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…
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.
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?
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?
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…
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.
I used to be better at perceiving subtexts in everyday speech than I am now, for a couple of reasons. One is that I take a good medication for weeding out nonsense. Secondly, I realize that most people don’t employ Freud’s techniques of dream analysis anymore, because truly they get things out of context like a person with schizophrenia. Nor does anyone read the fiction of Henry James these days, which was from the same Victorian era of innuendo and suggestion… I get so tired of my uphill fight every day. I’d much rather make myself disappear in a state of drunkenness… and for some reason I just remembered a tale from the Arabian Nights: “The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad.” Thirty years ago when I first fell ill, the idea of The 1001 Nights represented to my mind a kind of secret knowledge encrypted in symbolism.
Quarter after seven. In a way, I was actually kind of right about that. Much of the Nights is fairytales and folklore that can be analyzed in a psychological way. But if I were to read something like “The Ebony Horse” again, the unconscious content would probably be lost to me. Just out of curiosity I should try it. It’s possible that the thing we call the “unconscious” is really just a fiction and a sort of swindle created by people like Freud and Jung in the past century. I’m not usually a cynical thinker, however… Well it’s the next morning and I should go to the store before my appointment with Rebecca.
Eight thirty. Right now I miss my mode of thought from working days about 15 years ago. I met with my coworker Alice a few times at a Mexican restaurant called Mucho Gusto in the Oakway Center and we’d talk about my job and my future. Those late mornings were often beautiful, and once we walked over to Borders Books and Music for a look around… My mentality then was more Jungian, but now I see that it wasn’t well suited to reality and social interaction. Kind of like going around in a perpetual dream state, which though pleasant was not realistic or practical. I think it’s better to be able to communicate with other people and be understood. If the unconscious is indeed a fact, then right now the truth of it is unavailable to me, perhaps sadly. So I might verse myself again in Arabian tales and the Brothers Grimm to enrich my experience of life and feel something larger than my ego; to feel something period. It’s another nice day in July, a day to be enjoyed.
Quarter after six.
I’ve probably done a bad thing today, but I said what I had to say to my friend in Texas. Maybe we won’t be as close after this. Life for everyone has changed a great deal since this year began. Dunno; I had a long and lonely weekend with a lot of frustrations and pains in the butt. I keep saying to myself how unhappy I am with my life currently because I don’t feel like I’m free. Life is strange, though I wonder if I’m trying to blame other people for my own situation? I knew a friend who said that the only limitations you have are those you place on yourself. And what could be freer than verbal self expression?… I think I might pop the plastic on my book of Jack Kerouac and do some reading. I suppose some relationships wear out with time, or when things get to be a strain on each person. I only know that I haven’t been happy for a long time and I feel ready for a change. Christianity doesn’t make me feel good anymore. I chafe against it, striving for more freedom just to be myself. The cookie cutters that form every individual are each so different. Life for me is less like Jesus and more like Walt Whitman.
Seven twenty. I guess I’ll go take a nap for a few hours. Tomorrow there’s still nothing on my plate, so I’ll have to make a trip to Bi Mart or something to break the monotony.
Quarter after eleven.
I dreamt about a little Jewish guitarist friend that I used to know in the past two decades and who was kind to me, though he was illicit and rather dangerous to be around. He used to work as chef at Hole in the Wall Barbecue in Springfield, but I’ve lost touch with him since July 2012. I just wonder why I keep dreaming about him… Before I fell asleep, I started thinking of the series of events I set in motion as of last December, when the band came together again to practice the day after Christmas. Gradually over six months, I have separated from the church in spirit as I committed myself to rock and roll with the guys… which might be a mistake. It’s been a process of secularization, stepping away from the sacred and toward the profane, though such terms are too general and dramatic for the real things that happened. It is hyperbolic to say something like I’ve been dancing with the devil or whatever, and it borders on psychosis or some other extravagance of the imagination: it’s just a fantasy. And yet, without my medication for schizophrenia, this daydream would be very real to me, and terrifying. So now I ponder why society has a counterculture like rock and roll: and why do we call the devil the Beast? Probably there’s no devil except for ourselves, and our dark animalistic instincts simply need a place for expression: et voila the rock and roll revolution.
