The Lesson of Paul Bowles

Quarter after nine.

The storm drain in the curb on Fremont Avenue simply doesn’t work like it should, so it creates a big hazard whenever it rains. I walked clear around the block on N Park to evade that huge pond. It was very dark gray out and the rain fell incessantly. On the street I found bits of tree debris from the windstorm last night. When I got to the store, Michelle was not there. I asked Cathy what had happened. She told me that Michelle’s daughter’s boyfriend was killed in a car crash last Friday, so she couldn’t be there today. As if she didn’t have enough tragedy on her plate already. But I know it’s absurd to believe that some people are magnets for misfortune. We all get our share of bad luck. Still it seems to be rather unequally distributed. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective? I really think it’s more about prudence and using good judgment. It’s also about self regard. Altogether it is a thing of rationality, as the Greeks taught us at the dawn of civilization. As for phenomena like luck, I doubt if there is such a thing. The essence of the irrational seems to be self abandon, which ends up destroying you. When I think of how I used to drink my life away, I’m at a loss to explain what happened. But underneath it all I believe I didn’t like myself very much.

Ten twenty five. To understand what reason is, you need to know about the irrational. And the meltdown of logic is what I observed by reading Paul Bowles. Reason and self love are inextricably related to each other. Bad things happen when self respect breaks down and you reflect the chaos of the outside world. Meanwhile, the rain never stops… 


Because It’s Worth It

Quarter of eight.

I had a nap for three hours. My last big day on the town was lousy, though it’s hard to describe what my feelings were in the doctor’s office. I guess I was depressed since it was so difficult to find a redeeming thing about the experience. On the way home I tried to remember the feel of my parents and happier days when I looked upon the great stadium where the Ducks play football. But inside I felt hollow and sad for this abyss where good times used to be. And the same for the backstreets of the Whitaker district: I used to have friends who lived there, when Eugene was a smaller place with a true heart and spirit, and we all drove our own cars to each other’s house to make music and have fun. Today, the homeless have more or less taken over Downtown, so Fifth Street is not the same wonderful place anymore. Everything in the city is getting bigger and more impersonal, with less of a human soul than two decades ago.

Be that as it may…

Nine o’clock. Sobriety is just another life lesson you either learn or you don’t. When you do learn it, there’s no real need for a spiritual “program” or whatever. Recovery is a certain language that people can bat around, but it’s meaningless if you can’t stay clean and sober. Brass tacks: if you don’t like yourself then you’ll probably keep drinking and using. What’s the secret for liking yourself? And how do you overcome fear and guilt? The answer is different for every individual. But for me, being hit over the head with indoctrination about selflessness and altruism didn’t work at all. If anything, life is only worth living if you care for yourself first. The world won’t come to an end if you love yourself, whatever the majority may say. Your first duty is to you. 

For Tiffany

Three forty in the morning.

I went to bed and thought about an old song by John McLaughlin on Birds of Fire, “Miles Beyond.” A good friend lent me his cassette tape of the album in the fall of 1987, when we were forming a rock band with one other person. I had been very depressed over a failed relationship, but beginning in November, things turned around for me. I was pondering why I drank with my parents in my youth, and I still don’t know why. It enhanced my sense of self esteem, even out of proportion to reality. This is the narcissism component of alcoholism. It feels great to be in love with yourself, but ultimately it’s a delusion of grandeur. For all those years of alcohol abuse, I could have been someone quite different. At the time, it helped me compensate for feeling like a loser in high school. There was nothing else to empower me, so I fell for an illusion of power. I didn’t realize what a force writing could be until four years ago. An acquaintance wrote to me in January 2007, “Words hold definite power,” and now I believe her. 

On a Brubeck Song

Four forty. I rested in bed for a while. Towards the end I began to hear “Strange Meadowlark” in my head, an old Brubeck classic that always lifts my mood. The temperature outside is dramatically down from the summer heat we were having before. Currently it’s 70 degrees. This relief makes it easier for me to function again. It was fun to play my Strat a while ago, and I might do it again tomorrow. Maybe even plug it in. I don’t have many thoughts about literature and life right now. Perhaps something about learning from our regrets but not beating ourselves up. I remember that I asked a woman cabbie out once. I never saw her after that, yet I don’t regret doing it. Life was strange early in my recovery. There are things I don’t recall, but mostly I just wish I’d had more self respect at the time. It didn’t matter that I had a diagnosis of schizophrenia at all. It finally becomes clear to me. What counts is that I am a very intelligent human being, and very worthy for that reason. I don’t know where I got the misconception that having a brain is a terrible sin. There’s not an iota of truth to that. So, it would have been nice to avoid all the therapy and the abuse and suspicion I received from the professional people who really didn’t know what they were doing. I’m so much happier now, without being stigmatized. All I needed was to take the Vraylar. Over the time since the fire, my blog has metamorphosed from being about schizophrenia to being about human life without labels. But this doesn’t subtract anything from the beauty of “Strange Meadowlark,” does it? The bird is an ugly duckling destined to be an awesome swan. 

