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.

Two Worlds

Two thirty. Kate was very smart. I miss chatting with her. She had a lot of common sense, and an instinct for the ordinary. She really liked the Carlos Williams poetry I introduced her to. She was not a Romantic at all, but rather was drawn to analytic philosophy, including Russell and the Vienna Circle. Once I understood where she was coming from, we could talk about Carnap and so on for hours and days, even years. She came along at an opportune time in my life… Funny. Only a few years ago, I had a delusional fear of Edgar Poe’s poetry. I believed it was satanic. Of course I don’t believe in the devil now. The medication took care of that. Before this med, there was alcohol for the psychosis. If religious delusions were real, then I wouldn’t fight them off with drugs and rigorous mental discipline. Schizophrenia is a disease. It is a condition of messed up brain chemistry. I agree with psychiatry and not talk therapy. Science is always the best solution. People don’t understand that the human brain is the base of behavior. The mind is no more than brain activity. And yes I am a materialist. Religious people can argue with me till kingdom come (which will never happen).

Eight twenty. I’m going through a weird kind of struggle. In 1862, Hugo thought materialistic philosophy was the privilege of the wealthy, while religion was the fare of the poor. I find this to be true in our own time as well, and I’ve been immersed in both worlds. Going from Hugo to Woolf was to revive my college learning, which really was a materialistic thing, with a few exceptions. Now I don’t know which way to turn. My old psychiatrist told me that I had fallen low, in terms of my status. This only made me rebel against him and turn to the church. Was that a mistake? Or will I come out of all of this the wiser? I should probably finish Les Miserables.

Inventory

Noon hour. If drinking beer were still fun, then I’d definitely do it. For a long time I didn’t believe alcoholism could be fatal. Now I know. Seven years ago I would do a half case every day and get a mile high. I don’t know why today. It was just a lot of fun and it seemed there was no reason not to. The main thing I regret is how rationalization distorted my perception. It was a kind of lying. After a while, the only thought I could muster was to repeat that it wasn’t my fault. In hindsight, I think I probably was culpable, although a lot of people with schizophrenia abuse alcohol. Why is that? I simply wanted to feel better, and alcohol put me on the moon for a while… I either feel like taking a nap or just finding a way to feel comfortable. I dreamt this morning about being homeless. Someone asked me what was my source of income, and I told him it was none of his business. Then he hacked into my Social Security account and tried to stop my payments. I also dreamt that I was typing on an old manual typewriter… I’m going to go look for my copy of The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart. When I read it the first time, my comprehension wasn’t good. She is a great writer, and makes Merlin very believable.

Three twenty five. I found the book and skimmed through it for a while. Stewart makes Merlin less an enchanter than a clairvoyant or prophet, someone gifted with the Sight. I wish I could revive my old faith in spiritual things. My medication mostly precludes it from happening. It makes me realistic and skeptical of the supernatural. If there’s a window to such things, then Mary Stewart is it. There’s no reason not to believe in mystical stuff. Many people do, so why not me? I definitely used to believe in my muse, the one that inspired me to make music and to write poetry. Emerson held a lot of power for me around the time I played with Blue-face. Lately, my faith has withered and wilted away. Metaphysics has become an impossibility. It has to be the antipsychotic.

Nine ten. I passed all afternoon feeling mentally terrible, like a victim of my own conscience. Is it because of the reading I did in the book by Victor Hugo? How could a book have such an impact on my mind? And yet there it is. I’m examining myself like never before in a moral way. The sun was out this afternoon, but I couldn’t stand the light. Had to hide from it. Does everyone go through something like this? A review and reevaluation is taking place. This is only the beginning.

Pedagogy

Seven twenty five. Pastor called me as he’d promised. We talked about music and literature but not about religion. Maybe he needs a break from his role as pastor sometimes. It reminds me that he is a human being. He told me that the pantry went okay, with about 30 families served. They figured out how to direct traffic through the parking lot, using new signs. This evening he was just reading a book on the history of baseball in his backyard. I rested in bed for a few hours, my mind wracked by torturous thoughts. I tried to ascertain the cause of my malaise all day today, thinking it was something I had read. I couldn’t relax and be myself. I believed my personality was somehow aberrant or erroneous, specifically hedonistic rather than morally upright. But now it occurs to me that my conscience is overactive, and probably not the mark of a shameless wanton. The Hugo book is putting me through a trial, so maybe I should stop and read something light. I’ve considered Andersen’s fairytales, which may offer more sugar coat to the moral pill. But the more I think about it, the more it seems that all works of literature are morally didactic in nature. Everything we ever write is necessarily moral, whether we intend it or not. Perhaps this is the lesson I’ve learned so far from reading Les Miserables.