Like Montaigne

Four o’clock in the morning.

I took a Vraylar pill tonight and feel pretty good, except I’m not sleepy now. I have to make up my mind about going to volunteer this morning. I’ll probably be doing well to get to church on Sunday, so don’t sweat it. I can be my own judge. Today, the store doesn’t open until seven o’clock. Also it takes longer for the daylight to dawn. For these reasons I might as well sleep in as long as I want. Suddenly it’s a flood of Debussy’s orchestral music, especially “Fetes” from the Nocturnes. I hear an arrangement of his Reverie as well, such a swelling, crushing little piece of music: and I remember being 25 years old again, with these sounds still fresh in my brain. I had a volunteer job with the American Cancer Society. I helped them move locations from Pearl Street to Oakmont Way, schlepping a lot of stuff in the late summer or early fall. The word “volunteer” must have called up this memory from long ago.

Seven ten.

Although my conscience says I should go to the food pantry and help out, I still don’t feel very great this morning and want to rest and regroup.

I’ve been to the store and back. Feeling kind of tired, and I know that the church has expectations of me; but it’s not worth it to feel guilty. I’m always just inches from quitting the congregation anyway… There’s not much intelligent life in this sector of the city. How can people read a book like Moby Dick or Huckleberry Finn and still make it consistent with Christianity? I guess they place information in different buckets and don’t try to unify it to coherence. The contradictions are allowed to coexist in their minds; but that would drive me insane. I couldn’t be like Montaigne. All of the disconnected bits and fragments of ideas beg to be stitched together in a worldview, a system, and what is incompatible with it gets tossed out. I’m not sure where I learned to do this, except I know it was in school. It’s just the way I impose sense on reality; although you know, the ones who think like Montaigne may be onto something. The truth is that reality is full of contradictions and incoherence and downright illogic.

Quarter of nine. Some people can live like an encyclopedia, with the odds and ends of information scattered about their brain. They keep their religion in a lockbox separate from everything else and let the particulars dangle, disconnected, disunited. I don’t know if I could ever do that… The sky is silver like mercury with a little sun peeking through. I’ve decided to stay home today. Maybe I’ll peruse my volume of Michel de Montaigne to see what I’ve been missing. 

The One in All

Eight o’clock.

A fly in the market was bugging Heather, so on the spot she killed it with the swatter. She was stirring the gravy when I approached the register. I guess she was unfamiliar with the idea of ahimsa, practicing non injury to other beings. Christians and Hindus are much different from each other. I like Hinduism for its consistency with modern science; Brahman is very similar to Energy in Western physics. As I recall, ancient Hindus had the concept of the atom before the Greek Democritus. And the Hindu worldview shows how everything is interrelated by the cycle of rebirths… I didn’t observe much else on my trip this morning. The customer behind me bought a newspaper. The daily round is kind of like reading Ulysses day after day. To show relatedness is to love humankind. I’d hate to see a book like this forgotten, so I keep reminding people to check it out… I remember the feeling I got when I first read a selection from the Upanishads in the Knight Library up on Campus. It was like transcendence of the ordinary mundane to overcome separateness with other people and blend everything together in oneness. A beautiful experience, like being in a trance, but the trance can serve a purpose. It is really a form of enlightenment when you see the sameness of everything: so unlike Aristotle and the Western tradition… Aesop had his canned food breakfast just now. From here we can chill for a couple of hours, feel time dissolve in eternity. 

Trump of Doom

Seven twenty.

The sky was quite pretty when I went out to the store, with a myriad small gray clouds on the blue. Children on my street had made drawings in colored chalk on the asphalt. And I think, let them dream and pretend. Michelle, the store clerk, told me about a customer who was rude to her yesterday. She seems to be on the receiving end of a lot of bad exchanges with people and with life itself. It would be nice if she could turn this around and take control of her circumstances. See herself as an agent instead of a victim to make her life more authentic. But it’s always easier to describe a problem than to prescribe a solution… I believe I was on N. Park when I stopped dead and looked at the panorama of the sky, thinking something inarticulate about time and eternity. Has the same firmament been here forever, or have we fouled it up beyond repair?

