Quarter of six.
My dog Aesop went back down the hallway to jump in bed again. He didn’t use to be so independent, so this is a new habit for him. His birthday was earlier this month: ten years old now. I was done sleeping at three o’clock, after dreaming about my dad, and then I wrote a description and analysis of it in my journal. Dad’s birthday would be this Thursday if he had lived. I think it’s good that I have his genetics to put strength into my recovery. The Japanese have been known to worship their ancestors, so I think maybe my dad is something like a Higher Power to me. My first recovery, twenty years ago, involved him to some extent as well. Yet I don’t know exactly what pushed me to relapse, unless it was simply trying to work a job with the stress that attends it. I found myself in a situation where my choices were inauthentic and it seemed I had no way out, so the only escape was to drink great quantities of beer. Several people bullied and shamed me to do things I really didn’t want to do. And again, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks because it’s down to just you and your life alone. My family can judge away if they disapprove of me: it won’t make any difference because after all I am sober and taking care of myself the best I can. I used to be a people pleaser but I don’t play that game anymore; it’s not worth the grief.
Rain is expected at eight o’clock this morning. Even now it looks pretty dark outdoors. I wore my rain jacket with a hood when I made my trip to market. I got Aesop some chicken strips, reasoning that he deserves a little pleasure from life, like everybody. In fact, I’ve denied myself fun and pleasure for a very long time. Meanwhile, the church is losing its grip on people, possibly for the same reason I just mentioned. In my journal I suggested that maybe the Bible is a work of epic poetry and written for the aesthetic pleasure of it. This would be the most skeptical thing I ever said of scripture. As a religion, it has lost its force for many people. Now the forecast says cloudy, so the rain either came and went or it never happened. Pastor’s daily email was very short today. I wonder what’s up with that.
Quarter of eight.
The rising sun is muted by what is probably wildfire smoke. Yesterday’s high temperature was 97 degrees… My informal research into Tolkien on one hand and Edgar Rice Burroughs on the other concerning attitudes towards “power” led me back to Machiavelli and his condemnation by the Church. The things I found kind of overran my circuits and pitched me into psychosis, though they had a valid basis in the history of ideas. It’s just that no one wants to know the theological nuts and bolts of these old notions of power and self-will. And the truth is rather ugly. But my brain has been baking too long in the summer heat and a respite is called for. I think I’ll stay away from every church of Christianity. I’ve heard enough sermons. We are after all merely human beings and biological organisms, and the religious stuff is secondary. It isn’t true that in the beginning was the word, or else everything is upside down. The Age of Reptiles is older than the time of Moses, but we get this backwards and make the Bible logically prior to natural history.
Here we go again. I’d better leave off while I still can.
Quarter of seven.
Late last night I dug out an old CD of King Crimson and listened to “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Pt 3” a couple of times. Recently I’d been playing some phrases from it on my own bass, so I wanted to hear it again to verify that I got it right. Just this morning the gibbous moon was high in the blue heavens while a few wisps of cirrus clouds hugged the horizon east. I thought about my family, specifically my sister’s beliefs versus those of my brother, and how her fundamentalism makes a difficult problem seem way too simple: a matter of heaven and hell. I really have to keep her ideas at arms’ length, though she means well enough. There should be a happy medium, a middle ground between her religion and my brother’s science, to blend black and white to gray. I don’t like being stuck in the middle of these extremes, though I consider myself the humanist of us three, if I play any role at all. I had a strange dream last night. My dad was driving us along an old country road on our way someplace beyond the woods. At a point he thought he missed our turnoff, so he did a 180 and brought us to a different road that was almost a sheer drop. I said, “Whoops!” When I woke up I thought the road was the descent to hell— and it’s so weird how my dreams often assume fundamentalist Christian notions like heaven and hell. Like the dreams of a child. Other times I’ve dreamt of the devil and things where good and evil are clearly defined and not like reality’s complexities. It makes me wonder why dreams are moral in this way. The world can change and become more and more complicated, while my inner dream life remains much the same as ever. Maybe it’s a family affair. Maybe it’s something you never outgrow— that stays with you no matter how much you change on the outside. And maybe my sister’s beliefs are a knee jerk of pure instinct. Everything else is a thin veneer.
What do you do when satisfaction is a long time coming? I guess you settle for less than what you really want. And maybe life has a project for you, as in an Emerson essay: we don’t use nature, nature uses us. Perhaps in hindsight it all makes sense to the individual. There was a plan all along, and your ego didn’t form it. I tend to forget this perspective. “But if all this should have a reason / We would be the last to know.” It’s a more religious way of looking at the puzzle. High school taught us to go out and conquer happiness, but it seldom works that way, and I think it’s backwards. Once I was assigned to lead class discussion on “Barter,” a poem by Sara Teasdale, but I had no clue how to interpret it. Many years later, it seemed like a big joke at my expense. What did I know of ecstasy? I was very shy, quiet, and withdrawn. I was more cut out to be a priest than a Don Juan… If Robert Burns is right about the best laid schemes, I try to remember that the real Schemer is not you or me.
Day comes up cloudy and overcast, keeping it cool for the morning. I’m getting cold feet regarding church this Sunday but I’ll still go. I made some pretty weird notes in my journal last night about my epicurean parents. Some people like pleasure. And some people condemn pleasure like it’s something wicked and unchristian. The first book I finished reading after my mother died was Typee by Herman Melville, which my remaining family wouldn’t have understood due to their religiosity. But pleasure is not a barbarian; just the opposite, it’s very sophisticated if done moderately. Some people are just plain absurd with their accusations of others. The biggest accusers are the worst hypocrites… The indoctrination I received in treatment long ago still interferes with my thinking. For once I wish it would leave me alone and stop scandalizing my parents. And yet if it did, then would I be more likely to drink again? Aesop scratches for a flea and I scratch my head. Maybe the afternoon sun will bring clarity.
