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.

“Forlorn”

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.

Music

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.

The Role of Music

Looking forward to playing Sunday, though I’m concerned about the element of alcohol on the premises. I hope no one gets too tipsy. I remember how alcohol used to ruin band rehearsals when I was younger. We made jokes about it. The fact is that alcohol destroys everything you undertake to do. It has a nasty way of usurping the role of what is important, whether the business is music or making glasses for low income individuals. It’s the ultimate sabotage. So yes I am nervous about the drinking during practice. Alcoholism is intimacy with some great reptile you pretend you can control. Unfortunately, music is a profession that people use as an excuse to drink or use drugs. Serious musicians don’t use substances. I can’t imagine Chick Corea getting wasted before a gig live or in the studio…

But I know that people who listen to music want to feel good. The performance of music aims at the pleasure of the audience. It makes me wonder about the role of pleasure in human life. Musicians are the merchants of dreams and beautiful things. Alcohol is part of the dream for many people. I also wonder what I’m getting out of the experience of making music. It’s a talent and a skill to be able to play, and that’s all I know. What is the cultural role of music? Is it about more than feeling good? Can it also be didactic; can it teach you anything? Perhaps it stimulates more than the heart? One would like to believe that music is a spiritual release, an exercise in being fully human. So that music is on a par with the best poetry. Hopefully it offers something for everyone.

Afternoon Musings

Quarter of one. My mind is crowded with memories, all competing for attention. Mostly I wish to confess being a utilitarian, whether that’s good or bad. Everybody wants to be happy, I reckon. My sister would disagree, saying that what’s important is not our happiness but God’s plan for us. Well, not everyone has God on their side. I don’t know if I am saved or a lost soul, and it makes no difference if I reject the religious terms and use my own. I suppose I’m not alone in my epicurean beliefs. I regret that some of my friends are altruists to the hilt, for I don’t share their motives. It’s okay to derive pleasure from life, and even better to spread happiness around. Relieving the suffering of others is always a good thing; everyone understands pleasure and pain: that’s why utility makes excellent sense. But all my defense aside, at the kernel of my being is an egoistic impulse, and nothing can change it. People argue that egoism is childish and immature, and something to outgrow. Still I can’t envision me putting myself in the front line in some war I don’t believe in. And the more sober and conscious I am, the more convinced I am of my position… Hey look— Heidi is here!

Life of the Mind

The hub of my whole issue is the thing called duty, or the sense of should or ought. Everyone does what they have to do rather than want. They act from duty and not from pleasure. But I do the contrary, or so it seems. I don’t understand where the ought to message comes from; who’s the authority that ordains it? Who must do this or that and why must they? Perhaps nobody really must do anything, and if they are smart they will dodge the bullet. Evade Capping by the Tripods and escape to the White Mountains where they will remain free. The human mind has a great need for freedom, or anyway that’s how I feel. If you don’t have time to think for yourself then life is not worth living. Is the above escape what I actually did? Have I been smart enough to avoid mental servitude? Maybe I picked up the wrong message from school. Thinking is a pleasure in itself, one that my family hasn’t experienced. It is the highest form of Epicureanism, deriving pleasure from the intellect. I do it all the time, like mental masturbation. Ideas are a kind of sensation to an epicurean. They feel good. Jeff hates the suggestion of thinking for pleasure. He likes drinking and eating and womanizing for fun, but the life of the mind to him is unnatural and perhaps blasphemous. My whole family is anti intellectual, and sees it as a sin. I’m just different from them. Intellectualism isn’t wrong or evil; it’s just another way of living. I love the feeling of an idea, the delight it provides. Philosophy is a lot of fun, almost like a high on a drug. It is another foretaste of heaven, one that suits me and always has.