Search for a Cause

One forty. The quote I ascribed to Montaigne was really Erasmus, found in Google Books, a biography of Martin Luther. It must have been a source I used for my term paper in fall 1989. Kind of amazing how I remembered the passage all this time. It isn’t clear that Erasmus actually said that; there were no quotation marks around the sentence. I would guess that Rousseau was the first to seriously proclaim the wisdom of children, and later Wordsworth took up the torch and elaborated on it. So I guess Google does know everything…

Two forty. The year 1989 is significant for me somehow. That was the last period when I fully possessed my faculties before the onset of the illness. My Vraylar has restored me to my old sanity at age 22. So my life now begins again from that point, it seems to me. I hear more songs by Pat Metheny. My parents sold their manufactured home in Florence in the summer of the same year because Mom couldn’t afford two houses. I feel sick about that. My brother helped them sell the property to a Californian who had the lot next door. It was such a defeat for poor Mom, who had wanted to retire in luxury. I recall the day when they brought home their purchase of a motor home. Unfortunately it turned out to be a lemon. Something was wrong with the battery. So, their retirement plans came to nothing, and they got rid of the lemon as well. What happened to my mental health after that I don’t know. I fell into a depression at first, and then I partially lost my ability to concentrate on schoolwork. Eventually I didn’t register for fall term 1991, and continued seeing a psychologist. Finally in November I began to have bizarre delusions, culminating in a full blown episode and the diagnosis in December. But the question is why, and was there a situational reason for the breakdown? 

Friday Resolution

Five o’clock.

I hate theology, so I doubt if I’ll ever finish reading Les Miserables. The intricate logic of religion pulls my brain apart, so I’m opting for the parsimony of science. The simpler the better. The simpler the truer. My mind echoes “Blue Motel Room” by Joni Mitchell. Yesterday I farted around with the bass line to “Take Five.” It sounds really good on a P Bass with flatwounds. Music is a wonderful thing precisely because it has no ideology, and yet expresses so much. It is the being of the phenomenon, sort of. The quintessence. When words tangle me up and throw me into a tizzy, I take recourse to music to unwind.

Eight o’clock. No plans for today except to go to the market. I noticed that they had some doggie pepperoni on the shelf, so I think I’ll buy it. I might even splurge on a Coke today. The chance of rain goes up this afternoon, but isn’t guaranteed to happen. The squirrels are up and busy. There are still a lot of acorns on the ground. If I overcome my trepidation, I may take another look at Hugo’s massive book. But it’ll be more work than fun to read and think about. Will I come out of the experience converted to religion? Probably not, but I’ll know a few things I hadn’t known before.

Nine ten. There was an autumnal glow to the clouds in the south as I walked home on the Maxwell sidewalk. They appeared purplish and I felt some wind. It’s a reassuring sign that maybe nature forgives us our trespasses in some degree. Michelle gave me a price break on the doggie treats, which was very kind of her. I gave Aesop two of them, to his great joy. Today seems like Saturday to me… On my way home, I thought vaguely of the past when I would go to church, another mile east on the sidewalk. The little green espresso shack has been doing a fair amount of business across the street from the salon. But, I feel like an outsider to the Maxwell community for my views, which are not conservative. The collective consciousness around here has not progressed much beyond WW2, unless you ask the kids.

Ten ten. That reminds me of the errand I purposed to do a few months ago: to make a visit to Kelly Middle School and give a small contribution…

Back to School

Nine twenty five. Aesop gets his breakfast in a few minutes. I exercise my freedom wherever I can. It’s a beautiful day, with the high temperature predicted to be 90 degrees. I just paid my insurance bill. I’m glad August is over. September is the month when school starts in my city.

I can remember the feeling of returning to school in Stride Rite shoes, either waffle stompers or wallabies, periwinkle cords, and a homemade shirt. I smell my lunch thermos. Scooby Doo or Speed Buggy was the theme. I see the old playground. Monkey bars and structures for climbing on, swings, and a slide. The fierce sun made the asphalt stink like tar. Some of the girls wore Bluebird or Brownie uniforms on certain days. We sang patriotic songs without really knowing what they meant. I was fascinated with dinosaurs, so I started a collection of books, posters, and stickers about them. Mom didn’t approve of this, but she went along with it. It’s strange, I can feel what it was like to be seven years old. The teacher hated me, but some of the other kids were nice. I began piano lessons the same year. I rode my bike to get my weekly lesson early in the morning, then went directly to school.

