Imagine no limits. There’s band practice today at three, and the weather is supposed to be nice. I dreamed last night that my mother was trying to stay sober. It made her a basket case, and she had to tell everyone about it. Thinking of it now, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with her anymore. She never would admit that she needed help with her mental health. I guess that’s kind of like a person I know in my life today, and it’s sad the way he’s come to cope with his problems. Like everyone, he’s a very nice guy underneath it all, and just needs some guidance. Maybe I can be the one to do that for him. On the other hand, perhaps I’m trying to shoulder too many burdens and be an emotional caretaker for other people. I could just say screw it and mind my own business.
Nine o’clock. It’s foggy outside, rather dense, and later it’ll be partly cloudy. I may be at a point where I can be peer support for other people with mental illness. Wait and see how things go. This afternoon will be a test for me. I want to do the right things, but knowing what is right is never easy. I keep thinking of “Love and a Question” by Robert Frost: does nature prescribe moral absolutes, and are they knowable to us? Frost was skeptical of that, while Emerson was more optimistic on the whole issue. I don’t mean to prejudge my day ahead, but I anticipate that it’ll be quite difficult. I hate worrying about stuff. Maybe treat the future like a throw of the dice and deal with the aftermath as it comes. Every decision has unpredictable consequences. But it’s better not to just flip a coin. We have to use our best judgment.
Ten ten. I just took an ibuprofen and simultaneously the sun is coming out. As the fog lifts, my head clears a little and my mood improves. All is not lost, and I can trust myself to judge rightly and fairly. “The sun will lead us, our reason to be here.”
Six twenty five.
Total blackness outside my west window. There should be daylight at seven o’clock. Mentally I can hear the bass line to “Take Five.” I think the band is on for practice this Saturday. I’m concerned about my back pain, but I plan on gutting it out. I got as much sleep as I could, and then had to admit defeat. Is it a matter of inference that the sun will come up each day? I look to the east, and now I see the gray dawn. My immediate neighbors still behave very strangely. Roger makes no effort to be friendly with Lenore across the street from him. But what I find eerie is the silence around here; I never hear the sound of a human voice outside. It calls to my mind the book by Ken Kesey. Everyone in the hospital is quiet and obedient until the silence is broken by one new patient. When his life is sacrificed in the end, it inspires the big Native to crash out the wall and run to freedom in the sunrise. Or anyway, that’s the film version. The story seems allegorical to me, and applicable to our lives today.
A few purple clouds show in the east. Sky is powder blue… Heidi gave me homework to do before Tuesday: attend an AA meeting. But that might be very difficult for me. I don’t like Twelve Step programs or anything numbing to the intellect. I’m a maverick, I guess. Probably no one wholly agrees with readymade institutions, so they pretend to get along, and keep their thoughts private. Emerson said that a great man is one who speaks what other people merely think. This takes audacity.
Quarter of eight. Pretty soon I’ll make my daily pilgrimage to Community Market. I don’t expect anything unusual on my trip, but you never know. Everything is in perpetual flux and anything can happen. The trick is having resourceful wits, the ability to think spontaneously.
The little market was rather busy this morning, but the line was all gone by the time I was ready to check out. I saw one regular customer, a heavyset girl in her thirties, walking out with a half case of beer at nine thirty. My mission was primarily to buy dog food today. In line at the espresso closet I saw a deputy’s pickup truck. The salon looked open for business but I didn’t see Karen or her car outside. I know, it’s an awkward situation I have with her. I guess it is what it is, to use the empty cliche. From about eleven thirty to one thirty I read fifteen pages of Les Miserables; difficult going with all the names of people and places I’d never heard of. The setting has changed to the lives of Parisian street urchins called gamins. Eventually Hugo will get around to a character named Marius. His writing is always circumlocutory, beating around the bush and baffling his readers, but also what he says is usually pretty fascinating and quite ingenious. His breadth of knowledge is really stunning. So anyway I read up to page six hundred and have another eight hundred and fifty left.
