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. 

Undrowned

Three o’clock. I don’t feel very poetic lately. My creative energy is invested in music with Mike and Ron, and otherwise there’s no reason to worry about the “sublime” anymore. The world is changing away from the supernatural, which is fine with me. The time is now for charting my course through the future, whether I have ten years left or twenty.

If it weren’t so far to walk, I’d go buy two jalapeño burgers from Carl’s Jr. and scarf them down at home. Been a very long time since I did anything like that. During my working years I ate fast food every day and really enjoyed it.

There are other things I’d like to do, too. I’d read some later Henry James if I thought I could share it with someone who cares. His writing is very Freudian, very Modern, and beautifully done. I never did read The Ambassadors, and I’ve always wanted to do that. Maybe I’ll do it anyway and keep it to myself, but it’s more fun when you can discuss it with others. I also feel that I might be in the wrong place on WordPress— not for the first time. How I long for a friend who also likes Henry James and can relate to what I learned in college, albeit 30 years ago, when education was much different from today. How nice if I could warp time back to the late ‘80s and do school all over again. In that case I’d be surrounded by people like myself with the same education. Learning is meant to be shared with friends, but I feel like a fish out of water flopping around on the dock. Nowhere for my message to go… 

In and out of Time

Noon hour. I just jammed on the bass guitar for an hour. This cloudy day makes me think of early summers in junior high school, or late spring. I can’t believe how bright everything is, how vital and resonant. Maybe it’s just me who is full of love of life recently, and of hope for better things in the future. Right now it’s super quiet in the room and everywhere else. It’s very strange when this happens; like I’m the only human being alive on earth. It will be a lonely afternoon again today, unless I decide to go to Bi Mart. I guess I’ll do some housework after a bit. While playing the bass, I copied the line for “Invisible Sun” by The Police, a song that always gives me goosebumps. It takes me back to my sophomore year in high school, when the future was unlimited, and yet my vocabulary was inadequate to compass my experience of life. Maybe it was this innocence that made life seem so boundless and infinite, like I could live forever. I bought Ghost in the Machine on vinyl a year after it was released. I still think it’s a better record than Synchronicity because it’s more groove oriented… I didn’t know how to think when I was 15 years old. It must’ve been an odd mode of existence, being so green and inexperienced, nonverbal and inarticulate. Language gives me a handle on things and events, a feeling of having control and power over situations. Otherwise I’d be just a passive leaf in the wind. Or maybe we’re all merely leaves in the wind anyway? Except for a few geniuses who move and shake the world. Sometimes it takes more than genius; it takes money to legislate what people do and think… I really hope the band I’m in can be a modest success here locally, and maybe get some radio airplay. Notoriety around town can be a good thing. The three of us are all around 50 years old, but not too old to have ambition. Whether we win or lose, we’ll still be having fun in the endeavor. 

To a Second Grade Teacher

Quarter after six.

Polly got her first shot of the Moderna vaccine recently. For a day, it made her whole body ache and her thyroid swell up. Dunno. That sounds pretty scary. And generally I feel that the whole pandemic has been a puppet show, and we’re the puppets. Some tycoon who lives out of sight jerks the strings. Call it a paranoid delusion if you will. I don’t care. Suddenly I remember being a second grader, and all the things we were forced to do together, like the Pledge of Allegiance and singing patriotic songs. I was just miserable, and I did poorly in school except for writing and drawing. I fell way behind on the reading assignments because the teacher was so mean to me. She reported to my mother that I was socially retarded or something like that and wanted me to repeat the school year. Thank goodness I was able to advance and get a better teacher.

Seven thirty. The nearly full moon looked brown as it rose in the east last night. I saw it pink in the west less than an hour ago, and the birds were calling before the sunrise. In some sense I feel that I’m a child of the moon, a person marked with imagination and music and madness, and with loneliness for these reasons. But I also know I’m not the only moon child in the world. There are many of us incorrigible ones under the sun. We are delivered from the womb having a different understanding of how life works. Rather than a curse, it is a gift, and a gift I wouldn’t renounce. This is what I would tell my second grade teacher today. 

Epiphany: Is Reason for Everybody?

