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.

Light in the Dark

Quarter of eight. The sun pierces the cloud cover momentarily to hit me right in the face. Rain is forecast for the rest of the week. I’ve been to the store already. I saw three guys who worked for the distributors of beer and soda inside the market. Vicki’s attention was on what they were doing. I felt like I didn’t exist. Generally it’s a dark November day so far… It has begun raining steadily, persistently, as the gloom deepens. It occurs to me that I feel lonely, and the present moment seems isolated and devoid of future. My internal radio plays Thomas Dolby a bit ominously. His music reminds me of the night my mother died. However, that time in the past has become an even profounder gulf, a sort of black hole with nothing in it. No memories. Just emotional quicksand to smother the here and now.

Nine o’clock. The kind of drinking I used to do was self destructive. It was born of a death wish. I won’t go back to that. There’s nothing good about drinking yourself to death. Now I can stare the blackness in the face and not succumb to the undertow. My mother’s death left a vacuum behind her. A pit. At first I fell into it and nearly drowned myself… Pale sunlight touches the magnolia leaves. “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” It is quite a test for me to read Ursula K. Le Guin. Some of her writing teeters on the edge of the abyss. But I think the darkness is surmountable and maybe even necessary for one to grow… Overnight, my sign for Black Lives Matter had been knocked down, probably by the wind. Just now I looked out the window and a good elf had stood it back up again. My guess is that it was Bonnie Rose across the street. She passed me in her pickup truck on my way to the store earlier…

Gut Reaction to Cummings

Quarter after one. I read thirty pages of the Cummings poetry. Some of it is great, and I see how it influenced me when I was around thirty years old. He often muses on the something of life and love versus the nothingness of death, and how could life spring from nothing? This problem is like that of Sartre, but I don’t know who had the idea first. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Cummings. His thinking joins together Freud and Sartre but without being systematic. Still, it’s very complex, even convoluted, and always difficult to disentangle. I sometimes get the sense that love and death are identical from his poems, or at least one is inseparable from the other. He is full of paradoxes and double negatives that pull you in and force a feeling of disorientation, or maybe what Sartre calls “nausea.” Some readers may not find this very affirmative. And the equivocation does feel rather disturbing, even like Shakespeare’s Macbeth. We want the reassurance that things are what they are and not something else, not a fusion of opposites. Not a prevailing oxymoron. We want a yes, a positive and not a zero. But Cummings still makes fascinating reading. 

Colorful Rocks

Seven thirty.

My sleep was troubled and fitful, perhaps due to what I’d been reading. I’m very sensitive to stories, whether in print or in movies… Now I wonder why so many musicians are fans of King Crimson. I find some of their lyrics dreadful, dealing with mental illness without much sympathy. What’s their point? I don’t listen to much music these days; I’m not sure why. I’m half inclined to go back to bed, because I still feel drowsy. Sometimes I think of those clowns who worked on my house a year ago, and how slipshod they were. Ultimately it was the Portland contractor who was blameworthy for the shoddy job they did. It can be depressing to think about now… I guess I’ll go to the store and see if they have any new inventory.

Nine o’clock. I went to the market and bought a Reuben, cottage cheese, and two Snapples. Vicki’s eyes were on the front door, where she could see a pair of homeless people just outside. I passed them on my way out. Some people believe the homeless choose to live that way, and they could get jobs if they tried. I’m not one of those people. When conditions are bad and times are tough, the incidence of homelessness goes up. This doesn’t substantiate the claims of narrow minded conservatives. Hard luck befalls a lot of people. I’ve been lucky, probably more lucky than clever… Some people care more about “numbers” than human beings. I’m certainly not one of them. All is not gold that glitters. Think of the worthless “rocks” in Voltaire’s El Dorado. Precious gemstones are scattered everywhere on the streets, but in a perfect world they have no value. For reasons of greed, Candide and his friends lose Paradise, packing off a bunch of colorful rocks to the real world. Call it idealism to make this observation. It remains true. 

“The Camera Eye”

Quarter of three in the morning.

