Quarter of nine.
The fog started out high but now has descended to earth, with a peculiar yellow taint, rather hideous. Nobody was outdoors when I trudged to market this morning and business was slow due to the holiday; I was the only customer there. I noted how slow the daylight was coming. Everything just feels foreign or alien to me, even nature, the skyline of winter trees. The wind has decayed to dead stillness. No rain currently. You can hear freight cars clashing together a few miles away. It’s a struggle to make small talk with the neighbors across the street; we look at each other in long awkward silences— then she says something about the weather… One of Karen’s hanging flowerpots had fallen face down on the pavement, I saw as I passed the salon homeward bound. I gazed at it stupidly, unsure what to do with it. So I just left it there. She’ll find it Tuesday morning when she opens shop. Strange to think that we could be having a heaven on earth right now. The garbage truck comes in the yellow mist like a bizarre dinosaur. Such a long way to go…
Nine thirty at night.
This afternoon I read more poems by Whitman. It strikes me that his style is like a naturalist writing free verse: a lot of sex and biology in his stuff, like a forerunner to Freud. Whitman isn’t constrained by a Christian conscience, or rather it is religion that he reacts against, driving him to posit his own personal bible, Leaves of Grass. In a way, he’s made himself an institution or a religion all his own… When I was 23 years old I first read part of the same book, and it influenced me to study biology and Indian religions at school, though I was oblivious to the fact. There’s a great deal of Hinduism in Whitman, as also in Emerson. From the start of my education to the end, my focus totally shifted from West to East. I’m not sure why this happened but it wasn’t bad. One can say that Jung’s ideas were rather Eastern and mystical. This shift for me was like a break for liberty, a desperate flight for freedom before the inevitable crash to the real world. I’ve heard the opinion that some people don’t want to grow up and be responsible. These are the ones we call the mentally ill; but there is method in madness, a kind of prophecy in the problem. We are ourselves the symptoms of a society gone too far towards the quantitative and economic. How nice if we could regress and tell each other stories to the rhythm of the night! My kingdom for one sweet dream, sleeping like a princess…
Ten forty AM.
I was eating a ham and cheese Hot Pocket when I dripped cheese on the front of my hoodie; a minor disaster. So I went to the kitchen to wipe it with a wet sponge, but there was an electrical problem with the light switch— only for a moment. The superstition crossed my mind that these were little acts of God, but I quickly filtered this illogic out. And besides, what would be the purpose in meaningful little catastrophes like these?… I have a full afternoon and evening today. I thought that any ideology can be turned into fascism, so I’m highly suspicious of most belief systems. Would culture fall apart if we dispensed with ideology? Is it possible to have a society based on tangible things alone, as the positivists advocated around the time of WW2? They didn’t actually propose such a place, but they wanted to clear up philosophy so the excesses of nationalism would be impossible again. I have a nagging phobia of fascism that I learned in school, and sure enough, the same issues of history repeat themselves when people are unaware of their past. The thing is that ideas are only ideas, just fluff that we make up completely, while the physical world is hard to deny with any kind of common sense. It is madness when we lose the material world and the things we agree are real. Dunno. People can say Believe and etc but do they know what they’re really talking about? What happens when our landing gear is so damaged that we can’t get our feet on the ground again? It’s like the disorientation of a sea diver with the bends who can’t tell up from down.
Or maybe I’m just having a bad day?
Quarter of nine.
Maxwell Road and the far side of N Park were really slammed with traffic when I was out walking. The rain has stopped for now and some sun breaks through. My feet ached with old age and the stress of using them every day, or maybe I’m just tired and uninspired. I wonder why Jung said nature is aristocratic and people are basically unequal? Any behaviorist would argue with him on that score; even Mark Twain with his idea of the Man Factory in A Connecticut Yankee, where people could be trained for any kind of job. But probably neither perspective is a hundred percent correct. Nature and nurture are fifty fifty, I heard it said by a Chinese immigrant who was drawn to Western literature and taught at the university. He was young and on fire, not like the emeritus I’d had for English the previous term…
A capitalist system gives everyone an equal chance at success, no matter how low their birth. Or that’s the theory. I wanted to be a writer. Stuff happens to blindside us and derail our plans, but often a window is opened for us to climb through. And this has nothing to do with capitalism.
Nine ten AM.
The low temperature last night was 28 degrees and it still is below freezing. The Oregon race for governor has not been decided yet. It seemed like a big deal yesterday but today, nobody appears concerned about it. The sun is out in a mostly cloudy sky. Yesterday I did some thinking about the job I used to do, about meaningless work versus something worthwhile to do. I didn’t like being a data slave, with all those indifferent numbers and letters I had to index for future retrieval. Every day I’d wear a box chain like a collar around my neck with a sterling tag engraved with Reason to remind me of my industrial commitment. Everyone probably knows the feeling of being a robot in a worthless job, but I felt I had more poetry and beauty in me to share with the world. I didn’t want to waste my life away as a work turtle. Again I’m singing to the choir of a billion people who feel just the same way I do. I guess my point is, if you have other options, then you probably ought to take them and run the risk of rejection. It’s better to do this than let your life be controlled by feelings of guilt or shame, so you end up stuck in a bad situation while time passes you by. That’s been my experience. You can ask yourself if it’s better to be assigned a job like street sweeper and live with the burden, or instead strive for what you were born to be. The ideal place is one where everybody can be what they want to be, but it’s probably a long time coming. But I don’t think the answer is like Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The nature of our work really does matter, not just the quality with which we do the job. After a while, something snaps and it’s necessary to throw off the slave collar.
