Vision

Nine twenty five.

The cold I caught a week ago is nearly gone, though I still have mental fog and floaters in my vision. Gloria brought back my book on Australian aborigines, having read the whole thing. I sit here, convalescent, while she vacuums the carpets and hardwood floor.

Noon.

She’s gone again till Tuesday, and on my end, I feel very weak and still sick. But my thinker isn’t busted, at least not yet. The rain began in earnest about an hour ago, so now the scene has a silvery sheen mixed with the verdant flora; it’s a blur of green and gray. A while back I thought of the understated style of Paul Bowles as it relates to the indifference of nature and the cosmos. The gray ambiguity is everywhere with us, but it’s also up to people to define our existence and form it above the shapeless chaos. The microcosm, man, has decayed because the universe no longer makes sense. But it’s really the other way around: we have to exalt what is beautiful in ourselves and paint the Void with it. I’ve dreamed something like this before. The idea is nothing new since the time Faulkner started writing almost a century ago… The rain has ceased falling temporarily, but the meaning of it depends on my imagination. And a collective imagination can make the difference between the Pit and a life worth living… I frequently feel tempted to bend my steps back to church. But this means subordination to the pastor’s vision, and he is only a mortal like everybody. It’s so hard to know what to do. Just keep writing…

The Lesson of Paul Bowles

Quarter after nine.

The storm drain in the curb on Fremont Avenue simply doesn’t work like it should, so it creates a big hazard whenever it rains. I walked clear around the block on N Park to evade that huge pond. It was very dark gray out and the rain fell incessantly. On the street I found bits of tree debris from the windstorm last night. When I got to the store, Michelle was not there. I asked Cathy what had happened. She told me that Michelle’s daughter’s boyfriend was killed in a car crash last Friday, so she couldn’t be there today. As if she didn’t have enough tragedy on her plate already. But I know it’s absurd to believe that some people are magnets for misfortune. We all get our share of bad luck. Still it seems to be rather unequally distributed. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective? I really think it’s more about prudence and using good judgment. It’s also about self regard. Altogether it is a thing of rationality, as the Greeks taught us at the dawn of civilization. As for phenomena like luck, I doubt if there is such a thing. The essence of the irrational seems to be self abandon, which ends up destroying you. When I think of how I used to drink my life away, I’m at a loss to explain what happened. But underneath it all I believe I didn’t like myself very much.

Ten twenty five. To understand what reason is, you need to know about the irrational. And the meltdown of logic is what I observed by reading Paul Bowles. Reason and self love are inextricably related to each other. Bad things happen when self respect breaks down and you reflect the chaos of the outside world. Meanwhile, the rain never stops… 

Throwbacks

Eight fifty.

It’s a fact that stress makes the experience of psychosis worse. This afternoon I resorted to taking a gabapentin for my anxiety and it worked very well. I didn’t get around to reading the next story of Paul Bowles. When I look at his writing, it pulls up memories of being a client in Serenity Lane, whose approach to recovery was not a rational one but rather psychological like the old school, drawing on Freud and Jung mostly, and throwing in mega doses of the Bible, justifying it all with the Pragmatism of William James. My attraction to Bowles’ stuff harmonized with the other ideas I was exposed to over fifteen years ago, but that irrationalism just felt kind of wrong for me. It was everywhere at the time in my hometown and across the nation as well, and Alcoholics Anonymous enjoyed huge popularity.

So anyway, about a week ago I was browsing the Library of America website and found this Paul Bowles book sale priced and I couldn’t resist the temptation. I had really forgotten what his writing was about. I guess I’m still figuring that out, along with all the ideas I learned up to twenty years ago. Funny but many people I knew back then are either dead or changed beyond recognition. I wonder if I might be one of them? A face among a lot of ghosts in an old photograph no one ever saw… which is dug up, restored, and presented to the daylight of the post millennial public? 

Virtue and Vice

Quarter after ten.

Aesop is a little mad at me because I played an mp3 on my iPad. It’s the Christmas medley we’re supposed to do in church this year. I don’t think we can really do it justice but I guess we’ll take some poetic license with the song. An hour ago the weather was cold, wet, and windy, but I braved it to go to the store anyway. I stayed in bed until nine o’clock and struggled with my thoughts. It seems to me that Paul Bowles is pretty dark and wicked, and by contrast Emerson is the upholder of virtue. And from Emerson’s model on down the line there’s a continuous decline in moral worthiness in American literature. For the sake of my sobriety it’s better to read Emerson or maybe Twain, but avoid Bowles and Tennessee Williams. I might read just one more story in The Delicate Prey out of curiosity, but I’ll be on my guard. Doing this is like venturing into a deep and dark cavern full of bats and skeletons of old explorers who didn’t make it back out… Aesop is having a peanut butter cookie. It stays quiet in here while outside the wind is violent occasionally. I’ve had an unaccountably hellacious week with my mental health, and I’m inclined to blame it on my reading. 