At two o’clock Heidi called me to reschedule our appointment because she wasn’t feeling well today. And then with the beautiful sunshine I began to crave alcohol due to euphoric recall. For an alcoholic, there’s no greater pleasure than intoxication, though I know it’s hard to explain to people who are not alcoholic. The release of endorphins from drinking beer is comparable only to heavenly bliss. So then I emailed Mark, my friend who plays the drums and lives in the Friendly Street community in the south of town. And next, to divert myself, I played one of my bass guitars for an hour. Finally I had a can of dinner and, at four thirty, took a long nap with Aesop.
Now I’m awake again and don’t have the cravings for alcohol. But you know, life can be pretty difficult for me, when the sun comes out in springtime and I want to feel the best I can. One idea that helps me is that of accepting everything that happens without judgment, to just let events flow into futurity without comparison to other times in the past, without trying to idealize them. Does that make sense to you? In other words, I have to let go the past and let the future work itself out as it will regardless of my wishes. It’s possible that my musical projects will never pan out— and what then? Just take things as they come and don’t drink, no matter what happens. This experience of life is quite like reading an Emerson essay, following its flow like a river, never knowing the destination, and really, not having one. It’s also like the process of writing, unintentionally and with no clear goal in mind, and arriving simply where you do. And wherever you do is okay with us. Kind of like the quote by Ursula K. Le Guin about the journey being logically prior to the destination.
So anyway I got through the day without drinking.
Today was a lot like yesterday, but sunny all day long, and in addition to practicing guitar, I read 18 pages of Emerson from the journals. When I search on the guitar, I find old chords I used to know, like a process of self recovery; a psychological thing. The music has a language of feeling that doesn’t translate into words, though it can be experienced. Also, the old music I made twenty years ago reminds me of my mother, but it doesn’t hurt to go there anymore. I wrote down in my blank book that the hardest part of losing my mom was simply being alone afterwards. And it’s true: solitude is very difficult to live with, and a major test of independence. I think a lot of people never do live on their own, but shack up with others for their whole life, often to avoid the reality of their identity as individuals. I had one therapist who called to my attention how I’d been surviving on my own for the entire time since my mother passed away, and I was quite shocked at the discovery. My imagination had been so good at self deception that I didn’t realize that I’d been all alone and independent. But to be honest I’m still coming to terms with this solitude. I have a follower who quoted Robin Williams saying that the worst feeling in the world is to be in the company of others and still feel profoundly alone. Yet I think every one of us feels that same solitude deep down, when we are honest with ourselves. This goes with the condition of individuality and no size fits all. And finally, to fill this void we have to love ourselves as we are, and then we know how to properly love other people… I may have borrowed from Nietzsche for these reflections, but they strike me as true. The rest of it was just me and my interpretation of his thought and that of Emerson. It could be said that solitude and self knowledge are necessities for a person who wants to live a full life. But if this is true, I wonder how Robin Williams went wrong?
I called Pastor this morning and offered to come to the food pantry Saturday morning. So if I feel good tomorrow I’ll go do that, and also I have a prescription to pick up at the Bi Mart. The weather here was spectacular all day and the forecast says another clear day Saturday. While I’m at Bi Mart I might inquire about Covid vaccinations: I understand that they will be offering those sometime soon. I’m not very eager to get the shot, but I can’t hold out forever; eventually everyone will be vaccinated. No, I’m really quite opposed to the idea, but we’re not always free.
Ten twenty five.
Other people seem preoccupied while I’m having a rather good day so far. One person I know lost her debit card and will be without cash for three days. Two other people can’t understand why I’m in a good mood. I feel as if I were on Prozac, my brain abuzz with serotonin from the food I ate. Is it really a lousy day for most people? I don’t think so, but maybe it’s just me. Neighbors are mowing their lawns…
I just talked with Pastor about food pantry tomorrow morning. It’s at nine thirty and I think I’m going to go help out. The weather is beautiful today, not a cloud in the sky.
