New Babel

Quarter of ten.

Is there a point where the power of language just melts down and we are helpless? Like the people after the Tower of Babel, our one language broken into many different tongues, forever confounding our aspirations to climb to the most high? Or did Pentecost reverse this curse and unite our separate tongues to one language again? Perhaps it would be worth it to build a new Babel Tower to reach the very heavens. 

Wednesday Words

Four fifty five. As I was playing my bass guitar, I fell into doing some passages from “The Gates of Delirium” by Yes, one of the most impressive songs by a progressive rock band ever recorded… It put me in a sort of dreamy mood, reminiscing again on my high school years with so much great music. At my school, not many kids listened to art rock, but the old Yes albums of the seventies happened to get reissued on vinyl in the early eighties. So, like a person with good taste I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on, and my plastic brain memorized all the music like a tape recorder… But now I’m getting older and not as dynamic as I used to be. The good news is that I’m not so paranoid or delusional anymore, which frees me up to do more things with my life. 

I left a voicemail for my sister today but she hasn’t returned my call yet. I thought of her just now because she is a pious Christian. My faith in a literal God, Jesus Christ, and all the other supernatural beings is total toast. I don’t see any way to recover my credence. It isn’t that I don’t believe in being kind to each other, or that love is the greatest thing a person can experience. It’s just the metaphysical nuts and bolts of religion that I can’t accept anymore. There’s no evidence at all for the superstitions that most people take for granted. 

I wonder why Lord of the Flies was such a staple of the old literary canon? We students were brainwashed with this book at the age of fifteen, and the precept of it was that human beings are naturally evil, a contemporary version of Hobbesian philosophy. But why sow this seed of learning in young minds? Forever it would rule our fates as we graduated from school and sought our fortune in the secular world. A few kids rebelled against the curriculum; they were the smart ones, dropping out of advanced English and finding an alternative way. They were the ones who disappeared from my sight in the high school halls, while the rest of us took the full dose of the indoctrination and headed off for college— perhaps to end up many years later writing blog posts for a lucky few followers to puzzle their heads about. 

The Day after Christmas

Quarter after six.

I’ve probably done a bad thing today, but I said what I had to say to my friend in Texas. Maybe we won’t be as close after this. Life for everyone has changed a great deal since this year began. Dunno; I had a long and lonely weekend with a lot of frustrations and pains in the butt. I keep saying to myself how unhappy I am with my life currently because I don’t feel like I’m free. Life is strange, though I wonder if I’m trying to blame other people for my own situation? I knew a friend who said that the only limitations you have are those you place on yourself. And what could be freer than verbal self expression?… I think I might pop the plastic on my book of Jack Kerouac and do some reading. I suppose some relationships wear out with time, or when things get to be a strain on each person. I only know that I haven’t been happy for a long time and I feel ready for a change. Christianity doesn’t make me feel good anymore. I chafe against it, striving for more freedom just to be myself. The cookie cutters that form every individual are each so different. Life for me is less like Jesus and more like Walt Whitman.

Seven twenty. I guess I’ll go take a nap for a few hours. Tomorrow there’s still nothing on my plate, so I’ll have to make a trip to Bi Mart or something to break the monotony.

Quarter after eleven.

I dreamt about a little Jewish guitarist friend that I used to know in the past two decades and who was kind to me, though he was illicit and rather dangerous to be around. He used to work as chef at Hole in the Wall Barbecue in Springfield, but I’ve lost touch with him since July 2012. I just wonder why I keep dreaming about him… Before I fell asleep, I started thinking of the series of events I set in motion as of last December, when the band came together again to practice the day after Christmas. Gradually over six months, I have separated from the church in spirit as I committed myself to rock and roll with the guys… which might be a mistake. It’s been a process of secularization, stepping away from the sacred and toward the profane, though such terms are too general and dramatic for the real things that happened. It is hyperbolic to say something like I’ve been dancing with the devil or whatever, and it borders on psychosis or some other extravagance of the imagination: it’s just a fantasy. And yet, without my medication for schizophrenia, this daydream would be very real to me, and terrifying. So now I ponder why society has a counterculture like rock and roll: and why do we call the devil the Beast? Probably there’s no devil except for ourselves, and our dark animalistic instincts simply need a place for expression: et voila the rock and roll revolution.

