Modern Valjean

Quarter after seven.

I just saw a rough looking guy stop his car on my street and get out to steal trash from our bins. He’s probably phishing for personal information he can get from discarded mail. For a moment I felt unsafe as he walked back to his vehicle, furtively glancing around for witnesses. It’s a rather weird start to the day. Now I think about criminal minds and other kinds of dishonesty so foreign to my nature. I used to be treated like a criminal for alcoholism, but was that fair to us? But today I don’t know any people who abuse alcohol. It’s going out of fashion, perhaps. My family, so I believed, used to accuse me of leeching off the system, which wasn’t fair at all. It may be true that no human being is without sin, yet justice must be measured out in a rational way or else it’s chaos. Roger, the retired cop, has just opened his garage door. I could run over to tell him what happened, but stealing garbage is a petty thing. Maybe I’m only paranoid again. We live in bizarre, desperate times. Kind of like Jean Valjean but not as honest.

Eight forty.

Les Miserables is the kind of book that is an accomplishment just to have read. I got halfway through it and stopped dead, but with a little inspiration I could pick it up again. I could do that even today. It raises questions of what is justice and how do we know what is right— and according to whom? Sometimes a suspension of the ethical is called for to serve the divine truth… 

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Can Spring Be Far Behind?

In the middle of the afternoon I thought about getting myself a Coke so I could have a caffeine buzz, sort of like being drunk on alcohol but less harmful; but instead I went to bed to try to forget my life temporarily. I guess I’m really not very happy with the PCA situation on my horizon. I just feel as though the authorities are taking over my life, suggesting that I’ve done something wrong. But I haven’t broken any laws that I know of; only the unwritten rules of protocol that you can find partly in the Bible. They are things people do just because everyone else does them, so if you ask them why, they can’t tell you exactly. I think it’s called culture. Some people are very strongly in favor of the rights of society while others assert the rights of the individual. Pastor Dan loves sociology but I just hate it, and that’s why I started reading Les Miserables two years ago. Jean Valjean breaks a law to feed his family and it brings the wrath of society down on his head in the figure of Javert, the detective. So, the ethics of this situation is very complicated: it’s almost a suspension of the ethical in order to serve a higher purpose than that of society. It’s a very great story, admired by some other great writers. It raises the question of what is justice after all, and according to whom? It goes way beyond sociology to something much more personal and meaningful. And this is what Pastor seems to be missing…

The weather forecast calls for rain all week but it was just cloudy today. I’ll be glad when the winter dies down and gives way to the springtime again. I feel like something has to give. The winter has been awfully long, and I feel like things haven’t been going my way ever since I left the rock band last summer. And to a great extent I blame Pastor for my departure and my disappointment in music. The lesson I should learn is to keep my own counsel for my personal life and to assert myself according to my heart. But unfortunately there’s a lot of people who think like Pastor Dan, putting the rights of society first, like a big mechanical octopus that controls everyone impersonally, with uniform precision and a lot of mathematics.

Poverty and Woe

Eight twenty.

I can see already that it’s very foggy outside. Likewise, my mind is rather befogged and useless right now. Music has little meaning for me anymore unless it’s classical. I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Is anybody out there having any fun these days?

Quarter of ten. Sad news from the store this morning: Michelle’s daughter died of Covid last Friday. There’s a jar for donations towards the funeral expense. I’ll put something in there when I have some cash. Coming back on Maxwell Road I stopped and talked with Karen for about ten minutes. She was super nice. I made an appointment to get a haircut on February 1. My finances are tight, but I’ve never been a miser, and I’ll give money away when I can. My copy of Les Miserables looks good to me now. Hugo has an attitude that Dickens seems to lack. He has spirit. He has gall. His voice is bombastic, grandiloquent. His intelligence is formidable and broadly versed. And Hugo is a Romantic writer. Altogether he is brilliant.

Ten thirty five. I was told that Michelle will be back next week. She gets more than her share of woes, and there seems to be no explanation for this. I only wish more power to her. 

Serenity: from a Letter

The little market was rather busy this morning, but the line was all gone by the time I was ready to check out. I saw one regular customer, a heavyset girl in her thirties, walking out with a half case of beer at nine thirty. My mission was primarily to buy dog food today. In line at the espresso closet I saw a deputy’s pickup truck. The salon looked open for business but I didn’t see Karen or her car outside. I know, it’s an awkward situation I have with her. I guess it is what it is, to use the empty cliche. From about eleven thirty to one thirty I read fifteen pages of Les Miserables; difficult going with all the names of people and places I’d never heard of. The setting has changed to the lives of Parisian street urchins called gamins. Eventually Hugo will get around to a character named Marius. His writing is always circumlocutory, beating around the bush and baffling his readers, but also what he says is usually pretty fascinating and quite ingenious. His breadth of knowledge is really stunning. So anyway I read up to page six hundred and have another eight hundred and fifty left.

