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.

Perspectives

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..

Thoughts on Solitude

Five twenty. My practice on bass guitar was uninspired today. When I got out and headed for the store, I realized that I needed the stimulation of other people. This would give me a better high than the buzz of caffeine. Sartre wrote that hell is other people, but heaven is other people too. One blogger complained about people using social media in order to validate their self image. But Sartre observed that we live only in the eyes of other people. I wouldn’t care to disagree with an intellectual giant… I was saying my music was not inspiring this afternoon. I needed my friends to jam with, a reason to play my instrument. A sage said, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I’ve been lonely all day today. Tomorrow I have an appointment at 11:30, a break in the monotony. Wednesday there is Heidi. Thursday is open, and Saturday. We jam again on Sunday. There are pitfalls to living alone. The freedom of solitude comes at the price of longing for company. Maybe for love. I’ve lived alone since 2001, so almost for 20 years. I could be getting tired of it. Like everything, solitude is a tradeoff. When you are alone, you don’t have to compromise with anyone. You live by your own rules, and break them when you feel like it. I guess it’s true that I’m doing pretty good, yet I get awfully downhearted for lack of someone to talk to. Company is what you sacrifice for freedom. Heidi told me she envies the way I’ve set up my bachelor existence. Perhaps many of us would like to live with a minimum of responsibility. Have I been clever, or is this really the way I wanted my life? Thinking harder about it, this is probably the way I needed it.

Something and Nothing

Four thirty five. I did a little bit of book shelving while hearing the sound of Jo jamming up the street. I’m not tempted to go play because Jo isn’t serious about music. He drinks and smokes weed while practicing. Late last night I found my readers of Derrida and Foucault and peered into the first. I could make only a little sense of the writing, but it falls under the category of philology. I got a feeling of there being no difference between being and non being in Derrida, of a present absence and an absent presence, and all of it in the interstices, the spaces between words and lines. It seems to me like the ultimate nihilism, reducing all something to nothing. He makes private thinking seem dependent on signs, but he says that thinking in solitude is impossible. It was Paul Bowles’ character Port Moresby who said that the difference between something and nothing is nothing. To me, this is sheer blasphemy, and I pick up the same attitude from Derrida; also from Sartre, and before him, Mallarme. How can something be nothing and vice versa? It is like the concept of black light, or black sunlight. The idea of being from non being, or from nothingness, strikes me as abominable because it goes against Christian theology. There’s supposed to be a Light of the world, and the Light is Christ, and it is a positive something, not nothing. It is affirmation not negation, a powerful yes declaration… Jo’s little jam is still going on, as it sometimes does on Sundays. Is the universe a friendly place? Einstein raises the question, but hasn’t the answer. I had a friend once who liked Paul Bowles and was drawn to the darker nuances of music. His concept of God was a single being with both light and dark modes along a continuum. It was his AA God— and I couldn’t agree with it. God to me was all light, and the darkness was the devil. The two were not continuous, but dichotomous and separate. My idea was essentially Christian, and perhaps for that reason my friend and I broke it off. Nor did I join AA years later, but a Christian church, and it appears to be working for me.

Freud or Sartre?

Six thirty. Jeff is still jealous regarding his mother. It’s the strangest thing I ever heard of. Polly only calls me when her son is not around. Usually only lovers act like that; it’s called sexual jealousy. If I’m not mistaken, Jeff’s hang up with his mother could influence his sexuality in a gay direction. Polly is consciously blind to the little family romance. She participates in and indulges this “relationship.” She doesn’t realize that mother son incest is the worst taboo in the world. Polly needs to get a life of her own and leave her son alone. My own mother was over assertive with me as well, resulting in an emotional disaster. What is wrong with the women in my family? Why the dominance over their sons? The family system is a screwed up matriarchy, a network of strong women and effeminate men. And that’s the point I hate about Polly and my deceased mother. It’s just backwards from normal. Or anyway, it doesn’t work for me, being a man trapped in a web of masculine women…

