In the years after Star Wars came out, the cable company here didn’t offer much to choose from. However, we got channels from Portland and also one from San Francisco: KTVU, Channel 2. This last one was a lot of fun for kids in the afternoon. At three thirty or so they had the TV Pow game in between Tom and Jerry cartoons, hosted by Pat McCormick, who also did Dialing for Dollars with a movie every weekday. And then at five o’clock it was Captain Cosmic, who would show old Flash Gordon serials and also talk about Star Wars miscellany for avid fans of George Lucas.
I don’t know when I quit watching Channel 2; maybe after I got to seventh grade and started reading regular books for fun. Also I couldn’t watch tv during the afternoon anymore because I had homework to do every day. And my mother usually helped me with that. In all fairness, I think it was my mother who taught me how to write decent prose, and that was when I was in junior high school. It’s kind of amazing to recognize that now. I learned a great deal in seventh grade from Mom and from my reading teacher, Cathy Cheleen. The latter taught us not to use run-on sentences, and Mom said to make them short and punchy. She told me to use synonyms for the same things for variety; and I still heed her advice even today.
It’s probably the Coke that made me write to you again. Sometimes it makes me feel really good. When that happens, I try to seize the day and take advantage of the good mood.
The person who put the brakes on my music was only me, but it’s for a good reason. I’m about three weeks away from my five year sober birthday. Making music is often a slippery activity for someone in recovery. In this case, we just do the best we can… I have the strangest memories of my eighth grade in the fall season. My parents had the television on constantly. I can still remember the music from some of the commercials, like for Sizzler Steakhouse: steak and langostino shrimp, where the music was Polymoog synth and a Fender P Bass, very pretty, like lounge music. Today I don’t even own a tv. I know some people are addicted to it. If I had one, it still wouldn’t be the same as when I was a kid. After my mother died I began to see television for what it was: a brainwashing tool, like having the Central Scrutinizer in your own home. Or like a scene out of Fahrenheit 451. Totally dystopian. I think I’d rather be liberated from all that. Then again, a person could argue that social media is just another form of hypnosis along with tv and everything else…
Also this afternoon I started reading the Theodore Sturgeon novel. It begins right away with content about insanity and terrible violence, so I don’t know if I’ll read further. It upset me because of its ignorance of mental illness and autism. To Sturgeon, psychopathology is just a blanket field for insanity and idiocy. The story was written in the fifties, when I suppose very little was known about mental health problems, especially among the general public. It was people like him who were guilty of spreading misinformation about “insane” people, and who made it something to be afraid of. My mind went from there to thinking about my brother, who still believes everything he sees on television, having grown up during the tv generation. Frankly I can’t stand people who believe television before they accept reality that is right in front of their noses. My brother’s attitude totally sucks, but no amount of talking to him can change his mind. For him, Alfred Hitchcock is reality, and he’s scared to death of mental illness; which means he’s also afraid of me.
I believe that people should unplug not only their tv but also avoid the movies, or at least watch them with a discriminating eye. Trust experience of immediate reality rather than a lying media.
So that was my little stint with “light reading” today. And the rest of the day I spent mostly napping.
I do think that consciousness is slowly being raised for the phenomenon of mental illness, but the progress is painful and laborious because of the myths we have to bust. Our worst enemy, as in everything, is fear of the unknown. People generally fear what they don’t understand, and misunderstand what they fear.
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 just had a strange memory from eighth grade: I used to have my own black and white tv set down in my bedroom, with no cable connection. I could get two channels, ABC and NBC. I watched a lot of sitcoms by myself, my favorite of which was probably Taxi. This makes me emotional to think of. I wonder why I never think about what I saw on tv anymore? It wasn’t all trash, or was it?
Four thirty. Even as late as 1999, I still watched some television. Except where they were misinformed about mental illness especially, network tv shows were generally good and humanizing. Yet I can see why I got turned off of the media. My siblings were addicted to the movies, and believed everything they saw concerning mental illness on the big screen. My friend Kate hated the movie Rain Man for its misconception about autism. Specifically, there’s no such thing as an autistic savant. But my sister still takes the Hollywood version of autism for the truth, even after I tried to explain to her the fallacy. And then there are the movies about schizophrenia, which do more harm than good. The Soloist was a lousy film, but again, my siblings believed it before they would try to understand me, the real thing. And whenever a case of violence done by mentally ill people got splashed over the media, my brother was reinforced in believing that all of us are violent. The upshot of all this was that I unplugged myself from everything having to do with television. But of course my family is still hooked on the lies they are fed. All I can do is keep writing what I know.