One fifty. I expect Heidi to call very soon. I was just writing in my blank book about the same old ontological problem of philosophy and whether people have free will or not. Not sure why it matters, yet I pursue the question anyway.
Near midnight. If I just start writing I should arrive somewhere eventually. Aesop is getting himself a drink of water and nudging his dry food. After a while I might give him a fresh bone from the pantry. How does reality relate to the process of writing— or perhaps writing creates reality, or sort of transfuses it as in “The Oval Portrait” by Edgar Allan Poe? Then everyone who creates has a vampiric relation with reality, sucking the lifeblood out of it and into language and human knowledge… Just an idea. What would Mallarme say about it? Or Borges? Human knowledge must be something different from things as they are, like in “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” But the real test is the undiscovered country over the threshold of life. Did we really create a hereafter for ourselves? “How did heaven begin?” The mind’s power to make new things out of the old is remarkable. The potential of a very strong wish is as yet immeasurable… but should we neglect the earth for our implausible dream of eternal life? We can invert the order of things all we want, but the hard fact is old mortality.
Eleven thirty five. Sometimes the sunshine gets me down. It makes me want to drink beer again and forget reality. Everyday life is never easy for me. I long for old friends and the few lovers I once had. And the future is a blank sheet of paper, a complete unknown that is actualized with each succeeding word. Time doesn’t make sense until you review the entire page, and sometimes the whole book. History wants to say something to us, to give us friendly advice to inform our decisions. Funny thing, but Tim is a high school history teacher. I must be anticipating our talk this afternoon. Often while I write I can see through to the subtext, a psychological process under the surface. The real issues drive the generalizations I make.
Noon thirty. I feel sort of tired, but really I’m feeling anxious and nervous… Outside, there’s no wind or breeze. I imagine it’s fairly warm. It’s been an uncomfortable week for me, ever since I skipped church last Sunday. I don’t want to do this anymore. Times have changed. The nation has a new leader and the general climate is very different now… I just want to make my music and be left alone by moral spiritual stuff. I make my own decisions and I don’t depend on anyone else to do my thinking. I’m sick of sermons and preaching… and tithing. What does the church want from me? It seems they want my very soul.
Quarter of two. I took an ibuprofen for my back pain. The sunshine continues to do something to me. It addles my wits and makes me irrational. I want an alibi from my life, from the inside of my head. I wonder how Heidi is doing this week? I crave a 12 pack of beer, something to rocket me to the moon temporarily. I counter that by pondering responsibility for my existence minute by minute. My choices created this position I’m in right now. To deny this truth is bad faith. And that’s the amazing thing about philosophy, how it takes precedence over ordinary reality. There’s no schema in your mind that can’t be questioned and replaced, again and again. If common sense has its roots in Aristotle, then can it as easily be challenged by a Platonic worldview? How many idealists are there running around today?
Ten fifty. Deb checked out my purchases at the store. I asked her if she’d done any artwork since I last saw her. She said she hadn’t had time, due to housekeeping, gardening, and mowing the lawn. But she said she has a little granddaughter who does well in art at school, promising to be another artist in the family. I told her that my band had been practicing, though the music venues are mostly closed and we can’t gig yet. Funny that she encouraged me to do music but gives herself an alibi from her art. My attitude is to say where there’s a will there’s a way. If you want something badly enough you can attain it, because within certain parameters we’re all free and responsible. But I spared Deb this philosophy and said I just have screwed up priorities.
The weather is fantastic today. My maple tree is budding leaves while the oak is still bare. The sunshine makes me feel something I can’t put my finger on; probably a memory of a girlfriend ten years ago. I also miss my brother, but it’s very good that my sister and I have a rapport now. Talking with her makes me think, What do I know? Just a lot of intellectual bric a brac with no cornerstone to unify it all. On the other hand, does she know any better than I do? Perhaps we’re all completely in the dark. Even on the sunniest day, the truth still hides, and it’s a toss up between realism and idealism. If there’s a spiritual universe, we only see its shadow, and these appearances are just photo negatives of reality. The truth is unavailable to us, at least for today, so we enjoy the illusion until the photos are developed out of this dark room.
Ten o’clock. I just had my phone appointment with Rebecca, my worker in Salem. We talked a bit about disclosure of my diagnosis through the process of hiring a personal care attendant. She said it’s up to me. There’s still a lot of ignorance and stigma regarding schizophrenia. People don’t know what is involved in the illness, and they often get the wrong idea from the media. Even my brother believes the television before he believes the real thing. I used to think he was a smart guy. Why is it that we can be immersed in a real situation and still refute it because we saw a certain movie or tv show? The real evidence is right in front of us, but we judge it based on the media… Funny but I feel like such a vampire, a nonhuman phantom on the fringe of reality, only because of a poem I read the other day. There are a thousand ways to dramatize an ordinary phenomenon like mental illness, to glorify it or execrate it. Either way would be inaccurate. My blood is red just like yours, and my figure casts a shadow on the wall and a reflection in the mirror. The sun shines on me as it does on everybody.
At midnight last night I spent an hour listening to Tchaikovsky’s ballet suites. I love the way he throws a chromatic step into a sweeping melody in the strings. If these pieces were not so famous, the jarring effect would be a surprise. The waltz scene in Sleeping Beauty provides an example.