Be Yourself

Two ten. It used to be that my ear for bass playing depended on having gear identical to my favorite celebrity bass players. I finally decided that this was a fallacy, for I am just myself and not someone famous. Why pretend to be somebody else when I pick up a bass guitar and start to play? Now I’d rather sound like myself. When I used a Music Man bass back in the day, people would compliment me, but I said it wasn’t me they were hearing, it was the instrument. It sounded familiar to them, being a popular bass on the radio and television in the ‘90s. By using one, I was just being an imitator of what was cool. Now I need to figure out a new way of playing the bass, and make it my voice that people are hearing… The afternoon heat is forcing my eyes to close, but my brain still feels okay. Marci from the pharmacy called and said my Vraylar is a special order and will be ready at noon tomorrow.

Four fifty. The indoor temperature has reached 80 degrees. I lay down on the bed for a while and let my mind wander. Feared I would pass out, but so far so good. It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow… I love the notion of the dignity of man, how with the intellect we can overcome being animal and vegetable and be divine. Psychoanalysis does the opposite of this, strips you down to a defenseless brute, basically dehumanizing you. Because, after all, the only weapon and shield people have is their God-given reason, and this defines us as human, even as Aristotle said 400 years before Christ. What is the point in disabling a person’s reason? Most people reject Freud nowadays, and I have to agree. Whatever promotes the rational faculty is a good thing, because the essence is freedom and happiness.


Ten twenty.

Pastor asked for four singers for the livestream worship this Sunday. I might get asked personally to do it, but I don’t want to. Not only does my voice suck, but also I don’t believe in the hymns we sing. Though if Lisa asks me, then I’ll probably comply. My situation with the church is very odd. Everyone sort of knows I don’t believe in God, yet they need my help to make service go smoothly… Well I volunteered to sing Sunday. Lisa will be out of town! We’re kind of screwed but we’ll make it work… I bought some cotton candy ice cream and tried it: tastes like pure sugar. Flavor of the month. I’d been curious about it for a while. Won’t buy it again. Vicki looked cute this morning…

Eleven twenty five. I vaguely recall old times in the summer when I drank every day and lived sort of lawlessly. And yet I was still the same kind person back then that I am now. It was my family that painted me black. Kate never thought I was a bad guy. Really, no one did, except for the relatives who hated me for some obscure reason. My crime was simply to exist. Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that anymore. I actually love myself now, and that’s okay. There’s no one more worth loving. I just am, without qualification, without blame for who I am. Everyone exists as if chiseled out of stone, a separate soul. Some people like you, others may hate you, and some are indifferent. But you remain what you are regardless. We encounter so many opinions from other people, and who can keep them all straight? It doesn’t matter in the end. We just are what we are, and that’s good enough. We do what we can in our lifetime. It may seem like not enough, but who’s keeping track of your accomplishments? No time is ever a complete waste, for all of it is part of the learning experience… I do regret not having Kate for a friend anymore. I’d love to have another transatlantic friend to chat with… There’s hardly a breath of air outside; it is still as death, and sunny and warm. It’s beautiful, but one could wish for it to cool off.

Noon hour. Privately I’m letting myself off the hook with Ron and Mike. I don’t think I will keep playing with them. If I do practice one more time, I will confront Mike when he gets surly; no leaving my balls at the door. It is only fair to assert myself in this situation. Mike is not very grown up and needs to be told off when he steps on people’s toes. I don’t believe a band should be a dictatorship, but instead a democracy, a thing of cooperation. I’m not going to be a wimp with these guys. Show me some respect or you’re out.

Human Dignity: a Letter

I like your statement of self exploration being a microcosm for exploring the universe. It is quite Hindu, the Atman being the personal aspect of Brahman, the supreme reality. Also during the Renaissance there was the idea of the microcosm and macrocosm. You may have seen the drawing by Robert Fludd…
If you hadn’t seen it before, then now you have. My Shakespeare book contains this image, or a similar one, and probably he subscribed to this belief. And then there’s The Inner Reaches of Outer Space by Joseph Campbell. Contemplation is so underrated in our culture today, due to the meat and potatoes obsession you mentioned last week… You also pursued the idea of the fatalism of Freudian theory. I like to believe in the perfectibility of the self, and to some extent this echoes Pico della Mirandola in his Oration on the Dignity of Man. It is an expression of human free will. Perhaps it is an exaggeration, but still we are free to play the cards we’re dealt however we want. I think the behaviorism of a psychologist like Watson might be true. He claimed to be able to turn a garbage man into a lawyer by means of therapy. Who knows? Maybe we’re all a bunch of blank slates, as John Locke thought? Personally, I have my disagreements with Freud. Sometimes I wish I lived in a bigger city with a better selection of mental health professionals. The general scene in Eugene is pretty limited, with no monopoly of genius anywhere nearby. But I can wish a lot of things. I think that capitalism is more of a curse than a blessing. It is to the almighty dollar that people have to prostitute themselves. We must survive, of course, but there ought to be a better way of setting up our existence. I won’t give up my utopian notions of heaven on Earth. Waiting around for the next Advent of Christ, IMO, won’t solve the problem. Humanity is alone with the responsibility to better itself. This is true personally and generally.


