What Is Selfish?

Five thirty. I took the plunge and ordered the bass I wanted! And the guilt and fear were all my responsibility. I overcame those feelings and did what I wanted to do.

Ten thirty five. I’ve been lying in bed torturing myself with thoughts of egoism versus altruism, and now I finally understand why. It’s because I went through the same thing three years ago when I was first getting sober and the medication hadn’t taken effect yet. Today has been like a flashback to that time. Maybe the weather contributed. It was sunny and warm all day. Another item is that my big Plato book arrived this afternoon, as iconic as the philosopher himself… I took the plunge on the G&L bass— so now will I go to hell for selfishness? For this was the delusion I had in 2018. Some accident of the atmosphere brought it back. It was also in April of that year when I had a big breakthrough against the same delusion and started making music again in spite of my illness. It was kind of like Huckleberry Finn taking his chances with hellfire for doing what he wanted to do. Yet isn’t it right to do what is pure and authentic of yourself?

Eleven thirty. It started with a red SX bass I bought in November 2016. It arrived damaged in shipping and then it just sat in a chair for a year and a half. One day in April I worked up the courage and motivation to pick it up and play it, defying my dog who hated music. This went okay, and a few days later I had my neighbor drive me to Guitar Center to get the instrument repaired. The victory of this was that I’d really wanted to play my new bass, and now I was finally doing it. The take home lesson is that people don’t know what they’re talking about when they condemn egoism. Of course you have to do some things out of selfishness. It’s impossible not to. And to this day I disagree strongly with Twelve Step programs for their overemphasis on abnegation. 

Flowers and Weeds

Nine o’clock.

I’m still not hot to trot on getting vaccinated. The Johnson’s vaccine has a problem with causing blood clots, and that’s what they have at Bi Mart. I haven’t been paying much attention to the news lately; I just delete the emails every morning and get on with my day. Heidi is very unwell, she told me yesterday. I was sad to hear about it, and meanwhile the sun blazed down apathetically. For some reason I thought of “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane, a powerful description of nature’s indifference to humankind, very realistic and not at all sugary except for the grace of his excellent prose style. So, Heidi said she’d be back Monday, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s only Tuesday but already I’m anticipating Saturday’s band practice. I hope it happens. I will take my old SX bass, which I’ve had for ten years now. Maybe I’ll tweak it again before the weekend; put a different high mass bridge on it for the best tone… I’m considering getting the Penguin edition of Plato’s Symposium for its treatment of Eros, the spiritual love of beauty. There’s a lot of books to read. And the French poets I have are just amazing. Poetry is great for enhancing the experience of music, and the reverse is also true. I could explore my way through Greek tragedy or perhaps just write in my blank book to have a revelation. It’s interesting how thoughts feed feelings and feelings feed thoughts in the course of a day, taking your mood up or down from moment to moment. It is constant maintenance of your mental state to keep positive and happy.

Ten forty. Trying to organize my thoughts without much success. The sunshine brings out motley instincts, as if I were asleep and dreaming assorted taboos. Probably everyone does this, but I find it quite disturbing to have such nightmares. Which is truer, these impulses or their censorship by reason? And the condition of the individual is analogous to the general population and how it is ruled. I’m a liberal person, so I guess that means more weeds in the garden of society, and pushing the envelope of what is acceptable. It’s a very difficult call. And how long before the logical filter breaks down and madness runs free in your mind and in the streets? Was Plato just paranoid of human nature? Shouldn’t we harmonize with nature within and without ourselves? Who’s to say what is best for the garden and what constitutes a weed? 

What It Is

Five forty.