“The Irrational”

Eight forty at night.

There are strong elements of the irrational in the two stories I read by Paul Bowles this afternoon. I think “Tea on the Mountain” is mostly about the conflict of two wills in the same individual woman’s mind, about saying one thing and doing quite the opposite. And for some reason, the irrational will gets its way in this story. I guess it depends on the model of psychology a person learns. Even the idea of “the irrational” is something rather dated and old school, though it can still be entertaining in the context of a horror story. It is a bit horrifying to think of human behavior being out of our conscious control, and subject to the caprices of the Freudian Id, similar to the symbol of the whale in Moby Dick. Or more abstractly still, like the forces of good and evil battling each other for supremacy within the human soul. It is chilling and entertaining if you don’t take it seriously, and sad and pitiful if you do.

More and more, I think psychodynamic theory is on its way out. The words “rational” and “emotive” come to mean something entirely different from the old school of psychology. Nowadays, “irrational” means thinking in black and white, whereas this used to describe rational thinking: as in Aristotelian logic, with the middle excluded… More and more, it becomes apparent that our concepts are made real or unreal by the language we use. So that we can talk ourselves right out of old ideas of irrationalism… and what use have we for Aristotle or Freud anymore? 

Chill

Nine o’clock.

My day is off to a pretty good start. I opened the front door to go out and found two Amazon packages on the top step. So I told Aesop that Santa Claus had been here. And then I hoofed it to the store like I do every morning. Last night I finally settled on a book to read, some stories by Paul Bowles. At one time he was my favorite writer, but now I’m not sure why. I must have perceived things differently 15 years in the past. It was before I met my cyber friend in the UK… I’m not repeating the Coke again today.

Ten ten. Aesop refused his dog food again. When he gets hungry enough he’ll eat. I have a friend who’s doing volunteer work for her local library right now, so I cheer her on. I feel I should be pursuing my music ambition in the community. I’ll make it a resolution to do that. My writing is sort of floundering lately, I don’t know why. I may be uninspired. It’s difficult to size up the attitudes of the age today. Some people are bickering over religion, but I’ve grown tired of that dispute and try to move beyond it to something more constructive… The writing of Bowles can be rather gruesome in places, but he’s always perceptive, albeit pessimistic or even hopeless sometimes. If no one else likes Paul Bowles, then I’ll claim him for mine… It’s a day of cloud cover and a bit of a chill outside. I’m thinking screw it, everything is going to be all right. Futurity is never a sheer wall you have to climb. Every second arrives effortlessly with the potential to do something out of your comfort zone. 

Saturnine Friday

Seven forty.

It’s cloudy this morning, yet the clouds are light and colorful, not gray and dark. Michelle the store clerk wore a mask with an astronomy theme: very pretty. She said she has quite a collection of masks. The general vibe at the market was low key, relaxed and easy. I bought four pounds of Dog Chow for Aesop; it’s expensive but it’s his favorite. There were two other customers besides me, a woman and a guy, both in their thirties or forties. Occasionally it hits me with a shock that I’ll be 55 in January. Bad enough that I’m a half century old, but the clock is still running. Hopefully the hourglass isn’t nearly empty; do I get another turn of the glass? As Paul Bowles put it, How many more times will you see the moon again? I could reply to him, How many more times will I read The Sheltering Sky? This reminds me of my old workplace years ago, where people were not allowed to think for themselves. Once I brought in a copy of the Bowles novel and lent it to a coworker who read it, but she lost the book somewhere. I believe she liked it, though… Almost time to feed Aesop… Another coworker opined to me that Bowles led a decadent lifestyle— without having read any of his stuff. This guy wore starched shirts and suspenders and touted Mark Twain. I wore sloppy sweatshirts and jeans and did my job as well as anybody. Some of the more educated people at the agency liked me. And I still think there’s nothing wrong with my choice of reading material.

Ten thirty. My life is ruled by a different force than most people: it’s the old Titan Cronus, father of Zeus, old Father Time by association with the planet Saturn. I’m just a Capricorn goat, which I sometimes forget controls my fate. Hopefully on my deathbed everything comes out in the wash and I rest in peace like the majority of people… The cooler climate today puts me in an odd state of mind. I can recall many things at will, from when life wasn’t so rosy, and yet it had a lesson to teach. Right now it’s super quiet in the room, and no sound across the street where Roger is working on his hobby. Silence is golden, as it is said.