Ego and Family: A Letter

I just felt like adding something to what I already wrote this afternoon. Maybe I should write a post instead? Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my family tonight, and how they have responded to my mother and our grandmother. Quite frankly, Mom was more intelligent than Mimi and a lot more complex; not at all conventional or run of the mill, and she was literary. The family resents intellectual people; they feel very anti about it, and unfortunately, my mother happened to be a woman also. She grew up in a world where it was not okay for women to be smart; where the ideal woman was someone like Marilyn Monroe, a dumb blond but secretly very intelligent. Mom was confused about her role for her whole life. So now I look around at my family, my sister and my brother and their families, and really don’t like them very much. Polly isn’t very bright, as I’ve known for many years, and Jeff is an incurable alcoholic who hates me. It’s basically a white working class family that has no time for beautiful things, only the hamburger, the meat and potatoes of life. And of course it makes me feel pretty angry at their incomprehension of me and other people like me. Whatever. I don’t know what I started out to say. The family has made an icon of our grandmother. Mimi had talent in music and in art, but otherwise she was rather ordinary, and self righteous about being dull and dim witted. I was eight years old when she died. I can remember her stupid obsession with people being selfish and so on. You weren’t supposed to think about yourself; but she didn’t know where her ideas came from. And then my mother parroted the same stuff to me, although she was clearly quite confused on the whole thing. Well, I rebelled against that policy and I did very well in college because of it. Polly continues the tradition of not thinking about yourself, etc. It originally came from Mimi’s mother, a very ignorant woman. And before her, who knows how many generations echoed the same silly ideas on the ethics of so-called selfishness, never knowing where it came from?

Prodigal

Quarter after nine.

Some people have all the bad luck, and then it’s so hard to know what to tell them. Christmas is ten days away, yet I see crap happening to my friend. Is it because she doesn’t use good judgment or something? Her life is a kind of trap with her husband and son who saddle her with all the responsibility for their survival. There’s nothing I can do to help her…

Ten fifty. My sister just called and we talked a long time. Now I only want to think ahead to tonight’s church activities. Maybe do a little speculation in the meantime. It’s been a while since I enjoyed listening to classical music from the turn of the twentieth century. More than a luxury, it ought to be a staple of civilized living. I’d really love to hear Night on Bald Mountain again, or The Golden Cockerel, and let the harmonies hit me in a good spot. I don’t get enough pleasure out of life each day, whether people call this selfish or something else. Most people’s lives are full of compromise and not very much fun, which to my mind is a shame. I could be wrongheaded, just a prodigal person, but I think that life without fun is a mistake. Perhaps I’ve listened to other people too much and not to my own heart, that says follow your bliss. My conscience accuses me of selfishness, but originally that voice came from a real person, probably my sister or the pastor of the church. I’ve heard plenty of sermons in my life, and frankly I’m fed up with them. Another possibility is the influence on me of the agency. It all gets to be too much when I only want to be free. 

Narcissism

Wee hours of Wednesday.

At times my imagination can hear the rattle and clank of my Fender bass with the Badass bridge. Yesterday I thought a little about what makes a musician sound inspired, and to some extent it seems to be a bit of narcissism, and of course self confidence in his ability. Not very long ago, people were still buzzing about how terrible narcissism was. Public opinion is fickle, running hot and cold on certain things, often doing a total reversal in attitude towards egoism and altruism. Fifteen years ago we said it was not about me, while only four years ago we did a 180 and said it was all about me. I met one person in group who was a natural egoist but hadn’t heard of the word egoism before. He always made jokes about doing things out of self interest, and everyone would laugh with understanding. During that time, my mind was in pretty bad shape, so I believed that if I did anything selfish, my soul would go to hell after death. I struggled with this delusion until about April of 2018, when I finally did something for myself and started playing my bass again. I’d been a victim of AA philosophy: be the hole in the donut, etc etc, and never think of yourself for any reason. But when you think hard about it, we don’t have lungs to breathe for another person, or a stomach to digest for someone else, etc etc. It’s impossible to be 100 percent altruistic, and even this ideal is illogical and unnatural for human beings. So anyway, is narcissism really the demon we make it out to be, or does it depend on how it is used? We should make sure we know what we’re talking about. 

What Is Selfish?

Five thirty. I took the plunge and ordered the bass I wanted! And the guilt and fear were all my responsibility. I overcame those feelings and did what I wanted to do.

Ten thirty five. I’ve been lying in bed torturing myself with thoughts of egoism versus altruism, and now I finally understand why. It’s because I went through the same thing three years ago when I was first getting sober and the medication hadn’t taken effect yet. Today has been like a flashback to that time. Maybe the weather contributed. It was sunny and warm all day. Another item is that my big Plato book arrived this afternoon, as iconic as the philosopher himself… I took the plunge on the G&L bass— so now will I go to hell for selfishness? For this was the delusion I had in 2018. Some accident of the atmosphere brought it back. It was also in April of that year when I had a big breakthrough against the same delusion and started making music again in spite of my illness. It was kind of like Huckleberry Finn taking his chances with hellfire for doing what he wanted to do. Yet isn’t it right to do what is pure and authentic of yourself?