Eight twenty five. Heidi called in sick this morning, so my appointment was canceled. Immediately I had to call Ridesource and cancel my trips for today. But it’s okay; I wasn’t feeling so great anyway… How nice if things could be simplified, reduced to one perspective. Yet this wouldn’t be reality, which is rather encyclopedic. For six years I kept a worldview of logical positivism, a kind of empiricism: only our senses can tell us about reality. This method rules out metaphysics, the supernatural, and focuses on tangible things. It might be good to go back to Carnap’s take on life, but then I couldn’t mix with church very well. The beauty of empiricism is its simplicity. “No ideas but in things.” And you only have to understand determinism, or cause and effect, in a material and physical way… My dog, Aesop, senses that something is wrong with the world, or anyway, it’s wrong with me. Again I think of the benefit to us of paring down all perspectives to one. We can subject it to logical analysis to determine what makes sense and what doesn’t. But the problem with positivism is its utter rejection of poetic language as empty nonsense. It doesn’t refer to anything concrete, therefore it is invalid. As a consequence, the angels in heaven come crashing down to earth with a mighty thunder. 

Lost Illusions

Eleven forty.

I used to be better at perceiving subtexts in everyday speech than I am now, for a couple of reasons. One is that I take a good medication for weeding out nonsense. Secondly, I realize that most people don’t employ Freud’s techniques of dream analysis anymore, because truly they get things out of context like a person with schizophrenia. Nor does anyone read the fiction of Henry James these days, which was from the same Victorian era of innuendo and suggestion… I get so tired of my uphill fight every day. I’d much rather make myself disappear in a state of drunkenness… and for some reason I just remembered a tale from the Arabian Nights: “The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad.” Thirty years ago when I first fell ill, the idea of The 1001 Nights represented to my mind a kind of secret knowledge encrypted in symbolism.

Quarter after seven. In a way, I was actually kind of right about that. Much of the Nights is fairytales and folklore that can be analyzed in a psychological way. But if I were to read something like “The Ebony Horse” again, the unconscious content would probably be lost to me. Just out of curiosity I should try it. It’s possible that the thing we call the “unconscious” is really just a fiction and a sort of swindle created by people like Freud and Jung in the past century. I’m not usually a cynical thinker, however… Well it’s the next morning and I should go to the store before my appointment with Rebecca.

Eight thirty. Right now I miss my mode of thought from working days about 15 years ago. I met with my coworker Alice a few times at a Mexican restaurant called Mucho Gusto in the Oakway Center and we’d talk about my job and my future. Those late mornings were often beautiful, and once we walked over to Borders Books and Music for a look around… My mentality then was more Jungian, but now I see that it wasn’t well suited to reality and social interaction. Kind of like going around in a perpetual dream state, which though pleasant was not realistic or practical. I think it’s better to be able to communicate with other people and be understood. If the unconscious is indeed a fact, then right now the truth of it is unavailable to me, perhaps sadly. So I might verse myself again in Arabian tales and the Brothers Grimm to enrich my experience of life and feel something larger than my ego; to feel something period. It’s another nice day in July, a day to be enjoyed. 

Nominalism: a Letter

Thanks for the pretty photograph. The colors remind me of the cover to an edition of Robert Frost I used to have, long ago, as a college senior. I remember reading it in the Knight Library on the third floor, particularly “Tree at My Window” and some of the other early poems.