Mrs Weight lived in the green house at the end of Fremont. Her son had a dachshund named Sergeant Pepper. They called him Sarge. Every Christmas she held a recital of all her students. These were nerve wracking, and I don’t recall them very well. I studied with her for six years, then finally quit and dedicated myself to drum lessons with Ken. Mrs Weight was upset because she didn’t approve of rock and roll… Speaking of which, I ordered the 40th Anniversary edition of A Farewell to Kings by Rush. It should be kind of emotional for me, reminding me of past joys and disappointments. “Madrigal” ought to be particularly sweet.

Thursday Morning

Quarter of nine.

Another day to chomp at the bit while the sun shines unaware. Everywhere I turn I get prohibitions and restrictions, the symbolic bit in the horse’s mouth. I’ll never forget the lecture on Peter Shaffer I heard in fall 1986. The professor was so organized and clear thinking, conceptual, and perfect. It was a very hard course, yet I wish I had taken the whole cluster. We also watched Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman… Funny though, going to college wasn’t really my decision. I just got herded there by educators in high school. I never had a sense of direction that came from me alone, so I didn’t know what I was doing there. And then I saw a psychologist who only confused me more. So many guideposts in society, and so little authenticity from individuals. Perhaps the most important work of literature I studied was Don Quixote, out of a Norton anthology. What better way to kick at a fallen world than to go insane with dreams of knight errantry? Quixote does exactly what he wants to do, with reference only to his own heart… I just looked on Craigslist: a power trio in Springfield needs a bass player. I’m going to call or text Mike and Ron and give my ultimatum. Either we practice this weekend or I’m leaving.

Black Lives (in My Notebook)

Wee hours. Of course Black lives matter! And so do all the other colors. It should be self evident that racism is wrong. When I was a seventh grader, we had Mickey Mouse social studies class with Mr Schultz. Much of the material dealt with racist attitudes toward Black Americans and other ethnicities such as Polish people. While the teacher was lecturing, I drew pictures in my notebook, beautiful doodles of whales and the heroes of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels I loved to read. At quiz time, I always passed with A grades while many students struggled. One time, a girl named Teri raised her hand and tattled on me for drawing pictures in my notebook. Mr Schultz said very evenly that if Robbie wanted to draw pictures in his notebook, that was okay. The same year, we had one Black student, a big guy named Martel. He was in my Beginning Band class. I didn’t know anything about playing drum kit, but we all got a turn before class started. When it was my turn, Martel always sat in a chair behind me and cheered me on. I loved that old green sparkle Ludwig kit. It sounded so great…

Solstice Flower

0AD6AE81-163A-461A-ACB2-7D56189F6338Quarter after one. I brought out my guitar, sat down, and picked out the chords to “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House. It made me feel good to master at least one rhythm guitar part, though my technique is poor, like the tyro I am. There’s a long way to go, a lot of progress to make, but learning is the fun part. Ultimately I might want to play rhythm guitar in a band, if the gods are kind.

Three o’clock. I skipped to the penultimate chapter of the Salinger novel, regarding the carrousel. Holden ends up simply watching it go round and round with his little sister riding it. Then he gets rained on. Will he ever take a ride on the carrousel? At the beginning of the book, he watched the football game from on top of the hill, far away from the action, and then didn’t stay for the whole game… I barely remember reading the book the first time, but I know I discussed it with my young lady friend. She borrowed a copy from the public library, and it had the carrousel pony cover illustration. I recall that the weekend she was at the house, during Spring Term, I had a Shakespeare exam to study for. It was scheduled for Monday, and I had only one day to prepare. I managed to pass it with a B+ grade. Funny, I still have my Riverside Shakespeare. In 1987 I had to tote this ponderous tome everywhere with me in my book bag. I began the school year hating the Bard, but by the spring I had come to like him much better. It was reading the opening to The Winter’s Tale that changed my mind, the benedictions of the two kingly friends to each other. It would probably be rather painful to open that old book again. For now, there’s this picture I took of a magnolia flower. Which one will open first?