Eleven thirty. It started with a red SX bass I bought in November 2016. It arrived damaged in shipping and then it just sat in a chair for a year and a half. One day in April I worked up the courage and motivation to pick it up and play it, defying my dog who hated music. This went okay, and a few days later I had my neighbor drive me to Guitar Center to get the instrument repaired. The victory of this was that I’d really wanted to play my new bass, and now I was finally doing it. The take home lesson is that people don’t know what they’re talking about when they condemn egoism. Of course you have to do some things out of selfishness. It’s impossible not to. And to this day I disagree strongly with Twelve Step programs for their overemphasis on abnegation. 

Impecunious

After eleven o’clock this morning I headed out on foot to Bi Mart to pick up my cholesterol medication. On the way I passed the plot of land where my old elementary school had been torn down. Not one stick of it remains standing, and a sign says the new high school will be built by 2023, thanks to Eugene voters. It’s a little ironic that I voted for the new school, but I didn’t know that they’d be demolishing Silver Lea Elementary, where I attended during the 1970s. Also, doing this forced the resident Japanese immersion school out and into the building for Colin Kelly middle school over on Howard Avenue, a distance of a mile or two from Silver Lea. So I walked by the field of dirt enclosed by a chain link fence and thought of how the world was running down. People set their minds on the future without considering that nature may not be able to sustain human life someday soon. My grandnephew’s wife is pregnant with their second baby, and I ask myself why on earth would anybody want to bear children at a time like this. Even Polly thought the same thing. Travis and Riley must not be very smart, but I’m not surprised at that. Another sign that bothers me is just the quality of the sunlight in our atmosphere that has definitely changed since I can remember. The sun shouldn’t be as bright as it now is, and especially not at the end of March. Things are not the same anymore, not at all promising for our future. And then there is Pastor’s selfish concern for his church on more than one level. I don’t really understand the politics of the synod and the larger Lutheran church, but there’s a lot of money involved.

Then I continued on to the Bi Mart on River Road and observed the people wearing their silly masks. My prescription cost me nothing, and then I sat down on the bench outside the walk up window to gather my strength for the walk back home. Life all around me seemed like such a desert, everybody so scared and also so sterile and isolated from each other. After resting up, I went home the same way I came. The lyric to “Nights in White Satin” came to me:

Gazing at people, some hand in hand
Just what I’m going through they can’t understand
Some try to tell me thoughts they cannot defend
Just what you want to be you will be in the end

The Moody Blues. When I got home I crashed out for an hour from fatigue. Later I did some writing in my blank book, but no reading today. I discovered that I’d like to drink beer in order to feel more human again. But I’m strong and brave enough to gut it out every day and stay sober. Close to five o’clock I took another nap until about nine.

And I guess that was my day. Please pardon my pessimism today regarding the future of human life on earth. But there’s no way to flip back the calendar and turn back the clock. This is the world we created, so now we’re stuck with it. And the cause of our demise has been short sighted self interest, our greed for more and more for ourselves and the ones we care about.

Friday, Before Church

One twenty. I trimmed my beard and brushed my teeth. Feel a little better. Still pondering the individual and society, and why do I favor the first one.

Four thirty. I lay in bed and did some meditating on the Ayn Rand I read yesterday. I believe I’m trying to disabuse myself of her selfishness philosophy. It goes against my grain as a human being to be so antisocial. I enjoy being around people, but evidently Rand did not. If anything, she was a misanthrope, a hater of humankind. She gave me the wrong ideas about the process of life when I was very young. Or maybe she condoned the egoism I already had the disposition for. But this approach backfired on me. It didn’t work for me. My destiny was something different.

Funny, but I turned down a musical offer yesterday morning. I saw the same cover tunes on his list that I’d always despised and politely said no. I’m not interested in butt rock anymore. Nor in the drugs and alcohol. I love music, but it has to be serious. I saw “Smoking in the Boys’ Room” and decided no on the spot!

Quarter of six. This seems like the longest summer I’ve ever spent. At least tonight I don’t have to be alone.

A Complete Jerk

Ten o’clock. I feel tired from the heat. I know so many people whose minds are on autopilot, who couldn’t think about anything originally. But to do so, first your perceptions have to be clear and accurate. I don’t know what accounts for seeing things justly. It’s sort of like your response to meeting a starving person. If you have the means, do you feed him or do you watch him die of hunger? My brother is callous enough to do the latter. It arises from a warped sense of what is right. His standpoint is one of resentment and jealousy toward those who get something he doesn’t. His personal feelings get in the way. This is not rational or even reasonable. In the profoundest way, it is dishonest. It is illiberal, which is another way of saying merciless. It’s the opposite of generous: stingy, niggardly. I was with him once at McDonald’s when he deliberately saw to it that a woman and her “service dog” were kicked out of the restaurant. He said it was the law— but whose law was he upholding? Ultimately it was his wounded sense of fairness to himself. The poor woman had already paid for her meal. My brother is a complete jerk.