For some reason I didn’t go to church yesterday. I can’t figure out why. I had every reason and none. The only fact is that I simply didn’t go. It was sunny all day and the sky is clear right now. Over a long period of time I’ve been trying to debunk psychodynamic theory by going back to its classical sources, eg Plato, Sophocles, and much later, Goethe. If there had been no Freud or Jung, would someone else have discovered the unconscious and its properties? The whole issue makes me question why I bother with intellectual inquiries. I could just as easily get drunk and forget myself every day. Instead, I spend my time on useless speculation, probably with the aim of disabusing myself of all indoctrination to be free at last. I’m always looking for precedents for people’s ideas just to know who had the notion first, if it can be traced to an individual at all. It’s sort of like asking who is John Galt: the one genius operating all this machinery that we see. Maybe my relentless quest reflects an instinct for a reliance on God, which is a Jungian kind of thought. What is the original source for all of our ideas? It’s the sort of question Faust would ask. But it’s all merely a lot of psycho babble. The smart thing to do is get on with my life— and that means music as much as possible. The intellectual stuff is excessive, while the experience of music is very real and shared by most people. I feel like music is all I want to do.

It’s the twilight of dawn outside my window. I hear bird calls, mostly the cawing of crows. I am so tired of religion and even of philosophy and would like to just be literal for a while. Things are what they appear to be, and that’s good enough. 

Perfect

Nine forty.

The weather is unbeatable this morning, perfect as a picture. I probably won’t do the coffee ice cream again for a while, though it was worth it for grins. I asked Suk when Michelle would be back to work and he said two or three weeks. This information surprised me, but it’s none of my business. I’d been thinking I would go to Bi Mart this morning. Now I think I’ll postpone it to tomorrow afternoon since I have no appointments then. I just got back home with Aesop’s canned food and my day’s sustenance. Did I say the weather is beautiful today?

There are so many books I could read. Right now I feel curious about the stories of Jorge Luis Borges. I’ve only read one of them, and it was quite interesting, dealing with the creative power of language in a sort of wilderness of the written word. His invention of books and periodicals that don’t exist reminded me of The Necronomicon of Lovecraft, a totally fictitious work of black magic he alludes to repeatedly… Another book that intrigues me is The Big Money by John Dos Passos because of its connection with Neil Peart. I’d like to know where the Rush lyricist got the inspiration for “The Camera Eye.” It would be nice to dive a little deeper into the city imagery of this song and perhaps write a poem of my own about it. I haven’t tried writing just an objective sketch in quite a while. I love the calm detachment of some of Rush’s best lyrics and wish to cultivate this mood for my writing.

Quarter of eleven. I remember a December evening in a hotel in Reno when I sipped Old Granddad by myself with my back to the window, reading Atlas Shrugged, then switching to Stephen Crane, and finally listening to Rush with my Sanyo portable cassette player. Out of the window you could watch the traffic coming down the highway over the Sierras as night was falling and the headlights came on. I saw the first star appear in the sky, and I recall what I wished for. It was perfect. 

In and out of Time

Noon hour. I just jammed on the bass guitar for an hour. This cloudy day makes me think of early summers in junior high school, or late spring. I can’t believe how bright everything is, how vital and resonant. Maybe it’s just me who is full of love of life recently, and of hope for better things in the future. Right now it’s super quiet in the room and everywhere else. It’s very strange when this happens; like I’m the only human being alive on earth. It will be a lonely afternoon again today, unless I decide to go to Bi Mart. I guess I’ll do some housework after a bit. While playing the bass, I copied the line for “Invisible Sun” by The Police, a song that always gives me goosebumps. It takes me back to my sophomore year in high school, when the future was unlimited, and yet my vocabulary was inadequate to compass my experience of life. Maybe it was this innocence that made life seem so boundless and infinite, like I could live forever. I bought Ghost in the Machine on vinyl a year after it was released. I still think it’s a better record than Synchronicity because it’s more groove oriented… I didn’t know how to think when I was 15 years old. It must’ve been an odd mode of existence, being so green and inexperienced, nonverbal and inarticulate. Language gives me a handle on things and events, a feeling of having control and power over situations. Otherwise I’d be just a passive leaf in the wind. Or maybe we’re all merely leaves in the wind anyway? Except for a few geniuses who move and shake the world. Sometimes it takes more than genius; it takes money to legislate what people do and think… I really hope the band I’m in can be a modest success here locally, and maybe get some radio airplay. Notoriety around town can be a good thing. The three of us are all around 50 years old, but not too old to have ambition. Whether we win or lose, we’ll still be having fun in the endeavor. 

