Quarter after five. Thomas Mann assumes that sickness has moral underpinnings. I’ve always struggled with that opinion, but there’s such a consensus that agrees with him. What we don’t understand we treat with religion. I’m not even sure how to define mental illness anymore, having heard so many perspectives, and none of them superior to another. When was the last time I heard the DSM5 referred to? At least in America, talk therapy has monopolized the field of behavioral health. I never hear anything about psychiatry anymore, maybe because mental illness is too expensive for society to afford. While this is going on, people with schizophrenia and bipolar still self medicate with illicit drugs on the street. Some of them even refuse medication, and we tell them that’s okay. Honestly, I haven’t spoken with another person who has schizophrenia in many months. It’s as though they were running around undiagnosed and unmedicated. Mental illness has become a big gray area, and all because we’ve done away with psychiatry and diagnostic labels. Or is this only my own experience in the past three years? What do we do with our severely mentally ill people these days? Where have they gone? Why don’t I see them anymore? Perhaps they’re all homeless and sleeping under the Washington Jefferson Street Bridge? They seem to have been assimilated into the mainstream, their symptoms ignored and untreated. Is this a good thing or a terrible miscarriage of justice? I only think of the suffering of people with psychosis who don’t get the relief they deserve. There’s something wrong with this picture. But of course, I would have to see some statistics on recovery rates to really know what is happening…
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.
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.
Ten twenty. I think I’ll play my guitar today, or maybe my bass. Earlier this morning I ordered a new copy of Elizabeth Bishop since I was thinking about her method of writing narrative poems. I want to revisit “In the Waiting Room” and expand on this knowledge. Maybe it can help with post writing. The sun appears through a hole in the clouds. With that, I remember the past decade and make a contrast to today. Life is so much better now. I’ve seen and experienced the damage that alcoholism can do. A lot of people have helped me after I decided to stop drinking. K— is one of them. But it disappoints me that she is anti diversity. I could’ve predicted this, yet still I had to hear her say it. She’s a product of her time and place. Last week I avoided the salon perhaps intentionally due to the recent protests. Her narrowness makes me think of the brutal Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, jabbering about the Napoleonic Code. It is sheer idiocy, but unfortunately it has a loud voice from greater numbers. I had a dream of my sister last night which I can’t remember. She was spouting opinions as usual. Stupid stuff, bordering on craziness, yet people agreed with her.
Eleven thirty. The clouds are clearing off. Blue skies. The same sky as when I was a toddler in Salem. At this time of day, Mom would watch Perry Mason on the tv. On certain days she would go to the bank and the grocery store. All banks have that sour smell of money inside. I don’t know how long my dad lasted in his job at the State Capitol. Less than a year, then he got fired for aggravating people. He had a knack for saying the wrong things and annoying people. It was deliberate: he wanted to hurt your feelings… Aesop is getting anxious about me playing my bass. He dreads it so much.
I played it for a half hour while Aesop waited outside. I was inspired this time and everything sounded great. Something was different today; I think it was hearing the news that Ron just bought a nice new keyboard. He wants to jam as much as I do.
A cloudy morning that promises another sultry day. Pastor still needs three more singers for Sunday worship. It will sound pretty funny with only two male voices. I won’t preconceive too much, or preoccupy myself. Worrying is just borrowing trouble.
I recall a time at the coast with my brother. He was out or watching tv while I wrote a poem in a spiral notebook with an inkjet pen. It was the first week in September 2007, and the composition of the poem was a decision making process. I said something about building castles in the air, concluding that matter didn’t matter to me. In other words, I didn’t share my brother’s obsession with money. That was the groundwork that prepared me for leaving the industrial job I hated so much. I planned my escape meticulously, and step by step implemented it. This was the first big decision I ever made in my life. The ramifications are still being played out like a ripple effect.
Nine thirty. I ran into B—, the former owner of the market. She was collecting her mail. She’s the same penny pincher she always has been. I can’t help feeling a bit resentful of her for profiting off of people’s addictions, and she did it for 45 years. Think of the alcoholic deaths she contributed to by selling the poison to customers. This morning, she looked to me like a little old witch with long gray hair. “Love of money is the root of all evil.” Funny, but B— wasn’t always that bad. It got worse after they tore down the old shack and rebuilt the store. Her greed has corrupted her mind and body the same way the Ring deformed Gollum in the Tolkien classic. And my brother’s fate has been quite similar. It makes you wonder…
Four twenty five. I continue to be more aware of Aesop’s discomfort. I suppose I’m more empathetic than I used to be. We need to fix the problem of his boredom and inactivity… The food pantry is a go tomorrow morning. Speaking of feeding the community, this morning I remembered a cruel thing my brother bragged about doing to a panhandler some years ago. The panhandler had a dog, so Jeff went inside the store and bought dog food for the dog and nothing for the man to eat. At McDonalds another time, Jeff threw a cheeseburger to a beggar’s dog. My brother is an unkind bastard. I hope someday he pays for his cruelty to me and everyone else he has mistreated. Actually, that might be happening as it is. His rheumatoid arthritis is extremely painful. He has boozed himself into neuropathy and amnesia. Looking over the span of his life, his fate has been rather an instructive one. As a young student he was a nice guy; but he became corrupted by the career he chose. It was all for the almighty dollar. I suppose most families have someone like my brother. Ambitious and driven to make a pile of money. Well, his devotion to Mammon has consumed his soul. There’s nothing left of the nice young student. I would pity him if I could, but in his case, I’m fresh out of pity.
