I just pulled out my copy of Atlas Shrugged for the fun of it. It makes me kind of emotional; I was only twenty when I read The Fountainhead and then a few chapters of this sequel. I never wanted to finish it because I don’t know if I agree with Ayn Rand about capitalism or even about rationality and egoism. Her thinking doesn’t go very deep into the human psyche like a Freud or a Jung. She applies ancient philosophy to the process of living (especially Aristotle) but somehow this misses a crucial level of human experience. I doubt if people can live like machines one hundred percent of the time, and for a contrast to Rand you only need to read Henry James. I would say that Rand probably lacked self knowledge or maybe was ignorant of human nature and motivation. She was blind on one side. In high school I had a friend who was a huge fan of hers, plus Frank Herbert and Nietzsche. But on the capitalism dimension, I can’t really agree because this kind of system didn’t work for me. I think probably a form of socialism would be better for every human being, not just a few people with an advantage like superior intelligence or some talent, etc. I was extremely lucky that there was a safety net for people with disabilities when I ran into problems with my health. Ayn Rand doesn’t take such things into consideration. So my feelings on the whole thing are quite complicated. I remember being the naïve twenty year old picking up her books at the bookstore and accepting it all like gospel at first. I really didn’t know anything at all at that age and was very impressionable. But it’s amazing how the more you read the more you develop a vocabulary for defining yourself as a human being. Every book is a lamp to illuminate your life, pushing the darkness a little farther away.
Thus I think that Walt Whitman is a far better read than the shallowness of Ayn Rand, but still it’s very interesting to revisit old territories. The deeper things of experience are harder to accept and take longer to understand and come to terms with, but it’s worth it to persist in this hunt for truth and ultimately freedom.
Quarter after nine.
I’ve bought a small package of cream cheese so I can hide Aesop’s pill inside a piece of it. I slept in today; guess I was tired since the long trek to Silver Lane yesterday afternoon. The air outside is a bit less polluted than lately but we still could use a good rain. At five I got up and read “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” It’s essentially about the commerce of the poet with posterity through his language, time not being a factor. I think Byron also wrote a poem or two on the same theme. Joyce likely read both the Whitman and Byron and used the idea in Portrait of the Artist. Maybe it’s not a matter of who had the idea first, but who could write it the best. It seems like forever ago that I studied Joyce. I wonder if he and Virginia Woolf might’ve made a good match? He claimed that he didn’t care for intellectual women… In a few months the centenary for Ulysses will be over with. Did anybody read it again or for the first time? The professor I knew said he considered it his public service to lead students through Ulysses. Probably the book will always be celebrated but unread due to its difficulty and reputation for the same.
Ten thirty. The pill in the cream cheese went down like a charm. I’ll remember that for next time… At the market, Thomas told me he’s studying computer programming at the community college, just a two year degree. As he spoke I was distracted by a white object in his ear that looked like a coiled cigarette butt. I have no idea what it really was or the purpose of it. I also saw a dubious character, tall and slouching with long black hair, carrying two fishing rods and a tackle box, enter the store. I imagined that he had gone fishing in Kelly Pond, but you wouldn’t score anything very good to eat out of that hole. Times are strange, but even stranger when you hang out by the convenience store. I don’t know if I see an average cross section of people or if it’s a hive for weirdos. In the latter case, I’m one more of them.
Quarter of seven.
I see no light on the horizon so far this morning even though the store opened at six o’clock. Often it’s hard to have faith in our present and future but we have to continue as if nothing were wrong.
Quarter after nine.
I slept in for a while. Last night I read a little known poem called “The Sleepers” by Whitman. It’s good but rather strange, though it contains truth that most people wouldn’t acknowledge, particularly Christian people or anyone who doesn’t like Freud. I enjoyed it, actually. The poem is honest and goes very deep into human experience. I’m not sure exactly when he composed it but it had to be after 1855 and before 1892. It seems the time was right for Freud at the turn of the last century, though he was preceded also by Henry James. I don’t know where the quote comes from, but when I took Shakespeare I heard something about being awakened by the secret police at four in the morning, and how awful this idea was.
