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.
I’ve had a crap day today, but it’s not easy to determine why or how. I feel that I’m damned if I drink and damned if I don’t drink these days. My birthday of sobriety is only a few weeks away, so maybe that’s why I’m having such trouble until then. I don’t know what to think. Does anyone? So I try not to think at all. My life has been one big Pandora’s box of concealed evils loosed one by one into the world. Knowledge doesn’t make you happier, but it can make you more powerful… The sky is a dirty blue and the sun is amber yellow. There’s the suggestion of a breeze in the leaves. I feel so uncomfortable and so old and tired. Maybe I should give up writing, or take a hiatus for a while? Also I feel very profoundly alone and unloved. Well hell, perhaps I’m just a bisexual guy who doesn’t belong on WordPress? What would it cost me to confess it?
Seven o’clock. About ten days ago I dreamed I had sex with a former clerk at the convenience store. But I think it was what she symbolizes that I wanted: alcohol. She used to sell me beer every day for a long time, so she and the booze became fused together. She was to me like Arabella in Jude the Obscure… Some people say that once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, and one day at a time. If you can’t beat em, join em, I guess.
Quarter of eight. At noon today I bought a container of chocolate ice cream just because. But it’s probably wiser to limit going there to early morning due to my temptations. Overall it was a very unsettled kind of day for me. Sort of volatile, as if anything could happen, yet it was all within myself. And I can really feel for Pandora and her guilt.
Quarter of nine.
It would be so nice to roll back time ten years, to when I had a great European friend. I was very privileged to be with the enlightened people. But you know, all during that time I couldn’t stop drinking, even though it was killing me. My will was to maximize pleasure for myself, and also it was like being in heaven. I thought, Why not give myself what I want? The authenticity of this was all the rationale I needed to drink to oblivion and bliss. Now, I don’t know what keeps me sober; I just do it. Perhaps there’s a satisfaction in meeting the challenge of life with a clear head. Or maybe I’ve wanted to be sane for the whole time. Today I’ve come into my own while the world goes down the tubes, like the events of “A Descent into the Maelstrom.”
Quarter of ten. Sole survivor of a shipwreck… Well the weather is quite beautiful this morning, clemently cool. It is only human beings that can mess it up, but I won’t let them get me down. Aesop’s mood is pretty good today. Someone just fired up a lawn mower on my street. If my body doesn’t cooperate with me, then I might have to give up playing the bass guitar… So many snafus in everyday life; we wish for escape to an ideal place on the prismatic wings of a dream. What keeps us from flying there? Maybe it’s the call of duty, a responsibility to the world as it is. Strapped to the chair, we watch the series of images on a big screen. Or like Odysseus, we are bound to the mast so we can listen to the Sirens’ song. Contemporary life is crazy.
Quarter of eleven. Is it worth it to throw those magic beans out the window and see the colossal beanstalk sprout up to the sky? What will Jack find above the clouds: a palace with rich giants living inside? And a hen that lays eggs of gold…
One o’clock. Suddenly I remember how I used to be my mother’s hero. I could do no wrong, and she spoiled me with professional quality music gear. Times were more prosperous than now for everybody. I miss my old friends in the music trade. I also miss seeing my brother for our notorious trips to the Oregon Coast, where we guzzled beer and watched the breakers roll in. I miss the old Safeway store next to the Bi Mart on River Road… But it couldn’t endure forever, because even our time in heaven is a lease that expires. What goes up must come down… unless it’s a bird to fly away.
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.
Quarter of two.
It is significantly cooler today than yesterday, the sky a lot bluer and the sun yellower. I can hear kids playing in the street. I feel the temptation to walk back to the store for something sweet to eat or drink, and a treat for Aesop. I had a long phone conversation with my sister a little while ago. All good. During the heatwave I might’ve done some things I’ll regret later. It’s hard to make decisions when your brain is baking in the sun. It’ll be even more plain to me when the summer is over with: roughly one more month!
