Here I am being intimate with a device again, like feeding numbers to a machine, data entry for future retrieval. Interesting how synthetic it is, and is the human mind really like a computer or more organic and warmhearted than cold circuitry and binary code? We only socialize with machines for the convenience. With technology and a lot of alcohol, you can build yourself your own Xanadu paradise, an impossible dreamworld that never has to end as long as your body holds up. A comparison might be the Hoffmann tale of “The Golden Flowerpot,” just without the element of machinery. The young student has two lovers, one real and the other a complete fantasy. When he has to make a choice between them, he finally picks the fantasy girl and goes to dwell in Lotusland forever. But there’s something very dark about this story that may not be obvious at first. It’s like the perdition of his soul… Such is alcoholism. Sooner or later you have to reckon with reality and the community around you, however poor in spirit or intellect it may be. This is a sermon to myself more than to anyone else, but hopefully with a didactic message to take home.
The question of what is real shouldn’t be a perplex. And if you were the student in the Hoffmann tale, would you know what to do?
Quarter after eight.
The ground is wet from recent showers but now it’s only cloudy. Aesop is all set for a little while. So far, the day is going better than my experience last weekend; I permit myself to relax and enjoy what comes my way. I don’t know if my brother has gone home from hospital yet, and it’s not my concern, regardless that he’s my brother. My sister reported that he asked his son for some Perrier water, which is often what alcoholics drink to ease withdrawals. I don’t want to share fates with him again. I’ve done my sentence and my penance, and I nearly died for something worthless.
I begin to notice the sparrows out of the glass door. Or maybe they’ve just woken up for the day. It’s hard to tell where reality and the human mind meet. A great big construction truck just drove past my house— unless I dreamed it and Aesop did too. And for soundtrack my mind plays Clair de Lune in broad daylight. Everything is in a state of reverie for me, yet a pipe dream can be pleasant while the world outdoors bites with bitter cold.
The massive truck has turned around and come back as my dog barks and whines at it. I was mistaken: I participate in Aesop’s dream.
Wee hours again.
People seem to believe that it’s their duty to suffer and be miserable. For some, the definition of life is pain and suffering, and the solution to this is to deny this existence and aim at another one that may not be real. One of the truest expressions is that misery loves company. Personally, I’m very tired of feeling dragged down by others who insist on depression for a way of life. I want to be happy and satisfied with my life. I’ve heard people make jokes of seizing the day and dress rehearsals, but it’s the truth, and the process of living is a creative one. Why can’t we learn to feel happy and to spread happiness around?
The church has got its hooks in me, so I know it was a mistake to ever join up. When in doubt, go with the convictions of your heart. The only reality we know is here and now, for us to either affirm or deny. It’s a sad and ignorant waste to defer all fulfillment to the shadows. This is the only dogma I acknowledge. We can make a problem out of reality. Which one is true, the object or the shadow of the object? I throw in with Aristotle and eschew metaphors and illusions of a heaven…
Maybe it’s a big gamble after all?
Quarter of four in the morning.
Aesop has an appointment with the vet at eleven o’clock. I’m just getting myself mentally prepared for the ordeal, yet I think it’ll go okay. I woke up to the sound of The Beatles singing “Nowhere Man.” Particularly I heard George’s guitar solo in the middle of the song, so ingenious for their time, ending it with the little harmonic E. I’m actually thinking about putting on Rubber Soul to listen to the whole album… One of the things that impresses me about people today is how solipsistic they all are, rather than sharing a common experience together. It’s the difference between Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, the first advocating privacy and the second promoting love and universalism of humanity. The whole world is wearing earbuds, listening to different tunes from each other, when we would stand much stronger if we joined hands. It seems to be a consequence of technology. Kind of ironic, because the internet was designed to link people around the world for a stronger global village. We’ve used the technology to withdraw into ourselves and avoid contact with other people, especially the ones in the same room with us or at the bus stop. It’s more convenient to socialize with machines than real humans, and somehow more gratifying. As I say this, I also notice that I’m saying it to my iPad. It’s just another way of living in a dream.
Today is partly cloudy and cold. The street cleaner truck just drove by my window and Aesop barked. I fed him at eight thirty and went around the corner past the salon to the market like I do every morning. Again I bumped into Lisa on her way to work. And I saw that Karen was busy with a senior client at her salon; most of her customers are senior citizens, however that came to be. Four years ago I used to visit Darlene there on Fridays every week, up till the time she passed away in 2020. Things change, and though the changes are gradual, they can seem quite drastic in a matter of years. One issue on my mind right now is the role imagination plays in human life, and what weight we should give it. There must be a happy medium between skepticism and blind faith, or between sobriety and madness. When I read David Hume’s wholesale dismissal of imagination, I come away thinking of how William Blake reacted to his assertions. It doesn’t help to know that Blake was probably a person with schizophrenia. Wallace Stevens wrote about how imagination is the necessary angel, so I should go read that and determine why he believed so. But I don’t think that imagination ought to overstep its own turf. When it does, you have a case of psychosis. To what extent do people want to live in a dream? I wouldn’t be comfortable that way at all. But some people don’t know the difference between fact and fantasy, and it’s rather sad to see it.
