Reveille

Seven ten.

It’s still overcast today with a few drops of rain. I’m curious to see how hot it’ll get this summer but there’s no hurry. I’ve gotten tired of the world news every day. In fact, I’m quite tired of people in general, the way we always refute each other’s identity and desires, like a constant negation of who we are. You have to just roll with it, though you also have to create your opportunities. It’s a matter of being up for it, and lately I haven’t been. Maybe someday the stars will line up in an auspicious way for my happiness, but it isn’t today, for me or for anybody. We hunker down in fear and uncertainty, magnifying the depression with our attitude. No one is being very heroic like characters in great literature. At a time like this, people could learn something from reading Sartre’s plays, but instead they flounder aimlessly, not knowing that they are free. The same thing goes for me as well. It’s not the will of God that drives the world. We are not pawns in this game, but rather agents who freely create our circumstances. Biblical prophecies are the ones that we ourselves fulfill because we don’t know any better. People are equally free not to turn fiction into fact. Becoming aware of this is the first battle. There is no blueprint for the human future. 

Wits Lost and Found

Eleven twenty five.

Beware the ides of March and the evil you find in your spam mail. This weekend, my wits went on holiday temporarily and I joined a dating website. An impulse made me spend $60 to upgrade my service early this morning. But the whole thing happened as if an aphrodisiac fell from the sky, like the wormwood in Revelation. I want to say that I was not responsible for these events, but of course nobody else was to blame. Even if I was blameless, it’s still good to assume control and power over what occurred yesterday and today. This is what responsibility really means, presuming that every individual is a free agent, whether or not there’s poison in the air or in the water. When things get out of control, I have to get ahold of myself and check my impulses. It’s like what the thunder said in the Upanishads. Damyatta: control your desires… As it is, I’m out my $60, but it could have been worse. 

By the Horns

Quarter after nine.

My outing to the store was much the same as any other day, except Cathy asked me if I’d seen the sunrise this morning. In fact I had seen it: a blaze of peach marmalade in heaven, and the sun hit me right in the eye as I sat here writing. The road construction is something I’m getting used to and can work my way around. When beauty and pleasure are hard to come by, sometimes nature will compensate us with a scene of splendor. Meanwhile, my dog begs me for his breakfast… 

Done. Now the sky is ice blue with scattered cirrus clouds and the house is as quiet as the tomb. At ground level there’s no breeze at all. The other afternoon when I was on Silver Lane I gazed wistfully upon Grocery Outlet and Bi Mart, thinking unconsciously of the shutdown of the old pharmacy last November. While that was ushered out, the new high school continues to go up at a breakneck pace. So I thought a little about the future of education, particularly the fate of the humanities and the arts in a society going more in a math and science direction. I imagined a world that might even be ruled by a dictator not long from now, since the squabbling over voting rights and other nonsense that ought to be obvious to everyone. Why have we backslid so much since Obama? The political news is too depressing for me to follow, but my own community has always leaned towards the red side. If the sun is free to shine, then humankind should be able to do the same. Still we flounder in the Dark Ages. We wait for a messiah to wipe the slate clean; for a promised land that never comes. When will we realize that the savior is us? 

In Art and Life

Quarter of ten at night.

I’ve found some interesting passages in Native Son that make a worthwhile study of the novel. In the poolroom scene where Bigger is giving Gus a hard time for cowardice, the narrative says that he had never been responsible to anyone else in his whole life. But it goes beyond that to his responsibility to himself and his own emotions which he usually projects onto others. Does this refusal of responsibility explain why he kills Mary Dalton at the end of Book One? I imagine this will be examined in the rest of the novel. I won’t really know until I’ve read the entire book.

In my real life today, nothing of much consequence happened. I tramped through the snow and slush off to the market this morning to get my Snapple teas and cookies for my dog. Michelle offered me some microwaved food that would otherwise have to be discarded, but I declined because I didn’t want to be loaded down with too much stuff for my trek home. As I walked away outdoors I kind of kicked myself for turning down free food. It was actually the look on Michelle’s face that I regretted, so then I struggled with feelings of guilt and remorse. At around noon I did my reading and also wrote a little in my journal. I never did play the bass guitar today. The mail carrier left a package on my front doorstep at five o’clock: I’d been expecting this copy of Paul Bowles for a few weeks. And finally I took a nap this evening. Tim has a friend who might be able to fix my 25W bass amplifier. We’ve been texting each other about that yesterday and today. 