Three o’clock. I went back to the market and saw Deb, Brandi, and Cathy, and got a tub of ice cream and two dog snacks. Deb had a deep dark suntan and wore an orange scarf on her face. Sometimes going there in the afternoon gives me flashbacks to my drinking days many years ago. Things haven’t changed much since then: the same bunch of addicts come in all afternoon long and into the night. The scene isn’t very pretty when morning changes to noon. And now I think of my brother. He’s not the same person he was when he had a career as a college professor. I keep thinking of how Gollum was deformed by the power of the Ring. Alcohol and drugs are the same sort of thing, seductive and destructive… Four children were playing baseball in their front yard when I walked by on my street. The other morning, Kat waved hello from her living room couch next to the window. But through it all I get the feeling of something missing from my life. Today is not like the 1990’s with my parents and all my friends in the music trade. Being sober is to be stranded on a solitary island. It takes a long time to build new connections with other people— and with yourself.
Clouds like fish scales have moved in overnight. I got two Snapples and a little peanut butter bone for Aesop. Saw a heavyset woman walking two small dogs, and I passed a skittish cat in front of Kat’s house. Now, my house is exceedingly quiet; the only noise is my tinnitus, a whine in my ears from too many music gigs… Maybe all the music was a waste of my time, because you can’t have the music without the culture. I consider myself a nice guy and probably unsuited for rock and roll, especially when I’m not drinking anymore. I feel myself split between so many polarities. Can we blame a philosopher like Kierkegaard for his either/or principle? Or perhaps Aristotle for the Law of Excluded Middle? Too much of life is forced into a scheme of black and white. Even Jesus Christ had a distaste for lukewarm people, saying you run either hot or cold. Dichotomous reasoning is embedded in our culture, but not necessarily in nature. Sometimes I want to shoot spit wads at Aristotle for being a clod.
Quarter after eight. Aesop doesn’t like his science diet food today. I spent thirty bucks for twelve cans of the stuff and he’s turning up his nose. But with all the things that are going wrong lately, I know that not everything is crap. Life is full of mixed blessings. Whatever else happens, I’m still sober. If the world is coming to an end, I’ll be clearheaded to witness it and write about it.
Quarter of five.
I made some beautiful notes tonight in my blank book having to do with passion in our lives, and how this is missing since the pandemic. But woven with this theme is also my regret that I’m not drinking anymore. If my deity used to be Dionysus, the god of wine, then I’m at a loss to name my higher power today. I remember reading the tragedy by Euripides about the capture of Dionysus and the vengeance wrought by his devotees. He was older than Jesus Christ, and Christianity borrowed images from the pagans: “I am the vine, you are the branches; without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)… As I marched eastward on Armstrong Street under the azure, I spotted the moon high in the sky, a thumbnail sliver. The heavens were cloudless and deep. But on the earth, the scene was sterile and loveless. I observed that it resembled a nuclear wasteland in the wake of a grand passion that had spent itself. And probably this passion in my mind is my past alcoholism, a disease that apparently ran its course and left me devastated… The first light of dawn is visible outside. The forecast said sunny weather again today. I’ve got DDA on my plate for this afternoon. Just let go and go with it. Knowing how to act after quitting alcohol can be quite difficult. I’ll have four years of sober time three months from now, but I’m never complacent.
Six o’clock. Michelle will be opening the store just now. Suddenly I feel rather tired, but I suppose that’s okay. The morning Snapple tea should taste very good.
Looking out my window, it appears to be mostly cloudy right now, and it feels considerably cooler in the house. Tomorrow it might even rain a bit. Years ago my old psychiatrist said, “There is life without alcohol.” At the time, I couldn’t imagine what that would be, but today I have a better idea. Sobriety has involved one or two big sacrifices in my life, but in return I gained mental clarity and the pure pleasure of using my intellect… I guess I’ll go now to the store for my morning Snapples. I hope Michelle is having a good day.
