Double Edge

Quarter after nine.

My neighbor Lenore went away and left her dog overnight. The dog isn’t happy about it, barking her displeasure with being deserted. I feel quite dysphoric this morning, just the general bad sensation of aging. I asked for ibuprofen at the store, but they only had acetaminophen, or naproxen for ten bucks. Much of life is balancing pleasures and pains, hopefully minimizing the latter. There’s no question of maximizing pleasure anymore except on rare days. Last night I thought of someone who used to be a clerk at the market maybe ten years ago or more, a redhead named Pam. I only remember that she liked ZZ Top and chili dogs with ketchup, but she was very nice to me. I was such a lush back then, but she never judged or criticized. I think the summertime is playing weird tricks on my mind, bringing old feelings to light. I was never really a saint, notwithstanding the years in the church. I just want to enjoy my life again, so perhaps the rock and roll has superseded my religious identity. Time will tell. There is plenty to be said for liberty, for simply being a natural human. Or is this just crazy?

Quarter after ten. Right now there’s no breeze outside; the air is as still as death. The neighbors are noisy, shouting and banging car doors. I think of my brother from many decades ago, driving a red Volkswagen van he named Barney. Nothing impeded him from taking a road tour across the United States and Canada, living life to the hilt. But he also often said, “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” which might serve as a warning to me today. 


Quarter of eight.

The song in my head: “Message of Love” by The Pretenders. The turn of the eighties makes me think of cherry Bubble Yum and Pop Rocks and Lemon Pepsi. Trashy Edgar Rice Burroughs books. The occasional rendezvouses with my nephews where they lived on Morningside Drive, with the church right next door. We played Space Invaders and Pac-Man and frisbee golf. I always bought a book when I had any money. It was such a pleasure to find The Warlord of Mars at the Waldenbooks in the Valley River Center. At the same time, these memories bring me pain.

Quarter after nine. At the end of my street I met with a crow in a treetop of Colin’s house. “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore!’” Then on N. Park a young man was walking his pointer dog, heading south. I followed behind him past Randy’s lot of ruined cars. I didn’t notice much of anything else, feeling a nebulous ache in my body and mind. Maybe I don’t want to go to church tonight. The thought flits across my awareness here and there. Out of a black sky beams a ray of sunshine, outwardly and inwardly. Except for my music, my life is going nowhere. Where would somewhere be? A life of satisfaction and pleasure, along the lines of my parents. I suppose I’m feeling like a dry drunk, a person irritable without his alcohol. And again I remember the consolation of freedom and responsibility, of philosophy in general. It is good just knowing that I am empowered in word and deed. Certain social ties I wish I could cut, and I believe I’m free to do that, but also responsible for the outcome. I could brush up my French and reread Les Jeux Sont Faits. There’s a lot of things I could do with my time, with the end purpose of a little pleasure. Any task is like eating a Tootsie Pop: you lick the sucker to get to the chocolate center. Everything is candy. 

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. 

Rainbow Sherbet

Quarter after nine.

It’ll be Michelle at the store today, so I’m happy about that. The song in my head is “Speak Like a Child” by Jaco Pastorius, one I hadn’t thought of in a long time. I wonder what prompted it? I got my original copy of this album in the winter of 1989, but not sure where. Someplace Downtown or in the Valley River Center.

Ten thirty. I spoke with a handful of people while I was out just now. Kim gave me a piece of quiche, saying it was her first attempt at it with a crust. It tasted great to me, especially the peppers and ham. She told me a little more about her husband’s life. The first person I encountered was Colin, walking his dog Lolo up our street. We talked a bit about the postal service and receiving our ballots in the mail. At the store, Suk said hi, and Michelle assured me that there will be cottage cheese tomorrow. The weather is beautiful again today, the sunshine soft and orange. Part of me would love to glut my senses with some pleasure, as in the old days. But I have to settle for sunshine and poetry for my sources of beauty. I’ve also been invited to record with the church singers Saturday night, so maybe I’ll go and do that. It should be a colorful time to go see my friends in church. Color is what my life lacks, making it a T or F existence, logical and devoid of quality. It’s like food without flavor, no seasoning of any kind. There’s something to be said for taste in human life. I think most people would agree on the importance of color and harmony, like savoring a good rainbow sherbet. Or maybe a lyric poem by Wallace Stevens? The stark words in black and white belie the impression of a prismatic spray between the lines… 

