Like Montaigne

Four o’clock in the morning.

I took a Vraylar pill tonight and feel pretty good, except I’m not sleepy now. I have to make up my mind about going to volunteer this morning. I’ll probably be doing well to get to church on Sunday, so don’t sweat it. I can be my own judge. Today, the store doesn’t open until seven o’clock. Also it takes longer for the daylight to dawn. For these reasons I might as well sleep in as long as I want. Suddenly it’s a flood of Debussy’s orchestral music, especially “Fetes” from the Nocturnes. I hear an arrangement of his Reverie as well, such a swelling, crushing little piece of music: and I remember being 25 years old again, with these sounds still fresh in my brain. I had a volunteer job with the American Cancer Society. I helped them move locations from Pearl Street to Oakmont Way, schlepping a lot of stuff in the late summer or early fall. The word “volunteer” must have called up this memory from long ago.

Seven ten.

Although my conscience says I should go to the food pantry and help out, I still don’t feel very great this morning and want to rest and regroup.

I’ve been to the store and back. Feeling kind of tired, and I know that the church has expectations of me; but it’s not worth it to feel guilty. I’m always just inches from quitting the congregation anyway… There’s not much intelligent life in this sector of the city. How can people read a book like Moby Dick or Huckleberry Finn and still make it consistent with Christianity? I guess they place information in different buckets and don’t try to unify it to coherence. The contradictions are allowed to coexist in their minds; but that would drive me insane. I couldn’t be like Montaigne. All of the disconnected bits and fragments of ideas beg to be stitched together in a worldview, a system, and what is incompatible with it gets tossed out. I’m not sure where I learned to do this, except I know it was in school. It’s just the way I impose sense on reality; although you know, the ones who think like Montaigne may be onto something. The truth is that reality is full of contradictions and incoherence and downright illogic.

Quarter of nine. Some people can live like an encyclopedia, with the odds and ends of information scattered about their brain. They keep their religion in a lockbox separate from everything else and let the particulars dangle, disconnected, disunited. I don’t know if I could ever do that… The sky is silver like mercury with a little sun peeking through. I’ve decided to stay home today. Maybe I’ll peruse my volume of Michel de Montaigne to see what I’ve been missing. 

Should Be versus Is

One o’clock.

I guess I don’t feel very good today, but I still will say what I mean to say, and disregard others who don’t like it. I don’t understand why there are so many Christians in the world currently. It’s like the only option for a belief system anymore, anywhere you go, and frankly it gets on my nerves… My last post at least rang true for a few people. It should do so especially for people without a dime, who are disadvantaged and dumped on by the all time winners in life. Suddenly I think of the novel Native Son, which I haven’t read yet but I probably should. Meanwhile I can read from the Harlem Renaissance books I have on hand and just try to be more open to what the so-called minorities experience.

Two twenty. I found those books on my shelf. Somebody needs to reach out and bridge the gap with people of color now, or else it may never happen again… The sky is smoky white from forest fires. I ought to take a break from the Internet for a little while and pick up a book.

Ten twenty.

I figure that, whatever happens, I’ll be okay with it. I’m too old to have a brilliant future ahead of me. Glory seeking isn’t important to me anyway. Pandemic be hanged, we have to get along with each other and try to do good. When you see something that is absolutely wrong, shouldn’t you do something to try to fix it? Divided we fall, like the systems of an organism. If one system fails, then the whole body dies, because of interdependence. This is a thing everyone should feel intuitively. Sometimes it takes a review, like going over our facts of math and science. The reality is often ugly, yet we know what is right and what needs to be done to make it more beautiful, closer to the Ideal. It’s the difference between descriptive and prescriptive: the facts just sit there, while the truth wants to make them better… 

Promises, Promises

Seven forty.

