Quarter after one in the morning.
I got a little bit of sleep since nine o’clock tonight, and kept dreaming of a book by Erasmus called The Praise of Folly. I may never learn the significance of this book to me. It was part of the old literary canon, now all but obsolete, making me feel like an anachronism. In fact, the book somewhere describes the silliness of mistimed wisdom, which my life seems to epitomize. But even the existence of an anachronism must have some kind of a purpose, or else I could just stop writing, get a mindless job, dissipate my brain away, and perish into obscurity. Would any sort of God be pleased if I spit in my own face and just gave up my projects? I’ve got 583 followers on WordPress, acquired over four and a half years. Some bloggers have more than ten thousand followers. I don’t know how they do it. I’m only a tiny blip on the website’s radar, yet I still persist to chuck up nuggets of misplaced wisdom. It’s almost as if I were a mummy brought back to life to explain the ways of antiquity. Maybe that’s my task in life: to be an archivist of old stuff, bringing up the rear of the process of history, crystallizing life’s events to perfection for all posterity.
And to do it with beauty and style.
I seem to be quite discontent with my life as it is today. I guess it’s just the absence of pleasure that gets me down. I keep saying what a gray existence this is, how colorless and insipid, and essentially unhappy. When this depression hits, I take recourse to a past when I had more pleasure. Basically, I feel unloved. Loneliness eats away at my very soul, and the November weather doesn’t help. I might be happier if I could drink beer, yet even this is illusory. I’m an epicurean living in a stoic world, a complete fish out of water. My parents lived that way all their lives, selfishly sucking the most pleasure out of existence that they could. I look around me and see no other way than hedonism. To be a hedonist without pleasure is indeed a meaningless life, and that is life without alcohol for an alcoholic. But I know that for me there’s no moderation in drinking, thus I am stuck with anhedonia. As we move into the winter, the memory of my mother returns… I don’t know. I’m just a wreck.
Occasionally I take comfort in the idea of individual freedom. But freedom in the world of the pandemic seems like a delusion, because we’re all chained together in the same condition. In fact, as I consider it, personal liberty is precisely what my life is missing today. There’s too much focus on sociology, the study of society and culture. This may be coming from the church. The libertarian influences on me have deserted for a while, but I know that freedom is my inspiration and not the chains of collectivism. I suppose I have a disagreement with my church, and maybe I need to change my lifestyle accordingly. I’d like to revive my ideas of Renaissance humanism and restore my reverence for the beauty of the human form. Religion has corrupted my image of humankind as a noble thing: heroic and strong, pure and honest. The individual molds society, not the other way around. The greatest human being is the one who can stand trial against the world and win.
Quarter after ten. It feels very cold outside. I put on my jacket and chattered my way to the market for food and, for a change, a Coke. I told Vicki about the burrito pricing mixup, so she entered the new prices in the register. In addition I asked her when there would be more dog food on the shelf. She answered something vague, but at least I put a bug in her ear. Aesop doesn’t like the Costco brand of canned food anymore, and I said so.
As I plodded there and back, I began to consider the introduction to the Montaigne book. The striking thing for me is how he lets the contradictions within himself remain. He doesn’t impose unifying principles on his own experience, makes no attempt to systematize. And this is called diversity. It impresses me as the very opposite of Joseph Campbell, and even of modern natural science. It seems rather lawless, like chaos to me. And yet it is a valid way of perceiving the phenomena of life. According to biology, without organization a life form breaks down and dies. Without it, perhaps the sciences could not exist as they do today. But still Montaigne reminds me that some people leave the particulars as they are, and they don’t operate on what they perceive. This kind of variety means a minimizing of conflict which in the extreme would otherwise result in bloodshed…
The Coke is a little gross, bubbly and acidic and ultimately unhealthy, though it’s a treat just the same. Tomorrow I have physical therapy again, this time taking a taxi both ways. I plan on not doing the homework. Erin can then decide if I should continue the sessions.
Sometimes I see myself as an aesthetic person, and this applies even to the experience of sitting down to read a book. The volume in my hands is like a succulent meal, like the best prime rib or shrimp scampi. There’s something obsessive about it for me, perhaps even manic. Moreover, taste makes waste. On the other hand, life needs the seasoning of beauty to render it palatable. The weather, speaking of beauty, is cloudless and perfect, the sky a blue pearl. Now the maple leaves begin to change from green to gold. On the fringe of my mind lurks the figure of Neil Peart, whose inconsistencies make me wonder if he ever read Montaigne.
Ten twenty five.
My oak tree is about three quarters red now. I stopped to take a look at it a while ago. It’s nice not to be paranoid anymore because it used to damage relationships. Everyone at the store seemed glad to see me this morning. Cathy and Suk were unpacking a shipment of food items. In my head, the same concerto by Vivaldi runs exquisitely, poignantly. Wouldn’t it be cool if someday I had recall of my childhood again? Maybe, as in the case with Wordsworth, it would suggest preexistence, something like reincarnation. I sort of remember the celestial light he describes. It is like the memories of another person, trying to access the inner toddler. Montaigne wrote that perhaps wisdom lies with babes… I searched for that quote using Google and struck out, and I have no clue where I ran across it the first time. But Google doesn’t know everything. Then I dug around for my copies of Montaigne and Bacon and scored both. In school I was assigned to read these books in their entirety, but I’m sure I didn’t. We studied many belles lettres in Renaissance Thought, each one replete with pedagogic pearls. I’m half of a mind to flip through Montaigne’s essays, or maybe I’m only of half a mind.