Utility Is Simple

You have to face down your worst fears if you’re going to quit drinking. One of mine was that I might turn out to be some sociopath. The way my family reacted to me, I never knew. My grandmother and my sister had such extreme views on “selfishness”— really very irrational and unrealistic. My sister’s speeches always harp on this same string. It is the only moral philosophy she knows. But not even the Bible condemns egoism, or makes a huge issue of it. Anyhow, I had to reject the family doctrine that “selfishness is wrong.” If I hadn’t, then I would still worry about being a psychopath.

Nine ten. Now I don’t know: was my education from the University of Oregon an evil thing? It was secular, but that doesn’t necessarily mean wicked. Then there’s my sister’s religion with its built in racism. People have various attitudes toward sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet everyone believes that they are right. I guess a moderate position is the one to take when I consider all the extremes, the polarities that divide people. And breezing through everything are the winds of change. Historians say that history is cyclical and tends to repeat itself. Philosophers say that history is a rational process, working toward ever greater freedom. Ultimately, humanity is free and responsible to choose whichever way it goes. We can go in a better direction, or we can steer ourselves further into the darkness. Meanwhile, I go about my daily peripatetic routine, taking in the sights and sounds, trying to be a good utilitarian, keeping people happy. Happiness is a simple concept, nor is it difficult to practice.

Constraints of Pain

Eight thirty.

I got ahold of Darcy. I still have to wait another day to talk to Todd. I told her it was uncomfortable but not dire. She sounded embarrassed or at a loss… Next door, Jennifer is mowing her lawn. Damien was a no show and no call yesterday. I just texted him to see if he’s okay. The sky is partly cloudy, with the sun shining right now. When I get the craving for alcohol, it’s hard for me to think about anything else. The main reason I don’t try it is because it could put me in the hospital. My instability on the medication has a lot to do with the cravings. Right now the tinnitus is bad. A high buzzing sound. And if it isn’t tinnitus, then it’s a hallucination, which makes it a tough call… I’d like a treat, either a Coke or a container of ice cream. Something sweet to make me feel better. People don’t do illicit things unless they are in pain of some kind. This only makes sense. And there are many ways to be in pain… Going to the store now.

Treating Myself

Seven thirty five.

I slept much better last night. Some strange dreams about volunteering for the church. There was only one time when a counselor backed down on religiosity a bit. She shared a study with me that indicated the efficacy of 12 Step and cognitive behavioral treatment for addiction to be about the same. She said there was no difference in the results. She was being honest. This was in 2003. I was doing very well in my first recovery, and for that reason, Lisa put the skids on religious discussion in group. But after I graduated from aftercare, she returned to business as usual. I went back to her in 2005 when I relapsed, and it was never the same again. I sat through one group that made me feel like sliding through the floor. The religious treatment was the only game in town for many years. Cognitive behavioral caught on in Eugene very gradually. It seems to have worked for me in avoiding alcohol. Efficacy is the bottom line.

Another cloudy morning, looking like rain. Probably I will go to the store at nine o’clock, and I feel like a Coke today. My shoulder hurts. I think I’m really done with beating myself up. I’m going to treat myself to something pleasant and fun. Masochism is senseless. We should enjoy our lives while we’re here. If it feels good, then it is good. I will read Baldwin instead of Hugo. Then at around noon I can kick out the jams with my bass guitar.