Eleven thirty. It’s another clear day. This afternoon I might return to the store for a second Snapple. Maybe I’ll get two of them.
Ten o’clock. Church will have started a half hour ago. I’m not missing anything. After a little while I’ll read some Emerson. I just donated to PBK and subscribed to The American Scholar. It may be a dying cause, but I’ll die fighting for humanity and free thought.
Quarter of three. I’ve finished writing my second blank book and feel I arrived somewhere. And yet psychology and philosophy only take you inward, when the reality is your body somewhere in space, doing something or doing nothing but think, if even that. The human condition is stuck inside of human skulls; alas, poor Yorik! Which reminds me that the early Japanese people would punch a hole in the top of the skulls of their dead before burying them. They did this to allow the soul to escape the body. Was that practice merely superstitious or were they right about immortality? Darwin thought natural selection could account for human consciousness in all its complexity and beauty. There’s a book by Richard E. Leakey all about our evolution from dwelling in trees to being forced out on the plains, and how we were saved by binocular vision and opposable thumbs… People are the only animals that wear clothes. A joke has it that the consummate human is the one who wears the most clothes…
Though I started reading the Leakey book some 25 years ago, I never finished it, since my impulse towards the humanities kind of took over. Around the same time, I read a lot of Dickinson and Keats, Mallarme and Cummings, and got hooked on the poetic endeavor to unmask the truth of existence. Somehow, language came to be logically prior to facts, and then the fossil record became just an idea on paper, even a misleading hoax. And for a while, the Bible presented itself as the primal Word, the alpha and omega. Religion was older and more venerable than science, and on the printed page, everything had equal weight. It was a very odd transformation.
Slept poorly again, but I thought of something quite important that I’d been missing: the experience of pleasure must outweigh my daily pain, or else life becomes onerous. At the store I need to get an anti inflammatory drug for my backache, which is worse now than ever before. And for fun I might buy a two liter of Coke to try to restore my spirits. Yesterday I longed to fly over the rainbow to escape from these unhappy times, this ride for which we’re all along. Everybody needs a diversion today, or as soon as possible. I might play my guitar later today, though it’s hard when nobody else wants to join me in having fun with music… There will be church tomorrow morning. I’m staying home because of the peer pressure and the denial of what the future will truly be. I guess I’ve grown a bit cynical of how organized religion operates, and I don’t want to make any more donations… I’m embarrassed to say that I had a hallucination last night. I heard the voice of a master of ceremonies somewhere nearby; I kept expecting a band to start playing. After twenty minutes the auditory illusion disappeared.
Eight forty. I bought the way overdue ibuprofen for my back pain and took one when I got home. The sun came out temporarily and now the sky is turning dark gray. The forecast calls for rain… Away from the clinical terminology, sometimes the experience of schizophrenia can be rather poetic. And to ponder the origins of the illusions is always baffling and mysterious. Even Descartes wondered if he could be deceived by an evil genius while writing his Meditations… Feeding the dog was difficult for me, and now the pain reliever makes me woozy. I want to escape with a good book for a while over the rainbow or through the looking glass to a better place than this. The trouble with escape is that you always have to come back. Often it’s with a hangover, depending on your method.
Another possibility: how do you tell the difference between real and fantasy?
Quarter after ten. On my promenade I spoke with three different people this morning, the longest with my neighbor Kat down the street from my house. I got out of bed feeling gloomy and disinclined to go to the store, though I’m glad I forced myself to do it. Jessica said the salon business is pretty good lately, and told me about the vandals who sprayed graffiti on the wall beside the building. Kat said she’d had a bike stolen from her garage recently. Both nocturnal crimes were caught on camera. And Michelle and I lamented how it seems like the end of the world; but I believe we each were thinking something different. On my end, I was considering our ecological suicide. She probably was thinking of something moral in a traditional way… Kat has a big chocolate dog who came up to me, offering me his polyester bone, so I took it and tossed it helicopter style towards the center of her yard. We never stopped talking… But it makes me reflect on appearance and reality, and how two people can use the same words and have entirely different ideas on their mind. Outwardly a person can look a certain way, but inside be just the opposite of what you expect. Maybe the conversation I had with Kat was deceptive, and she believes I’m something I’m not… A wind has picked up that I can see and hear outside. Where I had been gloomy at first, now I’m just speculative as the morning advances towards noon.
Quarter of eight.
Not in a hurry to leave the house this morning. I finished the pistachio ice cream during the wee hours and gave a bite to Aesop. Then we retired to bed for another four hours. Right now I don’t have anything metaphysical to write about, being skeptical of that sort of thing. I remember how Robert Frost mistrusted science and technological progress, though I think he was quite silly to dig in his heels and try to deny the reality of life around him. Perhaps some of us still feel the way he did, embracing poetry and disregarding science facts. I once wrote a line when I was young:
Although it has been done, no one can land on the moon.
I guess I’m a bit ambivalent or undecided on the matter… I ought to call my sister this morning. But as before, no big hurry. The color of the sky combines amber with lead. Today is the Ides of March, of which Shakespeare told us to beware in Julius Caesar. Probably it’s just another day for you and me. To what extent do we want to trust imagination for guidance in everyday life? Evidence is more accurate than intuition— but less entertaining and sugarcoated. Do we have to stop believing in Santa Claus?
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?
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…