Uranus

Now Gloria has left for the day. It’s a beautiful day of azure skies, which evokes the poem by Mallarme. I should see if his French clicks for me when I pick it up. I’m not very good with it anymore. Is it really possible to imagine heaven on the other side of the sky? Not after we’ve put a man on the moon and seen the shape of the earth from there.

Philosophy is indeed very old and obsolete for some people. We’re going with a quantitative approach to knowledge overall, so that people like me have nothing to say. What can qualitative people do today, where we don’t need poetry or music, or even just a human touch as when I grew up? Suddenly a CD by Stanley Clarke comes up: If this Bass Could Only Talk. Jazz is even less alive than rock music now. The same summer my friends and I heard that disc, I bought a Steinberger bass and was so excited. The strange thing was that other musicians in Eugene were so conservative that they hated anything modern and progressive, thus it was an uphill battle that I eventually lost. A Steinberger would’ve been fine in a big city like New York or Los Angeles but it roused mistrust in Oregon. Eugene and Springfield were blues towns with a little bit of jazz: very traditional and not very imaginative, as I saw it. But it was my mother who had the taste for originality and innovation. She believed these things were real and possible in human life. She thought that new things exist under the sun, like Milton’s Lucifer inventing cannon for the war in heaven, or raising the city of Pandemonium in hell in a matter of seconds. In other words, unlike with Ecclesiastes, all was not vanity to my mother’s mind. It’s more like Poe and The Beatles: pushing the envelope for progress in everything, but especially anything creative. But I ended up selling the Steinberger bass because if you can’t beat them you must join them. And yet there’s a big part of me that doesn’t buy that at all.

Sonnet

Hans Pfaal

On one side time, eternity the other:
The Dickinsonian sky’s a leaden veil
By grace so interposed that human eye
Won’t be offended and the heart won’t quail.

The landscape shows us nothing but a screen,
Blank sheet on which we paint the natural world
From Spiritus Mundi within ourselves,
Like raveling out the colors in us furled.

But if we really want to know the truth,
One way to revelation can obtain:
To ride the hills and canyons on the moon
For Eldorado someplace in the brain.

And travel by balloon’s the surest path:
You navigate by myth and not by math. 

Pinball / New Ideas

Nine twenty five.

Feeling nervous about my coming trip to the agency at ten o’clock. Not very happy about it. Last night I realized how much I was craving alcohol at a subconscious level, betrayed by figurative language: rain and water imagery mean drinking alcohol to my mind… I feel lousy and low energy. I’m waiting in my driveway for the taxi to come get me. It feels like the world is falling apart, but I can’t do anything about it.

Quarter of one. That went pretty well, and Misty made me a new appointment for the end of August while I was there. The sun has come out, a better color than recently. They’re saying that some of the smoke has cleared around here. I’ve decided to give the Sturgeon novel another chance out of curiosity. Think I’ll spend an hour with it this afternoon and suspend judgment.

Quarter of eight.

At the end of my nap just now I dreamt about my nephew Ed. He was trapped within a giant lightbulb, the spinning filament of which grew more rapid and more lethal the longer he waited to get out of it. The suspense was like “The Pit and the Pendulum.” I woke up before the dream was resolved. My sister hasn’t returned my call from yesterday morning, so I’m a bit concerned for her family. I know it’s no good to try to guess what’s happening with them, though my mind will still weave dreams to fill the blanks until I have more information. I wonder what persuaded Ed to get a job as a park ranger? It has become one of those cliche occupations associated with very conservative people, sort of like flower arranging for women, which my sister used to do. It only shows how easy it is for us to be pigeonholed and subdivided by this machine called society. Very strange to watch it happen to people you know as they are shot out like balls in a pinball game, hitting this and that bumper for points until they disappear down a hole. It’s not an original metaphor, either, but one provided from a stock of images for anyone to buy.

Quarter after nine.

