Zeus and Cronus

As day wore on to evening, I had a backlash of conscience for having rejected pastor’s offer. And then my imagination compared the situation to a kind of father complex, like when Zeus defeated his father Cronus for control of the world. This idea has me wondering about the natural order of things. I remember a play by Ibsen, The Master Builder, whose theme was the fear of the coming generation by every parent. It’s a phenomenon in psychology called the Cronus complex, though there’s not a lot of information about it. My dad was very bad that way: doing his worst to keep me dependent on him so I couldn’t show him up and be better than he was. He even had a sign up in his office that read, “Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill.” He was a sick man in that he competed with his children to keep them down: the very epitome of insecurity. The truth is that he wasn’t very smart or particularly talented in anything. After he died, my brother did the same stuff with me, fearing to be defeated somehow by me. It’s a wicked thing that happens in families. Jeff is 14 years older than me. I could swear that he cheered me on to drink myself to death; a terribly toxic person in my life, so now I have no respect for alcoholics.

Every life is the growth of a flower towards the sun: or maybe more like a tree. Unfortunately there are others who try to deny us the sunlight. I had a weird dream about my old psychiatrist: he had a following of his protégés, as if he were some godlike figure with his own school of thought. Eventually, in real life, I broke with him and set out on my own, sort of writing my way to existence. To independence, that is. Funny but he never encouraged me to write. He wanted to create a bunch of clones of himself, as my dream expresses.

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Do We Need Stories?

Bite the Apple of Knowledge

This is the advice I would give to my neighbors and everyone cheated by biblical scaremongering on the issue of science, especially in the Old Testament. I knew one old guy from Minnesota who said it’s not okay for people to “know as much as God.” It’s one interpretation of Bible stories from Genesis and Job particularly; as if an individual would go to hell for daring to learn anything about nature; as if curiosity were a thing to be punished. Aside from scriptural authority, there’s no evidence for such a claim. Indeed, since antiquity it’s a tool used by people in power to control the masses, playing upon superstitious fear to intimidate and subjugate everyone.

What do you suppose would happen if you ate from the apple of the Tree of Knowledge, as Eve was tempted to do by the snake in the Garden of Eden? Is it possible for humankind to rewrite Milton’s epic of Paradise Lost, turning “man’s first disobedience” to a virtuous act, something more like Prometheus Bound? The juice of the apple is the same as the firelight of reason stolen from the gods in Aeschylus; or was reason native to human beings from the dim beginnings of time? What do we need stories for? The deeper the analysis, the more complex it becomes…

Perseus vs Medusa

Ten forty at night.

I don’t really know how to describe my past day.

Gloria told me I was at high risk for colon cancer and needed to get the exam done. Maybe that’s on my mind since this morning. I write it down, then my defenses go up and I have nothing more to say. It’s like paralysis—

Like the bird or mouse mesmerized by the rattlesnake. Deer in the headlights. Squirrel under your tires. Petrified: turned to stone by the eyes of the gorgon with snake-hair floating to frame her head. Frozen to an ice-statue by the witch in the Narnia story…

I guess this has been my Medusa Tuesday.

A Pop Culture Myth

Ten forty at night.

I just figured out one of my dreams, and it dealt with the father figure of darkness, specifically the relationship of Luke with Darth Vader. Star Wars is such a pop culture phenomenon that it’s virtually public domain and a part of the collective consciousness. It can be the source of feelings of paranoia. Luke knows what he can or can’t do that will piss his father off to bring persecution on his head. Is it a form of castration anxiety? Vader, as his father, is authoritarian, and good when he is pleased or terrible when angry. Luke is free to do anything but cut himself loose from his evil destiny. When he rebels, he’d better be prepared to face the worst of his father’s wrath concentrated on him, sort of like Job when he challenges God and the latter terrifies him with extreme displays of weather… So I half awoke, knowing that a misstep in this or that direction could ignite the father’s fury. Then I got up to write this post. And I remind myself of my father’s date of demise this Friday.