In my sleep, things were beginning to click together regarding the significance of fall 1989. I really like Montaigne and the mental attitudes he stood for. At first they hit me as counterintuitive, but often this marks the phenomenon of learning. I had forgotten what it meant to be “objective” in my thinking, or impartial like an encyclopedia. A lot of facts without bias or strong opinion in any direction. This was what I took home from studying Joyce and Montaigne in those three months prior to my mother’s surgery for cancer. There was also unity in the diversity, which came down to the fact of our humanness… Anyway, I could sleep no more for a while, so I got up. It was such a beautiful day yesterday, the deep blue sky hinting at the blackness of space behind it. The bright red seeds of the magnolia have been popping out recently. The same Ravel music is running in my brain, alternating with Stravinsky. I feel quite recovered from the illness, but I still have to learn self motivation. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to. It’s for the greater good.

Quarter of four. I don’t need to watch the video of last Saturday’s service. I remember it fairly well without seeing it again through the camera eye that never lies, let alone flatters. I’m not as vain as I used to be. 

Thomas Mann

Two o’clock 🕑. I read ten pages of The Magic Mountain. It unfolds to be a love story, but not very interesting; I found it boring. Still, I may give it a chance. If my heart were more open, then the story could warm it. The length of the book is backbreaking, so is it worth the time investment? Certainly Mann is humane and sympathetic to his characters, and perhaps it’s this very warmth that kind of throws me. It isn’t just a novel of ideas, some intellectual tour de force, but rather it comes from a deep and affectionate place. Mann actually cares about his characters and his story, especially the protagonist, Hans Castorp. The feeling I got from the Sartre plays was quite cold and apathetic, almost like burnout, as if life and love offered nothing more to him. Thomas Mann is just the contrary to this chilly rationality. His characters are not wooden, they are not straw men to demonstrate a philosophy of life… This is my assessment after the first 232 pages. It might be worth putting some time into. It is good to read something with a view to humanization…

Meanwhile, going to church tonight would take too much of an effort. I can’t fake Christian faith again. I feel that dishonesty is wrong. Therefore I’m gonna stay home and do something else. This afternoon turned out sunny and partly cloudy. It’s very nice. Damien showed up yesterday evening and mowed my lawns. It was nice to see him, even though he wasn’t feeling good due to losing his dad. His thinking reflected his depression, which I could understand. Consciousness is like that: a feedback system between thoughts and feelings. The bias, good or bad, determines upward or downward spiral, so it is important to keep a balance of positive and negative. I hate depression; I don’t believe it is our natural state. I disagree with those who say suffering is a necessary thing to promote growth. Avoidance of pain is wiser than getting burned and learning the hard way— although I need a think about that some more… 

Melancholy and Moliere

Ten o’clock.

I just got off the phone with Polly. We talked mostly about dogs, and that was okay. My taxi is coming at ten thirty. I feel a little nervous, but I think it’ll be a good trip to Springfield. Not much to talk about right now. It’s another sunny day. I can’t predict what will happen today, so I’m playing it by ear.

Eleven o’clock 🕚. Here I am at the doctor’s office. There’s some lame classical music on the hifi. The weather is beautiful except for the smell of smoke in the air. The cabbie was quiet but nice enough. Steve Miller was on the radio, uncensored for the “funky shit going down in the city.” I had to chuckle at that. It was nice to be driven by a young woman.

Quarter of noon. I got done early. Waiting for my return ride. Everything seems more optimistic than two weeks ago. Human life has a future, possibly.

Two o’clock. My mood has taken a nosedive. I feel like crying because I’m just not happy with modern life. It has gotten to me. And there’s no self indulgent solution to the world sorrow I feel. Drinking beer wouldn’t help anything. I stopped and visited with K— and Angela over a donut. Thursday is Angela’s birthday, so they invited me for lunch at twelve thirty. Mexican food. It feels kind of wrong to me because I disagree profoundly with K—‘s attitudes. This is probably why I feel so low since getting back home. I’ve said before that I don’t really belong in the Maxwell community. I have to fake everything in order to get along, and that goes against my grain. People will believe I’m something that I’m not. For some reason, it’s important to me not to be an impostor. It may be because I studied Moliere in college. I was only 19, and I never forgot what I learned. My freshman year contained many lessons in integrity; it was the dominant theme in everything I read and heard. I don’t know what other people take away from their college experience, but integrity hit me over the head. If your life lacks authenticity, then it lacks soul… Thus I came home wanting to cry from having betrayed myself. But it’s Angela’s birthday, and I like her very much. It’ll just be rather a challenge for me socially. I’m not good at dissimulation.

Tiny Tim

Three o’clock in the morning.