Quarter after one. But then I got to thinking about it: almost the whole group has been vaccinated, and I decided to wait to get my shot. The element of peer pressure still offends me as an individualist. My education stressed the rights of the individual over those of society, from “The Lottery” to The Crucible and beyond to Equus. I keep clashing with Pastor on this issue and eventually the camel’s back is going to break. What will be the last straw? He’s very cocksure in his attitude. On my side, I know individualism can’t be wrong. The uniform society cut for the masses doesn’t fit me, nor does it truly fit any honest person. The first step toward enlightenment is honesty: tell the truth. If it’s only your truth, then still it is sacred to your life… For now I’m hanging this up to go read my Emerson, a very inspiring figure in arts and letters. You can’t rely on anybody if you can’t rely on yourself.
Noon hour. The pizza Hot Pocket tasted great. I realize now that I’m lonely here at home. I need real social stimulation to keep me going. The internet is not the same as a real physical presence, which is why I often think of D.H. Lawrence and his message of love and anti industrialism… I feel very tired and unmotivated. I don’t see where life is leading me and I don’t feel close to anybody anymore. I have this sense of what am I doing here and now, besides sitting on a loveseat and writing to myself. Everyone seems so distanced from me and from each other, yet no one complains about it like I do… I can conjure memories of good times with old friends when I was young. I drank more than my share of beer, but the liquor and the music and camaraderie were all worth doing at the time. Now I think I’m over the hill. Still I hope the band I’m in goes somewhere. I missed having a rehearsal yesterday— one of the real activities I get to do each week.
One thirty. Forget it.
Quarter after three. I just read two stories by Paul Bowles. Very good. His characters are often neurotic, while his own narrative voice is indifferent to them, even blackly humorous at times. The sky is a solid sheet of gray although the rain ceased hours ago. I feel like going to the store for a treat, but what do I want? Frequently I forget that past mental states have little or no bearing on the present. Life is forever in flux and this reality hits me when I fail to repeat history. It is a river, not a rock. The trick is to accept the here and now. I disagree with Freudian determinism: personality is not fixed from age four or five. The self is just as malleable as its surroundings. If this were not the case, then my sobriety would have ended already. In his own way, Emerson was a wiser thinker than certain other mental giants. I love how his prose flows like air or water, never dogmatic like stone. And never really conclusive…
Midnight. I feel really good right now. It’s one of those moods when you believe no one can tell you that you’re doing wrong. The same Little River Band song runs in my brain, still mysteriously. It probably signals that my mind is on a memory of playing in the disco band long ago.
I’m intensely curious about what happened to my old friend Chris. We had music in common, but our personalities were quite opposite to each other. While he was driven to be popular, I was more content to be just myself, take it or leave it. I was not much of a showman, and couldn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t. I cared only about the music, and not the way I looked onstage. I thought Chris and the band were mostly pretty shallow. One telltale sign was that neither he nor his wife could look me directly in the eye. If I was a candid person, then he was protean and slippery. In retrospect, I was involved with the wrong bunch, but music brings together people from all walks of life, and never permanently. It’s a very Emersonian phenomenon, in which Nature uses people as it sees fit for her own ends. As if this entity called Nature were intelligent and purposeful and could handpick a hero for a project for a limited time. When she’s done with you, she moves on to somebody else, inspiring individuals almost randomly and then chucking them aside. Satin Love Orchestra was like that for me and the others Nature threw together for a wild and chaotic ride…
I’ve run into Chris’s dad a few times at Bi Mart. He had amnesia pretty bad and couldn’t find the words to express himself. But he still recognized me from the old days. Perhaps those times should remain in the past. Today I can’t conceive of bombarding my liver with so much alcohol. Did God intervene in my disease, or maybe I was fated to stop drinking from the beginning of time? Whatever, I have no desire to go back to it.