Soon I have to face the music of another day, go to the store and see who tried to call me on the phone. It’s a merciless world but thank goodness for our poets.
I’ve just been reading Walt Whitman tonight, and I see how he would disagree with my attitudes where I talked about people and the moon. He sees the most ordinary things to be no less grand than the greater things. Everything to him is significant— kind of the way Hindus perceive life and reality. But also it was William Blake who spoke of seeing infinity in a grain of sand. Even as I write, I notice how I tend to define and limit the things I describe, putting them in tiny boxes, suffocating them. Whitman doesn’t do this in his poetry. And if I try analyzing it then I’ll probably kill it because that’s what dissection does to every subject and everything under the sun. Somehow his poetry promotes life rather than snuffing it or etherizing it on a table. Thus I wonder what is his secret. And it reminds me of Eiseley’s policy of description instead of analysis. It’s like taking a photograph and not shooting it down as a hunter does… I will benefit by reading a lot more than I have been lately.
I haven’t done any reading for a week or so. It would be easy to read a little more of Whitman, and yet it’s quite a labor for me afterwards trying to process it. Even my subconscious mind works on it like some kind of puzzle, creating weird dreams and thoughts. If I could ask Harold Bloom about his ideas as a critic and so forth, I would. It’s a complicated situation for me because I was never able to go back to college, so I feel exiled from the university and the campus; and also, Bloom happens to be dead. Thus, the answers to my questions are securely locked away in the mind of the Sphinx, forever a mystery. Time rolls on and everything will be forgotten, surrounded on every side by millions of years. I’m actually getting this idea from Sandburg’s poetry as well. His message is quite different from Whitman’s, by saying the past is a bucket of ashes and the future equally insignificant. Whitman claims he will be immortal through fame and his body’s atoms will continue to be cycled through nature after his death. It’s almost as if Sandburg scratched out what Whitman said about everlasting life.
I don’t know which attitude I like better, let alone which is the truth. I think Sandburg is pessimistic. But, he makes a point that is nearly indisputable in the wake of Whitman’s attempt at self deification. Both visions are very powerful and hard to reduce. They oppose each other, even though Sandburg admired the other poet.
Therefore I’ve been trying to figure out my readings in two different books.
Quarter of eight.
The fog is low and dense this morning, mingled with smoke from wildfires. Air quality poor, yet I had to get to market to buy essentials. I had many dreams during the night; my mind is working on solving some problem quite personal. The book I started reading of Whitman’s poetry edited by Harold Bloom raises all kinds of questions, but I’m thinking about disposing of it in the book share on Fremont Avenue. At the same time, these facts of human nature should be allowed to exist, no matter what a lot of conservatives say, and what the Bible says. By now I wish I’d never joined a Christian church, but had kept the same friends. I feel pulled two ways. I believed that religion was good for helping with addiction, but their other attitudes I find unpalatable, and this is the heart of the debate going on within me. My situation brings up further questions of what is liberal and what is conservative, and how to tell them apart. It’s extremely difficult to find harmony with all the different attitudes people express. So that the fog is a moral one as well as a literal one, and nearly impenetrable.
Quarter of nine at night.
Gloria called and canceled her workday tomorrow morning because a friend of hers is visiting and it’s her last day here tomorrow. So I said okay. The air quality was “unhealthy” in Eugene this afternoon and I could feel the difference in my well-being: my body ached and my head hurt so I needed to rest a while. They said it would rain Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which should help clean the air.
This afternoon I peeked into the book of Walt Whitman that came last Friday. It’s a selection that zeros in on the personal side of his poetry, but still I’ll go back for a closer look later. If he was gay, then I can see why he would swear off Christianity and sort of replace Jesus with himself in his cosmos. Bloom’s language isn’t totally lucid in critiquing Whitman’s poetry and his life, or else I’m dense as a reader; but I think I tend to be more obtuse and blunt, as well as direct and perceptive… Maybe I shouldn’t mess with the book, yet I’m quite curious to understand more about it. I’m reminded of the song by John Lennon with The Beatles, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” It would’ve been even harder for a guy in 1855 to be gay. How much of himself did a very great poet want to share with the world? It’s hard enough in 2022 in the more jerkwater places in this country to just be yourself. It’s worth thinking about.