Poverty Sucks: a Letter

My appointment with Heidi didn’t happen today; she called in sick this morning. So then I had the afternoon to myself and I wrote more in my blank book. I came close to a minor discovery regarding the way my mother brought me up to be the person I have become. Above all, she demanded honesty from me. Also I was raised to despise money and the moiling and grubbing people do to acquire it— which may have been unfortunate because I learned that money is valueless. I guess sometime this morning I’ll be getting my stimulus payment. I should hold onto it to put towards some new gear for the band, perhaps better recording equipment or a PA system, etc. I have all the bass guitars I need. This morning I set up my old white SX bass with a view to giving it away to the guys in the band if they’re interested. It’s an old knockabout axe I bought myself ten years ago for only one hundred dollars. Today, the same product new goes for three hundred dollars. Maybe I’ll just take it to practice next time and then leave it at Mike’s house when we’re done.

Again today the weather was very beautiful. Another thought I had deals with my recovery from alcoholism: whether or not it happened by the grace of a higher power, such as a God or maybe even Jesus Christ. Perhaps it wouldn’t be ludicrous to think so. I also look at the face of nature in these days since the election of Biden and regret that it has lost its divine luster. Maybe it’s just my imagination? What do you think of that? I’m looking forward to going back to church this weekend to see all my old friends. My new shoes arrived this noon hour: extremely lightweight and possibly rather flimsy, but very comfortable. I doubt if they’ll last very long…

Still another idea of mine regards my life of dire poverty. Usually I don’t consider it very much. How did Baudelaire put it? The old paupers nourishing their vermin? There’s also a poem by Yeats where a beggar scratches for a flea. But as I always say, there are better ways of being wealthy than with money. I look around me and the other guys in the band don’t have a lot of money either. Mike plays a drum kit he bought in 1988. And two of Ron’s keyboards came from thrift stores, also his amplifiers. Our studio is a glorified toolshed, though comfortable enough. It seems to me that some of the best artists have been poor, like James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Baudelaire was rather indigent as well. Wealthy people such as my brother look down on us with contempt and call us names. But in the end, the truth is that you can’t take your money with you. This reminds me of the Grimm’s fairytale in which a rich man is admitted into heaven, and what a celebration there is in his honor! I’m pretty sure my brother never read that one. It is very difficult for the wealthy to go to heaven from the point of view of a peasant. I guess the truth is relative after all.

Music

Music

The only redeemer, really, is the sound of music. It is a beautiful thing, so evasive yet so naked, sublime and erotic; essentially spirit and sensuality at once. In my opinion it is expressed in what Ron, Mike, and I do on our instruments. I conceive that it is Freudian and Jungian both, but also neither. Basically it speaks the truth only hinted at by words. It goes under the net of language and everyday history and politics, mundane events, just what is and what happens. Music gives form to all external appearance while being itself the secret sitting in the middle and knowing. It is usia, prime substance, though insubstantial, spiritual, the essence of everything. Music is the Form of all forms, the Being of every outward face, an energy like libido, like the desire to Be and to create. It feels so awesome to participate in this act of becoming, of the shapeless taking shape out of inertia, nothingness. The strings, the sticks, the keys vanish to leave mere spirit, sound that is ultimately seeing. Music is not love, not reason; it is not this, not this; none of these things. It is the nonbeing giver of Being. 

Fiction and Fact

Ten o’clock. I just had my phone appointment with Rebecca, my worker in Salem. We talked a bit about disclosure of my diagnosis through the process of hiring a personal care attendant. She said it’s up to me. There’s still a lot of ignorance and stigma regarding schizophrenia. People don’t know what is involved in the illness, and they often get the wrong idea from the media. Even my brother believes the television before he believes the real thing. I used to think he was a smart guy. Why is it that we can be immersed in a real situation and still refute it because we saw a certain movie or tv show? The real evidence is right in front of us, but we judge it based on the media… Funny but I feel like such a vampire, a nonhuman phantom on the fringe of reality, only because of a poem I read the other day. There are a thousand ways to dramatize an ordinary phenomenon like mental illness, to glorify it or execrate it. Either way would be inaccurate. My blood is red just like yours, and my figure casts a shadow on the wall and a reflection in the mirror. The sun shines on me as it does on everybody.