At two o’clock Heidi called me to reschedule our appointment because she wasn’t feeling well today. And then with the beautiful sunshine I began to crave alcohol due to euphoric recall. For an alcoholic, there’s no greater pleasure than intoxication, though I know it’s hard to explain to people who are not alcoholic. The release of endorphins from drinking beer is comparable only to heavenly bliss. So then I emailed Mark, my friend who plays the drums and lives in the Friendly Street community in the south of town. And next, to divert myself, I played one of my bass guitars for an hour. Finally I had a can of dinner and, at four thirty, took a long nap with Aesop.

Now I’m awake again and don’t have the cravings for alcohol. But you know, life can be pretty difficult for me, when the sun comes out in springtime and I want to feel the best I can. One idea that helps me is that of accepting everything that happens without judgment, to just let events flow into futurity without comparison to other times in the past, without trying to idealize them. Does that make sense to you? In other words, I have to let go the past and let the future work itself out as it will regardless of my wishes. It’s possible that my musical projects will never pan out— and what then? Just take things as they come and don’t drink, no matter what happens. This experience of life is quite like reading an Emerson essay, following its flow like a river, never knowing the destination, and really, not having one. It’s also like the process of writing, unintentionally and with no clear goal in mind, and arriving simply where you do. And wherever you do is okay with us. Kind of like the quote by Ursula K. Le Guin about the journey being logically prior to the destination.

So anyway I got through the day without drinking.

Child Is the Father

One fifty in the morning.

I had a round of bad dreams about my dad. Essentially I saw him as a sadist, one who derives pleasure from the suffering of other creatures, and as such, a terrible man. Expiation is the word Hugo uses for atonement, or rather his translator uses it. I feel as though my parents need such a thing, so maybe that’s my duty while I’m still alive. Or maybe it’s better to let them fade into obscurity. Better to help the living than the dead. But my dreams don’t let me forget them. When I was a toddler I had a lucid dream of my parents being judged by a wise old man who could be none other than Jesus. He shone as a star in the night sky, then he descended from heaven to persecute my mother and father. I ran into the house to try to warn them of their danger, pursued by the white bearded wizard. It’s so strange as a child to be alone with a dream. How do you explain it to someone when you lack the vocabulary to do so? And then, who listens to a three year old? 

Moonless

Upon a moonless night

In the streets of the old Paris

Pursued by Javert and three thugs

I must save little Cosette

Escape to the left cut off

We come to the convent wall

From a streetlight yet unlit

I take a length of rope

She asks what the trouble is

I tell her in a whisper,

“It’s the Thenardiess”

Because this she will understand

With a convict’s skill

I scale the face of the wall

And gaining the top

Haul the little girl up by the rope

Javert and his thugs baffled

We alight on the other side

In a forbidden garden

Where we are awed

By mysterious music. 

Clues from Victor Hugo

Midnight thirty.

Les Miserables has some grand moments, characteristically French, for you can see the responses of succeeding French thinkers. Hugo says that above is God, below is the soul, and the second is the reflection of the first. He rejects nihilism as illogical, because human consciousness could not have arisen from nothingness— the contrary of what Sartre says in the following century. Hugo: nihilism reduces to the monosyllable No; but theism is the affirmation Yes. All of this logic is phenomenological and impressionistic, cutting away the facts of natural science to leave only what is abstract and intellectual: ideal and essential. He may be right that the universe is conscious and that human consciousness reflects that of God. And that within the abysses of darkness there is light. This is all a priori philosophy and rather an intuition, a gut feeling. It is interesting how Sartre’s nihilistic phenomenology shows a general change of attitude, in feeling and faith, from affirmation to negation. To affirm is to say that God exists, and that there’s no such thing as zero: and that is Hugo’s belief. It’s the precedent that Sartre and Camus would grapple with later… When you think about it, it’s a bit strange to look upon a person, place, or thing and pronounce that it is something or that it is nothing, that it’s light or that it’s darkness, depending on whether or not you believe in God. It makes me ponder the definition of God. Somewhere in the New Testament, it is said that Christ always says Yes and never says No. He additionally is the Light of the world. And in the Book of John, God is Love… Can something be made from nothing? Or can you say that what exists is tantamount to nothing? In the end, we have to take the wager… 

A Mental Battle

Three forty in the morning.

