I walked to the store in a mixture of rain and snow, unseasonable for April, at the first light of dawn. The main thing on my mind was how I felt cut off from the church and maybe from the rest of society. Yesterday was Palm Sunday, which made me think of Easter next weekend. I’d also been considering Thomas Mann and perhaps finishing The Magic Mountain. If I had the money to tithe to church, then I’d feel more comfortable about attending, but as inflation has it, I just can’t swing it right now. Well phooey, it’s probably money pounded down a rathole anyway, but still I get awfully lonely for friends. I can’t read a Shakespeare play without relating to the outcast character, the one who is often illegitimate and an egoist; someone exiled from the cosmic dance and order of things. I looked out the window and it’s snowing and raining at the same time. I’m dreaming of a white Easter. My friend in Texas reports temperatures in the nineties with gales of wind. Even the weather is all mixed up and fragmented from place to place. This calls attention to the need for unity and mutual understanding, but of course there’s always a remainder to the quotient. Some pieces just refuse to fit together.
The sun has been trying to peek through a few times today, and the clouds have thinned out to show some blue sky. My mind feels very clear, no longer like someone who is brainwashed and bound in the chains of some doctrine, although I shouldn’t be cocky or complacent about it. That’s like Odysseus crowing at Polyphemus, but finding out later that Poseidon was his father and then paying the penalty all the way back home. All of literature has lessons for us, the Bible included, and also philosophy and so on and on. The purpose of it all is essentially to teach and to preach.
Funny but my mother loved music yet she disregarded the lyrics unless it was something like “Penny Lane” by The Beatles, whose words made a simple vignette with no heavy moral overtones. And really I don’t blame her for that. She also esteemed Edgar Allan Poe a genius for similar reasons as The Beatles. Suddenly I remember a bit what eighth grade was like. It was the school year when John Lennon was killed. Shortly after this, Mom bought me the red and blue Beatles compilations at Fred Meyer. The one I listened to more was the red, which covered the years 1962 to 66. But gradually I got to like the later stuff better, especially when I reached college and heard “Across the Universe” again. It made me gush hot tears; caught me totally off guard. My parents had gone to bed and I listened by myself after midnight. The thing about it is not just the music but the awesome lyric, like a work of poetry, all put together for devastating effect.
Ten o five at night.
The sun appears brighter now that I’ve separated from the church, as if no longer through a filter of piety. As long as I maintain my recovery I want to continue on this adventure, a game of seven card stud in the words of Tennessee Williams. It’ll be my last frontier, the search for a love interest in my life, because I know that love won’t come looking for me. Some people just aren’t interested in romantic love at all, maybe because it’s safer not to get involved. But to me a loveless existence is flat and two dimensional; and even a huge literary figure like Goethe bids you come away from the books in your moldy old study and go out into the world of experience to find your Gretchen and beyond to Helen of Troy. My sister will probably say I’ve lost my mind. Let her think so. A pious life of chastity is not for everyone, however self righteous you feel about it. And no one has the right to lord it over others. For me, the new Victorian Age has come to an end.
I slept very poorly and today it’s raining a light rain. I took my umbrella and hiked off to the store as always. For now the rain has ceased. I never did get any reading done yesterday but Russell still sounds like a good choice. It’s good to feel so levelheaded, even on a rainy day, so typical of Oregon. I see a squirrel climbing the magnolia tree out back. Ten years ago I knew a friend living in Scotland who liked analytic philosophy because of its proximity to science. I believe she was smarter than I was, though toward the end of our friendship she told me she preferred silence to conversation. Was that a form of nihilism? I wish now that we could have worked it out. In King Lear, the Fool says it’s better to know more than you show; but I think he was ironic about that. After knowing me, my friend went back to being her old self, and today I have no clue what her life is like. Hopefully she took something of myself with her that she can use. And from her I got Russell and Carnap— and some great Beatles music; and much else that is even more priceless.
The daylight is bright like springtime in spite of the occasional rain. It’s a day to be quiet and speculative.
I’m sitting down by the fountain in Fifth Street Public Market. I’m alone, but it’s still nice and the weather is clear and sunny. Actually, there are other people around, shopping and just hanging out. I mind my own business just watching people and chilling out (quite literally; it’s rather chilly outside). I feel comfortable enough. At Smith Family I bought an old copy of Kierkegaard in hardcover for $20. The truth is that anything is better than staying home, being housebound all day. Some philosophers cloistered themselves in an attic and never saw anybody. Not that I’m a real philosopher. A wise person ought to be experienced in social stuff, and that’s not really me… It’s beginning to get too cold in this spot, so I’ll get up and wander around a little more. Life is very strange and alienating for a few people.