One o’clock. Almost done reading Jacob’s Room. Only another forty pages. It seems to be a study in communication breakdown, the question of whether language has the power to preserve. Maybe it just perishes. The book contains many unfinished sentences and incomplete thoughts. Looking over this old paperback triggers the memory of music I heard that winter. It is The Song of the Nightingale by Stravinsky, a symphonic poem he completed in 1917. A hundred years ago might as well be a billion. A little older than the earth, the ancient sun has broken through the overcast. My mind’s eye can imagine the inside of the little music shop on the corner of Fifth and Pearl. The light was never very bright in there, but it was cozy and pleasant. A mere hole in the wall next to Cat’s Meow Jazz and Blues Corner. It smelled like spice or incense in the building. Like new merchandise. We stumbled onto the Music Gourmet in December 1993, I forget how. It started with buying the Nutcracker Ballet. I took this cd with me on a visit to Ken and Cindy in Harrisburg. Around that time, my grandnephew Travis was born. Things were never very peachy, yet I was happy because my parents were still alive.
Two o’clock. Now, my sole pretension to wealth is the roof over my head that I own. I might feel a little weird about going to Fifth Street to hang out. At the time in 1993, I was unconscious of socioeconomic realities. I lived in the lap of luxury, taking a free ride with my folks. I had no shame, no matter how my psychiatrist tried to drive me away from them. But he didn’t understand that we were an interdependent unit. The three of us needed each other. And in 1997, I performed with Satin Love to make my mother happy one last time. I felt, a bit desperately, that time was running out. But I pulled it off, even though I had to leave the band… It’s still difficult for me to tell whether I’m making choices in my own interests or rather in those of a ghost. When I was a student, my intellect went places where my mother couldn’t follow. I kind of liked that, just because I was doing something for myself.
I only like dreaming
All the day long
Where no one is screaming
Be good Johnny
I’m out of food for Aesop, and me too. I dreamt that I contracted the virus. My hands were peeling and my throat was sore. I was with someone who used to be my professor. In some ways he resembled my brother. We stopped at a store for something, probably beer or even hard liquor. I forgot to take my medication last night… I think. I’m not completely sure. My life is a roller coaster of ups and downs no matter what I do. Hills and valleys. It’s cloudier today. At nine o’clock I will go to the store. I should email Pastor to see if there’s a pantry tomorrow… Did that. It’s funny how 19th Century thought carries over to our time, and yet there are newer developments. Cognitive therapy started up in the late 1970s, and is just now catching on in Oregon. A lot of people still don’t know about it. This mentality has helped me a lot with paranoia… Guess I’ll go now.
Nine forty. I’m back from the market. They had two new varieties of dog food, so I grabbed them and a pouch of bacon strips. Then for me, cottage cheese, two Hot Pockets, and a big ginger ale. The sunlight is very yellow, the sky almost white. Roger passed me in his gargling old Ford on Maxwell and didn’t wave hello. I assume he was on his way to the hangar to work on a project. Sometimes he isn’t very friendly. Aesop is letting me know he’s ready for breakfast. I will oblige him right now… I gather that he liked the beef stew, because it’s gone. At some point today I will review the Bartok I heard yesterday, or maybe move on to the second disc. I sort of miss owning a car. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a little trip to Fifth Street Public Market? Or to Smith Family Bookstore? Music Gourmet used to be on the corner of Fifth and Pearl. I love this part of town. I wonder if Steelhead Brewery still exists? Monster Cookie Company. Escape Books was in the blue house on the corner. Perelandra Books was also on Fifth Street. Nowadays, it’s a hangout place for yuppies, with a big expensive hotel in the middle of the Market. Perhaps it was always for rich people and I just never noticed. Today I’m quite thrilled to go to a place like Black Rock in the Riviera Center, although Cal’s Donuts is more honest, and the plate glass windows are big and clean and full of daylight. If I can’t go there in body, I can go there in mind.
Toward midnight. My head has been stuck too much in the 19th Century. Cognitive behavioral therapy has dispensed with Christian morality. Of course, the knowledge of CBT doesn’t come free. I didn’t have to pay for it out of pocket, but somebody had to, and it was taxpayers. The old knowledge that is available free is the Church, and this may always be the case. It was so 150 years ago, and it is true today. Who am I to deem myself better than the mass of miserable people? Instead of AA, I opted for therapy for a year and a half. I wasn’t responsible for a penny of it, but somebody footed the bill. My conscience is a bit like Pip in Great Expectations. It turns out that a convict paid my way, and it was the American working class. Was I clever to take a free ride on the system, or was I unscrupulous and shameless? If I stole an education from taxpayers, then how can I pay it back? The key to the whole scenario is this thing called conscience, which is a defining characteristic of human beings. CBT denies that absolute justice exists, saying that there’s only fairness of a situation to oneself. It says that justice is relative and dependent on your point of view. But what does my heart declare on the matter? How do I defend myself from my heart— or is it better to obey it?