At midnight last night I spent an hour listening to Tchaikovsky’s ballet suites. I love the way he throws a chromatic step into a sweeping melody in the strings. If these pieces were not so famous, the jarring effect would be a surprise. The waltz scene in Sleeping Beauty provides an example.

Eleven thirty. It’s another clear day. This afternoon I might return to the store for a second Snapple. Maybe I’ll get two of them. 

The New Renaissance

Six forty.

Gloaming of early morning outside my window. I feel rather good. Yesterday afternoon was a success for me, in that I got my point across to the other guys. I played my bass quite well, too. It probably sounded better to them than it did to me. The solo I took on “Bubble House” sucked. It was in G7, which is harder for me to solo over. But I really burned on “The Mincer,” in A7. If anything, I played too many notes… Aesop needs wet food again, and the store has just opened. At around eight o’clock I’ll go run my errand… I remember nearly crying (for the right reasons) when “Tom Sawyer” came on the PA in a certain waiting room. Rush did their songs with so much more intelligence than garden variety bands; with quality and taste, finesse and beauty. The other guys in my band aren’t very familiar with Rush, so I think I’ll make converts of them.

Seven thirty. I hear a birdsong outside my back door. The weather yesterday was insanely beautiful. Everybody got out of the house to do various activities.

Eight thirty. Melissa had a cold, but she sounds better today than yesterday morning. Camped across Maxwell Road from the store I saw a homeless man who kept himself company by talking to himself. It really annoys me when people say that homeless people choose to live that way, out of laziness or whatever. It’s the system that failed them, not the other way around. My park ranger nephew has some backward opinions, but luckily I don’t have to be around him… Some people are born without an aptitude that fits neatly into the job market. I’m one of them. There are no gainful jobs that allow for creativity and self expression in music or writing. People like me have to figure out another way or else fall through the cracks. Ayn Rand believed that the capitalist system could be manipulated to serve anyone who worked hard enough. I have serious doubts about that. Robert Pirsig said it doesn’t matter what work you do as long as you do it with quality. Again, I beg to disagree. And once again, in a perfect world… I envision a New Renaissance, a time when people can be what they want to be. Why is it that so many of us have a similar dream, yet the dream gets trampled by those with no imagination? 

World without End

Quarter after eleven.

I don’t know whether to write of the future or the past. Music: “Saved by Zero,” an old hit by The Fixx. I’m sitting here alone in my family room with my dog, just feeling, not knowing much. I guess I’ll attend church this Sunday morning and listen to the sermon. The last one was fairly innocuous and affirmative of life here and now. I hated the eschatological preaching last summer and fall. I’d prefer not to believe that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead or that his kingdom will have no end. Am I supposed to take this literally, or is it just rhetorical hot air? Either way, it doesn’t make me feel any better. Thinking more deeply, maybe I’ll stay home Sunday. Do some reading and play my guitar, contemplate the beautiful and true as I unlock the secrets of the fretboard… I wonder what to do with my stimulus payment, when it arrives? Maybe save it for air conditioning this summer. Maybe blow most of it on music gear.

Midnight hour. A thought that bugs me is how different my sister is from my mother. Still I refuse to believe that rock music is spiritually wicked, or that my mother was misguided. The virtue of music depends on how you use it.

Five o’clock. If I could play guitar as well as Jamie West-Oram on Phantoms, I’d be happy. I needn’t set my sights on John McLaughlin to start with; this would be unrealistic and frustrating. The way to let myself in is by the pleasure of the sweet sounds of the Strat. And I think I will write of the future…