Unchurched

Nine twenty five.

Cloudy morning. I met with nothing extraordinary going to the market. Just another day. But later I received an email from the people who will help me find a personal care assistant. This will help me out a lot.

Ten ten at night.

It was kind of a mixed up day. I was still doing fine when I read and wrote about the Ideal and the Sublime, etc etc, but when I thought of Jane Austen unifying opposites I began to get a little lost. Why would I remember her novels in the springtime? Or maybe the season is irrelevant. Possibly the name of Austen stands for a real person I used to know.

Pastor argued with me that Jane Austen was a Romantic, while I said she was just the opposite, a realist, especially in her treatment of psychology. She was very cognitive two hundred years before the popularity of CBT. She also didn’t want to be associated with the Romantic period. I’m not sure why we were arguing about this, or what, subconsciously, we were really talking about. It now occurs to me that Pastor is unacquainted with the principles of cognitive therapy. He only understands C.G. Jung and the Romantic tradition that gave him rise. Even this is overstatement, because he doesn’t know Romantic poetry… I guess it doesn’t matter what he knows or doesn’t know. Then again, do I really want to sit through his sermons?

Eleven ten. I feel tired and my back aches, and my mood is rather grumpy. I feel like Childe Harold or Frankenstein’s monster, alienated from society and doomed to wander the earth in search of a mate who can sympathize with him. Somewhere among the Arctic ice floes, the monster still keeps a low profile. He drops in on the social world here and there, then vanishes again.

Midnight. In plain English, my relationship with the church is spotty and probably destined to dissolve altogether. 

Twelve Steps and Romanticism

Quarter after two. As I was just about to read my book, I got a call from Heidi. She made me an appointment to talk on the phone for next Tuesday at two. I look forward to this very eagerly. Then I settled down to read Goethe. It’s interesting that Faust, as Gretchen says, is not a Christian per se, but rather a Romantic. In turn, this distinction makes me think of certain people in Twelve Step programs, and how this situation must have come about. The AA’s I hung out with were the Romantic type, with a nebulous concept of God rather than strictly Christian. Their God contained a little of both light and dark, and there were no angels or demons or anything biblical… The first part of Faust was published in 1808, a little before the major poetry of Percy Shelley… Another word that comes to mind besides Romantic is “mystic” for what the AA’s I knew stood for. Mysticism is the direct experience of God, with no props like the church or even like Jesus Christ. God could be immediately apprehended by the devotee. The approach was intuitive, sort of like Zen Buddhism… Now I’m wondering if maybe AA would suit me better than the Lutheran church, and why didn’t I do that earlier? You don’t have to be a Christian to be an AA. I suppose it’s about time I made my peace with AA and the members I knew in the past. Usually AA is a great networking tool for sober musicians, as I discovered long ago. It’s worth considering. 

A Bird of Paradise

Six o’clock.

Predawn blackness outside, but I think I’m through with sleeping for the night…

Nine thirty. Now I have chronic back pain, getting worse when it rains. I’m going to need medication for it. I’ll go to the store when I feel hungry… The question is simple: is there a transcendent, and can it be reached by imagination? I also wonder if psychosis is merely an altered state of consciousness, no less valid than the ordinary. Does schizophrenia serve a purpose by being allowed to survive in the gene pool?

Ten thirty. I made it to the market where Brandi sold me a salad, a Hot Pocket, and two Snapples. My back ached the whole way. I didn’t stop at the salon for whatever reason. I get the feeling that my days are numbered in some sense. Something somewhere has to break. I just got one of those scam calls regarding my vehicle’s warranty. There’s no end to this stuff… I have a beautiful edition in English of Goethe’s writings that I could examine anytime. It’s just hard for me to concentrate for very long. For now, there’s a Beatles song looping in my head from Sgt Pepper. I feel doubtful about getting everything done this weekend. Perhaps church on Sunday is higher priority than band practice Saturday, though I don’t want to let those guys down. If I work up my enthusiasm it might go all right, but all in all I feel very tired of everything. Maybe I can transcend the mundane with an excursion into Goethe today sometime. I hear an unfamiliar bird call from the backyard, like a summons to Paradise, an Eden outside of time…

Quest for Method

Three o’clock. The sun has come out, very beautifully. I love February for times like this. The colors are so mellow and deep, like a cloying fruit or sherbet, or like a dense, slightly dissonant chord struck on a chorused guitar. I made some cool music for my mom before she passed away. The other night I dreamed about a favorite rockstar, the bassist John Wetton. His work in the mid seventies was really stunning. I like him the best with King Crimson. I’ve dreamed more than once about meeting those guys and jamming with them— or just listening and talking… 

This day reminds me of February a year ago, when I was reading the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. I found it fascinating that he advocated the imagination for a method of ascertaining the truth of things, in an a priori way. He also proposed ratiocination, another a priori approach to knowledge. Was this a Romantic preoccupation, because it was shared by Emerson and Whitman. Can imagination really reveal important truths of the world? And if so, then where can I see the proof of it? Poe was born in 1809 and died 1849, a Capricorn. The intuitionism of the Romantics runs against empiricism, or sensory observation of the world. They believed the heart can detect information deeper than objects of sense, arriving at universal spiritual knowledge— like Faust in the Goethe play. In turn, the Romantic tradition had a big influence on Carl Jung in the following century, so naturally he adopted the same introspective methods. But I keep wondering: does it work? 