I got up at four o’clock this morning for a bit and was so sedated that my vision was double. Dunno how I feel right now, but at least I can focus my eyes. Maybe it was more than the sedation; maybe I was under a lot of stress from the salon people. But after this morning I can go back to being myself again… I just fed Aesop. The air outside looks smoky. Can we ever predict how a day will go? Some things we can infer from day to day, for instance that there will be a tomorrow. But really, nothing is a given, and nothing is promised. Sometimes the memories of my childhood are quite clear, but others they only tease the edge of my mind. When I was three years old, my parents used to take me to the Barbecue Pit in Salem for roast beef sandwiches and a side of spaghetti. Then one day during the summer of 1997, my dad and I took a trip up to Portland, stopping for lunch at the same place. It seemed that nothing had changed since 1970. I think Dad was feeding his nostalgia for a time when he had a big shot job at the State Capitol.

Nine twenty five. He was probably dreaming of what might have been had his job continued, or just regretting that it didn’t… “Gaze into your omphalos.” Dad seems like a stranger to me now, just another person who used to be in the world. Or maybe I’ve switched off my feelings towards him? I know there’s a reason why I think of him whenever September comes around. It’s also going to be Labor Day this weekend, which was once fatal for my sobriety. There are so many people from the past that I miss today. Chemistry is an odd thing, pushing and pulling us together and apart. Even the strongest ties can become frail and eventually break.

Eleven ten.

I got my haircut done. I didn’t hear any very interesting conversation; just cliches about So and So being selfish and unchristian, when the accusers hadn’t read the Bible at all nor understood the sermons in church. The only hint of selflessness by Jesus is his sacrifice of his own life to redeem all of humankind for our sins. He never said to be unselfish; he only commanded us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves… At the market I stood behind a Black guy who compulsively checked his card balance but then didn’t buy anything from Michelle. She told me later that he always does that. I fell in behind him on the sidewalk going home, and he was still obsessing about his card. He probably had OCD or something close to it. There are a million of us like that. And all the street can offer you is a lesson out of the New Testament, sprouting up the Word from the ashy gray landscape as a forlorn hope, not to say a promise. 

Aster

Nine thirty five.

I took a nap from five until nine o’clock and had some complicated dreams that tended to irritate me. They were not the fairytale like dreams I had in my late twenties, but were realistic and a bit exasperating. Not even my dreams gratify my desires anymore, but seek solutions to puzzles small or great. If Tim will drive me tomorrow, then I’m going to church to be with friends. The strange thing is how you can go to church and not necessarily agree with the ideas. Maybe it just depends on the particular church you attend. I think the truth is that people don’t think for themselves at all, or if they do, then they don’t speak up. No one seems to care what the truth is— and I find this quite alarming for America’s intellectual future. I just remembered the content of one of my dreams. It started with playing a song with others called “And the Angels Sing,” familiar to me from the Herb Alpert version. I began playing the drum part, followed by the others I’d just met. Then it became a situation of moving stuff between houses across the street from each other. My dad was annoyed by our schlepping and tried to interfere. But I believe the music went on anyway. Everything took place at night, and the night had a mystic feel to it, full of the romance of the stars in the sky, like something intelligent and spectrally alive. And I’m reminded of a French word Mallarme uses for “stars,” related to the symbol we use called an “asterisk” or more commonly a “star:” the word is the original Greek aster, and it has always signified star, and maybe always will. 

Keatsian Moods

Quarter of nine.

It would be so nice to roll back time ten years, to when I had a great European friend. I was very privileged to be with the enlightened people. But you know, all during that time I couldn’t stop drinking, even though it was killing me. My will was to maximize pleasure for myself, and also it was like being in heaven. I thought, Why not give myself what I want? The authenticity of this was all the rationale I needed to drink to oblivion and bliss. Now, I don’t know what keeps me sober; I just do it. Perhaps there’s a satisfaction in meeting the challenge of life with a clear head. Or maybe I’ve wanted to be sane for the whole time. Today I’ve come into my own while the world goes down the tubes, like the events of “A Descent into the Maelstrom.”