A Lesson

Quarter of three. As long as I can distance myself from Hugo while reading him, I think I disagree with his condemnation of pleasure. If it is done socially, pleasure is a good thing. And for support I would rally John Stuart Mill. Some people get very jaded as the consequence of someone’s overindulgence in fun and happiness. Perhaps I don’t because I myself am an alcoholic, though not actively. Dunno; my argument against Hugo could be a losing one. It appears that everything that I call wisdom Hugo would denounce as frivolity, mere entertainment. If it’s a matter of honesty, still there is no proof that Christian stoicism is the truth.

This reminds me of a character in Jane Eyre, her cousin St John who asked her hand but did not love her in a romantic way. Jane finally rejected him, crying, “I scorn your love!” In the end she made the right decision and went back to Rochester— who really did desire her. It may be Bronte’s word against Hugo’s, and as of now I side with Charlotte Bronte. We see St John defeated in her version, and he represents Christian stoicism. Jane Eyre married Rochester because she wanted to be happy… I hadn’t thought of the Bronte book in many years. It stands as a great life lesson. Kate and I discussed it a few times, and now it seems to epitomize our relationship. Like Jane Eyre, Kate did the right thing for herself…

Five ten. And the lesson I learned is not to be intimidated by Polly next time. Opinions are not facts, and mine is just as valid as hers. Indeed, religion itself is only an opinion, and I am free to accept it or reject it. I was a coward in the case of me and Kate. What impeded me was doctrinal trash, partly my own delusion, partly Polly. Kate was very smart and knew what she wanted. I was just a drunken fool. But worse than that, I had no backbone. I should have been prepared to go to hell for Kate if I’d loved her enough.


Quarter of noon. My new book arrived in the mail yesterday, and I found it this morning. The bookstore price on it is considerably higher than Amazon. Les Miserables looks much better in an Everyman’s hardcover, although the principle of the novel deemphasizes aesthetics and shallow things. It makes me feel a little guilty. But I’m only about 60 pages into it. Now I wonder if my mother would be judged as shallow by Victor Hugo. I should read the book to find out. So far it gives me a conscience about wealth and poverty, and beauty and wealth go together— unless you’re like Edgar Allan Poe or Charles Baudelaire. My siblings feel weird about beautiful things, while Mom had no qualms at all. She admired beauty, and moreover hated preachy things…

Two thirty. I feel very frustrated about something. Everyone is so grave in this time of emergency, when I’m the type who likes fun and pleasure. I want people to lighten up and be happy, not so serious and gloomy. It seems like a duty for us all to wear a long face. But I don’t feel like doing that. I’d rather play a gig with my band, and make people dance and celebrate. I have to wait until the virus is under control. It depresses me and makes me want to sleep the time away. I haven’t succumbed to the temptation to drink. This would only worsen the situation. The days when alcohol was the elixir of joy are over for me. The pleasures that remain to me are music and writing, though writing tends to be more truthful than beautiful. And not all truth is beautiful. Did the One who made the lamb make the tiger? The song in my head is “Forlorn” by Weather Report. Some soulful playing by Jaco on fretless bass. Though I’m having a bad day, I suppose it could be worse.


The sun drives through from a dark gray sky. The Firebird plays in my head. I could listen to The Soldier’s Tale, which would take me back to spring 1995. My dad was alive then. Life was good when I could sit and absorb so much wonderful music. My copy of The Soldier’s Tale, conducted by Robert Craft, is likely out of print. It may be a rare CD… I found one on Amazon for $25, new, but the only copy left. Another volume in the series that I have is available for $50, also the last one. I see some huge cumulus clouds in the east, over the roofline. I can imagine them to be the couches of the Olympian gods. What an indolent life, trailing their hands in the ether, eating green grapes, listening to the seven stringed lyre of Apollo. It must have been an interesting period in music history before Bach invented theory. People had stringed instruments before the 17th Century, but what did the music sound like? It seems to me that music has been the slowest art form to develop. Or perhaps music was never meant to be done with such mathematical precision? Some contemporary composers learn the rules only to break them, and break down the form completely. We have to remember too that there is other music in the world than the Western tradition. How about the sounds of Africa or Bali, India and Tibet, and so on?… With that, I think I’ll spin the Stravinsky and just relax for the afternoon.