I have insomnia tonight from the Snapple teas I drank. But they also gave me the motivation to do some housework. The new reading glasses arrived in yesterday’s mail. I suppose they’re functional enough. Meanwhile the old ones broke. Blogging is not very rewarding right now in terms of getting likes from followers, but it doesn’t mean they’re not reading every post. Obtaining likes can become an addiction for some people. So, I will just keep posting stuff for my own benefit… 

It sucks to be up in the middle of the night, when no one else is awake and it’s dark outside. I know a few people who operate on the assumption that “money makes the world go round.” Their worldview is strictly materialistic, and they see nothing wrong with this. The only power they know of is the dollar sign. Something called to my mind the spiritualism of 19th Century novelists like Dostoevsky, and their mental battle against materialism rising in their culture. How important is it for people to acknowledge some kind of spiritual life? How blind are the ones who don’t? “Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy.” Sometimes the wonder goes completely out of my life, and then I know there’s trouble. Karamazov is a brilliant book, so I think I’ll go back and revisit the opening sections. Or, I can keep struggling with Victor Hugo… Another thought is that the university I went to was really geared towards materialism, with some exceptions. This was the indoctrination I received. But you can always get another indoctrination. 

Twelve Hours

Near five o’clock. I picked up Hugo and read another 30 pages. The interruptions in the narrative are like Moby Dick, but the story is interesting enough to keep me going. Some of the prose waxes eloquently Romantic, and those passages are fun for me. I’ve read up to the point where Valjean finally meets Cosette for the first time. She is eight years old and a servant at an inn, or chophouse. Her mother, Fantine, has died, leaving her orphaned. The innkeepers are rascals. Hopefully Valjean can alleviate her situation before he is caught again and put back in the galleys. He has hidden his money somewhere in the woods, buried in a cache.

I really don’t like studying the Bible, so I guess that’s why I left Our Redeemer. Also I don’t believe that prayer achieves anything. It’s one thing to think and study, but to put into practice is quite different for me and rather scary. I’m a lot more conscious now than three years ago. I don’t subscribe to having one bible, period. Life is too big and broad to be covered by a single authority. It takes a whole big library to put it in perspective… I don’t have Christian delusions anymore, thanks to my medication. I wonder how my sister would respond to the antipsychotic? She told me once that her body wanted the cigarettes, which I thought was absurd. She was coming from a biblical place in her thinking about addiction. It just sounded crazy. Recently, I was seeing less of a difference between her religion and the Lutherans. Whatever the reason for my departure, it was inevitable.

Quarter of five (morning). I listened to five pieces by Copland and then most of Permanent Waves by Rush. It was all very wonderful. Appalachian Spring was poignant in some places, with touches of great warmth and sympathy in the strings… I don’t know why my sister and I can’t get along. Maybe she needs to keep her opinions to herself. She mustn’t force them on other people. She tried it with me because I’m a nice guy, meek and soft spoken. It is always a violation to try to dominate others. Unfortunately, Polly has only two modes: dominate or submit. She can’t relate to people rationally, adult to adult. And it’s sad because she won’t know the joy of sharing ideas and expanding her knowledge base. Her friendships have always been superficial, never intimate with anyone. She isn’t comfortable that way. Probably she will go to her grave lacking self knowledge.

Contemplating Jazz

Ten thirty. I put my vote in my mailbox and raised the flag. I don’t care anymore what religious people think. The supernatural is impossible; just a figment of the imagination. If you go out and test it, then the biblical stuff falls every time. I’m thinking like an empiricist. I’m done with playing children’s games. America needs to grow up and out of its superstition… The rain has been coming and going. I feel hungry. I don’t know if my brother will call me back, but I’m sort of hoping he won’t.

Eleven thirty. Home again from the store. I bought Aesop’s bacon strips and something for me. I voted for Sanders even though he dropped out. I skipped over most of the other votes…

In my head I’ve been going over a couple of jazz songs and noting similarities in chord progression. I wonder if jazz is in the cards for me? There must still be some musicians doing jazz in Eugene. Maybe Ron is into it. Going to eat now…

One o’clock. Played some Jaco and Mark Egan on my bass and it sounded good. The bass doesn’t respond as well to playing it hard. It has a very clean tone and seems suited for jazz. I think I’ll read for a while now. Victor Hugo gives me food for thought.

Three o’clock. I made it through the worst of the Waterloo part of the book. I felt like I was getting old while I sat here reading. Nor is there any reversing the process of aging. The progress of life can move forward or stop, but can’t go backwards. I would do some caffeine for power, but then I couldn’t sleep at night. At the same time, there’s this rediscovery of jazz fusion that feels like something new to me… No, I think jazz these days is on the wane. Dunno. I need to meet with more musicians and see what’s up locally. I feel tired.