Noon hour. The sun is out, the sky partly cloudy. Lately I’ve observed an incline in the avian life fluttering around outside. The sparrows have returned, and yesterday I saw two large hawks soaring low over the treetops and keening. Right now there’s a squirrel on my back patio. I keep reminding myself that I’m under no pressure today, and yet I feel a certain sense of duty. It may sink in that I’m free to relax and just breathe easily this afternoon. The Snapple tea is good.
It rained last night, thank goodness, so now you can see the sun and ordinary clouds. I walked to the store and bought a sausage biscuit with egg and cheese. These things lead me to inquire about nature and artifice, or nature and what is man made. During the Renaissance, people believed that nature is God’s art, and that human art imitates nature. Like Plato, they thought that our art was a process of making copies of nature, which in turn copied the spirit world. Some people believe the dichotomy of art and nature is a false one. I don’t know, but it’s very nice to see the natural sun and clouds again. I was also thinking of how the world is “too much with us” when we don’t drink or escape some other way. We are all bound together as current events unfold day by day. What impact does this have on human freedom? Are we like pilot whales who beach themselves following the leader? There’s a song in my head by The Police called “Truth Hits Everybody.” The nostalgia of forty years ago…
Nine fifty. Yesterday morning I began rereading Macbeth. Although the “instruments of darkness” are at work everywhere, Macbeth is still responsible for his ambition for the throne. A murder is just a murder, regardless of the activity of the devil. The prophecy of the weird sisters incites Macbeth to assassinate the King of Scotland, and the deception of the powers that be have set a trap for him— but still he should resist the temptation. Perhaps his will is weak. His decisions are easily swayed by external influences. I guess the bottom line is that Macbeth really wanted the throne for himself. He envisioned the dagger before him from his own wishes… What a gory play! But I think Macbeth was overall rather spineless. As for the element of the supernatural, I don’t really know. Some of it is purely his imagination, as when he sees the ghost of Banquo… I should be finishing the play today, and then I’ll do more thinking on it.
I’ve been to the store. I forgot to mention my bottle returns to Vicki, so I’m out 30 cents. If I remember tomorrow, I’ll tell her then. She’ll believe me because she knows I don’t lie. Someone had brought in a bunch of sandwiches from the deli, so I bought roast beef and cheddar. This will make a good lunch today. By the way, the black ants in my kitchen have disappeared. I guess they got tired of being jettisoned down the drain with tap water.
I feel strong and independent this morning, like an equal human being. Our humanity is very important, as I wrote to my pen pal earlier today. The pride and glory of being human has gone out of our religion since the days of the Renaissance. I totally admire Pico della Mirandola for his Dignity of Man. By contrast, today’s definition of human is whatever makes us weak. I believe that being human is a grand thing, and we can take a lesson from Ancient Greece as long as those old books are available. Not to mention the poetry and essays by Renaissance scholars themselves. I still owe Castiglione a read through his Book of the Courtier. Also Sidney for The Old Arcadia. Anyway, the humanism of medieval Christianity doesn’t exist anymore. Modern day religion promotes the image of people as humble and groveling before their God. That just doesn’t appeal to me, and never really has.
Aesop’s breakfast is up in a few minutes. The sky is cloudless and we’re probably in for a hot day. I don’t plan on letting anyone get me down today. It isn’t worth it to feel ashamed for anything. Hold your head up and get on with it. Others will respect you for that.
Quarter of midnight. I am halfway through the Salinger book. Something about Holden being an ancient, gray haired teenager is symbolic. Also his question of where the ducks go when the lake in Central Park freezes in the winter… It seems impossible to me that I was at Bi Mart 12 hours ago. The trip wasn’t really necessary but I wanted to go for some reason. I went in search of lost time, sort of reeling in the years. The only discovery I made was the natural flora that grows in the community and has always been here. Yellow headed dandelions, for instance. The nature around me reminded me of D.H. Lawrence and took me away from the age of technology and information. And industrialism was exactly what Lawrence kicked about a hundred years ago. He saw it as something that sterilizes human life, makes it dispassionate and inorganic. It’s hard not to agree with him.
Quarter after three. The scene in Sons and Lovers where Mrs Morel takes refuge in the flower garden after a fight with her husband is particularly to the point. Now I wonder what happened to the times of great writers like Lawrence and Joyce. Who will be the next big groundbreaker in letters? Who can do a revival of Modernism and be the new Modern Shakespeare? …Queen’s “Millionaire Waltz” sneaks into my awareness with joy… The revival really depends upon a reconnection with Mother Nature. If we can find her in our hearts and pull the dream out from within, the New Renaissance is accomplished.
Ten twenty five. My senior year English teacher set a bad example, being rather a pervert. High school was kind of like that. The Spanish teacher the same year had a dubious personal life, never getting married and flirting with all the men. But people such as they, and everybody, need a merciful savior the like of Jesus Christ. Me, too. The foibles of the people I’ve met, including myself, are enough to make me cry. They make me wish I could be some other animal than a human being. Yet where does this feeling of shame come from?
People ought to be proud and bold, worshiping the human form as divine beyond all conception. This was the sentiment that raised Ancient Greece to the pinnacle of civilization. Those people, like Narcissus, saw their reflection in the water and fell in love with their own image. Humanity became an end in itself; and really, the spirit of the Renaissance was much the same. They revived antiquity and reveled in the joy and beauty of being alive and, above all, human. They did not despise themselves, spitting in their own eye. Life was Michelangelo, the human form exalted to divinity. The Renaissance was to be reborn to the perfect life.
Then what is this sense of shame, treading on cigarette butts and fast food litter on our journey to the convenience store? Whither fled the glory and gleam of this vision of human potential? Where is there a pool wherein to view our own beauty once again? Where is our New Renaissance?