After midnight. I still have doubts about what I’m doing with music, however. I feel as if I’d gone astray like Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep. “Let them alone and they’ll come home / Bringing their tails behind them.” The myths we live by can be larger than life sometimes. I just don’t understand why I have to take a drug to reduce cultural fantasies to a manageable size. What’s up with that? 

Martin Luther

Quarter after eleven.

I was able to relax and fall asleep for about four hours this evening. I had some more driving dreams, and this time I didn’t get lost or separated from the car. It seems that I had a job as a volunteer to help people, kind of like what I did for the cancer society when I was 26 years old. Before dropping off to sleep, I thought about the tone of the times. Everything would be peachy if I didn’t have to deal with my sister on the phone every weekend. Somehow, hearing from her does violence to my peace of mind. The difference between her and my mother, again, is night and day, or perhaps religion and rock and roll. 

But the problem is not the Bible itself; it’s only a book, which without a reader just sits there on the shelf. The problem resides with the interpreter. 

I don’t know much about the career of Martin Luther, but one thing he did was to publish the Bible in German to be available for everyone to read for themselves. The historical significance of this is huge, for it liberated individuals to interpret the Word of God away from the Church. So now, looking at my sister and myself, my understanding of Jesus ought to be equally true with her own reading. Is this a form of relativism, and do some Christians see it as a bad thing; or instead does it restore the Bible to its original integrity, speaking different truths to different people?

Luckily I am no theologian. 

Tuesday Crucible

Quarter after seven.

I believe my appointment with Rebecca is at eleven o’clock, and then I have one with Heidi at two o’clock. Maybe I should be more trusting of people; and also I could try to keep relativity of perception in mind when I have disagreements with them. How can anyone’s vision be absolute? And yet I consider myself very realistic and accurate. I guess I just don’t get along with people very well. Sometimes it sounds good to think of drowning my perceptions with a 12 pack of my favorite beer. To drink from the River of Forgetfulness would be a great pleasure; but when you think about it, existence in the world is a sort of challenge, and to renounce it is to say you’re not up to it. 

Living is a fight. Dying is when you lose the will to fight.

I feel like such a minority, yet there can be great satisfaction from a little victory here and there. My sister’s opinions are very narrow and exclusive; she even said that the walk with Christ is narrow. It reminds me of a Hawthorne tale: “The Celestial Railroad.” No one gets to heaven by the quick and easy way. But that’s just her opinion, and maybe heaven is overrated after all. Maybe there is no heaven anyway. It’s too difficult a problem for a person like me to puzzle out… 

It’s supposed to be 88 degrees today. Damien is coming after three o’clock to help me get a window air conditioner. And during the wee hours I listened to the first disc of Romeo and Juliet: almost as sublime as that half case of beer. Now a different tune begins to play, an oldie by Queen called “Bicycle Race.”

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bike

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride it where I like 

Impasse

Midnight hour. I definitely dreamed about a religious end of the world tonight. I had to make a wager on the existence of hell so I bet there was no such place. The upshot was basically that it is so if you think so. What you don’t believe can’t hurt you.

I’d like to really call it quits with my family after everything that has happened since Mom passed away. Write it off as a big mistake. My parents had a different surname and a different worldview from the rest of the family. And a generation separates me from my sister. This December, my mother will have been dead for twenty years; it seems like a good cutoff point with the past. My mind has been working on this problem all this month in piecemeal fashion, and now the objective is made clear. But do I really have the heart to disown my blood relatives to be free and happy? Ugh. The answer is likely yes, because of the conversation with my sister just two weeks ago about human rights versus religious freedom. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of mental illness goes with the territory of the former. As an example, last Thursday I saw a T-shirt at the agency that read, “We’re all human,” the last word filled with rainbow colors. It seems that my family and I are at an irreconcilable impasse as long as they follow the lead of my fundamentalist Christian sister. Either someone has to compromise or else our relationship is doomed— at least until Pride Month is over. And even then there will be further hurdles. We can expect this for the next four years… 

Passion

Quarter of five.