I listened to Prokofiev during the wee hours, from a very old cassette tape that I’m surprised didn’t break. Just now I read an article about the red tide in Tampa Bay: six hundred tons of dead fish have washed ashore. Nobody knows the exact cause of the disaster. In Oregon, I don’t remember the last time it rained. The drought is severe and doesn’t seem normal to me.
Seven forty. Back from the market already. I reminded Michelle to turn on the sign that says “open.” She cursed and said she knew she’d forgotten something. The sky is gray and overcast, but rain will be very far off. I found out on short notice that I have an appointment for a lab this week. So, tomorrow morning I’m taking a trip to Springfield by taxi. The last few times I’ve gone there I was unimpressed and just wanted to come home.
I think Walt Whitman was absolutely right that the body and the soul are one and the same. To be emotionally alive you must be in tune with your body, though the Digital Age tends to pervert our natural instincts. Some people use technology to cover up what they feel; they become a severed head with no sensation at all. This has happened to me as well, but I also find fault with church doctrine, which is centered in the head rather than the heart and the gut… The clouds have blown away and the sun is out, yet it’s very cool today. Looks like the band will play this Saturday afternoon. The weather is really quite nice, so maybe I can go get another Snapple or something. Aesop peed on the carpet a while ago: probably revenge for getting his breakfast late this morning. Dogs are smart enough to get even with you. Now my mood is taking a dive for some reason… Again, I’m tired of living an incorporeal life, a severed head staring at computer screens. The soul of us below the neck is nothing infernal or otherwise bad but simply human and natural. Most likely I’ll never go to church again… The Prokofiev was good last night; I hear echoes of it right now. It had been thirty years since I last listened to this music, thus to hear it again breaks open a trapdoor in my psyche that I’d nailed shut.
Six o’clock. I feel a lot better now than I did yesterday at this time. Even the very worst feelings are temporary. It doesn’t bother me that music hasn’t worked out so far. I have other activities to keep me happy. I didn’t buy a soda today, but got ice cream instead. Vanilla bean. Aesop was pretty good about letting me take out the trash. Someone’s ideas got under my skin and did some damage for a few weeks. Now I don’t remember whose they were, and right now I’m free from guilt. Opinions are like buttholes: everybody has one. I don’t believe in filtering out every undesired thought that occurs to me. This is unnatural. It is more human to acknowledge every impulse in ourselves. It is more vital. Rational restraint and control over your mind is a conservative thing. Funny how Eve and Pandora, those who released all the evils in the world, were both women. They had a liberal curiosity that men were suspicious of. The kind of man I admire would be someone like Walt Whitman, whose feminine side was as active as his masculine. Dunno; without curiosity, life would be rather boring. If you leave so many avenues of the mind unexplored, how much will you have missed at your deathbed? The wise person is the one who knows himself.
I saw the clouds roll in before darkness fell. I can believe that it will rain tomorrow. The forecast calls for rain Saturday as well. Practice is at three o’clock. If it rains, hopefully it won’t be a torrent, and I can walk to Mike’s house okay.
I’m at an odd point in my life right now, having to reevaluate the things I’ve learned in school and in life. Perhaps a lot of it is disposable now, so I can do like Whitman and set it aside in order to make my own Leaves of Grass. Actually, my life itself is my magnum opus, and writing is its chronicle. Where does it lead, and where will it end up? Le Guin was probably right that the journey is what counts, yet even that was her experience, not mine. Everybody has an opinion. I do agree with Joni Mitchell: people will tell you where to go, but until you get there yourself, you’ll never really know. And that’s what going on a hegira is all about…
A life in letters, and letters in a life: I wonder if that’s like the long essay by Coleridge? But I think Whitman’s odyssey was more interesting, because more original and authentic, even if he visited all those places only in his imagination; even if the self he portrayed was but a persona… And again, that was someone else’s hegira and chronicle. I am almost two and a half years into my recovery, which is just a bare beginning. I can’t imagine what’s in store for my future. Like moving down a hallway with a lot of doors to either side, and the view ahead dimly lit until I get there…