Quarter of eight.
The weekend has arrived at last, which means no appointments or phone calls. The skyline looks a bit like Neapolitan ice cream. I wonder what kind of Friday night other people had? Yesterday I wrote maybe ten pages in my journal, trying to get to the bottom of my feelings. Often my thoughts and behaviors are mysterious to me until I analyze them for the motives. Sometimes, it’s resentment that drives a course of thinking; it’s a reaction against someone for what they said. I can hold a grudge for a very long time, but perhaps this doesn’t produce the best ideas. It could be better to clean my slate and start from scratch. Now the view outside is blue and vanilla, the clouds whipped and fluffy. My red oak has littered the backyard with brown leaves. The air has a bite of chill to it, but there’s no rain this morning.
I speculate on my brother, and I question if my sister tells me everything she knows in our talks. Family dynamics and politics are always weird, and even worse when someone has schizophrenia or bipolar. I forecast another Thanksgiving spent alone or with my church. It’s okay, I’m used to that. I don’t even know my relatives anymore, except for my sister. The effect of mental illness on a family is like an atom bomb, but the one who suffers the most is the sick person. The holidays can be the worst time of year for us. By the way, I think the theories of Carl Jung by this time are very outdated. He didn’t really know anything about how to treat psychosis, so why do we still read his stuff? Meanwhile, there’s a box set of Richard Wright I might like to have. He was the Black American author who wrote Native Son. Too many Americans have heads in the sand about the plight of people of color. But fixing this situation is probably a long time coming.
Ten o five.
The wind is really whipping; it just missed me by a half hour. Aesop was very excited because I bought him some doggie chicken strips this morning. He’d been picky about his breakfast and ate it only as an afterthought. I’ve still got the drippy Herb Alpert music in my brain, but to be honest I actually like it. I believe it helps me process some difficult emotions, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right now it’s “The Sea Is My Soil,” with an acoustic guitar that’s slightly out of tune. Besides the sound of the wind it is silent in the house; an occasional car goes roaring on the highway to the north.
Another note on A Connecticut Yankee: no nature means that people are not only free but also they are equal. Jung has said that “nature is aristocratic,” and inequality begins there. But Twain said that if you remove the clothes from everyone, distinctions of social class will disappear and people are all the same. He was probably an early behaviorist, a believer in learning theory. And there’s nothing to prove that either perspective is right or wrong. If everyone started out with the same advantages, then maybe the view of Mark Twain would be correct. Unfortunately, for ethical reasons no one can run that experiment.
Aesop is going to pout now until he gets another treat of chicken strips. Pavlov’s Dog is salivating.
People just aren’t getting it. The Covid pandemic is nothing. What’s killing us is an epidemic of lovelessness. I know people who have never been in love their whole life, whose heart is inside their head. The world could really benefit from reading Dubliners by James Joyce, but since no one is doing this, I offer a post about passion. No one is alive whose life energy is entirely from the neck up. D.H. Lawrence said the body is the soul. Still, no one listens. I knew a former pastor who, symbolically, was paralyzed from the neck down. He stated that the job of human beings was to “subdue the earth,” whatever that means, but I think he referred to his own body. In my experience, spiritualization is sterilization, and it’s everywhere. People are a bunch of severed heads running around, feeling absolutely nothing. When will we realize that our heart is in our chest and not in our skull? We are a species of the undead, merely animated corpses, and again, to quote James Baldwin, “Funerals are for the living.” The shadow of the Cathedral twists us completely out of shape. And the New York City subway tunnels and rumbles its way through the dead of night, threatening to irrupt into broad daylight.
Eight fifty five.
I went back to bed before dawn and had ominous thoughts and one nightmare. I’m not in a rush to go get a Snapple tea. It can wait. I have to get ahold of the RideSource person and do my assessment as soon as possible.
Ten o’clock. Finally I got out to the store and also spoke with a few people in the neighborhood: Karen, Jessica, Roger, and Colin. The hot topic is still mostly Covid. Colin just got a new job working from home and plans to have another kid. He said he doesn’t trust anybody to be an expert on the pandemic. He and Roger were talking football when I came and sort of killed their conversation. Lolo the dog walked up to me and I petted her. I thought about giving her a snack from my shopping bag, but figured that Aesop wouldn’t want to share. Probably I had other reasons, too. I don’t have a lot in common with the neighbors on my street. Or maybe I am a little bit of a hermit? The street is still wet from the overnight rain. A Canada goose wings overhead, a lone honker, destination unknown.
Quarter of eleven. I left a voicemail for my sister. In five minutes I’ll break open the snacks for Aesop and start thinking about having lunch. Even hermits have to eat, I reckon. And the trash pickup has just arrived.
Upon an autumn morning, innocent,
I wandered home from the convenience store
Weighed down with Dog Chow and my groceries,
When falling like a thunderbolt from the blue
The bald eagle clutched me in his crooked hands
And flew me away to drop me in a dump,
Leaving behind my patriot shopping bag
And bag of dog food on the asphalt street.
Ten forty at night.