And now I suspect that being original is an exercise in futility when we live in a consumerist society with everything mapped out for you before you even exist. I should take a look at Auden’s poetry, particularly to reread “The Unknown Citizen.” Salinger nailed it very shrewdly with The Catcher in the Rye. Suddenly I realize that my feelings now are echoes of me from when I was twenty years old; but what I feel is no less genuine for being an adolescent’s feelings. Everyone takes a ride on the carousel, even if you choose not to do so. The rain falls on everybody’s head. Whether a player or a spectator, we’re all in the game. You can sit and watch the skaters on the rink, but someone’s also watching you. Sartre: we live only in the eyes of other people. Green means go, red means stop. But is it really hopeless to dream up a new idea? Maybe I’ll be the one to find this out. 

Cartesian Revolution

Noon thirty. I’m so lazy and lethargic, and basically epicurean. It’s all about pleasure. If it doesn’t feel good, then why do it? My mentality is sort of like that of John Keats. Everything boils down to pleasure, and this is just like my mother. My sister is the polar opposite of her. The house my parents established long ago is similar to the Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, and equally forbidden. “Weave a circle round him thrice / And close your eyes with holy dread.” I don’t think I can ever be converted to stoicism. Even the work I do is done for the pleasure of it. But rather than berate myself, I can share my pleasures with other people. I rummaged through some books and found two more copies of The Rationalists. I ought to put at least one of them in the book share. Today I feel lazier than usual, and depressed. 

The funny thing about Descartes and the others is how irrelevant they are to a Christian society. Unamuno writes of the “man of flesh and bone,” which is a Christian, a realistic person, as opposed to the philosophers who were way out in left field. People in the poorhouse have little need for Descartes, or so it is believed. The only thing available to them is religion. But if you think about it, what if the Gideons gave away pocket copies of The Rationalists? What could it hurt to have people thinking independent thoughts about the structure of reality and God? Goodness no, we can’t have that! But due to this attitude of suppression, I’m yet more determined to share the information somehow or other. Original thought is hard to come by in a world that discourages it. The world needs a bunch of Cartesians running around. 

Friday Night

Quarter after five. I noodled around on the green bass again, toward the end using my thumb to get more of an upright bass tone. I once had an old Disney record with fairytales narrated to the accompaniment of acoustic bass and congas. My dad bought me this at Bi Mart when I was probably five years old. The walking bass lines were jazzy and a little strange, which befitted the weirdness of folklore… I just found it on Amazon. It was released in 1969, but I didn’t see any credits for the narrator or the musicians. I may still have my old copy among my vinyl records.

Quarter after six. It’s 88 degrees outside, and will be 102 tomorrow. I learned that I gained about ten pounds while at the doctor. It’s a good sign. Roxanne will be here soon. No sweat.

Eight thirty. Home again. I realized something while at church: most people haven’t learned how to think critically about metaphysics. There’s not an original thinker in the church except for me and maybe Pastor. It’s like a sin to be able to think for yourself. Your mind is expected to be on autopilot in church, or at least at the one I go to. I feel like the last living human being when I’m among the other members, whose intellects are all dead. It is a strange experience, and it feels a little dangerous. The world deserves to be as awake as I am. Freethinking is our natural birthright, so why are so many people in intellectual chains? Nobody dares to do the kind of thing Descartes did anymore— or not at my church. I sense that I’m heading for more trouble with the Lutherans.

Afternoon (Sunday)

Pastor sent us an email with a link to the recorded service and reported that 12 people attended this morning. This was more than I expected. I’m glad I didn’t go. Too many rules and regulations due to coronavirus made a mockery of worship service. And again, I don’t go to church for the God stuff. I’ve changed a great deal since a year ago. Seven months ago I had that conversation with Tim at Black Rock cafe. He said I had become part of the family and people depended on me. Also, D— was concerned about my crisis of faith; but I had already known that about her, based on the nasty card she gave me for Christmas three years ago. All that time I was recovering from alcoholism and not very astute for a while. I don’t remember a lot of things that happened in church because I was barely conscious.

