Tempted

Nine thirty.

Here in the south of the Valley, we were charmed; no snow or freezing rain, and today the temperature is 48 degrees. The forecast says rain for the next week. Like every day, I walked to the market for my daily groceries. I saw nothing extraordinary. My thoughts are still occupied with realism versus Romanticism, and the possibility of transcendence by means of poetry and music. Can art unite us with the sublime like the nightingale’s song, or is it just an illusion? It was long ago when I read “Endymion” by John Keats. Vaguely I remember how he dreams that he makes love to Diana, the goddess of the moon. The poem takes you from the mundane to the beyond and back again. He awoke and found it truth… But why is the imagination important to human life? I regret that my medication puts the brakes on my capacity to dream and create poetry… I haven’t gone to Grocery Outlet in a very long time. Being there again is like bursting a time capsule, and I feel tempted to buy a half rack of beer or a gallon of wine. Life without alcohol is gray and prosaic, and yet the stuff is so toxic and lethal if you overdo it. That store is rather slippery for me, though I can get away with a trip to Bi Mart…

Ten thirty five. Maybe I confuse imagination with intoxication? And maybe it’s a fine line between them. Mallarme wrote that drunkenness is a foretaste of the real bliss of heaven. I suppose that’s what makes alcohol hard to resist in earthly existence. But heaven has to wait, however insipid each day is. What else affords us a glimpse of heaven in the meantime? 

The Stuff of Dreams

Two thirty in the morning.

I was thinking again about the nature of psychosis. Like dreams, it is the fulfillment of a wish. It’s the attempt to make reality conform to your desires. It shifts shapes into what they essentially are not, but what the deluded person thinks they ought to be. Desires and wishes play a major role in the religious life as well. How is prayer any different from a dream? You’re merely trying to influence natural events to go your way. The ancient religious practice of the fire sacrifice had the same motivation as prayer: to sway nature to accord with human wishes. But such endeavors are vain and useless. The only way to change reality is by practical action, and that means work. No purely mental effort can solve a problem. I can sit here and wish with all my might that my house was clean and tidy, but only a physical effort will make it happen. I don’t believe that anybody can move a pencil with their mind, or start a fire, or communicate by telepathy. Psychosis can shift shapes in the mind of the observer, but objectively, reality doesn’t budge. 

Real life is not like a Jorge Luis Borges story in which nature yields to the will of humankind… and yet a beautiful song by Yes occurs to me. In “That, that Is,” there’s an interlude where Jon Anderson sings, “How did heaven begin?” And of course, there’s the irrepressible memory of what a baby sees… 

Then and Now

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… 

What Is Coolness?

It’s another incredible day as far as the weather goes. I just did a sitting with Les Miserables. The narrative makes some great prose reading. Hugo in 1862 echoes a few thoughts from other writers, particularly Baudelaire on ennui and Thoreau on the railroad and technological progress, though I can’t show that he ever read the latter. I only see a similarity in attitudes. Trends in thinking are airborne by word of mouth, and have diffused this way for as long as there’s been spoken language…

It just occurred to me that I no longer try to emulate my brother or his actions; I am finally a person in my own right. I don’t obsess about being cool in anyone’s eyes. If anything, I attempt to set my own trends. I doubt if there’s such a thing as coolness, or if so, it is a matter of virtue and not shallow sprezzatura. What really is it to be cool? It is not ostentation or showing off, no displays of strength and agility, no pretense to respectability. I think it’s more about being honest with yourself and others. Everything else follows from the truth, and the truth sets you free. Coolness is reality rather than appearance. Some people swear by having a good public image; but this is only a persona, a mask you present to the world. I once knew a friend who had a meetup with an old peer from schooldays. At a juncture in their lunch, she excused herself and repaired to the women’s room. When she came back out, she unwittingly was dragging along a length of toilet paper on her boot. Her old peer was speechless with horror, but my friend just laughed at her. I thought that was pretty cool. To be so humble and earthy and real is, in my opinion, the essence of coolness. Image is nothing, reality is everything. At best, appearance is a window to the real and eternal, as Plato expresses in the Symposium. It all begins with telling the truth and listening to the truth from others— without being guarded or worried about social position. Doing this builds up inner strength to deal with whatever life throws your way. And then your soul shines through, and people respect the true person you are.

The Rain Is Gone

Quarter of ten.

I feel pretty good this morning. It helps that it’s raining here today. It’s a sign that Nature is not damaged beyond repair, and the seasons continue in spite of human abuse. I sent my poem to Pastor; he replied that he really liked it. I guess what I need to do is let go my memories of my Scottish friend and my psychiatrist, those unromantic people from the old country. Of course I miss them, but they happened years ago. Suddenly I remember Christmas Eve 2017, a big event in church because of the non regulars who came for mass. One of them was an exquisitely beautiful Croatian girl who sat in the pew behind me with her two boys. Her eyes were black and shining and the children were almost as big as she was. Also I remember how Pastor was really in his element for Christmas; he led us through the ritual without a bobble… I checked the forecast: rain for the next three days, thank goodness. The chance of rain goes down at around noon, so then I’ll go to the store.