I had a rather difficult day. I don’t understand what’s going wrong with my life or the way my mind works, but I’m having trouble keeping boundaries with other people, and I’m letting little disagreements really upset me. Why can’t I simply assert myself without worrying about how other people feel? Something has gone wrong. Since last month I’ve become more sensitive to the things people say or seem to believe. I feel like I have to agree with them in order to get along, while asserting myself is the worst thing I can do. All I can see around me is conflict with others. This makes me think of the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, who among many things said that people don’t help each other, but rather they interfere with each other’s interests. In his view, human nature is egoistic, and individuals do what is good for themselves. I guess what I’m beginning to perceive all over again is that people are separate individuals and not just a shapeless mass of humanity. Doubtless my perception is changing since my repeated absences from church over the past two months. The pastor’s collectivism, his tendency to view people as groups, for me is gradually going away, replaced by the individualism I grew up with. Maybe Pastor’s perspective is a convenient way of handling the church group. My meetup with Tim a month ago faced me with some new problems regarding the congregation… I don’t know, but it’s harder for me now to compartmentalize real people in easy categories and classes. It all started with not going to church anymore. I imagine I’ll figure out a way to impose order on what I see, but it’ll take time.


Perhaps I’m not making much coherent sense, but then I have to muddle my way through to get to the next phase. Maybe things won’t be easy for a long time. At least I’m still sober, though life is quite a pain right now.

Ironies

Eleven thirty. I’m very anti Carl Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious, which is founded on something spiritual, sort of like the Hindu Brahman. I guess I’m getting farther away from Eastern thinking, for better or for worse. Carnap reduces a word like “essence” to absurdity because it has no referent in physical reality. I’d forgotten how much Eastern thinking depends on intuition. Jung and Campbell both were steeped in Indian philosophy, and this is a fact I have to respect. I recall the first time I read a sampling of The Upanishads, how it made me feel. The concept of the One was a beautiful thing. “That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature.” This statement in the Rig Veda is entirely intuitive and introspective, but for this reason should we reject it? A whole culture was based on this style of reasoning, so how can it be ruled out as fallacious by a small group of people?

Noon hour. The weather is lightening, with a breakthrough of sunshine. Usually I feel pretty lousy, but my mood today is better than average thanks to the band. We’re going to have fun… There was a dramatic irony in my last post. A point came across that I didn’t intend, yet it stands there in spite of myself, and without my knowledge. Abruptly a shower appears in the sunlight, followed by the newsflash that Trump was acquitted… Wordsworth writes how nature and the mind of man are somehow fitted to each other as part of a divine design. It’s a thrust I can’t rightly parry as the sunshine grows and intensifies. 

Quest for Method

Three o’clock. The sun has come out, very beautifully. I love February for times like this. The colors are so mellow and deep, like a cloying fruit or sherbet, or like a dense, slightly dissonant chord struck on a chorused guitar. I made some cool music for my mom before she passed away. The other night I dreamed about a favorite rockstar, the bassist John Wetton. His work in the mid seventies was really stunning. I like him the best with King Crimson. I’ve dreamed more than once about meeting those guys and jamming with them— or just listening and talking… 

This day reminds me of February a year ago, when I was reading the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. I found it fascinating that he advocated the imagination for a method of ascertaining the truth of things, in an a priori way. He also proposed ratiocination, another a priori approach to knowledge. Was this a Romantic preoccupation, because it was shared by Emerson and Whitman. Can imagination really reveal important truths of the world? And if so, then where can I see the proof of it? Poe was born in 1809 and died 1849, a Capricorn. The intuitionism of the Romantics runs against empiricism, or sensory observation of the world. They believed the heart can detect information deeper than objects of sense, arriving at universal spiritual knowledge— like Faust in the Goethe play. In turn, the Romantic tradition had a big influence on Carl Jung in the following century, so naturally he adopted the same introspective methods. But I keep wondering: does it work? 

Common Sense

Ten thirty.

For the time being, the rain has stopped. I feel more relaxed this morning, more self possessed and confident. It makes little sense to ask where I see myself in five years or ten years. I doubt if anybody is that prescient of their own life… Yesterday I didn’t practice my bass individually, but instead scribbled a lot of drivel in my blank book. It was basic mind reading of people I know, which never works because there’s no such thing as telepathy. It is a truism that we can never know what another person is thinking unless we ask them what’s on their mind. Often the chasm is wide between what we imagine and the real truth. I may ask for a break from Friday service this week just to collect myself. I want to get back to evidence based thinking, as opposed to faith based. Empiricism is looking better to me all the time. The certainty of the chair I’m sitting on is more reassuring than the idea of salvation for my sins. Everyone can save themselves. Let the guilt roll off your back and enjoy your life.