After midnight. I still have doubts about what I’m doing with music, however. I feel as if I’d gone astray like Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep. “Let them alone and they’ll come home / Bringing their tails behind them.” The myths we live by can be larger than life sometimes. I just don’t understand why I have to take a drug to reduce cultural fantasies to a manageable size. What’s up with that?
Quarter after eight. Michelle was cute this morning, with a cobalt blue T-shirt that said, “Well bless your heart!” We talked about the products of a regional food company: potato salad, summer sausage, dips, and so on are all good from this place. Aesop needed his canned food, so I looked for that and my usual stuff. The music by Chick Corea I heard the other night was very pretty, particularly the four slow songs I have in mind. Sometimes I really enjoy good jazz fusion. Unfortunately it’s a dying art, just not popular anymore as our culture grows increasingly primitive and selfish. No one has any time for beautiful things, time to unwind and be fully human. It’s kind of an Ayn Rand existence for us: always technical with no space for feelings and sensibility, as if we were slave to our own machine heads. In this regard I am very old school. The technocracy is running our legs off and will be the end of us. And to compensate for this state of affairs we defer all happiness to an afterlife that probably doesn’t exist. The job of a musician is to make people happy here and now, today. You get loose with a little wine and groove on the sound of music and maybe reflect a bit on the lyrics. What are we here for anyway if not for happiness? “It is not the reason that makes us happy or unhappy.” Still, we keep getting it backwards and make ourselves miserable, and life is pointless except for the desert oasis known as music.
Nine twenty five. The psychiatrist I left behind often quoted Freud on the two primary functions of humankind: to work and to love. But what music does sort of combines the two modes… My bass guitar will arrive this afternoon, between the noon hour and five o’clock. I feel excited but also a little nervous about the uncertainty when it comes: what might go wrong? I just hope the instrument isn’t damaged in shipping, and my dog is going to act berserk, barking his head off… The weather is still sunny and bright, though this Saturday it’s supposed to start raining. Tomorrow I have a follow up appointment with my primary care provider, which means a long taxi ride to Springfield again. But it’s okay; I sort of like Springfield sometimes. I miss my psychiatrist when I don’t think about it. I have to remind myself of my reasons for terminating with him four years ago. I feel as if I’d rebelled against a father figure, and done like Zeus to his father Cronus in classical mythology. Not only does he murder him, but he liberates his siblings who had been swallowed up before him. It is a powerful story of rebellion and independence, and the defeat of tyranny…
Quarter of noon. I ate the potato salad like a glutton and opened the mango Snapple. I’m in a weird mood today. I know I’m dreading my procedure a month away, and I wonder how I can weasel out of it. My healthcare insurance people have sent me another package. I imagine it’s a cancer detection kit. I won’t open it for a while… Part of me wishes I could drink beer and really enjoy my life again, but drinking enough is drinking too much. When I start to drink, there’s no way I can stop. Probably I’m just looking for a means of escape from the unpleasant situation. It feels rather cold in here. At the same time, the sun is coming out. I don’t feel as if my life were under my control, but I’m going to do something about that.
Quarter of two. I gave my white Fender bass a good workout, thinking of my old friend JP, a very talented musician who had chronic depression. We met on a beautiful Labor Day in 2003 at his place in the Whitaker neighborhood. His friend Dave was also there and played guitar… I feel very different today. The weather is like spring, a time of rebirth and renewal, but it’s also calling up thoughts and images in my memory. And I ponder why my worldview can’t be Romantic like it was 18 years back. The moon was always a beautiful sight, and the idea of it inspired me with dreams and poetry— and madness. The moon compelled tides of alcoholism the same as the ocean. Eventually I forgot that it exists in the sky or in my mind. I linked the essence of it with my mother somehow. Now it’s merely a stone in the heavens, devoid of personal meaning. Maybe there’s something wrong with that? When I behold the moon above, I’m surprised that it isn’t cracked in two pieces. It has withstood a lot of therapy, but not its copy within my soul. What would it take to restore it to wholeness and light?