I had dreams of intrigue: of kidnapping people and stealing cars. My nephew Ed came to the house and we did some paperwork together. It might’ve been application for Supplemental Security. In real life, my mother helped Ed with the forms, and he never seemed to appreciate it. His five year old son had leukemia and he couldn’t have afforded the medical bills without government assistance. In the dream, as he left he took a car I had stolen. In reality, Mom made me give him my old Roland synthesizer, which his family sold and used the money to buy a home organ. I always resented this injustice by my mother, and Ed didn’t deserve to take away my keyboard and convert it to an instrument for praising the Lord. Today, it’s hard to say what was right. If Ed’s family was Charles Dickens, mine was probably Scott Fitzgerald. Over time, life has a way of equalizing things. Or at least it makes you think about things with a new perspective. 

Vendredi Soir

Four twenty. I finished reading Macbeth. Now let it incubate for a while. Also, UPS delivered my Mark Egan music. The thunder has come back, and the sky has gone quite dark. I finally scheduled my ride to the X-ray place, for Tuesday morning at nine o’clock. Even now, my lower back gives me a hard time. The sky looks ominous of some heavy weather. But the rain will do much good for the air quality and any fires still burning. It seems like the longer I stay sober, the direr life gets for everyone. I haven’t heard from anyone from church, either. I suppose they will film the service without me, and that’s okay. It has started to rain now. Occasional crackles of thunder. Sky is a very dark gray. I remind myself that the same weather is happening to everyone locally. My paranoia tends to believe I’m being singled out, much like Jonah or Job in the Old Testament. It’s a feeling of delusional guilt for something. But how grandiose is it to think that the god of the weather has singled me out for punishment? It’s a delusion of reference. Psychotic people believe everything that happens is about them…

Six forty. The Mark Egan was pretty good, and would be better if I could listen to it in a comfortable chair with the lights low. It kind of inspires me to do something similar; find a hand percussionist and guitarist and lead the project with my bass. We could go for an ambient sound, perhaps trance; simple and slow, and slightly repetitive. But it’s a long way off with the coronavirus. I could still text Tony the hand drummer and see if he’s into it. The whole point is to be relaxed and serene, and to do it for the sheer pleasure of playing music together. And further, to share the good vibes with people who want to listen… 

More dark gray clouds are moving in, though no more rain is forecast until midnight. It was good to read some Shakespeare. I don’t think Macbeth is supposed to be a likable character, but maybe we’re moved to pity and fear for him anyway. He certainly carries a boulder of guilt for his awful crimes. Why was he so tempted by the prospect of power and glory to murder people for it? And to be emboldened by hearing the prophecies of the witches— only to be deceived by a trick of language. Would anybody do what Macbeth did in his situation? I think the germ of his ambition existed before his first encounter with the weird sisters. So that, spooks or no, Macbeth was always guilty in his heart. 

Vendredi Matin

Eight fifty.

It rained last night, thank goodness, so now you can see the sun and ordinary clouds. I walked to the store and bought a sausage biscuit with egg and cheese. These things lead me to inquire about nature and artifice, or nature and what is man made. During the Renaissance, people believed that nature is God’s art, and that human art imitates nature. Like Plato, they thought that our art was a process of making copies of nature, which in turn copied the spirit world. Some people believe the dichotomy of art and nature is a false one. I don’t know, but it’s very nice to see the natural sun and clouds again. I was also thinking of how the world is “too much with us” when we don’t drink or escape some other way. We are all bound together as current events unfold day by day. What impact does this have on human freedom? Are we like pilot whales who beach themselves following the leader? There’s a song in my head by The Police called “Truth Hits Everybody.” The nostalgia of forty years ago…

Nine fifty. Yesterday morning I began rereading Macbeth. Although the “instruments of darkness” are at work everywhere, Macbeth is still responsible for his ambition for the throne. A murder is just a murder, regardless of the activity of the devil. The prophecy of the weird sisters incites Macbeth to assassinate the King of Scotland, and the deception of the powers that be have set a trap for him— but still he should resist the temptation. Perhaps his will is weak. His decisions are easily swayed by external influences. I guess the bottom line is that Macbeth really wanted the throne for himself. He envisioned the dagger before him from his own wishes… What a gory play! But I think Macbeth was overall rather spineless. As for the element of the supernatural, I don’t really know. Some of it is purely his imagination, as when he sees the ghost of Banquo… I should be finishing the play today, and then I’ll do more thinking on it.