Faust in His Study

Eleven o’clock at night.

Every season, for me, has its share of memories layered in transparencies, like peering into a deep well of feelings. When I got myself a new book of King Lear, it was a commemorative impulse to mark something that happened 35 years ago. Basically, an old flame and emotional scar. The plot thickened earlier today when I felt an impression from ten years in the past, jogged by the drizzly spring weather plus the circumstance of my utility company wanting to trim my oak tree away from the power line, last done in 2012. Spring is always a romantic time of year for me, and as I get older, a time of nostalgia… Sometimes I wonder what difference it makes whether I drink or not, yet I know drunkenness is to live in a pickled dream.

A few years ago, stoicism was a fad, and everybody was jazzed about Marcus Aurelius. What is trendy today? I don’t think we’ve figured that out yet, but if someone says Jung, I’ll counter it with Freud; and if you say Alan Watts, I’ll just shake my head. A week ago I poked around my bookshelf for Andersen’s Fairy Tales and by luck I turned up the Confessions of Augustine in two little red volumes. It’s not really my cup of tea, yet I sat with one of them, scanning the contents. What interested me most was a historical figure named Faustus, versed in “natural science” of the day, probably an astrologer. It seems that the Faust legend is based on a real, historical person that Augustine actually met in the fourth or fifth century AD. Our imaginations have done the rest…

Avalon

Quarter of nine.

Michelle is in quarantine with Covid for two weeks, I was told just today. Getting to market this morning was a bit tricky because of a work crew tearing up the sidewalk. The guys were quite unconcerned about a pedestrian like me going through; I felt invisible. The cars were beginning to back up all the way to the Maxwell overpass, awaiting directions from the men in lime green. When I got up today at eight o’clock, it was incredibly dark outside. Some days have a bizarre vibe to them. In general it feels like history can’t decide which way it wants to go. Even stranger to think that people are making history with every passing moment. Roger just fired up his old Ford and idled it for a minute. Before I left the house, an impulse made me pull out a book given to me by a friend in 1999. It is Journey to Avalon: The Final Discovery of King Arthur. At the time, I was surprised that anyone could take the legends historically, as if they were founded in fact. But a few years later, a counselor asked me if I understood the Bible as history. And the answer was no. Anne Sexton wrote that the need for belief is not the same as actually believing. I still wonder why I fished for that Avalon book this morning; what am I going to do with it? Now, Roger drives away in his gargling old truck. It’s breakfast time for my dog. 

Achilles’ Heel

Nine o’clock.

More cold rain today and the sky is dark gray. After taking out the trash I walked to the market. Crossing the puddle at the intersection of Fremont wasn’t easy and I got my feet wet and frigid. People on Maxwell Road were driving their cars insane, heedless of the weather conditions, so I felt a little scared and also outraged. The cars on the other side of N Park were lined up to make a left turn, coming back from the middle school. I mostly thought of how I didn’t really want to be there this morning, with my feet all wet and my umbrella so burdensome in my right hand while I carried the same old shopping bag in my left. I would’ve preferred to stay home where it was warm and dry. I thought, What kind of madman am I for not stocking up on groceries but instead making a run every single day? It turned out okay I guess, but I’m sitting here now with my foot still chilled from the dunk in the mud puddle; or was it like a baptism all over again? 

Nameless

Nine twenty five.

