Poverty Sucks: a Letter

My appointment with Heidi didn’t happen today; she called in sick this morning. So then I had the afternoon to myself and I wrote more in my blank book. I came close to a minor discovery regarding the way my mother brought me up to be the person I have become. Above all, she demanded honesty from me. Also I was raised to despise money and the moiling and grubbing people do to acquire it— which may have been unfortunate because I learned that money is valueless. I guess sometime this morning I’ll be getting my stimulus payment. I should hold onto it to put towards some new gear for the band, perhaps better recording equipment or a PA system, etc. I have all the bass guitars I need. This morning I set up my old white SX bass with a view to giving it away to the guys in the band if they’re interested. It’s an old knockabout axe I bought myself ten years ago for only one hundred dollars. Today, the same product new goes for three hundred dollars. Maybe I’ll just take it to practice next time and then leave it at Mike’s house when we’re done.

Again today the weather was very beautiful. Another thought I had deals with my recovery from alcoholism: whether or not it happened by the grace of a higher power, such as a God or maybe even Jesus Christ. Perhaps it wouldn’t be ludicrous to think so. I also look at the face of nature in these days since the election of Biden and regret that it has lost its divine luster. Maybe it’s just my imagination? What do you think of that? I’m looking forward to going back to church this weekend to see all my old friends. My new shoes arrived this noon hour: extremely lightweight and possibly rather flimsy, but very comfortable. I doubt if they’ll last very long…

Still another idea of mine regards my life of dire poverty. Usually I don’t consider it very much. How did Baudelaire put it? The old paupers nourishing their vermin? There’s also a poem by Yeats where a beggar scratches for a flea. But as I always say, there are better ways of being wealthy than with money. I look around me and the other guys in the band don’t have a lot of money either. Mike plays a drum kit he bought in 1988. And two of Ron’s keyboards came from thrift stores, also his amplifiers. Our studio is a glorified toolshed, though comfortable enough. It seems to me that some of the best artists have been poor, like James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Baudelaire was rather indigent as well. Wealthy people such as my brother look down on us with contempt and call us names. But in the end, the truth is that you can’t take your money with you. This reminds me of the Grimm’s fairytale in which a rich man is admitted into heaven, and what a celebration there is in his honor! I’m pretty sure my brother never read that one. It is very difficult for the wealthy to go to heaven from the point of view of a peasant. I guess the truth is relative after all.

Inside Out

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. 

Simplify

Wee hours.

I couldn’t get much sleep for some reason. I’m both depressed and anxious at once, and my thoughts are all dark and confused. If people could be content with science facts alone, then they wouldn’t need a personal reason why things happen as they do. But instead, we always cry why me, or why do bad things happen to good people, and so on ad nauseam. The error of this consists in the values of good and bad. These are man made ideas based on what gives us pleasure or pain, but religion raises them to spiritual absolutes, totally fictitious and despotic. Life is not as dramatic as we make it out to be. We are very vain creatures, thinking the world orbits around our interests. The word for this is anthropocentric. It is only human beings who say that they are made in the image of God. We deny our relatedness to the animal kingdom, as we always have since the time of Charles Darwin. We believe we are exempt from evolution. We and modern apes are not descended from a common ancestor, according to public opinion. Still, the law of parsimony suggests that the simplest answer is the one that science has given. Everything else thrown into the picture only muddies what ought to be crystal clear. There’s nothing else besides cause and effect. No good and no bad, so theodicy makes no sense. Thus the drama is greatly minimized and the paranoia goes away along with the idea of praise and blame— of being judged and condemned. 

Utility Again

Wee hours.

