Seven o’clock morning.
Lisa’s birthday is this Sunday, she just told me. I took my chances and walked to market in the black darkness, feeling my way, stepping carefully on the glistening street. These winter birthdays remind me of a line from Thomas Dolby, maybe irrelevantly. “The winter boys, drinking heavy water from a stone…” My imagination can do lots of things with Capricorn. The sure footed climber with a fishtail in the sea. Ruled by Saturn and Father Time. Concerned with old age. Bones, teeth, and skeleton. Alas poor Yorik… The day may be long because I got up at four thirty. No daylight until nearly eight. I didn’t see much on my little pilgrimage— literally, due to the dark. Just now there’s a growing light that reveals thick fog on the trees across the way east. I tell Aesop to look out the window and he gives a small bark and a growl. There’s no threat, I say; no menace. He puts his head down and pouts for his breakfast, fortunately not far away.
Already I feel tired and somewhat sad and lonely. It’d be nice if I had control over my thoughts and feelings. Aristotle’s approach is passivity. The other is creative and subjective, like Sartre’s model of perception. When I was in college, the faculty was divided into the Freudian team against the New School of modern theory. I was caught right in the middle of it. For the first half of my schooling I was more Continental and for the rest of it, psychodynamic. I guess now I can pick the identity I like better. It’s also doable to choose neither one.
If my life depended on it, I’d trust Aristotle to be accurate on reality.
The rain has begun…
An event that happened 35 years ago still has me pondering the meaning of being human versus animal. According to ancient wisdom, humans have a rational faculty that allows them to participate in the divine and rise above animal instinct. But the distinction gets hazier when you move from philosophy to modern anthropology and consider evolution and the continuity of the whole animal kingdom. Then what happens to human specialness and the diviner part called reason? Can we still set ourselves apart? Here, my logic tends to break down.
Yesterday afternoon there was a hailstorm and this morning, the stones are still around to whiten rooftops and litter the lawns of the neighborhood. It’s cold. A while ago I remembered an album by Weather Report titled Night Passage. I bought the cassette as a special order from a small business named Face the Music on 13th Street, up on campus when I was a student. I also remember that the clerk was quite judgmental of Jaco for his chemical dependency, but I was undeterred and really enjoyed the tape. I wanted to play the bass in his style, like a lot of players did. Later on, I grabbed Word of Mouth from the same hole in the wall. I went through a phase of jazz fusion until the genre itself kind of fizzled. I wonder what happened to it?
I have no idea what I’m going to say. I’ve been writing in my diary some sober reflections on white evangelicalism, people of color, ethnicity, music, and how all of these things are supposed to cohere in our world. The last sentence went, “I just feel like something terrible is going to happen.” America is said to be the melting pot of the world, but it seems like we forget to stir the pot sometimes. I can’t stomach the theories of C.G. Jung, who like Martin Heidegger gave inspiration to the Nazis, a fact that isn’t publicized very much, but everyone deserves to know about it. The little book I picked up at St Vinnie’s, The Age of Analysis, is rare, and it was used by my old Jewish philosophy professor. He came to the USA from Germany just before Jews were put in concentration camps. He disliked Heidegger for his Nazi affiliation, for very good reasons. And he had a special insight to the motives of logical positivists like Rudolf Carnap since the disaster of German nationalism. But racism can happen anywhere and it usually does. I’ve got white knuckles over this election and I just hope that voters have some sense. “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.” I still feel that something awful is going to happen.
A vapor trail in the east is pinked by the light of the rising sun. The moon is high in the west, an oblong smudge of white chalk. Crows on the wing to my right. Lisa has a story for us about her arrival at the store this morning. She says a homeless man by the storefront lit a fire in the can for cigarette butts and warned her not to come near. Fearing that the market would burn down, Lisa pulled out a taser and a phone and told him to put it out or she would call 911. This was the crazy start to her day. For me, it was only a matter of shopping for things to eat and drink today. It was colder, about 43 degrees, so I put on my old blue parka, a relic from student years.