Eleven thirty. The appeal of Romanticism is wearing off for me. It should feel rather liberating to look into logical positivism again, and the wholesale rejection of metaphysics and other slippery things that people dispute over. A rock band sang, “So we are told this is the Golden Age / And gold is the reason for the wars we wage.” I think this is debatable. At least for now, the world of sense experience seems inviting after a long detour into the indemonstrable. 

Scope

The times at large are generally very dark. When is it going to end? Sometimes I wax a bit psychotic thinking about it, deluded that I’m directly responsible for the plight of the world, or that my experience is a microcosm of what’s happening everywhere. I guess the second part is true, but there’s nothing magical about it. And really, everybody is likewise a miniature of the soul of the world. You can’t be conscious without carrying around a world conscience, because we’re all social animals. How strange to think of getting drunk to make reality go away. Everyone has a role to play in this drama, and we all have a day to shine in the spotlight. Many thinkers acknowledge this same truth, from Shakespeare to Emerson to Sartre; Cervantes too.

Wee hours. At the same time, I get tired of the grandiosity of a Shakespeare or a Victor Hugo, or any Romantic voice, and want to go with the ordinary and everyday. It is only in the commonplace that people are human and alive. And we’ve seen the terrible consequences of excessive drama once again in this country. It’s time to change our focus from narcissism to the humble and normal. In my opinion, even the Church is guilty of loftiness and grandiloquence, evident in the puffed up sermons we hear all the time. Perhaps rhetoric does violence to human well-being? And if so, maybe we need to bring the scope down to specifics, to particulars once again, with an attitude of calm and common sense. Instead of Shakespeare then, we get Thornton Wilder: the daily paperboy and the clink of coffee spoons… 

Self reliant

Eleven thirty. It’s nice when I get likes from European readers. There aren’t enough of them. Kate, as I recall, was very literal and realistic, and she disliked extremism in any form. She was not religious or even Romantic. She thought I was crazy when I joined the church and the American way, which I can understand now. I really miss her and her sophistication, so different from my own country. It was this foreignness that attracted me to her. It seemed like a healthy way out of my illness. The problem was that I couldn’t stop drinking all during that time. Today I’m just kind of in suspense to see what happens next. Everybody is. The light of the sun is bright again like yesterday. Is psychology an overrated science? Sometimes I could do without it. I think it’s an American concern, more so than across the Atlantic, from what I’ve experienced.

Quarter after two. The sunshine goes on, with the sky mingled blue and wisps of white. There’s a tree frog screeching in my front yard, but otherwise it’s quiet as a deserted church. Only one other sound: an air conditioning unit next door or somewhere close by. Seems odd for January. Now a prop plane overhead. I just finished playing my Dean bass for today. Saturday afternoon I’m taking my blue Fender to practice again. It’s my favorite instrument and my main axe. It feels unreal that I don’t drink anymore. Certainly if I did, I couldn’t do music with other people, and my life would be useless even to me. Drinking beer is extremely expensive and it takes a huge toll on your quality of life. I still have dreams about alcohol at night sometimes, usually connected with my mother and my brother. My brother is still alive, yet I doubt if I’ll ever see him again. He seems to think that you can’t have a good time without alcohol. Even if he called me one day, I’d probably have to keep him at arm’s length. We’re not in the same situation together, and we have nothing in common anymore. I used to crave his approval so desperately, but now I don’t see why. I used to need my sister’s approval too, but since being sober for three years, family is expendable. I’ve discovered that I can think for myself and solve my own problems without depending on other people. I’m not anybody’s perfect poster boy, but still I hold my own… Sunlight filters through the kitchen window and shadows glow a little green. Except for a bit of a hum outside, the room is silent. I like myself.