Since talking with Polly yesterday morning I’ve felt rather confused. According to her, some Christians believe that we’ve already seen the Antichrist, and a lot of other biblical prophecies are coming true. I don’t know what to do with this information. Maybe the safe thing is to file it away and not totally dispose of it. The leap to metaphysics is very hard for me to accept because it defies logic. A neighbor once opined to me that people with schizophrenia are possessed by the devil, and my reaction was to think how ignorant he was, and how mean and insensitive. If everyone believed his way, we schizophrenic people would still be chained in dungeons as in the Dark Ages. Think now: is that any way to treat a human being? This neighbor was a Catholic and a complete dunce, and I was thankful when his family moved away. I don’t know how to feel about religion, except I’ve seen how it can marginalize certain people, even force them into ghettos. It depends on the extremity of the belief.

I think the common denominator ought to be our humanity. The philosophy that makes the most sense to me is utilitarianism, the greatest happiness principle of John Stuart Mill. We should minimize pain for each other and maximize happiness, and all other issues are on the side. 

World without End

Quarter after eleven.

I don’t know whether to write of the future or the past. Music: “Saved by Zero,” an old hit by The Fixx. I’m sitting here alone in my family room with my dog, just feeling, not knowing much. I guess I’ll attend church this Sunday morning and listen to the sermon. The last one was fairly innocuous and affirmative of life here and now. I hated the eschatological preaching last summer and fall. I’d prefer not to believe that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead or that his kingdom will have no end. Am I supposed to take this literally, or is it just rhetorical hot air? Either way, it doesn’t make me feel any better. Thinking more deeply, maybe I’ll stay home Sunday. Do some reading and play my guitar, contemplate the beautiful and true as I unlock the secrets of the fretboard… I wonder what to do with my stimulus payment, when it arrives? Maybe save it for air conditioning this summer. Maybe blow most of it on music gear.

Midnight hour. A thought that bugs me is how different my sister is from my mother. Still I refuse to believe that rock music is spiritually wicked, or that my mother was misguided. The virtue of music depends on how you use it.

Five o’clock. If I could play guitar as well as Jamie West-Oram on Phantoms, I’d be happy. I needn’t set my sights on John McLaughlin to start with; this would be unrealistic and frustrating. The way to let myself in is by the pleasure of the sweet sounds of the Strat. And I think I will write of the future… 

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… 

Ironies

Eleven thirty. I’m very anti Carl Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious, which is founded on something spiritual, sort of like the Hindu Brahman. I guess I’m getting farther away from Eastern thinking, for better or for worse. Carnap reduces a word like “essence” to absurdity because it has no referent in physical reality. I’d forgotten how much Eastern thinking depends on intuition. Jung and Campbell both were steeped in Indian philosophy, and this is a fact I have to respect. I recall the first time I read a sampling of The Upanishads, how it made me feel. The concept of the One was a beautiful thing. “That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature.” This statement in the Rig Veda is entirely intuitive and introspective, but for this reason should we reject it? A whole culture was based on this style of reasoning, so how can it be ruled out as fallacious by a small group of people?

Noon hour. The weather is lightening, with a breakthrough of sunshine. Usually I feel pretty lousy, but my mood today is better than average thanks to the band. We’re going to have fun… There was a dramatic irony in my last post. A point came across that I didn’t intend, yet it stands there in spite of myself, and without my knowledge. Abruptly a shower appears in the sunlight, followed by the newsflash that Trump was acquitted… Wordsworth writes how nature and the mind of man are somehow fitted to each other as part of a divine design. It’s a thrust I can’t rightly parry as the sunshine grows and intensifies. 

Splitting of the Mind

Midnight. 

My letter to S— this evening was pretty good; it became a discussion of William James quite out of the blue. He sidesteps reason altogether and looks instead at the practical consequences of any belief an individual holds. This method may be the best way to save metaphysics from the logical positivists. And maybe this was the reasoning of the movers and shakers two decades ago when my mother died and the real world blindsided me. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing bogus quantum mechanics or faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the intelligence of water crystals, Intelligent Design Theory, and discovering a Boeing 747 on Mars. The rationale for all of this became the figure of William James, especially his Pragmatism and The Will to Believe. As late as winter 2010, his philosophy was resurrected to sort of usher out the crazy millennium, or perhaps give it another last gasp. In August 2002, I had an assessment for addiction issues at an agency downtown. I told N— what my beliefs were, and was there anything wrong with that. She replied, “It depends on how you use it.” This was a statement of Pragmatism very early in the game, which would drag on for another ten years. I first heard about Cognitive Therapy the following year, but it wasn’t available here until spring 2006. It ran contrary to Jamesian philosophy by being evidence based, almost too little too late. Simultaneously there were these two competing ideas, Pragmatism and something more akin to science: enough to split anybody’s brain into halves at war with each other.