I let Aesop out of his little prison down the hall after my zoom meeting was done and he barked at me to tell me he wanted his milk bones. The white light of day makes the room appear green, a greenness that reminds me of the cover to a book of Robert Frost I once had when I was a student. If it weren’t so cold out, I’d say it was kind of like the springtime with all the blooms and bird activity, and it stays lighter now for longer. The greens also are souvenirs of a serotonin buzz many years ago from taking Prozac. The drug made me feel impulsive and sociable, but also sleepless and finally suicidal, so I had to stop it. 1991 was very long ago and I can sense how much I’ve aged. It isn’t like Goethe anymore, a creed of seize the day. Rather, it’s a time for quiet reflection and study. Still, the green outdoors is a distraction from cerebral things. It is entirely possible to get too comfortable; security can be a trap that keeps you from pursuing happiness.
And then you ponder the difference between green pastures and ash gray pavements littered with cigarette butts. Where do we go from here?
Quarter of one.
It’s doable to be young at heart. Not to spit in the wind and give up your dream of paradise. They say poverty sucks, but poetry will never desert the pauper. It is there if you look for it, like the kingdom of God. It dwells within you.
Nine thirty five.
I’ve been to the store and back in the rain. The wind made it hard to use my umbrella, so I ended up putting up my hood and just shivering through it. Didn’t see much of anything new for the trip around the bend. A book I ordered of Paul Verlaine is delayed a couple of days, no explanation why. The deeper I go into Western literature, the farther I have to go to find my way out. I feel like pulling the plug on all of it and following nature, the world of ordinary things. The thing that puzzles me about Baudelaire is his jump to metaphysics from everyday reality, spontaneously addressing prayers to the devil and so forth, just assuming the existence of such beings. It seems naive to me not to know the difference between material and spiritual, and yet he uses the term “ideal” freely. Maybe I’m the one who’s naive? And maybe the natural world I seek doesn’t exist… The rain keeps coming down. On a good day I’d say it was a shower of fine wine from heaven. Today is rather blah; the rain is merely water, the sky a vapid gray.
The City of Eugene finally sent out a team to pick up the leaves at our curbs. This is just ordinary stuff. Lord or Lucifer had nothing to do with it.
Eleven twenty five.
I want to do something for pleasure… but I’m feeling stuck. If I just ride out this hour, the mood may pass. Always at eleven o’clock I get this sense of limbo. It’s a time when nothing happens, and the restlessness drives me crazy. I feel deserted by my old muse and my imagination has flown away. Casualties of staying sober. Though it’s 72 degrees in here I still feel cold. There’s only me and stark reality. Two poets suggest themselves to my mind: Cummings and Wordsworth. A mourning dove has landed to peck the ground for seeds. Even the most realistic people can doubt their skepticism of a Platonic heaven. Their doubts have doubts. Ravel’s little piece for harp tinkles in my memory, teasing me like sinking Avalon: a shimmering illusion there and not there again. I hear a raucous flock of crows. Can we trust our senses? They give you the appearance but maybe not the reality. Perception itself becomes a problem. To get rid of philosophy, you have to will to forget it.
Seven o’clock morning.
Lisa’s birthday is this Sunday, she just told me. I took my chances and walked to market in the black darkness, feeling my way, stepping carefully on the glistening street. These winter birthdays remind me of a line from Thomas Dolby, maybe irrelevantly. “The winter boys, drinking heavy water from a stone…” My imagination can do lots of things with Capricorn. The sure footed climber with a fishtail in the sea. Ruled by Saturn and Father Time. Concerned with old age. Bones, teeth, and skeleton. Alas poor Yorik… The day may be long because I got up at four thirty. No daylight until nearly eight. I didn’t see much on my little pilgrimage— literally, due to the dark. Just now there’s a growing light that reveals thick fog on the trees across the way east. I tell Aesop to look out the window and he gives a small bark and a growl. There’s no threat, I say; no menace. He puts his head down and pouts for his breakfast, fortunately not far away.
Already I feel tired and somewhat sad and lonely. It’d be nice if I had control over my thoughts and feelings. Aristotle’s approach is passivity. The other is creative and subjective, like Sartre’s model of perception. When I was in college, the faculty was divided into the Freudian team against the New School of modern theory. I was caught right in the middle of it. For the first half of my schooling I was more Continental and for the rest of it, psychodynamic. I guess now I can pick the identity I like better. It’s also doable to choose neither one.
If my life depended on it, I’d trust Aristotle to be accurate on reality.
The rain has begun…
Nine thirty AM.
I’m beginning to see some social friction growing for two places up and down Maxwell Road. For some reason, the customers that come to the little market in the morning have become rather rough. A different bunch is attracted to the business, and I’m liking it less and less when I have to go there for my daily groceries. Meanwhile, attitudes at my church are divided among the parish while the pastor keeps going his own way and screw the feedback. A lot can happen during a hiatus of three months. Irrelevantly, the song in my head is “Tango” by Igor Stravinsky. Or maybe not so off the wall, in that social life is like a dance; but it’s an apple cart that can be upset. I just called my sister but she was eating breakfast, so I suggested calling back in twenty minutes. For my walk this morning it rained, though it wasn’t heavy. I carried my umbrella without using it. I feel like I can negotiate almost anything, especially by the use of language to communicate with others. And yet, words can do as much harm as good, depending on time and place. It might be a weird kind of day today.
I’m now off the phone with my sister. It was a two hour rambling marathon, with her doing all the talking, going off on tangents infinitely, and I just saying uh huh a lot. In the meantime it’s begun to rain in heavy earnest. Thankfully I don’t have to go anywhere else today. At least for the rest of the day I have some free time; maybe from today until Sunday. Let it rain…