Eight thirty five.
The trees have all changed color for the fall. I saw two skirting the market parking lot with burgundy leaves. On my own street, I turned and gave a backward look: much red and gold on either side. In addition, the leaves are well into the process of falling. It’s predicted to rain early this afternoon, continuing into the night. I plan on going to Bi Mart after one thirty today, but I think I’ll call a taxi. Round trip should cost about twenty dollars. That’s what money is for. If you don’t spend it, then it just sits there useless. In itself, money is a valueless fiction. I noticed a new publication on Amazon this morning: the Black Books of C.G. Jung. I felt tempted, but then I remembered why I’m leery of his stuff. He tends to be ethnocentric. For this reason, I always prefer the mysticism of American writers, specifically Emerson. He was passionately abolitionist at a time (the Civil War) when it really counted. Emerson also could be humble in his quest for wisdom, always open to new possibilities and input from people.
Nine twenty five. It definitely felt like rain on my hike to the store. The gray clouds boiled and swirled overhead. There isn’t much light outside for the overcast. It’s the kind of day for staying home and being quiet. Tomorrow I have physical therapy again, with Erin. I neither dread nor anticipate the session. I had some strange dreams last night, inspired by a book I almost bought. Because they were unpleasant, I canceled my order when I got up today. I met with nobody when I made my trip. At eight o’clock in the morning, it’s a ghost town. But I did see a handful of cars at the espresso shack drive thru. There were a few signs of life. And then there was Vicki…
It’s a painful discovery to learn that innate gifts don’t necessarily translate into a career. Ayn Rand makes it sound like a possibility, or even something that ought to be. Maybe she was just a dreamer, not a realistic observer? I was spoiled by reading The Fountainhead in my youth. It gave me a lot of false hope and expectations for the future. It turns out to be just an American fairytale, not a statement of what is possible. I made the mistake of taking it literally. And then think of all the people who have not read the same book. Maybe it’s a beautiful book for a beautiful dream. But in the end it’s just an elaborate lie… This morning is overcast and cool. Already, though, I see a shaft of sunshine. Aesop is asking me when his breakfast is due, so I give him the countdown. It’s a thing he can depend on, getting his breakfast on time. What can human beings rely on from day to day? What can we safely infer about reality? We assume that the sun will come up tomorrow, but even this is not guaranteed. Future contingencies are unforeseen. Though it would be nice to have a rock to cling to, life offers us only wind and water instead. Existence is change. Even the truth changes, so there are no eternal verities. It feels good to hold a writer like Emerson in a book. It is good to fasten things down and analyze them. But the essence is still mutability, a river and not a stone.
Four ten. Bass practice went about the same as yesterday: mostly uninspired and aimless because the social aspects are so iffy. Nobody wants to play. So I did that, and then the mail carrier brought my Burt Bacharach disc. Aesop went nuts while I walked out to get it. Finally I opened the Coke and drank half of it. Of course it tastes good, but we’ll see how I respond to the caffeine. Suddenly I can hear an old recording I made when I was only twenty years old. It occurs to me what an impact the words of other people have on me, and always did. Especially the critical remarks. Also I perceive that I’m past my prime musically. I don’t see the point in making compositions anymore, because songs need an audience. Getting people’s attention is so hard to do.
It’s enough for me to play my bass with someone, and even this plan hasn’t worked out. Thus it’s just a matter of acceptance and going with the flow. If music ignores me, then find something else to do.
The circumstances of life have a melodic motion to them, like music without sound. Life has modulations, variations on themes, often transitioning to new songs— with no coda. Phrases may not repeat, but wander off in a different key and different meter. Who writes the score, or is it totally improvised by the performers? Like a musical version of Pirandello, say Six Characters in Search of an Author… I’d thought I was a control freak, but it turns out that the chorus is controlling me. We don’t know who arranges the sheet music. We just sing, play, and dance when our part comes.