Nine o’clock at night.
Everything consumes time. I’ve never been good at managing my time each day, or keeping a rigid structure. I could read my book right now, but it takes time that might be better spent writing my mind. I found it bizarre how Baudelaire is spiritual in a dark and wicked way. Is that healthy? To put down anything in words is to make it more real… But it isn’t just bizarreness: familiarity with “the devil” can happen in substance use, as it once happened to me during the years I had a job in an office. On Friday nights I’d get ripped and watch old Polanski movies, King Crimson concerts. I seemed much younger then, and I guess fifteen years does make a big difference. But the mystery to me is why I waited so long to take charge of my life, jerking the strings away from “Satan Trismegistus.” Now I know it’s really possible to do this. Stay away from the booze and everything is doable. The best way to keep sober is never to start drinking in the first place… The very last time I drank beer, I was sick and couldn’t keep it down. I’d have two beers and then throw them up. Finally, with a Miller High Life in my hand, I said that everything was different now. And I realized that nothing else mattered but life itself. I knew that a way would open up to me, though it would take some sacrifices. What you gain by it is integrity: purity, wholeness, and health.
Eight thirty five.
Unfortunately I feel like I’m getting sick with something. It started with my ears being stopped up, and then I had a dry cough, especially at night. Now, my sinuses are a bit congested. I got to the store in a light rain. I found out that Michelle’s daughter is in the hospital with Covid. In my mailbox I found a birthday card from my sister, so I came inside and opened it: she had enclosed a check for fifty dollars. I thought, she shouldn’t have. Even the card was very nice: serious and not silly… I dreamed last night about an old man I passed on the street who uttered a stream of vituperation at me for some reason. When I saw him again later, I thought to tell him I’d been sober for four and a half years, and this information seemed to soften his attitude somewhat… I definitely feel under the weather, but I have no plans for today. I can just stay home and watch the rain come down, or hopefully concentrate on a book. Something quiet and easy.
Quarter after eight.
A few hours ago I read “The Delicate Prey” and didn’t like it very much. So much of Bowles deals with helplessness and victimization. Sometimes his characters are at the mercy of their own unwise impulses and bad decisions. If I were a member of AA, my Higher Power would be independence, which is really a contradiction with the meaning of the program. And if there’s an essence of independence, I wonder what it would be. I could never admit to absolute powerlessness, the first step of AA. It is just the opposite thing that is needed: empowerment… It must have rained all night long. Now it’s cloudy with a little sun at intervals. The anniversary of my mother’s death happens in two days, marking twenty years that I’ve been living on my own. It’s been far from perfect, but I managed to stay alive against very unfavorable odds. The forecast says more rain at noon. Maybe I’ll get home from church before the rain starts. On the other hand, it sounds like a shower right now… Yesterday, my brain was riddled with superstition, so I had to stop and assess what was wrong. But by now I seem to be feeling more or less okay again. Feelings of terror and helplessness are not constructive, so I consign all the past with AA and the other trash to the wastebasket.
Quarter of seven.
I’m just getting ready to go to the store for a Snapple tea and some food. The light outside is gradually coming on, showing the gray sky in my window. It may be warm enough to go without a jacket, and no rain is forecast for today. Later I should read a good book to try to goad my brain out of its lethargy. What I really miss is playing music with friends. However, I’m not a Dionysian person anymore since I quit drinking. It’s still hard to figure my life out.
Quarter of eight. Aesop looks more alive than he did last night… To say that I used to be a bacchant is a romantic way of saying I was an alcoholic. There are different ways to intellectualize alcoholism and make a culture of it, but a skunk is still a skunk. And yet for me, sobriety is the undiscovered country, the last frontier of experience. After four years, I still don’t know what to expect with my life without beer. If I’m not exactly happy, then I’m at least alive and fairly healthy. Different kinds and qualities of pleasure are available to people. I guess the life of the mind is good enough for me. It is said, Live by the sword, die by the sword, but I’ve put the sword away, and the dragon I once fought has shrunk down to a baby alligator. Don’t feed it and don’t piss it off and it will stay little and cute… I’m looking at a lonely day ahead, but it beats a day of frenzy and uncertainty— sometimes. Both offer a chance to learn new things.
Eight thirty five.
The market was very busy this morning; people on their way to work or school stopped to grab something to eat and drink. For a while I forgot my preoccupation with philosophy and religion and became a face in the crowd. If church were not about doctrine it might be kind of fun, but I always find a point to argue with. I guess that subconsciously doctrines are everywhere. With the store bunch I felt like I participated in a Joyce novel like Ulysses, every identity blended into one, a universal mass… I see that my mailbox outside needs a repair; another good tug will pull it right off the post. I hope I can get Roger to help me with it. Worrying about it does no good… It’s rather odd to me to think that we’re all in this together. Being part of a community can be quite difficult if you do too much thinking. I imagine I’ve been guilty all this time of criticism. It should be easier to go with the flow than fight the current.
Ten o’clock. The weather now is a gray overcast. I hear sounds of construction going on. At the intersection of Maxwell and Bushnell Lane was a closed off section marked by orange pylons, but I didn’t see what they were doing. Being honest, sometimes I could really use a six pack of beer to feel more like my natural self. I suppose I’m fulfilling a duty to the community by abstaining. And sometimes this is the best I can do.