Wee hours. Sunday will be a day to rest and recuperate. I began to reread A Wrinkle in Time yesterday evening, but realized that I felt light years removed from the mentality of the author. I’m not comfortable with people who are so distant from me in belief systems, just because they can be rather self righteous and opinionated. I prefer to keep my distance from dogmatism in any shape or form, and just remark about how interesting the different perspectives are. Science and religion are likely never to be reconciled with each other, even in my own mind. Those answers lie in wait beyond the grave, or perhaps not even then. Both of my siblings are complacent in their particular worldview, and my birth has been sort of a footnote to their lives. I think that, like my parents, I represent a position of humanism, even like Renaissance intellectuals including Shakespeare. This was my education in college, and it’s still true today. What could be more beautiful than the human form? To exalt our own image is the genesis of reason and reflection, just as Narcissus loved his reflection in a stream. I believe it was Freud who discussed the relationship between narcissism and the intellect, but the wonderful thing about it is how reason is born, and with it, the magnificence of great civilizations and movements like the Renaissance in human history. The nobility of humanity is owing to its own ability to love itself and see itself as something divine and beautiful. We should celebrate not our weaknesses, wallowing in humility, but instead our strengths with a feeling of pride and power. Dare to love and to know, to be human in the highest degree. Humanism has been my response to my sister’s religion and my brother’s science, and this is where I will stay.

Bah Humbug

Eleven o’clock. I was far too stressed out to care about Halloween, and now it’s over. Call me a selfish party pooper if you will. I don’t give a shit. Life is too short to spend it someone else’s way, and that’s what conformity is. I think Christmas is a stupid commercial thing too. The fascinating thing about it all is that the whole world does it, or at least knows about it. Is this the power of tradition? Or rather is there a truth behind the observance? If the onion has no center, then why bother to peel it? I don’t think holidays are something understood by reason. If they were, then we would probably dispense with them. I am all for the individual, always, and screw the collective. It is much better to be loved by one person intimately than by a strange impersonal ritual. I believe in deep connections, not shallow meaningless ones. You either crave intimacy or you run away from it. My big blue eyes bore right through you. Are you the type who needs popularity to consider yourself a success? Or instead can you bare your soul to another person and to the universe, pitching away all pretense? Humbug to Halloween and Christmas; after the show is over, what do you come home to? The world is cold and fearful. Look into your heart for meaning. And admit no impediment to the marriage of true minds.

For You and JP

Tonight I have twenty three months sober. I don’t make a big deal of sobriety now. AA can say all they want about it, but it’s not a big deal. It certainly isn’t a “moral spiritual” thing. I don’t think Dave was very smart for being a cock. JP neither, this suicide who thought he was so cool. I guess I get the last laugh 😆 after all, though it doesn’t seem funny. For me, alcohol was about controlling the schizophrenia. JP was a depressive who never got on the right meds. That really was sad because he was so miserable. I tried to help him by talking to him on the phone. I can only imagine how desperate he felt. Part of what bothered him was his perfectionism, which also I tried to help him with. His music was never good enough for the memory of his dad, who had always cracked the whip. From what I’ve seen, perfectionism can kill! If you can’t accept less than perfection, then you need help. Life is never perfect. Nor will it ever be. Poor guy. I wish I could’ve helped. I guess it wasn’t my failure. It wasn’t like I didn’t try. AA was his social life, just as the church is mine. Both come free of charge, fortunately, but sometimes a little more is needed. JP had a therapist, but somehow she wasn’t helpful. If I could emphasize one thing about mental illness, it is that it isn’t your fault, and it isn’t a moral issue. It never was and never will be anything to scourge yourself about. So, don’t give yourself shaming messages. Self love is more important than people realize. Courage of your convictions is everything, because every living person has a place and purpose. Life needs you in it—- just as you are! No need to dance to the crack of a whip. You are good enough just by being true to yourself. If I never said these things to JP, then I say them to you now.