The same parka saw the time when I learned about Indian religions and basic biology in old buildings along 13th Street. The geology building’s name was changed to Columbia Hall by that time, and class was held rather late in the afternoon because I remember it would get quite dark before we were done. The religion class happened in Chapman Hall in a smaller room on the second floor, across from the department office. Dr Kim really avalanched us with reading work so that I came away thinking social sciences were the hardest courses you could take. I fell way behind on my homework. Thankfully the final exam was objective and I bluffed through it. But the term paper took a lot of work. I wrote it on Jaina philosophy, though I was criticized for evading the religious practice element of the topic. He was a hard grader, like the professors of the old school.
I have an appointment for a video meeting this morning at eight o’clock. I hope it’s not very long… The clash I have with Pastor is the same as always: he’s a collectivist on the side of the majority of people while I advocate for the individual. His experience in high school was probably very different from mine. I saw a lot of kids suffer from the false oligarchy of the beautiful people. I doubt if Pastor would understand this. He doesn’t like Rush either, though the band spoke for many of us in school in the Eighties and Nineties. We learned from Rush that dreamers and misfits can overcome and be successful.
Quarter after nine.
Okay, I got the meeting over with… My sleep was troubled, riddled with thoughts of mortality and also individual freedom. Life feels like sort of a dead end today. Often I ask myself what I want out of my life, what would make me happy. I know I won’t find a friend who is exactly like me, though I’d like to meet someone with values close to mine… Is it really true that if you let go control, then you’ll get what you need? I knew someone who advised me, “They won’t come knocking on your door.” If you don’t seek for happiness, will it seek you? I have doubts about that.
Quarter after ten.
I get a haircut tomorrow. Right now there’s some wildfire smoke in the air… I don’t remember much of reading Madeleine L’Engle in the past. It’s hard for me to take it seriously. She said something about releasing control, because if you try to control things yourself then disaster will result. This presupposes a god that takes care of everything. Maybe she never heard of Voltaire: this is not the best of all possible worlds. But also I think of the young dissidents in high school who dropped out of advanced classes in protest of our indoctrination. They had a different agenda from school, which makes me curious. Perhaps they knew something that others of us didn’t know.
Quarter of nine.
It was a little later before I got up this morning and fed the dog. I read my emails, then finally got my jacket on and out the door on my way to the little market around the corner. The neighbor lady herded her two kids into the van to get them to Howard School at the same time that Diana and Victoria came out of their house. On Fremont, a blonde woman also came out of her house with the intention of going somewhere. I saw a lone woman walking by on N Park and two young girls on the sidewalk of Maxwell Road, probably headed for the immersion school where Kelly Junior High used to be. At the store I ran into a few more kids; one of them I let go ahead of me at the Snapple cooler, a boy of about eleven years, stout with light brown hair. The other two rode bikes on the sidewalk right past me as I went home. Aesop gets chicken jerky for a snack today: I bought 5 for 30 cents apiece and put them in a small brown bag. The first thought I had when I left the house was, I hope it doesn’t rain on me; that would suck. The sky is full of puffy leaden clouds and it’s agreeably cool out. I used to think of my own school experience when I’d go over to Maxwell Road on days like this; sort of dwell in nostalgia. But today all that is behind me, I guess. Do eleven year olds read comic books anymore?
In the years after Star Wars came out, the cable company here didn’t offer much to choose from. However, we got channels from Portland and also one from San Francisco: KTVU, Channel 2. This last one was a lot of fun for kids in the afternoon. At three thirty or so they had the TV Pow game in between Tom and Jerry cartoons, hosted by Pat McCormick, who also did Dialing for Dollars with a movie every weekday. And then at five o’clock it was Captain Cosmic, who would show old Flash Gordon serials and also talk about Star Wars miscellany for avid fans of George Lucas.