One twenty five. So what is the solution to this pandemic of schizophrenia, which literally means “splitting of the mind?” Because ultimately it comes down to the nature of the human brain, with its two cerebral hemispheres, each with its own mentality. They communicate with each other by means of the corpus callosum and the cerebral commissures, bridging the gap between them. They inform one another. Some people are more dominant on one side than the other. And some people fiercely deny the truth of hemispheric lateralization, that is, the specialization of each half of the brain. My brother and I got into an ugly argument over it twelve years ago, before he retired from his career as a professor. He told his students that hemispheric lateralization was a myth after our disagreement. But he wasn’t aware of the studies done with split brain epileptic patients, where the results suggested a recognizable difference between the left and right brain… Whether you accept lateralization or not, the solution is to improve communication of one side with the other— and to educate people about psycho physiology. 

My Personal Wall

Four o’clock in the morning.

I had a lousy day yesterday. Just one of those things. Maybe Monday will be better. I still hesitate to buy myself a birthday present for financial reasons. The holidays are always very rough on me, particularly the pressure to believe in something absurd. I keep trying to end my relationship with the church, but feel duty bound to stay and help out…

Quarter of ten. I just reread “The Sisters” by James Joyce. Very subtle and symbolic. Speaking of sisters, I should probably call mine this morning, but I’m still kind of mad at her for not calling me on Christmas Day. I generally feel frustrated and uneasy with my situation in the church and some of my friends. I realize what a hypocrite I am to continue going to church when I have no faith in Jesus Christ. This fact bothered me all during the summertime. It sometimes seems that words only get me into trouble, so maybe I should just play my bass and keep my mouth shut. Two decades ago I was in a band with a guitarist who used to say, “Play your bass, Rob.” In other words, shut up… In addition to these problems, I haven’t been very mentally well lately. But overall, I’m just not a happy camper, especially on WordPress. I can’t expect myself to change the world singlehandedly, and besides, I don’t have the right. I think I’m simply in the wrong place, and ought to look elsewhere for friends. As it is, I’m butting my head against an implacable wall. 

Moksha

Eleven o’clock. I see a glimmer of sunlight on the magnolia. My dreams at night are usually about family, particularly with respect to their alcoholism. Mom and my brother refused to consider ever quitting drinking. I wonder what they were afraid of? They were my favorite relatives growing up. My brother could do anything in the world— except stay sober… Consciously I am almost at peace with the situation. I can live without a biological family.

Noon hour. Tomorrow is the anniversary of my mother’s death. Every year it gets easier. My mind is trying to purify itself of her. Being born is to be thrown into a situation you didn’t choose, unless you believe the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As soon as you’re conscious, you look around and find yourself dependent on a family that may be dysfunctional, and then you bury your identity until the time is right for self assertion. It can take many years to disengage the hooks that family sinks into you. It’s kind of like the process of spiritual liberation, or moksha, where you burn off all the matter that is not self in order to be self realized. Addiction is an extreme form of attachment to earthly things, to material stuff. Hinduism teaches that the world is an illusion called maya, and only the spirit world is true. But I think these religious ideas are metaphors for a general psychological truth that every individual can feel who has overcome addiction… I still haven’t completely done this, for I’ve traded alcohol for caffeine, yet I’m getting closer to “moksha” a little more all the time. What is it like when every attachment suddenly drops away? Is it like the zen satori? Are you then truly free? Or is your mind still conditioned by cause and effect? It would be interesting if the notion of maya were absolutely true, and the soul is totally autonomous and pure.