Doorways

Quarter after eleven.

I just took my medication after a missed dose last night. This should make a difference in my thinking and judgment. I played my G&L bass this afternoon and it sounded pretty good, though I had doubts in my mind about ever using it with other musicians. I put my foot in my mouth with Mark in my last email to him, so now it’s dangling until after the holidays. There’s another musician I’d like to touch base with, though it’s been three years since I spoke with him. There’s such a diversity of people in the business, and I wish we could all be perfectly harmonious together. Or maybe I’m more discriminating than I’d like to admit. The last real public gig I played was with Doug and Marc at the Volcan in May 2003. This was just after I started treatment for addiction and before I got a job with the agency. I didn’t realize at the time how free I was to decide my own fate, and perhaps I made the wrong choice. In either case I would have battled with addiction until I hit my rock bottom. It’s always so hard to know what is the right thing to do. “Do you get what you’re hoping for / When you look behind you there’s no open doors / What are you hoping for / Do you know?” It’s really crucial to keep in mind that we are absolutely free to make our own choices. It is determinism that is the illusion. 

Sugar and Spice

Five thirty.

The morning is still benighted for two more hours, but even so, I might go to the store at opening time: six o’clock, and see Michelle. What makes a nice person nice and a mean person not nice? Michelle is made of sugar and spice, in accord with the old nursery rhyme. In colloquial French, the word for “nice” is sympathique; and “mean” is mechante. And the person who wears a frown is malheureuse. The rain is forecast to start again at noon today. It’s warm enough outside to go without a jacket. I think Aesop would probably like to get more chicken strips, so I’ll oblige him if they still have those. Pretty soon I will leave the house and just pretend there’s an invisible sun in the sky.

Six fifty five. I heard about Michelle’s weekend while I was at the store. More out of control stuff; her life seems quite unmanageable, so I hope she gets some help. Perhaps she’s been a little too nice and not assertive enough with the people who push her buttons. People generally talk about their “spiritual leader” nowadays, but I’m very skeptical of this, of course. No supernatural power is going to take control over your life and make everything better. It’s all up to you to take the wheel and drive your life like a car, with as many passengers as you wish. Even God can take a back seat if you must have one. I won’t go to hell for saying so, either… Now the sun pushes over the rim across the street from me, illuminating gray clouds. The gibbous moon was directly overhead when I went out an hour ago, accompanied by a few stars through an opening in the cloud canopy. Nature is enough. 

On a Rainy Night

Wee hours.

I’m sitting here listening to the rhythm of the rain on the roof, reflecting vaguely on a collage of things of no consequence. Still, I keep coming back to the idea of freedom, and how this is defined, and if it’s really possible for human beings. Common sense says freedom is valid, in a Huckleberry Finn kind of way. Even now I have the option to go to bed or stay up and write this drivel. The rain has a soporific effect on my brain. I acknowledge my conscience saying that I should take my medication and get some sleep, yet I can veto what it tells me. If I do, then I’m responsible for the consequences. But the important thing is that I have free agency in my decision, as everyone always has. You can duel with your William Wilson conscience to the death, but will his death be tantamount to your own self destruction? Edgar Poe believed so, perhaps. At the end of The Flies by Sartre, Orestes exits the stage pursued by the Furies, so it’s not clear whether his freedom is punished or unpunished. He thinks he can elude remorse up to a point, but the ending gives the lie to his thoughts… Everything we do has consequences, good or bad. But this presupposes that we are free to choose what we do. Responsibility is not possible without freedom. By the way, the rain has ceased for now. 

Decisions & Dreams

Noon hour.

I wish I felt better than I do today. I’ve been reading a sci-fi short novel by Pohl and Kornbluth, full of wild action and adventure. It gives me interesting dreams at night sometimes of being kidnapped or shanghaied and left for dead by some enemies. Maybe I can finish it today or tomorrow. The novel is part of a set of volumes I bought last September for my sobriety birthday. The next birthday is just next month: four years clean and sober. I think I’m anticipating it… Mike is bringing my stuff back at one o’clock, and then the business is pretty much finished.