I’m up after a three hour nap, though already getting kind of tired. The main observation on my mind is that we all seem to have been bitten by the Gold Bug and gone insane. Not even the church is immune to the infection. I’m just an ordinary person, so how can I argue with the pastor? Instead of other people, we love things: fancy cars, diamond rings, musical instruments, or whatever. It all glitters like gold. This is how we measure success today. Maybe it’s just sour grapes of me, dragging my feet around the neighborhood, shuffling, slouching, getting older and falling behind, missing the boat, wandering on the dock. I can only say the caviar was rancid as the cruise ship sails away without me. And I can tell parables like “The Golden Goose.” I can be a moralist like Owl Eyes in the Fitzgerald classic. Only time will tell if I am right or wrong, and maybe I’ll be riding the ferryboat across the bar without this ship of fools.
There’s still not much light outside. Today will be quite full for me: Gloria this morning and DDA in the afternoon. I was thinking, maybe I don’t like Oregon very much even though I grew up here. For all of its blueness, it’s still a very conservative place and I hate that. I knew a white Muslim doctor who left Oregon because she couldn’t adapt to this state. Her son was persecuted at his high school for his beliefs. She took her family back to Washington DC to live. I also had a therapist who said that Oregon sucks. There are only a few little pockets in Eugene where the attitudes are fairly liberal and open. Otherwise you have to be really careful what you say around here. “We can only grow the way the wind blows / We can only bow to the here and now / Or be broken down blow by blow.” The insanity started twenty years ago, although the rudiments for it were always there. Society makes it so hard just to be a human being with the limited time we have. We can only be ourselves with an intimate friend if we are lucky enough to find one. I guess that’s why some people need God.
Eight twenty five.
My pen pal hasn’t emailed me yet this morning, so she might have had company drop in on her. I skipped going to the store this time; Gloria can take me to breakfast and then the grocery store. Agreeing to do DDA today could be a mistake. The others could make it uncomfortable for me if they learn that I am a skeptic. I’ve concluded that people generally are not very smart.
Quarter of eight.
As the daylight came on and I stood on my front porch, there was a homeless person in black clothing raiding our recycle bins. Then he loaded up his car and moved it down a few houses to repeat the process. The day is gray but rainless and people are doing bizarre stuff. Times today have got me all confused on god and government. All nobility is gone from human beings and their behavior, and people are as insignificant as ants… I was a bit trepidatious about walking down my street toward the market when the bum was right there still doing his thing. We ignored each other’s presence even while passing each other on Fremont Avenue. It’s an eerie feeling like paranoia and you imagine anything can happen. I even half expected the store to be robbed when I got there. I detected shadiness everywhere I looked, and the dark morning provided the cloak for any dagger in your chest.
I think Roger was ready to make a citizen’s arrest if it came to that. He used to be on the SWAT team years ago, totally fearless against the “scum bags.” He didn’t care what their problems were, they were breaking the law. That was his job: bust the bad guys. My dad worked as a cop for a few years, back when it was almost socially acceptable to drink and drive. Today we think that’s strange. Maybe there is no normal in human life?
Yesterday at noon I took a gabapentin and later it knocked me for a loop. I won’t do that again for a long time. You know you’re getting older when… The moon was big and round outside my bedroom window, and I wondered if that could account for how I’ve been feeling lately. As usual this time of the morning, an airline jet roars overhead, taken off from Mahlon Sweet airport a little west of Eugene. It reminds me of the trips my brother and I used to take to the coast for the purpose of getting drunk and having a good time. Alcohol is such a double edged sword. But the worst part of it is that I never really had a relationship with my brother; for him it was second to the booze. When I wanted to engage him in conversation and pick his brain, he told me he associated thinking with his work. He didn’t enjoy using his intellect. But for me, intellectual stimulation is one of the great joys of living, though it’s like Marius the Epicurean, an aesthetic activity.
I still like to picture my brother as the practical guy who retreats into the woods with a fishing pole and a cooler of Miller Light, disdaining the human world, its culture and history, to embrace the simplicity and the beauty of nature. If he made up his mind to it, I seriously believe he could be the next Thoreau.
Another jet soars over my head.
I had a good morning, but after twelve o’clock my mood went downhill and I felt uncertain and unstable. I have doubts about playing the bass guitar anymore or doing anything at all with music. I don’t know what I want to do besides write. Above all, I feel quite rudderless the more I realize that my mother is really gone. I’ve set my course for sobriety, whatever this entails for my mental state and however lonely it makes me. It’s hard to seize the day when the day is so slippery. It’d be cool to be a master strategist, planning every move like a chess player— like my brother. He always kicked my ass at chess and every kind of game. My own method was defensive and passive, simply reacting to action.
The other thing to consider is that my brother was rather unkind. People like to believe that kindness counts for something. We wish for good to be rewarded and badness punished. But it’s difficult to say whether the cosmos has those values. Five years ago I began reading An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. The novel deals with just that question, and you wonder throughout the story if crime is punished or not. Will the protagonist get away with manslaughter? And is it more than a coin toss which way it goes? Which outcome are we pulling for?
But I didn’t get very far in that book.
It feels like we live in an amoral culture today. The Machiavelli approach to life is not worth it to me, I guess. I certainly hope that the meek get the heaven they deserve.
“Death defying, mutilated / Armies gather near / Crawling out of dirty holes / Their morals disappear.”