Quarter after two. The sun 🌞 has come out and the sky mostly cleared up. I feel like buying myself a present. Yesterday I browsed the Norton anthologies on Amazon and found a few nice ones. Or I could buy Aesop a nice meaty bone 🍖 just for the fun of it… I ordered a six pack of bones for Aesop, coming Tuesday. Filled with peanut butter. My book of Elizabeth Bishop is due any day now. I could buy a book of Sophocles… Should I ask Roger about helping me finish my J Bass? What color would be good? Cobalt blue would be pretty. But first, the headstock has to be shaved down. I don’t even know what shape I want. Ideally I should get myself a work bench and set it up in the garage.

Four o’clock 🕓. I just played my J Bass: sounds like Geddy Lee. Again I perceive how my bass playing depends on mimesis, on imitating the sound of somebody famous. Otherwise I’m uninspired to do music on a bass guitar. I wonder if all art is basically mimetic? Is creativity simply combining the same elements in new ways? Like Wallace Stevens in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I used to deny this opinion, thinking originality is just what it is. My friends believed so too. But now when I listen to the music I wrote long ago I hear Rush influence all over it. Deep down I wished I could actually be Rush, until I heard Jaco Pastorius and wanted to be his clone. I went to foolish extremities to realize my dream. So maybe all along it was good enough to just be myself in music as well as in life. Whom do I emulate today? Is there anybody I’m trying to be like? I can only think of the character John Proctor in The Crucible for now. Tomorrow it’ll be someone else.

33 Years

Toward one o’clock. I tried putting Aesop out while I played my bass. It worked okay, though he got a little panicked. Still, he didn’t bark or make any noise. My practice was uninspired and not very good. TBH, I can’t decide what I want. Because of the Covid stalemate, I’m stuck. Mark the drummer asked me to be patient… Sheryl the therapist was either ignorant or evil, maybe both. But I think she was just being trendy with the sexual stuff, along with a lot of people. No one knows who starts the trends or where they will go. People are sheep looking for a shepherd, and they find it in the media. A few people are self directed, which is a good thing, however clumsy they may come across. I doubt if I will ever celebrate Christmas again, just because it isn’t logical. Possibly there’s something wrong with me, a deficiency of some kind. Or maybe it’s a surplus of something? Even my brother admitted that I have “balls” for staying sober where he can’t. Somehow I resist collectivism, and it may go back to having read Ayn Rand 33 years ago. At some level I recall the whole story of The Fountainhead, and how the original intellect wins the struggle against the secondhand spongers. My elders in the workplace said I was ridiculous for liking Rand’s philosophy; said she was a crank, and that her ideas were inhuman. They told me there’s nothing new under the sun. Indeed, they sounded just like the bad guys in The Fountainhead. But I must say that what keeps me sober and strong is not so much religion as it is my recollection of Ayn Rand from many years ago. I remembered the story and kept it safe for future reference. Thirty three years later, it proves to be my guiding light.

Original Copies

Four twenty five. Bass practice went much better today because I’d listened to some real music early this week. It stoked my mental ear with the sound of music, and then I could imitate what I’d heard. The activity of music is vitally mimetic, as I’m realizing more and more. Is there such a thing as originality? Music began in prehistory as mimesis of natural sounds, according to Schoenberg. Now in our time, music imitates other music. It is a process of copying what we hear. Plato said poets are liars, for they make copies of real life, which in turn copies the world of the Forms. During the Renaissance, it was believed that nature was God’s art, and human art copied nature. So what then is ever original in music and the other arts? Perhaps it’s just an accident of people being individuals. No two perceptions are exactly alike, nor can we reproduce what we see and hear precisely like the original. Art is mimesis, but the endeavor is not perfect: fortunately for us. Life would be boring if we knew the absolute truth. It would be Paradise regained, but this means an end to time.