It is strange to be standing on the bridge between two contrary ways of processing information, the realistic and the romantic. Usually I’m dedicated to the first mode, but then something can happen to plunge me into the primitive, a place of considerable power if not light, like the plunge into Arthurian murk and legend. I had a friend once who gifted me a book that took a serious perspective on the island of Avalon where Arthur was supposedly buried. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed about that: how could anybody confuse a myth with factual history? It was similar to the efforts of some people to search for the remains of Noah’s Ark, the locus of something miraculous that happened. Conveniently, the miracles we hear about took place remotely in time or in place or both. It’s convenient because it makes the truth impossible to verify, to either prove or disprove, so our imagination is free to float in the haze. This condition is anathema to the logical positivists, who subject statements to logical analysis. If a statement refers to nothing empirical and realistic, it is empty of meaning and not worth consideration… When I was younger and more susceptible, I imagined that what the ancient Greeks believed was true: that poetry and music were inspired by the Muses, which in modern thought meant the Jungian unconscious, or for the Romantics, a nameless Power of creativity. Sometimes I still get a glimpse of that old style of thinking, though it makes me uncomfortable to go there anymore. It means surrendering control and letting myself be possessed— but by what? 

Zodiac My Weakness

Nine ten at night.

I think maybe I missed my calling in life: I should have been a clinical psychologist and helped people with their problems. But first I had to surmount my own stuff, like the schizophrenia and alcoholism. By far the alcoholism was the deadlier disease. And it’s possibly the kind of thing that runs its course until you come to an impasse of choosing life or death. The spirit of intoxication is really the devil in a bottle, or perhaps it’s the Grim Reaper with scythe poised over your head. Who else carried a sickle in mythological tradition? It was Saturn, the Roman agricultural god, known to the Greeks as Cronus, father of Zeus. According to the tradition, Saturn showed the Romans how to make wine. The name of Saturn was probably related to the name of the devil for Hebrews, but the only evidence I have for that is in a book of astrology by Ronald Davison, and he gives no sources for his claim… So much for impressionistic thinking on alcoholism. Now I’ve lost my train of thought.

I was just on Amazon and ordered Parkers’ Astrology, a book that was recommended to me by a bookseller friend about twenty years ago. The copy I bought from her I ultimately threw away because of the superstition that was prevalent in 2009 or so. But today I feel free to come and go on the topic of the zodiac. It’s a fascinating thing, the way it puts mythology into practice, assigning meanings to the planets, which in turn exert an influence on human fates; unless it’s all a self delusion. Still, astrology is an art that has been around for a few thousand years. In a nonspecific way, even Thomas Hardy subscribed to the fatalism of the stars, whether provident or improvident, and he wrote his novels so persuasively, compelling you to believe his worldview. But the greatest confrontation with fate is to read Ancient Greek tragedies by such playwrights as Aeschylus… 

Defense of King Midas

Nine twenty at night.

I had a sad dream a while ago about my mother; she was lonely and wanted me to drink with her. But it’s not like she visited me from beyond the grave. I simply remember her: she’s a part of my nervous system, which chucks up these images, randomly or otherwise, I couldn’t say for certain. But it’s also true that next month marks twenty years without her, so she’s been on my mind subconsciously. I can recall the first book I finished reading after she passed away: Typee by Herman Melville, and it felt so strange being in the house alone all day and night. Additionally I had the rest of the family to deal with, a totally different culture from Mom and Dad. Is it fair to call her a thoughtless epicure or was there more to her character than that? 

First of all, I wouldn’t say that hedonism is ever totally thoughtless; in some ways it’s an intelligent lifestyle. When two or more people get together who agree on pleasure, life can be paradise for them temporarily. The toughest dilemma ever for me was the decision between Epicurus and Zeno, or between Dionysus and Apollo. King Midas was given a pair of donkey’s ears because he preferred the music of Pan to that of Apollo: he was spiritually deaf, for Apollo represented the divine. But surely there’s another perspective on this story. Certainly Pan’s pipes produced a music that was very pleasing to the ear, though it wouldn’t be preachy like a moral sermon, but rather something sensual and fun to experience: it would make you feel good. And the real virtue of Midas’ preference was the rarity of it. Any garden variety person would have picked Apollo’s lyre, but King Midas was different from the norm. So I guess that’s sort of like my mother, sipping brandy and collecting gemstones from television offers. She was one of a kind.