Four twenty five. I did a lot of reading in The Space Merchants. When I put the book down, it suddenly hit me: I quit the band! That’s a huge move for me, not without regrets. But then I remember that last practice that was such a disaster because of substance abuse. It wasn’t my fault; they sabotaged themselves and wasted my time a week ago.

Quarter of ten.

I slept or slumbered about four hours. It was an interesting kind of day today, and Sunday night is usually rather dead. One of the most memorable books I ever read was Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny when I was fifteen and a high school sophomore. My parents didn’t care what I read, and besides, I was old enough to choose my own reading material. It was weird how out of touch with reality my parents were; just thoughtlessly marking time with whiskey and cigarettes and apathetic about everything. I guess they weren’t very smart; but I can say one thing good for them. They bought this house and paid it off before dying so I wouldn’t have to worry about having shelter. And so I could go on dreaming little dreams and big dreams of faraway places and things like the perfect realm of Amber in the Zelazny book. And who’s to say who is out of touch with reality? We all need a good escape now and then: a dream to implement, which is the meaning of Blake’s Poetic Genius. Whatever proceeds from this is right. It builds Jerusalem on England’s green and pleasant land. It takes you on the long road trip with Corwin and Random to the forest where Julian hunts you down on the way to the palace of Amber. The perfect realm is a place inside your head. 

Clever Not Lucky: a Letter

Today has been rather blah and lazy for me because everybody was busy doing something away from the internet for the holiday. But I got good news from Heidi this afternoon: it looks like Laurel Hill might hire her again for some office hours. So I’m very happy for her and also for myself if we can reestablish our weekly visit together. Tomorrow at noon I have an appointment with Rebecca, but that should go okay. This morningat eleven Polly gave me a call and left a voicemail, so I called her back for a long chat, which was partly a stroll down memory lane. It’s like talking with people who never grew and never had their consciousness raised, perhaps because they didn’t have the hardware for it to begin with. Kind of like the fable of the city mouse and the country mouse. Of course I feel some regret for this situation, but I can’t let it get me down. Still, I realize that it’s not their fault that they remained behind in ignorance and naïveté. Life can be a rather cruel teacher, and it can divide and separate people from each other. I had an English teacher who compared his class to a professional football team: those students who didn’t make the cut were turned away. And while this protocol was very elitist and unfair, still I suppose it was a hard reality. It brings to my mind the question of equality and justice, but “some people are more equal than others.” So anyway, I talked with my sister for 75 minutes and dredged up a lot of old memories from when things were indeed more equal and everyone seemed to be on the same page. Her oldest son had gone away and left her alone for a few days. I told her that she could call me during the times when she felt lonely at home.

This morning I bought a tub of chocolate ice cream and ate half of it, plus I had a reuben sandwich for my dinner. Every day now I buy a doggie treat to take home to Aesop, who waits for me very patiently for about 20 minutes. My hike to the store takes only about five minutes, and you know, that place has been really convenient for me for all these years. I imagine that regulars like me have provided it with the funds to thrive and expand its horizons a bit. Today, Michelle complained to me that she had made 106 bags of ice in one day yesterday and said how unfair it was that the male employees get away with crap, plus they get paid more than she does to do it. I asked her if there was some agency she could report these practices to, but she didn’t know. She is also starting a second job at RiteAid very soon, so I hope that goes well for her. The other day I asked her about her husband, and she frowned and said he was hanging in there, so I imagine that he has started drinking again… The more I talk with Michelle, the more hopeless her problems seem to be. I wish I could do something, but all I can do is listen to her sad story. I guess what she needs to do is take responsibility for her life in a drastic kind of way— if she’s smart enough to do that. I know it’s hard to make major life changes, but it sounds like her life is unmanageable right now. But as you observed, she seems to be caught in a victim mentality.

I guess that’s enough of that topic. I would only add that it’s difficult to distinguish between luck and cleverness. I believe that it’s okay to have some ego and some self regard in the conduct of your life, because without these things you can’t control where you’re going. By the way, the word “conduct” is related to the French verb for driving a car: “conduire.” And in similar fashion, everyone’s life is like driving a car, whether or not we acknowledge this responsibility.