Quarter of ten. I’ve just awoken from a nap, but it was difficult to relax, to let go and fall asleep. I was asking myself how many people remain with good common sense, and am I one of them. Perhaps it were wiser to stay off of social media for the next ten days, given the magnitude of what’s at stake? Or by the same token, maybe the Internet can use some sound advice, like the voice of reason speaking evenly in a wilderness of tongues? But being a person with issues, I doubt if I can prescribe for the well-being of others. What would my parents say if they were alive to give their opinion? It seems that everyone needs a parent figure in times of obscurity, chaos and confusion. Above all, we need security and safety in order to live and further ourselves on to the future. I believe that the best rudder to steer us through a time of madness is sweet reason, wherever this faculty comes from, in whatever it consists. It’s the kind of calm that prevails upon you when you sit down to read a good book.

An image just reappeared to me from my walk to Bi Mart the other day: the site of the demolition of my old elementary school. I remember how my mother used to volunteer to help tutor students in reading. The effort was led by Mrs Madden, whose job was solely to teach reading at Silver Lea. Mom used to be astonished by the dyslexia she encountered among the children who struggled. When I was in fourth grade, the better readers were forced to tutor their peers who didn’t do so well. Honestly, it was kind of a nightmare for me, because the ones I helped resented me so bitterly. Scott and Paul were especially hard for me to try to tutor when I was only nine years old. The last time I saw Paul, he was working at the Abby’s pizza parlor in a small town north of Eugene. I was still a college student, rather aimlessly going about my studies.

So now, Silver Lea school has been razed to the ground, not a trace of it remaining in physical reality, and the only existence it retains is in the memory of those who went there. It just makes me reflect that some people never do learn the experience of “reason” from sitting with a good book, so how could they possibly get what I mean? Sometimes it all seems so futile. A society of freethinking philosophers will probably never be a reality because most people can’t sit still for that long. Yet, I think of people like Paul and Scott and wish them every blessing. 

By the Roots

One thirty. I feel myself flashing back to ninth grade, still the happiest year of my life. I think it was happy because of Rush, such a joy and inspiration to me for many years to follow. I had a minor crush on Gail W— in ninth grade pre algebra. Junior high school was weird, the beginning of a strange odyssey to college. It began and ended with egoism, the very antithesis to the churchgoing mentality I’ve since learned. Then why did I say that ninth grade was a happy time? The egoism led me inevitably to alcohol abuse three years later. Wasn’t my formal education instead a mistake? The soundtrack to the whole mad pursuit was Rush. And the basic text for Rush?: Ayn Rand. So now it’s nearly Christmas, 39 years after ninth grade egomania. Have I learned anything? No, but I’ve gained perspective enough to make an important distinction between school indoctrination and that of the Church. Perhaps Rush as a “soundtrack” is disposable. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

Quarter of three. It may be better to keep a critical distance from Ayn Rand, but then, the seeds of egoism were sown in me forty years ago. Better to acquaint myself with the enemy in order to weed it out by the roots. In my experience, alcoholism naturally follows from “reason, egoism, and capitalism.” Thus, the precepts of Alcoholics Anonymous are not far from the mark. 

Joyce

Nine twenty.

If I were going to see another therapist, I would look into my options with existential therapists in Eugene. As it stands, my blog sort of substitutes for sessions. The therapist is myself. I need to mix up my routine a bit; maybe take a long walk to Bi Mart, or beyond that to Dollar Tree. The last time I saw Abby’s Pizza Parlor, the parking lot was deserted during the noon hour. It just makes you wonder when the nightmare is going to end. An hour ago my neighborhood was fogged in, but through the mist you could see the blue sky. Now it has burned off. 

My pen pal has been reading Joyce and enjoying it, which makes me happy. Dubliners is quite a special little book. I love his idea of “moral paralysis.” And indeed the anesthetic snow is general in the state of Ireland, and everywhere else besides. The professor I had, Dr Wickes, stated baldly that James Joyce was the greatest writer of the 20th Century, and anyone in the classroom who disagreed with him could leave right then. Nobody left the room. There was absolute silence. So then the course could proceed. A few of the students struck me as dilettantes, shallow social climbers who thought it was cool to read Joyce. The others were more sincere and probably did better in the class. One morning, a bagpiper stationed himself on the sidewalk outside our classroom window and began to play. Wickes saw him and said, “I paid him to do that.” … I ought to dig out my biography of Joyce and read it through. Perhaps the highest praise for Ulysses comes from Hemingway’s diary: “James Joyce has written a goddamn wonderful book.” 

Our Way: a Letter

Sometimes I wish I’d taken Ancient Greek at the university, but that might have been over the top. As it was, I got to take Aristotle in the philosophy department with a good old Jewish professor. One of my favorite terms in school was winter 1989. I was 22 years old and taking, besides Aristotle, Literature of the Renaissance and a psychology survey course. The English class was great, although I skipped a lot of the reading assignments. We studied Sir Philip Sidney, and I still want to sit down with The Old Arcadia and absorb the whole thing. I wrote papers on Thomas More’s Utopia and Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. Also we read John Lyly and Mary Wroth, and of course Shakespeare’s sonnet series.