Quarter of two. Home again. On the ride back, we stopped at the big hospital to drop off two passengers. This meant a detour to Springfield before I could go home, but for $7 you can’t ask much more. What really struck me on my outing was how cold and impersonal most people were. At the bookstore, the women clerks were nicer than the guys, one of whom was almost rude to me. I browsed the shelves of the “modern classics” when a woman came in, boasting that she would be Mayor in a short time, and asked the manager for a donation. She also said she’d been homeless recently. And you know, that’s just how it is. Everybody’s invisible and fighting to be seen and heard; just to be acknowledged by others as human and alive and worthy of love. All of this goes on in broad daylight on a sunny day in Eugene Oregon. The sun, 93 million miles away from us, is friendlier than people are to each other. This is what I’ve seen.
I just remembered an old acquaintance of mine who had trouble making friends when he got to be older. Now I compare myself to him and see some similarities. I’m 55 years old and beginning to look my age. My little trip to Barnes & Noble felt like a failure, and it’s easy to get depressed over that sort of thing. A person gets frustrated and a little angry when there’s a roadblock to friendships. I noticed how tiny the philosophy section was at the bookstore, with only one shelf dedicated to atheism and agnosticism, whereas the religion shelves sprawled over a good portion of the floor. Nobody knew me, so I wound up a wallflower sitting alone in the cafe. But this doesn’t mean I’ll give up on my project… I think I understand my dog’s behavior better now than before. His brain is wired for duty instead of his desires. He believes it’s his job to protect me and guard the fort. When I tell him “you have to,” he does what I command… I saw two house sparrows make overtures to mating outside my back door, but there was a third bird that came between them, then they all flew away… My friend Bill finally did find a companion, but since then we lost contact. I kind of miss the old guy today.
Nine twenty five.
I walked through the foggy morning to the market where it surprised me to see Doug behind the counter. I have no idea what the situation is, and maybe it’s none of my business. I got in and out of there and didn’t say much to anyone. Again I observe how the store has become less personal and human than when Belinda owned it. Now it’s an economic enterprise, a game of numbers and quantities above all else. The customers themselves are numbers as well… On my way there and back along Maxwell Road and N. Park I went very carefully, keeping my eyes open to the traffic. I dunno anymore. Everything seems so desolate and lifeless— dead, like the Ireland of the James Joyce story. We need an infusion of humanity in our lives, but we stubbornly persist in error. We’ve made a desert of the places where we live, refusing to love each other, rendering ourselves robotic and heartless. I’ll be looking forward to Groundhog Day, which happens to be Joyce’s birthday, and the anniversary of the publication of Ulysses a hundred years ago. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Perhaps the centennial is a test of this proverb.
Well, the sun actually came out after my session went really well. It renewed some of my belief in myself. My other experiences with therapy were execrable; they simply didn’t know how to relate to me. And, whatever other people may say, I still adhere to the Freud I learned in school. If there’s no chance of romantic love for a person, then life feels pointless. I think a lot of people can identify with this statement because there’s so much repression in today’s society. But right now the sun rams through unstoppably and the life force itself is invincible. No matter what a huge mess we’ve made of our culture, love still triumphs.
Another dreary winter morning with a touch of fog. Cold: 37 degrees out. Frankly I’m depressed lately, so it was an effort to drag my feet to market today. Heather had on her Ghost of Gatsby T-shirt, an advertisement for a local rock band. I understand that they’re pretty good, though I imagine they are much younger than I am. I’m a dinosaur of rock, pretty much. I like most things that are done intelligently and with quality. Accordingly, this morning I bought myself a new hardcover copy of Ulysses, and I realized then that this year is the centennial of its publication in 1922 in France. Its theme of universal love makes me self conscious of the way I proceed about my life: am I a hypocrite? I’m just an old bachelor, irresponsible and free as a bird, instinctively pulling away from entanglement with women. I don’t want to compromise in any way for any reason; and the price of this is the loneliness I often feel. Can I honestly say “I love everybody” when everyone is a stranger to me, or is this a kind of intellectual stunt, a delusion by dint of mental gymnastics? It’s the sort of objection that Sartre would raise. Maybe it’s easier to feel universal love with a bellyful of beer or wine? Aesop is hungry for breakfast, so I won’t put it off any longer…
Ten o’clock. I’m trying to think of a counter argument to support Joyce. The world would be a better place if everyone held the same love in their hearts and shared it with everybody. It is good to read Ulysses because we all could use a dose of humanization. We all need to be churched in James Joyce.
I have a few complaints about where society is going. We seem to be straying away from nature as far as our romantic relationships go. Masculinity is mislabeled as “toxic” in the United States, almost categorically, and the origin of this attitude was the rise of feminism that started thirty years ago on university campuses. In some ways, political correctness is good for a person with a mental illness; it encourages us to empower ourselves. But I don’t see women and men loving each other with desire and passion like they used to.
The way my parents eloped to Alaska in December 1964 was scandalous but very daring. I think they did the right thing, the intelligent thing in the face of conventional morality. I am the fruit of this audacity, the brainchild of something bold and brave, and this couldn’t be a dumb mistake. It isn’t even dumb luck that I exist. I belong in the world today, thanks to my parents’ adventure, the blind dash to the ferry bound for Juneau on a black winter night.