Quarter of ten. Sole survivor of a shipwreck… Well the weather is quite beautiful this morning, clemently cool. It is only human beings that can mess it up, but I won’t let them get me down. Aesop’s mood is pretty good today. Someone just fired up a lawn mower on my street. If my body doesn’t cooperate with me, then I might have to give up playing the bass guitar… So many snafus in everyday life; we wish for escape to an ideal place on the prismatic wings of a dream. What keeps us from flying there? Maybe it’s the call of duty, a responsibility to the world as it is. Strapped to the chair, we watch the series of images on a big screen. Or like Odysseus, we are bound to the mast so we can listen to the Sirens’ song. Contemporary life is crazy.

Quarter of eleven. Is it worth it to throw those magic beans out the window and see the colossal beanstalk sprout up to the sky? What will Jack find above the clouds: a palace with rich giants living inside? And a hen that lays eggs of gold…

One o’clock. Suddenly I remember how I used to be my mother’s hero. I could do no wrong, and she spoiled me with professional quality music gear. Times were more prosperous than now for everybody. I miss my old friends in the music trade. I also miss seeing my brother for our notorious trips to the Oregon Coast, where we guzzled beer and watched the breakers roll in. I miss the old Safeway store next to the Bi Mart on River Road… But it couldn’t endure forever, because even our time in heaven is a lease that expires. What goes up must come down… unless it’s a bird to fly away.

Untouchable

Quarter after seven.

I stopped and chatted with Kat for about ten minutes on my way to the store. I asked her about the for sale sign I had seen in her yard. It was not a hallucination: they plan to sell the house, and meanwhile they are building their own home that will be ready in December or January. Then I suppose the “ghost truck” with Confederate flag plates next to Derek’s house had been real as well— and the times are as crazy as I am… I have an appointment for a lab today at the hematologist.

Somehow, my brain started playing “Josie” by Steely Dan. I was thinking of the lines ending in “live wire” and “eyes on fire,” and then I heard the bass line by Chuck Rainey: so utterly cool with Becker’s rhythm guitar, like something untouchable and perfect. I guess there’s nothing more I can add to that… 

Mirage

Three thirty.

I made an accidental discovery today: when I skip the Vraylar, my back pain improves; therefore the pain is a side effect of the medication. I saw no reason why I couldn’t pick up some of the Snapple bottles from the floor, so I did four bags full of them. Also I emailed my prescriber regarding the Vraylar, and meanwhile I won’t take more of it… I may go to church tomorrow morning if I feel good enough. But it might be rather stressful for me, and I don’t really agree with religious belief. I leave the decision until tomorrow. I think I’m quite tired of repressing my humanity for a superstitious illusion. I shouldn’t have to wear a hair shirt or anything else to mortify the flesh, etc etc. I’d rather be alive from the neck down as well as the neck up. The body needs to breathe… The sun is out but the air outside is still smoky.

Seven thirty five. I rested in bed without going to sleep. My back pain is still better than usual, though it could be due to the heat. So I don’t know whether to stop the Vraylar or not. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get some reading done in John Keats, enough to be well versed. Occasional acorns hit the roof of the house and patio cover, eliciting a growl from Aesop until I explain it to him. This morning I paid my utility bill: under a hundred dollars, and I’d been running the air conditioner a lot. It seems that to simply live is to pollute the environment; how many chlorofluorocarbons does my ac release into the atmosphere? And the pollution creates a feedback loop, for the hotter it gets, the more you need the air conditioner. Some genius will figure it out… In general, life is imperfect, with the mirage of heaven being a very long distance away, only to move again when you get there. Already with the nightingale, tender is the night; but do we share that space with the bird by the power of its song? 

The Fountain

Seven forty.