The same winter we had a great dumping of snow in Eugene, but classes still were not canceled. My dad and I rode the bus up to the Campus on a day or two (he was the fiscal officer of the psychology department for twenty years) and on a Friday morning I remember being on the bus with other students. One of them was a music major girl who was busy sight reading a composition from a book. Her name was Dunia, and she’d been the girlfriend of a drummer I’d known. She didn’t recognize me. The afternoon of that day Dad and I waited at the bus stop a long time. My writing assignment was due Monday, on Thomas More, so I was rather preoccupied. On the bus again, we picked up two guys I remembered from grade school, Ron and David. They’d been playing in the snow together and asked each other if they were cold. I felt awkward because David probably knew me, but we said nothing. My education had divided us into different social classes, and even though we went to the same high school, I’d never seen them around. It happened with my nephews as well: we attended North Eugene together, but due to the differences in our coursework, our paths never crossed. I loosely belonged to the academic elite that took AP classes and tended to disregard those in a lower stratum of the school.

Thinking about that now, it was an awful circumstance to undergo for all of us. My nephews really resented me, and our families divided even more deeply as it was clear that I would go to college while they were stuck with manual labor. There’s a lesson in here somewhere, perhaps an epiphany for me: pride leads to a fall. And yet the school system is set up that way. I remember the insane amount of pressure that was applied to us students who supposedly had a promising future. I also recall a few students who objected to the whole situation, renouncing the opportunity to take AP English, and then sort of coasting out the year with less stress, but retaining their humanity and their sanity. And for that reason, I have to respect their decision. After all, look at what happened to me under all that pressure and stress. Was it really worth it even to graduate from college? And what is the quality that gives people dignity when all is said and done? Maybe with Sinatra we can sing that we did it our way.

Goodbye Silver Lea

Nine thirty.

I did things a little differently this morning. Aesop was out of canned food and I was concerned that he didn’t get enough variety, so I walked the mile to Grocery Outlet under the clear sky. I bought him four cans of Blue Buffalo in three flavors, plus sourdough bread, dry salami, pepper Jack cheese, and a summer sausage for me. A demo team on Silver Lane is tearing down my old grade school. I stopped and watched the big Caterpillars doing this dirty work. I don’t know if a new building will replace the old… According to the official report, the new North Eugene High School will be built on the grounds of the old Silver Lea school. The Japanese immersion program has moved to Kelly on Howard Avenue, and Corridor School has closed forever. So this really means goodbye to my elementary school. I attended there from 1973 to 1979. Learned a little bit of everything. Through the wrecked walls I could see into the classrooms, with the wall clocks frozen at two o five. I don’t remember how I voted on that ballot measure. I didn’t realize that revamping the high school necessitated the demolition of Silver Lea. Obviously the measure passed. Be careful what you vote for. Otherwise it’s a beautiful morning, and now I have a few groceries. 

Dreamer

Ten o’clock.

The same thing happened with my Black Lives Matter lawn sign: a good fairy set it up again after it had been knocked over. The little market was doing a good business this morning. I actually saw a person buy a pack of cannabis capsules. The guys in line ahead of me were probably construction workers or something else blue collar. I had the sensation for a second that I wasn’t really there, that I didn’t exist or maybe it was a dream. As if I could close my eyes and be back in bed. It required more effort for me to walk to the store this time. When I stopped by the salon, Karen’s mood was foul because the girls had made a mess while she was gone. She tends to vent at whoever happens to be in the way. Yet she gave me a chocolate brownie anyway. By degrees she controlled her temper. I just stood there and waited for her to calm down. On my own street again, I said hi to Roger. He was bundled up in a khaki green jacket against the chill… 

I don’t have any real worries today, and no engagements until tomorrow night for church. Physical therapy with Christina yesterday afternoon went quite well. She is supportive of my writing and encourages me to switch to my laptop to do more serious stuff. It’s good to get a boost now and then. The clouds are huge and lined with gray, permitting a little sunshine through. On the edge of my memory I can feel what college life was like. It was a lot of fun to study Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz when I was still twenty one. I still have my course text, an Anchor paperback called The Rationalists. It was like living in a dream to sort of deny objective reality and turn inward to a priori experience. Very strange approach to knowledge. My head was in the clouds…