The reason I like Sartre is because he champions the condition and rights of the individual without reference to a person’s family or any social context. The individual is an end in himself. I will to be an existential hero in the tradition of Sartre, and in turn of Don Quixote in the Putnam translation. “I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.” Words to live by. Individual freedom is worth fighting for, perhaps the only worthwhile endeavor. Is it too much to dream of? The impossible dream…

Wednesday’s Child

I think I disagree with that nursery rhyme. What keeps me going is faith in the numerology workbook I filled out in the summer of 2003. It suggested that my golden years would be the fulfillment of my heart’s desire. I have believed that ever since. This simple faith has subconsciously given me the courage to go up against the hardest opponent of all: family. The last can build you up or break you down, depending on its values. But not even my sister can defeat me now. I refuse to use her language anymore, choosing instead the tongue I created from the smallest units of expression. I don’t employ stock phrases and cliches that my family readily understands. I use language to plow my own road to where I need to go. My lamplights along the way have been great thinkers such as Sartre, whose ethical philosophy of freedom and responsibility continues to inspire. But also, they have been everyday folks, including the cabbies I ride with. And perhaps my guide has been my own soul all along, for the soul chooses its influences. What we look at determines what we see. So that perception is an active process, not passive— also as Sartre observed. Therefore, Wednesday’s child is not fated to be full of woe. No fate exists independently anyway, thus I defy Thomas Hardy. The future comes down to what’s in the individual heart. Ultimately it’s for the general good.

An Old Maxim

Eleven o’clock. I dreamed about my next dreaded trip to Laurel Hill. This is what has worried me all day, but come out in the form of what happened longer ago. Does everyone fear being judged and criticized? Camus argues the absurdity of judging others from a standpoint of righteousness. Jesus spoke, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at (the adulteress).” And none of her accusers can do it, so one by one they exit the room. John 8:1-12. My brother’s stress in the Bible was always on non-judgment. He failed at his own maxim, but he had a good idea. He received the emphasis from our grandmother, who likewise failed to comply with it. Still it was a good idea. I think condemnation is a universal dread, no matter where it comes from. Every intelligence with a conscience fears judgment. It goes way back to the Old Testament days of stoning, as the passage in John reflects. When a person broke the commandments they were generally punished. I was nineteen when I read Camus’s The Fall the first time. The principle was quite biblical but without the supernatural element. As I recall, the climax was when a police officer exhibited cowardice in a situation. It was a little like the cowardly soldier in Sartre’s No Exit who wanted to be seen as a war hero. The theme in Camus made an impression on me, and then many years later I recognized the biblical source. Wherever you encounter this truism, it hits home due to its very humanness and antiquity. Tonight it surfaces for me in a dream…

Heidi

Three o’clock. I had a nice time with Heidi. I told her I don’t believe in God, and she accepted that okay. She even admitted that prayer is difficult for her too. We have a good rapport, a good connection, almost like what I had with Mom. There was no pressure on me today. I think maybe I’ve been personalizing the Dostoevsky book and blowing it out of proportion. Any good novel or movie does that to me. But Dostoevsky is a crucial figure for existentialism, and I see his influence on his descendants. In particular he advances the idea that everyone is responsible for everyone else, and Sartre echoes the same notion fifty years later. It is this idea that Sheryl rejected in our sessions, but I still feel its veracity. It begins with Dmitry’s dream of the “babe” after his interrogation. The infant is frozen and starving because the mother’s breasts are shriveled and dry. Dmitry feverishly asks who is going to feed the baby. Everyone is responsible for its wellbeing… I’m surprised that Dostoevsky considers America as a sort of promised land. Ivan plots his brother’s escape from prison to be shipped to the United States… It’s nice having my appointment over with, but then I’ve never had a bad experience with Heidi. It is strange how I can remember events and feelings from fifteen years ago as if they were happening now…