I don’t know when I quit watching Channel 2; maybe after I got to seventh grade and started reading regular books for fun. Also I couldn’t watch tv during the afternoon anymore because I had homework to do every day. And my mother usually helped me with that. In all fairness, I think it was my mother who taught me how to write decent prose, and that was when I was in junior high school. It’s kind of amazing to recognize that now. I learned a great deal in seventh grade from Mom and from my reading teacher, Cathy Cheleen. The latter taught us not to use run-on sentences, and Mom said to make them short and punchy. She told me to use synonyms for the same things for variety; and I still heed her advice even today.
It’s probably the Coke that made me write to you again. Sometimes it makes me feel really good. When that happens, I try to seize the day and take advantage of the good mood.
I hear rain on the roof and on the patio cover, while it’s pitch dark outdoors. A very old song from Andre Kostelanetz plays inwardly: “Calcutta.” This is a souvenir of my senior year in college when I took a religion class and also biology. I still have a soft spot for the religious studies department at the university. The place was just a hole in the wall on the second floor of Chapman Hall the last I knew. It may not even exist anymore: the department was always on the chopping block. The administration talked about merging it with the history department or moving it over to Northwest Christian College, but as of ten or twelve years ago it still remained open. The university in general makes me think of my dad, who had a fiscal job in the psychology department for at least ten years. He found a good niche there for himself and seemed fairly happy with his occupation. Quite a few times we had lunch together in his office or we’d go out for Italian food occasionally. Life back then was very secular for me because of who my parents were. But today it’s anybody’s guess where I belong, though I’ve been doing the same things for a handful of years, in the same comfortable places… Just now the day is dawning gray and wet. I wonder how the weather is in Calcutta?
I’m just up out of bed, and as I gain consciousness, the old kookaburra song comes to mind. It’s something my third grade class used to sing in rounds, led by Miss Otzby the cafeteria coach, way back in 1975. It was the first school year that I felt more or less human after a bad experience up until then. A teacher can make or break you, and Mrs Baggerman was the dawn after a very dark night. She was a Texas sexagenarian, very strict and not popular with the rowdy boys in class, but she liked me because I was quiet. I remember staying in from recess by choice to do SRA readings. My comprehension grew exponentially as I became rather introverted but not unhappy that way. Of course, one of the high points of that year was the Bicentennial, and we took a field trip to see the Freedom Train when it came through. It was just a mobile museum of Americana. I had a little crush on a Native girl a year older than I, named Robin. And I also remember how nice to me Stephanie was. And Karen, whose family was Jewish, so she stayed home for our Christmas party. And the popularity of Freddie, a Black kid, and Fritz. Everyone was so diverse yet we got along fine together. It makes you wonder why adults do not.
Five thirty AM.
This is Sunday, my day of rest at last. The light is coming up gray again after probably two weeks of this sunless stuff. Yesterday morning I got caught in the downpour without an umbrella coming back from the store. I got a little wet again in the afternoon when I left Karen’s place. I just remembered that she gave me a refrigerator magnet that I put away in a pocket of my shopping bag. I looked and found it still there and now it’s on the door. It’s interesting, the little symbolic things people do, the things we think that project ourselves onto the world. So that a bad mood reflects bad weather or the reverse in a Petrarchan way if you’ve ever read his sonnets. It’s a beautiful quality of human nature to have this confusion in perception. My dog is still sleeping in the middle of the floor, dreaming doggie dreams of doggie things. His universe is essentially canine because of his nature. The same is true for the squirrels and every creature that creeps or slithers on earth. Sometimes I see snails and night crawlers on the ground at my feet and pay them no heed except to observe that the worm is a hermaphrodite, having both kinds of sex organs. What do worms think about?
The other kids in eighth grade PE class called me “worm” when we played flag football on the field outside of Kelly Junior High. The ball took a bad bounce and hit me right in the groin. The weather then was like today, gray and wet, and soon I would be reading in the library for third period instead of playing flag football. It was more fun to read Lloyd Alexander than to be called names anyway. “Be kind to nerds. You may just wind up working for one.” And then you discover that the oligarchy of school was a false one.