I made some beautiful notes tonight in my blank book having to do with passion in our lives, and how this is missing since the pandemic. But woven with this theme is also my regret that I’m not drinking anymore. If my deity used to be Dionysus, the god of wine, then I’m at a loss to name my higher power today. I remember reading the tragedy by Euripides about the capture of Dionysus and the vengeance wrought by his devotees. He was older than Jesus Christ, and Christianity borrowed images from the pagans: “I am the vine, you are the branches; without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)… As I marched eastward on Armstrong Street under the azure, I spotted the moon high in the sky, a thumbnail sliver. The heavens were cloudless and deep. But on the earth, the scene was sterile and loveless. I observed that it resembled a nuclear wasteland in the wake of a grand passion that had spent itself. And probably this passion in my mind is my past alcoholism, a disease that apparently ran its course and left me devastated… The first light of dawn is visible outside. The forecast said sunny weather again today. I’ve got DDA on my plate for this afternoon. Just let go and go with it. Knowing how to act after quitting alcohol can be quite difficult. I’ll have four years of sober time three months from now, but I’m never complacent.

Six o’clock. Michelle will be opening the store just now. Suddenly I feel rather tired, but I suppose that’s okay. The morning Snapple tea should taste very good. 

An Old Gideon

Eleven twenty five. My friend’s favorite dog passed away last night, and this changed my mind about social media. Coming home from the market, I stopped by the salon and Karen gave me a double chocolate donut, kind of like old times. Jessica doesn’t work on Monday. Karen was going to make a house call to do a haircut today. Her work is pretty much her life, and she tries to help people out. She hires people with problems who need a break. Her activity is very principled, even religious. She keeps plodding on with her life regardless of the world. And this brings me to think on duty and how people feel about it. Where does the sense of duty come from? Kant believed that it comes from the faculty of reason, which participates in the divine. But this highbrow philosophy doesn’t really explain how people behave. Most people get a moral education from Sunday school, and this is the doctrine of flesh and bone, of the real world of poverty and hard knocks. They don’t teach Kant at the Eugene Mission; they preach the gospel. 

One autumn day, up on the campus, a kind old man stood on the corner by the student union handing out Gideons pocket New Testaments from a box. I accepted one because it was reading material, then continued on to my class in Renaissance Thought in Fenton Hall. But I didn’t ponder it much after that. I didn’t suspect that in the blink of an eye, your whole world can be inverted, leaving you dispossessed and friendless. So today I do sort of wonder about that old Gideon on the street corner. 

Will to Believe

Ten forty. There’s something missing in my experience today, and I kind of think it’s religion, the church. But the reality of Christ was my doing, my participation in worship. It seems like so long ago. Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you, or among you. My faith has dwindled down to nothing, but I can remember vaguely how I used to believe it. And it was because I wanted to believe it… I guess that desire is gone now. Is it a sign of a deficiency to be faithless?

Eleven thirty five. Nothing is the same anymore, and the silence in this room is loud. I feel lonely and depressed. It’s a natural thing when you’re alone… I have the freedom to go down the hallway and play my new bass for a while, but I’d rather play it with other people. The sunshine is intense and completely unexpected. The paralysis I feel makes me tired.

Quarter of one. I was just playing my G&L bass and it sounded really awesome. I hope to use it for practice Saturday evening. And then Heidi called to reschedule for tomorrow morning. Ten o’clock. Now my afternoon is open. Why is it tempting to drown the present in old memories with the aid of alcohol or other substances? Last Wednesday, when my bass arrived, I went and bought a large Pepsi, thinking to revive my parents and old friends from the mid-90’s. Of course it didn’t work; they were still dead and gone. Even my mental state stayed the same.

But then yesterday I checked my voicemail on my other phone and found two messages from old musical friends. Probably the same wish for the past drove me to search my mailbox, yet how bizarre to find something. Also the moon was full as it rose in the evening, and a Romantic sentiment gripped me, as if the moon had arranged these coincidences in such a poetic fashion. Perhaps it’s all in what you want to believe… 

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.