Quarter after eleven. Well now I’m going to just be myself. I am not Wordsworth, let alone Shakespeare, so why pretend? And yet Romanticism is a lot of fun to play with. That’s just it: we’re being irresponsible, like children playing a game. Our job is to save the ecology before it’s too late. There’s only us and nature, so we’d better realize the fact and act responsibly.

Noon hour. The rain stopped, so I went and bought a loaf of bread and two Snapples. I saw Melissa there, who used to work in the deli. On the street I met Harry. He commented that there was no rain. Then he queried, “One day at a time?” I told him I wasn’t drinking anymore. Afterwards I smiled inwardly at his reference to AA practice. Now the sun comes out here and there in chinks between the clouds. In the home stretch on the return trip, it occurred to me how light everything was, how clear and plain. One home was modestly decorated for Halloween: skull and crossbones on the front door, and a row of gothic headstones before the house. As Harry had observed, there was no rain. 

What Trucks Really Are

Quarter of nine.

Outside it’s gray and gloomy. Aesop needs canned food, so at nine o’clock I’ll go get some. I had a few awful nightmares, paranoid and alcoholic, and Mom was in them. I have to shake the dreams somehow.

Nine thirty five. I thought of freedom on my way to the store, and this lifted my mood. A sanitation truck was parked in front of the blue house on Fremont. Later I saw it outside of the espresso shack. The market was not very busy. I found slim pickings for dog food, so it’s probably time for another run to Grocery Outlet. Vicki’s headache still persists, going on two years. Maybe she doesn’t ask the right questions of her doctor… The songs in my head are a jumble I won’t describe. I’m of half a mind to finish reading The Prelude— finally. I don’t know if I agree with Wordsworth that reality is what we create by the activity of our minds. Naive realists say that this is just backwards; perception is passive, not active. But if Wordsworth is right, then are we able to build Jerusalem on our green and pleasant land? How strong are the imagination and the words we use?

Ten forty. I feel somewhat under the weather. I feel an impulse to transcend the mundane and touch heaven. This would be thinking with my heart, not my head. So that the garbage truck that just went by is really a blue and gray behemoth… 

Evacuees

Four o’clock.

It’s been a very strange kind of day, with thick wildfire smoke choking the Valley, tinting the sky apricot and orange, the sun raspberry. I’ve gone out in this mess twice today, but they advise staying indoors. The residents of Marcola, which is the east side of Springfield, are preparing to evacuate. Before I had a nap this afternoon, I was imagining the worst for our future. It seemed like the tip of the iceberg, or perhaps even more advanced than that. But not everyone is thinking that way. I called my sister and she was quite levelheaded about the fires. And then, when I walked to the salon and the store, plenty of people were out and about. On my first excursion this morning, the traffic on the Interstate seemed rather normal. I observed that some streetlights were still on against the smoky obscurity. It feels like some idiot’s demented nightmare, but I wonder if the idiot is only me. I added together the fires, climate change, the pandemic, the protests and counter protests, and the election, and came up with apocalypse. Another factor in my deduction was the way some bloggers are leaving WordPress. Dear reader, will you become one of them? 

Back to Normal

Quarter after eight.

Been to the store already. I saw two fox squirrels on my street. One of them crossed right in front of me. I took my time, strolling along slowly. I was thinking about the violence in Portland, and how my sister might use the shooting for ammunition against me. It was a far right counter protester who was killed. When I got back home, I left her a message. I want to get this conversation over with. We’ve been on opposite sides of politics ever since I can remember.

Ten o’clock. The chat with my sister went pretty well. I disagreed with her perspective on homeless people, but I let it pass. It made a difference to avoid caffeine this morning. Last night I did a lot of sleeping. I was dog tired after a long, hectic week. Today is off to a good start, and now there’s nothing I really have to do. It’s interesting how imagination amplifies and distorts the facts. I caught myself doing that especially last Thursday. When I was certain I’d been stood up, I got a text from Tony in the late afternoon saying we were on. And yet imagination must serve a purpose in human life. What is the human experience without poetry? I like Jane Austen’s novels for their shrewd common sense and insight. I might pick up Sense and Sensibility again today and see how much headway I can make. I’m calm enough today to settle down with a book for a couple of hours. I may even learn something new.

Dream Weaver

Wee hours. The antipsychotic I take has quelled my paranoia. I can chat with my sister without feeling threatened or devoured. My perspective on my family is more realistic now than before I started the Vraylar. I don’t make second guesses about what they are thinking. This used to be a terrible habit. And the change is all inside of me. Everyone else is the same as they always were. This is the sanest and soberest I’ve ever been. Also I’ve stopped the gabapentin. Now I won’t have to worry about withdrawals from it… Psychosis is really just imagination run amok. I think I’d rather be realistic than deluded. Schizophrenia is bad enough on its own, but alcohol makes it a lot worse. My brother used to weave daydreams about people’s behavior. He could talk about it for hours and hours. A lot of it was inaccurate. It was as if he needed to tell stories about people to make sense of life for himself. But these stories were lies, and he lived a lie… Is it better to be realistic or to tell stories about life? I guess it depends on the storyteller. And how psychotic is it to weave a web of fantasies? Depends on the dreamer.

Rock and Water

Eight forty.

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.