I could go to church this morning, but I really don’t like it anymore. Pastor’s sermons tend to piss me off more than anything else. Today I’m going to be proactive and do something different from my usual… The main reason I dislike psychology is for its fatalism. If I subscribed to this perspective then I would probably drink again, believing it was inevitable. “The beer jumps in your hand.” But if you don’t succumb to fate, it’s not a done deal at all. A squirrel patters across the rooftop and makes a noise on the patio cover. The difference between him and me is that I have free will over my instincts. The past two weeks were pretty hellacious for me, trying to get stable on my meds. Funny but I never did read Mirandola’s Dignity of Man book. It’s an argument I could’ve used against a very bad therapist. Someday I might be able to let that trauma go. The point is that human beings are not animals knee jerking their way through life. There’s always a rational dimension of freedom to our experience, unless it gets subordinated to the unconscious… and then life is a Sophocles tragedy. But any vision of reality is totally up to the individual. There’s more than one book on the shelf.
Ten o’clock. It is gray overcast this morning, though the forecast says sunshine this afternoon. Somebody is mowing his lawn nearby. Kat offered to give me a ride to a bigger grocery store if I wanted; she said not to be shy about asking. And Heather told me about her housing troubles. Now a shaft of sunlight pierces the cloud curtain. Aesop doesn’t like the peanut butter cookies anymore, which is fine with me.
Eureka! I was poking around my bookshelves when I found my wonderful little Lucretius hidden under Mirandola! I was so thrilled to see it again because of my dad’s anniversary this month. And a very difficult month it has been.
Quarter of eight.
I had been divided against myself on the subject of sobriety, but now I’m back to feeling whole and healthy. I decided that I love language and the pursuit of truth more than getting drunk and being euphoric temporarily. It’s not possible to read and write or to think clearly when I am drunk.
When I stepped outdoors, the first thing I noticed was the gibbous moon in the blue morning sky. It seemed a long distance off, unlike the moonrise during the summer, when you could probably peg it with a hurled rock. And then as I got to Fremont Avenue I observed a different Dodge truck next to Kat’s house. Rather than red, it was navy blue. Wafting from the front door I smelled their breakfast and moved on. I felt pretty cheerful when I entered the store and saw Michelle. The old aches and pains that had got me down I didn’t acknowledge at all. My energies were concentrated in a unit again. So I bought a peanut butter cookie for Aesop and my usual foodstuffs, plus my Snapple tea. One other customer purchased biscuits and gravy and a tall Mountain Dew, all of which she balanced carefully in both hands… On Fremont again, I took a last look at the moon before turning up my street. But in fact, the moon followed me all the way to my driveway.
I dug out the first volume of Emerson’s journals a few hours ago and read four pages. I was thinking that I’m not a disciple of anyone, unless it’s Emerson… I think I’ll buy two Snapples today. The color of the clouds is rather salmon. I’ve thought of emailing Heidi someday soon just to reach out and let her know that she is appreciated. I imagine she’s going through a tough time with her health.
Eight o’clock. Michelle said her husband has been sober for six months since his injury, tying his record for sobriety. After seven months he will feel confident that he can do this. It’s a very difficult thing. I still play mind games with myself about alcohol, so now it’s one day at a time. Life has thrown a lot of crap my way after I quit drinking. When you think it couldn’t get any worse, it gets worse. That’s why you make sobriety a separate issue from events that happen… It’s dark daylight outdoors because it’s still very early today, a Thursday. I guess it was last June when I played my tape of Prokofiev, before the weather got up to 111 degrees and soured my outlook for the summer. Now the climate is settling back down to a reasonable number, but I dread future summers.
Nine o’clock. I respond badly to the cholesterol medication, so I should call my doctor and talk about stopping it… Emerson’s writing is about the beauty of virtue, but it’s also about independence and knowing yourself… I feel better now that it’s fall. I ought to be doing more with my time, though they say we’re all doing our best at all times. Emerson also had something to say about heroism and being inspired by Nature to exceed your own potential. This is called genius.
Eleven forty at night.
It was quite a day of thrashing out a worldview as far as freedom or fatalism are concerned. It grew more important when I felt myself wanting to drink alcohol as if it were an inevitability. So I worked out a little system sort of like Kant’s in his Prolegomena where free will and determinism both are valid at once in two realities. Also I again thought of Cervantes with the different levels of Quixote’s insanity, twofold as with Kant: with a real dimension plus an ideal dimension where he is totally free and sane. Meanwhile I rejected traditional psychology for its fatalistic point of view. And I embraced philosophy as an open ended debate that everyone can join in, while psychology tends to be dogmatic and locked with a key, like the closing statement of Revelation. So it was quite a busy time for my mind today. Is alcoholism an inevitable matter of fate, as in a Hardy novel? I sought to prove that free will is real and not illusory. Whatever the truth is, I got through the day without drinking. I also gained the motivation to do a couple of things around the house, so now the second smoke alarm has stopped nagging me to change its battery. With this new peace and quiet, my mind ought to find some tranquility for a while.
It is difficult though not impossible to find pleasure in this time of the pandemic and climate change. It can be something as simple as a Snapple or two quarts of ice cream, you pick the flavor.
I took my own advice and bought a tub of orange sherbet for my fourth birthday: four years of cold turkey. The streets at three fifteen were deserted until you got to Maxwell Road. At the store the cashiers were Deb and Hank. No one seemed exceedingly cheerful, but I hardened myself to the prevailing attitude and rewarded myself with the sherbet. It cost $6.39, so I paid with food stamps, and the receipt said I still have $195 in credit, which came like a bonus. I brought the sherbet home and ate half of it standing at the kitchen counter, thinking “birthday” with every bite. I gave Aesop two bites, for his birthday is this month also. He is nine years old now. The weather today is perfect for a little celebration, even if the only partiers are me and Aesop. The world is glum, but the world is wrong. There’s still something to celebrate.