Blake under Pressure

Two twenty five. I ordered a new copy of Blake’s poetry, thinking I could give it to Pastor as a belated Christmas present. To me, Blake is the epitome of English Romanticism, and to know his poetry is to understand what drove progressive rock such as Yes— especially Yes.

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:

Bring me my arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In Englands green & pleasant Land.

The edition by Erdman is still the definitive one. I’m not sure what more I can say. My faith is clouded by doubt of the efficacy of the imagination, our creative potential. There’s no doubt that Blake believed in the powers of the mind to create a meaningful reality, what he called the Poetic Genius. But I’m struggling to maintain such optimism. Rather than creative, I grow more analytical, no matter how I try to resist the change. Still I admire those who can keep that optimism going. Time will be the test of what is true. Perhaps the dreamers of big dreams will win the day? 

Scope

The times at large are generally very dark. When is it going to end? Sometimes I wax a bit psychotic thinking about it, deluded that I’m directly responsible for the plight of the world, or that my experience is a microcosm of what’s happening everywhere. I guess the second part is true, but there’s nothing magical about it. And really, everybody is likewise a miniature of the soul of the world. You can’t be conscious without carrying around a world conscience, because we’re all social animals. How strange to think of getting drunk to make reality go away. Everyone has a role to play in this drama, and we all have a day to shine in the spotlight. Many thinkers acknowledge this same truth, from Shakespeare to Emerson to Sartre; Cervantes too.

Wee hours. At the same time, I get tired of the grandiosity of a Shakespeare or a Victor Hugo, or any Romantic voice, and want to go with the ordinary and everyday. It is only in the commonplace that people are human and alive. And we’ve seen the terrible consequences of excessive drama once again in this country. It’s time to change our focus from narcissism to the humble and normal. In my opinion, even the Church is guilty of loftiness and grandiloquence, evident in the puffed up sermons we hear all the time. Perhaps rhetoric does violence to human well-being? And if so, maybe we need to bring the scope down to specifics, to particulars once again, with an attitude of calm and common sense. Instead of Shakespeare then, we get Thornton Wilder: the daily paperboy and the clink of coffee spoons… 

Il Pleuve

Eleven ten. Outside, it rains, and I just woke up from a nap. Suspense over the election gives me wild dreams. Life can be quite unfair to people, and the only way out of caring is by drunkenness or by Buddhism. To take things with equanimity is foreign to my nature, but then I have to remind myself of what I have no control over, like the weather and like politics. 

A song from the era of big bands presents itself: “Rhythm of the Rain,” but does the rainfall really have a pattern to it? It’s the same as listening to wind chimes in the outdoor breeze, or in Romantic times, a wind lyre. Only a bit more sophisticated is the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes. You flip a coin and consult the corresponding hexagrams for your fortune. I once imagined setting the book open on a tree stump outside and letting the wind rustle the pages, thereby deciding the wisdom of nature. Is this randomness or is it intelligence? A passage from a Merlin novel by Mary Stewart has it that he, on horseback, lets the horse pick their path through a wood. I suppose this passivity is a variety of wisdom, as is the rhythm of the rain. Letting go and letting a nameless Something take control. Like the wind. Like the rain. And the pages of the Book of Changes. 

Child Is the Father

One fifty in the morning.

I had a round of bad dreams about my dad. Essentially I saw him as a sadist, one who derives pleasure from the suffering of other creatures, and as such, a terrible man. Expiation is the word Hugo uses for atonement, or rather his translator uses it. I feel as though my parents need such a thing, so maybe that’s my duty while I’m still alive. Or maybe it’s better to let them fade into obscurity. Better to help the living than the dead. But my dreams don’t let me forget them. When I was a toddler I had a lucid dream of my parents being judged by a wise old man who could be none other than Jesus. He shone as a star in the night sky, then he descended from heaven to persecute my mother and father. I ran into the house to try to warn them of their danger, pursued by the white bearded wizard. It’s so strange as a child to be alone with a dream. How do you explain it to someone when you lack the vocabulary to do so? And then, who listens to a three year old? 

Moonless

Upon a moonless night

In the streets of the old Paris

Pursued by Javert and three thugs

I must save little Cosette

Escape to the left cut off

We come to the convent wall

From a streetlight yet unlit

I take a length of rope

She asks what the trouble is

I tell her in a whisper,

“It’s the Thenardiess”

Because this she will understand

With a convict’s skill

I scale the face of the wall

And gaining the top

Haul the little girl up by the rope

Javert and his thugs baffled

We alight on the other side

In a forbidden garden

Where we are awed

By mysterious music. 

Carefree Tuesday

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.