A Run for Doritos and Salsa

Two thirty. I finished reading “The Whisperer in Darkness” by Lovecraft. He wrote better ones than that, but still it was Lovecraft, and that means fun. His writing influenced one of my favorite authors, Karl Edward Wagner. Bloodstone, a Kane novel, I thought was very good, with its element of an extraterrestrial super race that once colonized the earth. I hope some publisher reissues it someday. In a weak moment I got rid of all my Kane books— a big mistake, as they are worth something now.

I’m not sure why I’ve been revisiting Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith. Not sure of anything, really. I miss doing a little Coca-Cola, but the caffeine last time was almost lethal to me. It clouded up some time ago. I’m on the verge of crying for some reason. Maybe I’m mourning for my brother, who just isn’t the same person he was forty years ago. I remember when everyone wanted to be his friend, but now not even Polly is talking to him. How is he getting along? Is he okay? It must be hard to live without a memory. Jeff doesn’t remember anything anymore, and he’s just killing himself with booze and maybe weed too. Well, today I feel simply lonely and lost, with no daily structure to speak of. I feel a little like going to the store for a snack, maybe Doritos and salsa, something tasty and fun. I wonder if my gabapentin makes me feel worse? I feel the world crowding in around me, what with the curfew and people wearing masks and everything; it’s getting me down!

Four thirty five. I bought the Doritos and salsa: delicious! It was the big bag, and I ate half of it. Last night I listened to one of Bartok’s string quartets to kill time. It was great, but I like his orchestral works better. The more the voices, the greater the ambiance and mood, the texture. The Miraculous Mandarin is still my favorite Bartok piece, a ballet whose choreography I don’t know. What is it about? I should read the liner notes. I was just thinking: I used to believe that people who acted from self interest would go to hell, due to Polly’s extreme ideas. These got into my brain and handicapped me for many years. Polly’s extremism was popular all over the place 15 years ago. Anyone who did something selfish was marked for hellfire in the next life; but of course this is nonsense. I always thought Polly was stupid for espousing such illogical precepts. Yes, altruism is a great thing, but exclusively and perpetually is impossible.

Byron or Buddha?

Seven forty. During my phone appointment this morning, Todd discussed with me some options for talk therapy. One of them came from a spiritual approach and aimed at the client’s self abnegation. As a knee jerk response I blurted, “Eww! I don’t think I’d like that.” I didn’t think about what I was saying, though I know it was honest and authentic. It was too much like Serenity Lane indoctrination had been. And I’m too much of a Byronic person to blow away my ego. Obliteration of the will is the goal of Buddhism. Success in doing this is to reach nirvana— theoretically. The Twelve Steps borrows from Buddhism, or so it seems to me. I can’t prove where Bill Wilson got his inspiration for the program. Anyway, the spiritual talk therapy is not for me. Todd said deciding to do therapy depends on what I want to get out of it. This is a good point, because I don’t really know. Right now I’m inclined to forget the whole idea. Maybe I’m just a Faust freak. If I could have all the knowledge in the world, what would I do with it? Not so much the knowledge in the world, but the knowledge of the world and existence itself.

Sunshine

Quarter after ten. The sunshine is nice, but my mood is a little down. I’m quite bewildered since going over Another Country again. I guess I was just curious about it, but it may have been masochistic too. Baldwin doesn’t define love in Christian terms. It’s more egocentric than that for him. How strange to retrace my path to college and contrast now with then. The message in college mostly was egoism, and preparation for the rat race. Even the humanities were like that. It was a church, but a different kind of church, not at all Christian. Also there was no mercy for the weak and sick, just the way that Plato was elitist and pitiless. Even while I was a student, I hated the English department for being haughty and snobbish… Anyway, Baldwin’s vision of love is selfish and taking rather than the opposite. Henry James was similar: love was about possessing another person. It was passion and jealousy— essentially selfish feelings. It was far from sacrifice and service. I think I was indoctrinated in a different way at the university… and it backfired. It failed because I became ill and could barely finish my degree… I will probably attend church when we’re allowed to meet again. I don’t fit in anywhere else. The River Road Community is a good place with a good philosophy. I might pick up Les Miserables again and slog through the rest of it. Interesting how Hugo even refers to the original St Vincent de Paul a few times, and the mentality of the thrift store today is close to Les Miserables. More than a coincidence, I gather. As I write, the sunshine outside is very strong, and there’s a breeze in the trees. Yes I will go back to church when we can.