I took a nap this evening and dreamed something about Edgar Allan Poe that went a bit contrary to my high school English teacher who advocated Mark Twain. But really the conflict is internal. In dream I also remembered that Poe was an orphan raised by John Allan. I guess I was thinking of what an incredible poem “The Raven” is, with the whole idea of Nature revealing itself to the narrator through the bird’s voice box. It’s like consulting the oracle for answers regarding his lost Lenore, though the raven comes to him unbidden. How different is this bird from the nightingale of John Keats? Both of them are sublime, but while the latter is delightful, the former is terrible. One sings, the other croaks a prophecy of doom. Both romantic birds indicate a Nature that is mysterious and unknown, unlike the scientific certainty that would characterize Twain later on. Perhaps the Romantics are right to say that we’ll never know everything about the natural world, or maybe Twain’s cocksureness is better? It’s up to me whether I choose progress or regression, and up to humanity as well. Right now it seems that society is quite primitive. It could probably use a dose of the Enlightenment. But if we blow up Merlin’s tower, will we feel remorse for lost magic?
I suppose I’ll be in limbo for a long time, in the cracks between nothingness and being. I’m not sure of the motive for my intellectual quest, especially when the old canon of classics has been dismantled, dropped entirely, leaving nothing to replace it. In my head I hear archaic music from the forties, the era of big swing bands. One time thirty years ago, as I was passing by Gerlinger Hall on the sidewalk up on Campus in the evening, I heard the sounds of swing music through the windows of the second floor, and I knew that people were dancing to visions of the past. I felt half inclined to go inside and check it out, but I was very shy in my early twenties and continued on my way home. The University was such a cool place to be, yet ever since the illness I’ve felt exiled from what was so dear to me. I was seeing a psychologist who assumed I was “normal” but at the end of that year I passed into the hands of psychiatry, after which nothing was the same. My deepest resentments went to the English department for the terrible snobbery of faculty and staff, an attitude that alienated me from school forever. And now my reality is the psychiatric rehabilitation place and the church, these refuges for freaks and geeks. I found my way there by instinct since I fired my shrink, whose insults I wouldn’t tolerate anymore. The world can be a mean place. And really there’s no excuse for people to act that way, except to say that it is done, it is precedent from time out of mind. Thus it’s no wonder that I shrank from Mean Street and sought a softer way of treating each other. When life sucks, it really sucks, so it’s such a gift sometimes to go where Dickens is still observed.
Quarter of eleven.
I must have a touch of ADD myself, for I feel like quite a scatterbrain; I can’t pick something to read and adhere to it. The most rewarding read might be the Goethe I’ve been putting off. I managed to listen to INXS this afternoon and really enjoyed it, even though music from that era all sounds quite homogeneous. The experience of listening got me thinking about rites of passage and initiations to society, and how I contrived to avoid ever getting married with children— or was I just unlucky in love? But I always held back and checked my impulses, remaining free for all these years. I knew a guy from college who, after graduation, surrendered totally to his Catholic faith, got married and started a family of eight kids, perhaps just to prove his manhood to a world that doesn’t care anyway. He is a perfect example of what the poem by W.H. Auden talks about: “The Unknown Citizen.” In fact, everybody is, however we may fight to feel like individuals. You name it, there’s a class or category for it all provided by the big machine. Is it just a waste of time to try for originality in your life? And then you begin to wonder, Who is John Galt, or some other imagined tycoon who pulls everyone’s puppet strings?…
I often wish I could talk to my brother again. He played the game with society a different way from me, though he was always aware of what he was doing. He worked his butt off up until retirement, and now I don’t hear much about him. My own strategy in the conduct of life was really no strategy at all; and I’m reminded of the chess matches my brother used to play with me when I was a kid. My game was entirely passive and defensive: avoidant as opposed to aggressive or assertive, so the best outcome I could hope for was a stalemate.
My brother thought my madness had a method, but you know, it really never did.
I still am not sleeping well, with my mind being perplexed by difficult problems. Surely to be liberated feels better than my troubled conscience? Maybe if everyone were liberated together. I remember the feeling I got from the city bus when I was a student over thirty years ago. It was winter, with a great dumping of snow on the ground. My dad was with me and we were headed home from the campus. Suddenly we came to a stop: two guys I’d known from grade school, now grown to their early twenties, boarded the bus and took a seat. They’d been playing in the snow. And though we saw each other and knew the other’s identity, we said nothing. Then I got home and began making notes for a paper on Thomas More’s Utopia. The word utopia literally means “nowhere.” What was wrong with this picture, the scene on the bus in the February freeze? And what is freedom if not everybody has it?
Four thirty in the morning.
I got up because I couldn’t sleep any longer. My attitudes in general are torn between the virtue of Emerson and the fatalistic sexual theory of Freud. I gave up on Platonic idealism, choosing instead the realism of Aristotle. But maybe it’s better to get away from intellectual traditions for a while and start with how I feel. Six hours ago I was feeling frustrated at the uncertainty of our human future. I even considered defecting from this ride everyone is on, taking a girlfriend with me to a desert island, and starting the human race over again from scratch. It would be an Adam and Eve experiment. Yet as Hawthorne observed, the first things needed for any utopia are a prison and a cemetery. This means that original sin is for real. And in the Golding novel, the perfect society pictured by Ralph on their little island is messed up when Jack shows up with the other choirboys… I guess everything has already been thought of. No utopia is really feasible, and yet life as it is leaves so much to be desired. Probably all of us want to start up their own society with its own set of values. The fact is that we don’t all agree on everything, so people have to make some sacrifices to get along… So what is my mood right now? I anticipate the dawn, after which I can go see Michelle at the store like I do every weekday morning. Though our ideas are different, we are reassured by the sight of one another. The only utopia is possible where a person clones himself. And then there would be perfect peace and accord…