

Ten ten.

It wastes energy to obsess over getting older. I’m only 53 years old. The way to look at it is, I am sober for the first time in my life since boyhood. There’s still time for new improvements to my life. The only enemies I had were my relatives, but they leave me alone now. I ought to be feeling quite free and happy. The lockdown can’t stay in effect forever, so I’m peering beyond it. Solitude with the same old stimuli is very boring. It is people who make the difference. There’s nothing else like a live presence. I’m going to the store in a few minutes. I might play my Aria bass again this afternoon. The active electronics make it sound sophisticated and nice. Yesterday, I made a discovery by accident: a maker of custom guitars and basses called Kiesel. I’d heard of it before, I think, way back in 1988. But I could be wrong. I should be happy with what I have, anyway. It’s a cloudy morning, and everything seems rather dull.

Eleven thirty. Vicki finally told me the results of her head MRI: she has a tumor. Further testing is on hold due to the Coronavirus situation. It’s unknown whether it’s malignant yet. She has worked hard all her life, mostly for that little store. I only wish that she could do something nice for herself. I don’t know what she likes to do for a hobby, but she ought to find time to do it. Life is too short to spend it being inauthentic, doing things you don’t want to do. This is the lesson I gleaned from reading Don Quixote in college so long ago. Throw off the chains of your life and do what you always wanted to do. No one else can do it for you.


In a cerebral way, I’m fascinated by the difference between the old Jungian school and the CBT that’s destined to replace it. It’s amazing how one man’s theories could be so pervasive in our culture, such that we breathe it in like the air. But Sartre was contemporary with Jung, and had quite a different outlook. I didn’t become familiar with him until college, but I experienced him to the max as a freshman and sophomore. The spirit of Sartre permeated the whole Norton anthology my English class used. Plus I was taking French, where the influence of Sartre was obvious. I didn’t care for Shakespeare, whose Green World was too deterministic and Freudian for me. I didn’t want to surrender to a Nature that was fixed and fatalistic, and subconscious. Sartre emphasizes the conscious mind, and insists that individuals are free and responsible agents, and that humanity as a whole is the same. We can choose where we want to go; the future is entirely up to us. We needn’t leave it all to a fatalistic unconscious that gropes its way blindly like an instinctive mole. Sartre denied the existence of the unconscious altogether… So, when I got to college, the Jungian background of my childhood faded away while new ideas of freedom and creativity took over. This would’ve worked out fine, except the illness struck me down at age twenty four, reinforcing the idea of determinism, of basically Freud and Jung all over again. The optimism of my youth hit the wall for many years. I sold out to Jungian psychology, became a convert. His theories ran rampant in Eugene, and when I checked into treatment in 2003, I was brought face to face with a program fundamentally Jungian and old fashioned. I felt ambivalent about the whole thing, trying to opt for empiricism, or logical positivism. I didn’t want any ideology at all, but the world around me forced it on me. Later, in the spring of 2006, I heard about a new mentality called cognitive therapy, which was based not on intuition but on hard evidence. At first I resisted it, foolishly. But I began flirting with it about five years later, and meanwhile the movement was growing and spreading. I finally got the full immersion in cognitive behavior therapy from 2017 to 19. At the same time, I attended church, where the ideas were the same old Jungian ones, creating a schism with my therapy experience. And this is the conflict I’m still dealing with every day. I believe that CBT will eventually win the day, and I for one will drop church attendance forever, as will many others who feel the impact of new perspectives taking the place of the old ones. Then again, throughout history human beings have oscillated between realism and romanticism, science and religion, evidence and intuition. Neither side ever has the last word.

In Between Again

Quarter after one.

I turned the furnace on because the cold was too much for me. I’ve used that line before. Well, the warmth is good for my Fender bass also. It is said, Don’t store your bass in a place where you would be uncomfortable yourself. As for sleeping, I’m not very tired. Aesop wants his water refreshed. I keep putting him off. Reflecting on my mindset of 2004 feels strange. I got my notions from reading literary classics and not from therapy. As late as January 2007 I still identified with Jung instead of cognitive therapy: but what for, for crying out loud? I was stubbornly traditional, devoted to precepts that came from my family. Even now, the rest of us remain stuck in the psychology of the 1950s. My family isn’t alone. Pastor Dan uses the Myers Briggs, which is based on Jungian theory. Much of North Eugene is steeped in analytic psychology, whether people know it or not. Then as you make your way towards Downtown, the balance shifts to CBT and other newer approaches to construing reality. I even heard references to phenomenology in the field of recovery. I was right at home with that, having a background in existentialism. It made more sense to me to apply Sartre than Freud or Jung or Adler. Freud is fatalistic, saying that personality is fixed by the age of five. But the goal of recovery is to change behavior, and fatalistic ideas can’t help with that. Sartrean freedom and responsibility, on the other hand, can.

Quarter after five. Friday will be a free day, but at a dear price. It’s the blackness before the dawn. I so look forward to playing with my band Sunday midday. Now I think I’ll skip church to avoid all that walking. Further, I just don’t want to go to church. The drummer confessed that he has a few beers during a typical practice. That’s ok if it doesn’t impair his playing. Part of me hopes I’ve made a good decision. Sobriety is the first priority. Lose that and lose everything. Foolish things are done in the name of the booze. Keep your eyes open and have a Plan B… Lying in bed half awake, I thought about my first copy of Moby Dick. Coupled with that was the Sartre book I began, and I realized something. The narrative treats all things, positive or negative, with equal weight, with the effect of amorality. The bad is not subordinated to the good, so everything is a shade of gray. Years ago, I would have been offended by this. But today, it seems prescient to me. Melville likewise is replete with ambiguity. Shakespeare thought such equivocation was evil. These thoughts are rather above my head, for I don’t have a solution, except maybe to get myself to church..