Seven o’clock. She gave me the promo deal on the Snapples just on the strength of my word; for some reason it wasn’t in the computer system. So I saved myself a dollar today. Michelle has a cat that needs to lose four pounds. The dairy distributor was there and they were about to do inventory of the delivery. All the while, my brain has been playing a passage from The Miraculous Mandarin, a great dark ballet by Bela Bartok. I don’t know why… I noticed yesterday a couple of guys outside of Betty’s old house in leathers and studs with wild hair, apparently rock musicians. Now I question my involvement in a rock and roll band, especially when we have one member who does a lot of alcohol and gets surly if he can’t drink. I’m contemplating bagging the whole idea of playing local gigs. It isn’t really consonant with my character, never mind that I have the ability. However, a jazz fusion group could be a different ballpark. I suppose it’s one day at a time.
Eight forty. It’s probably going to be a dull day for me; no engagements with people in person. I could follow through on my curiosity about the fiction of John Dos Passos. This might be a good day for reading and staying quiet.
Quarter of noon. A few minutes ago I poked through a box and pulled out an old copy of Wordsworth’s selected poems and prefaces. The brown spots of age couldn’t be avoided, but I still really love this book. When I read it the first time, my comprehension wasn’t very good, and getting through it was a struggle. And yet I think I absorbed much of it subconsciously. The year 1993 was an interesting one for me. That Christmas Eve, my dad gave me the complete ballet of The Firebird, which was a big thrill when I listened to it and The Song of the Nightingale… I can hear neighbors mowing the lawn in the sunshine. I feel a lot better than I did yesterday, and now I’m done with the vaccination. It does seem rather like an exercise in conformity, but I guess our government knew what was best for us. Aesop has fallen asleep at my feet. There are times when I wouldn’t mind owning a television, but the cost of cable tv is extortionate in my opinion. About twenty years ago, cable was the first expense I got rid of. And even if I had television, then Aesop wouldn’t be sleeping peacefully as he is right now. I guess the fewer the hooks I have in me the better. Reading poetry is not a hook. It is something I have control over, while tv tends to be the controller of what you see.
Two thirty. I wonder why alcohol and sex, or maybe sex, drugs, and rock and roll, all go together in a bundle. Thomas Hardy observed how drunkenness and sexuality and the way of the natural world all go hand in hand, at least in our culture. These things are the makings of fate, so how is it possible to remove yourself from the plan? I guess you just go to church or something else drastic. It seems to have worked for me, though I don’t know how. Doubtless it’s something cultural. A lot of people would refuse to do what I did. Probably even Hardy would’ve been reluctant to join something Christian— and that’s why his fatalism failed on me, and I discovered a new avenue to free will. I broke the spell of his Casterbridge novel by stepping outside of his world of Wessex— by going where the author himself wouldn’t go.
I didn’t sleep very much. I had nightmares that didn’t make much sense. Two things are stressing me out: my appointment with Rebecca and then my shot tomorrow morning at Bi Mart. I was up last night from about one o’clock to three thirty, working on my blank book. Right now my writing looks like random gibberish but eventually a pattern will probably emerge from the whole. Lately I’ve been feeling lonely and not very happy. Is it too much to wish for a girlfriend in my life?
Quarter after nine. The appointment with Rebecca was very short. Then I went out for the daily foodstuffs. Michelle appeared to be in a weird mood, kind of distracted by something. I was already feeling rather guilty over this and that, so this colored my perception of events around me. Moods tend to do that. A shaft of sun illuminates my backyard as an airline jet warbles across the sky. The future is a big unknown that is hard to face, yet I have no choice but to go forward. I try to make good decisions. Sometimes I am guided only by my feelings, and these don’t lie. When I feel resentment about something, or a sense of injustice, usually there’s a reason for it. I stand up and call baloney on things that don’t make sense. And when I feel free and clear of guilt and other worries, life is really pleasant. I’m still learning the ABC of sobriety. It isn’t easy to navigate life without alcohol, and I’ve seen some very bizarre things since I quit drinking. It seems that the strangeness of life is relentless, and foresight is never perfect.