I saw the sun as I walked outside, a big crimson coin in the gray east. Masks are required again at the store as of yesterday. They posted two signs in the glass of the door. I got my new book of Keats in the mail today, making a stark contrast to the dirty reality of the neighborhood streets I am prisoner of. I’m considering going to Barnes & Noble someday soon to hang out for an hour and try to meet some people. A much more refreshing atmosphere than psychiatric rehab or church, replete with the scent of new books and new ideas. It would be an oasis in the intellectual desert everywhere else, at least I hope. All I can find around here are the butt ends and debris of Christianity, the dust of the sidewalk. The world is ready for something better than the old trash— or is everything recycled and repeated endlessly?… The air outside is amber or umber, a glowing orange like the atmosphere of Mars. People don’t notice it much, or they don’t say anything. And now it’s time to feed my dog.

Quarter of nine. I opened the mailer with the book inside: a little shopworn, from the printing of 2003. The book is not immaculate, but the verse it contains is. I don’t know; maybe I’m just a fool for trying to transcend a world of ashes and old Snapple bottles. Can the old be young again? What was it that Ponce de Leon was looking for? It seems to me that the whole world needs rebirth and renewal; a reveille… a Renaissance. 

Cheap Friday

Nine ten.

My mind always tends to dichotomize, I don’t know why. It could be schizophrenia or my college training. But I’m okay as long as I don’t think. I’ve just gone to the store, a bit later than normal. Michelle was worried about a customer who was wasted on some drug and loitering by the storefront. For a change I bought an Arizona tea, raspberry flavor. Only a dollar. Funny but I didn’t see any women customers in the market today. Aesop’s mood is better this morning than a few days ago. I partly regret that I left the band with Mike and Ron, yet I know my reasons were good. In fact I was dreaming about that this morning. Mike had said, very reasonably, that he did music to have fun. But it’s not very fun when the drugs get in the way of making music… The air outside is still very smoky and gross. The sun that comes through is amber colored. After a while I think I’ll dig out my hybrid SX bass and mess around with it. I bought it ten years ago from Rondo Music for dirt cheap. It reminds me of better times for the world… and for rock and roll.

Ten forty. And yet a lot of that was an illusion, facilitated by alcoholism. I remember a ride I took to see my psychiatrist in February 2014. There was snow on the ground, snow in the parking lot. Seems like a billion years ago. Visits with him were getting tense, and I dreaded going. Orchestrated versions of The Beatles in the waiting room. I stared out the windows, thinking of my parents who were gone and wondering what my doctor really expected of me. Was it realistic? Would he have accepted that I was doing the best I could?

On second thought, I might retire the old SX bass. 

Eternal Truth

Quarter after eleven.

The heat has an impact on me with or without air conditioning, but I’m very fortunate to be as comfortable as I am. The email scammer tried to get a response from me early this morning. I trashed his message without opening it. Skeptics of the virus think it’s cute not to wear a mask in public. They make jokes about getting away with it, as if the compliers were stupid. It’s an individual thing, though it would benefit us if everybody played by the same rules. Michelle the store clerk wears a mask because she has diabetes. I wear one because someone in my family was sick with Covid…

I was thinking again that people need more beauty in their lives. Are beauty and truth allied with each other or rather at odds? Reality is pretty ugly today, but reality and truth are different things. Truth is eternal, reality transitory. And if truth doesn’t exist then we’re screwed. My mind goes to the rock band Yes and their 1996 release Keys to Ascension. “How did heaven begin?” Evidently we created it in a manner like William Blake, by sheer mental fight and poetic language. In All Religions Are One he suggests that the True Man is the same as the Poetic Genius… But it’s hard to write about this when my Romantic faith is flimsy, my conviction shaky. Also it’s difficult to pull it off all alone. Is anybody else with me?

Noon hour. The air quality is bad today; they say it’s unhealthy to sensitive groups. Another intrusive fact… Now they’re saying it’s unhealthy for everyone… Obviously it’s from wildfire smoke. I just looked it up on the internet. I only hope it won’t be like the situation last September.