Quarter of seven AM.
I’ll probably go back to my reading of Henry James, whose name was big where I went to college long ago. The father of Modern fiction, we were taught. It’s also been a long time since I read Yeats, though his taste for spooks was never for me. The Golden Dawn group and all that. I don’t see much evidence for the paranormal, but once in a while I’ll have a deja vu, the feeling that I was there before. There’s a song by K.D. Lang dealing with this, and thinking of it calls my mother to mind, and the idea of making music in that final year we had.
I owned a very nice Stingray Bass with a teal finish, and the color seemed to follow me everywhere and bring me good luck. I bought it with my earnings from the disco band at Musician’s Depot on Centennial Loop. But after my mother died, I did a lot of crazy things, so I no longer have the Stingray. Easy come, easy go. In fact, before she died I did crazy stuff. And yet it seems that life has a way of forgiving you and restoring to you what you have lost, if you play by the rules. It’s like what happened to Job, sort of. He got everything back. Lately I’ve been dreaming of the Book of Job, and it’s probably significant. God and the devil strike a bargain to test Job’s faith, like it’s all a big game. But what’s interesting is how evil is just an instructional tool, and all part of the same plan. I finally let the dream play out to its conclusion the other night, and that’s what I found.
Seven thirty AM.
On my walk for groceries this morning, I paused at the intersection of Fremont and N Park to watch an airline jet fly over my head. And the words came, “Where would you rather be / Anywhere but here.” Then I continued to Maxwell Road, where I had the whole place to myself— except for one man walking his beagle towards me. He said nothing, and frowned and seemed rather surly. Only the dog acknowledged my presence, straining on his leash to get at me. This experience was not like the afternoon yesterday at the little market, when it was packed and bubbly with people gabbing almost merrily. Perhaps it was “beer thirty” for some people, and the market and the deli comprised something like a pub, a place to get loose a little and enjoy life. Even though I’m sober, I’m still with them in spirit. The Dionysian tradition is about more than the wine, or rather the wine becomes symbolic of a mental state. Is it overstatement to say that intoxication gave birth to our notions of heaven…? The cult of Dionysus preceded Plato, who came before Christianity. “How did heaven begin?” Historically, it probably grew on the vine.
One twenty five in the morning.
“Consider yourself one of the family… it’s clear we’re going to get along…”
To use plainer English, I relate to the misfits in Shakespeare because I feel that an outsider cannot buy, beg, borrow, or steal his way into a religious organization, like me trying to find a place in the Lutheran church. A person must have a pedigree in order to fit into the big Christian universe, but I was brought into this world out of wedlock, fathered by a man who had been adopted after being abandoned by his biological parents… It is all well and fine for the human race to organize into Christendom or a Shakespearean aristocracy, yet my heart bleeds for others like myself, the outcast renegades and rebels with all odds against them. A small thing like alcoholism is a drop in the bucket next to the spiritual alienation that people like me experience. Surely the “redeemer” for the elect is different from that for the reprobate? I reckon time will tell. We may not have long to wait.
Two o’clock in the afternoon.
I don’t really know what I’m writing for. Since I left the church, there’s been no one to argue with, so my own beliefs go unchallenged. Now at peace, and with the weather halfway decent, I could take a little walk over to the market to get something tasty and fun, like ice cream or a bag of Doritos and chunky salsa.
It feels odd to be wiped clean of everything philosophical or theological, leaving pure aesthetics. I have no more fight left in me, but also nothing to fight over.
Three o’clock. The clouds are gigantic over the little community. I suddenly think of how my parents used to read light fiction, stuff on the bestseller list that they didn’t have to ponder much. While they did that, I read heroic fantasies, but nothing headier than Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy. My mother said we were living on the surface. I reckon there’s nothing wrong with that. Her hero was Michelangelo, along with Shakespeare and Poe: whoever she considered original. And yet she never read that kind of thing. Instead it was historical fiction and romances mostly, like John Jakes, James Michener, and their imitators. My parents both read Robert Ludlum, Ken Follett, and Lawrence Saunders.
If the unexamined life is not worth living, then still I won’t say my parents were unworthy people. They gave me everything they had, so how could I be ungrateful? This was a disagreement I had with the church. Who’s to condemn others for being thoughtless hedonists? It strikes me as a very profound problem, itself like something in a Camus book. Not to mention that it’s one of the Ten Commandments…
My journal is a cool place for figuring things out. This past evening I wrote an idea dealing with my solution to alcoholism using the church. Basically I said that the ritual of worship, repeated again and again, was a form of self hypnosis, and it worked to stop my addiction. As such, it was a psychological thing and not necessarily theological in a literal way. The details of course are debatable, but even Jung couldn’t make the jump from psychology to metaphysics per se. Then towards the end, when Pastor talked of demonic possession as the cause of mental illness, I knew it was hyperbolic and I had to get out of there. I found his attitude offensive and really not very kind to people with schizophrenia; in fact he was ignorant of the truth about psychiatry.
Oh well, my explanation usually falls on deaf ears, and I’m getting sick of it. Suffice it that the agency is a much safer place for me now than the church, and that poor Pastor is full of beans, with his head buried in the nineteenth century, totally disregarding advances made after the end of World War 2.
Americans always subordinate science to religious visions that make no sense, so I think a good question to ask is, Why? If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, but the Jesus thing doesn’t function for us anymore. We have decades to go to catch up to Europe, although the case has been the same even when Henry James lived and wrote at the turn of the twentieth century. It’s a very sad situation for the United States, yet not even a writer like James could remedy it, so why do I bother?