Quarter of five. It’s very warm in the house, making it hard to breathe and concentrate on anything, and yet I read a bit more of The Catcher in the Rye. My reading investigations are a mode of self analysis. I’m trying to solve a problem and satisfy my curiosity about what went wrong with my life after my sophomore year in college. Losing my virginity was extremely traumatic at age 20, an event I never did recover from. While I was in love, she used me like a weekend liaison, treated it so casually. I learned that I cannot live that way. The second experience I had with a woman was a mistake because I didn’t love her at all, didn’t allow myself to. I should have let well enough alone. A bug in my ear said it was important to have a relationship. Many years later I read in a self help book that it’s okay to live without romance. I think I hung out with too many guys who made a macho thing out of dating. As if you weren’t a man if you didn’t prove it to everyone. I always thought it was silly, and mostly I avoided entanglements. Some people get married before they ever go to bed together. Maybe this is better, except for legal complications if the marriage doesn’t work out. I don’t feel very sexy anymore, fortunately. After I quit drinking it all went away— except for the mess-up with Sheryl. Finally I’m getting over that trauma as well. I probably will never like therapists again since my bad experience. So I undertake my own psychoanalysis to try to heal myself. The Salinger book was influential for me the year I was hurt in love. Funny how Holden criticizes the world as being phony, as I once did when I was in high school and young and sensitive. I wonder if there’s truth in that perception? How much of human life is purely artificial and fictive, just a matter of conformity to social constructs and conventions? Conversely, how much of life is authentic and genuine? When we are young, perhaps the artifice is easier to spot. As adults, seeing the truth is reserved for the sensitive people who remember, especially writers, musicians, and other artists.


Quarter of ten.

Today is Bloomsday. A big day for James Joyce in Dublin. The thought of Ulysses takes me back to being a student in fall 1989. We had class in a room of Fenton Hall, on the first floor. It was the gray building next to Gilbert, the business school. At least two other students in the class were snobbish dilettantes, and one of them I knew as a coworker. At the beginning of the term I sat next to her, but later I sat farther back with a very nice blonde girl from Georgia. As the term advanced, I got a day behind on the readings, so I heard the lectures prior to reading the assignments. Backwards. But reading Ulysses was such an aesthetically beautiful experience. I identified particularly with Stephen’s loss of his mother, even though my own mom was still alive. Joyce kept echoing the idea of “love’s bitter mystery” in reference to Stephen’s mom, and said it was a “pain that was not yet love.” Very poignant and sad, and it set the tone for me for that whole term. Yet there was a great deal of humor in Ulysses too, and a lot of it was through the use of puns. “When I makes tea I makes tea, and when I makes water I makes water.”

So today is Bloomsday. Blow the dust off your copy of anything James Joyce and take a moment to appreciate his life and work.

Much Ado about Aristotle

Eight ten. I’ve decided I really like my house and want to do more to keep it up. This morning I opened the box with my vinyl records in it: everything appears to be there. These, like my Aristotle one volume, are my history. A history that was sort of dictated to me by the law of supply and demand, by what items were made available by the distributors at the time. For instance, Led Zeppelin got quite a bit of airplay on the local radio, and then I would go out and buy the albums I could find. It feels like a big conspiracy of society against the individual, if I believe the abstraction “society” is a measurable reality. What if it isn’t? What if nothing exists but individuals?

Aristotle confused me when I was young by claiming that genera are logically prior to species (that is, individuals). To me, nominalism, or the rejection of abstractions and essences, made more sense. This way, specimens come first, and classification after. And Aristotle, like Plato, has the whole scheme upside down. The upshot is that a holistic entity like “society” could be a complete hoax. I think I’m still a nominalist today, not so much an essentialist— although opposites attract. In college, I tried to make Aristotle into something he wasn’t. I did well in the class just because I did some original thinking about ontology and challenged Aristotle himself. I barely knew what I was talking about, and sometimes lacked the terms to express myself. But I wasn’t just a yes man to anything the old icon said.

Philosophy classes were great for being open minded— as long as you backed up your assertions with logical argument. The spirit was really independent thought and critical discussion, whereas English classes gave us no latitude in interpretation of texts. But either way, I had a great learning experience in school, and I wish I could have stayed there forever.

The Dawn

Four thirty five.

Still pitch dark outside. Music: “Does It Really Happen?” by Yes. It makes me think of the stands of Autzen Stadium in fall 1982, how the chill evening air made our instruments go sharp. At the end of the game, I never knew which team won. Dad thought that was funny. Those Friday nights I came home so exhausted I fell asleep on the couch. Mom would come wake me up with a chuckle. South and Sheldon always embarrassed our pep band, arriving in full uniform and marching in to drum cadences. North never had any money. Timmy the senior girl asked me if I liked her socks. She played flute. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t believe she was just teasing me. It was the year I started buying lots of Yes and Led Zeppelin records. They were all being rereleased on the Atlantic label. Now, my memories are such a blur and it seems impossible that I was that person. Going back to reread Yeats might be appropriate, especially “The Wild Swans at Coole” and “Among Schoolchildren.” At the same time, I look to the future with a bit more hope. Try to make the other side of the hill a plateau. Outside, the gray day is dawning.