Liberty

Five o’clock in the morning.

I have the bug to play music with people again. Upon listening to our recording of “Burning Coal” once more, it comes out that my old band was pretty good when we were on. So my birthday wish is to put together the next band project for gigging locally and having some fun… Right now it’s raining out in the darkness before the dawn, but the sound is quite comforting to me. Yesterday just before noon I tramped a mile over to the veterinary hospital for Aesop’s flea medication, but encountered nothing very interesting aside from the work on the new high school buildings. Generally I felt out of my element, like I was missing my purpose in this life, if life does have a plan for us. If life is absurd then you have to impose meaning on it. It’s amazing what you can do with an astrolabe and a few old myths, and your imagination fills in the blanks, sort of like Gestalt psychology. Yet the planets probably have nothing to do with our fates because existence in itself is devoid of human significance. And by this reasoning, if there’s no destiny, then we are free to create one for ourselves by our very actions. Rather than pessimistic, this freedom is good news, and let the gospel be spread of human liberty. 

The Biggest Wave

Six o five.

Last night I thought about my girlfriend from ten years ago and how liberated she seemed to be. Just now I remember that she and I were each the youngest member of our respective family, and according to a book cowritten by John Cleese, the youngest child is the most independent and free of all of them. Also I was thinking of how I regret our breakup every single day. I chose to quit drinking and being a free spirit because it would have killed me otherwise. Still there’s this regret for what used to be. So then I considered Hellenistic philosophy again, their dilemma over ethics of happiness. Epicurus and Zeno disagreed on what constitutes the good life: the pursuit of pleasure or stoic restraint and self discipline; while the Skeptics simply didn’t know either way. The position of Epicurus was actually more complex than that, but traditionally people have simplified the picture like this. I’m still a Skeptic on the matter and I would never discourage anyone from living life to the fullest. And yet, the song by After the Fire from many years ago ends with, “The more you live, the faster you will die.” The same from Pink Floyd: “And balanced on the biggest wave / You race towards an early grave.” So, what is the value of our freedom if we can’t do whatever we want to do? Well, it beats the alternative. 

Used to Be a Bacchant

Quarter of seven.

I’m just getting ready to go to the store for a Snapple tea and some food. The light outside is gradually coming on, showing the gray sky in my window. It may be warm enough to go without a jacket, and no rain is forecast for today. Later I should read a good book to try to goad my brain out of its lethargy. What I really miss is playing music with friends. However, I’m not a Dionysian person anymore since I quit drinking. It’s still hard to figure my life out.

Quarter of eight. Aesop looks more alive than he did last night… To say that I used to be a bacchant is a romantic way of saying I was an alcoholic. There are different ways to intellectualize alcoholism and make a culture of it, but a skunk is still a skunk. And yet for me, sobriety is the undiscovered country, the last frontier of experience. After four years, I still don’t know what to expect with my life without beer. If I’m not exactly happy, then I’m at least alive and fairly healthy. Different kinds and qualities of pleasure are available to people. I guess the life of the mind is good enough for me. It is said, Live by the sword, die by the sword, but I’ve put the sword away, and the dragon I once fought has shrunk down to a baby alligator. Don’t feed it and don’t piss it off and it will stay little and cute… I’m looking at a lonely day ahead, but it beats a day of frenzy and uncertainty— sometimes. Both offer a chance to learn new things. 

Sermon to the Living

Quarter of ten.

I’ve gotten back some of my confidence and motivation since yesterday. It only took actually doing something: working up my nerve and getting out of the house to do something different. I’d been stuck in a bad cycle, never doing anything for me, and beating myself up. It’s okay to have some fun and forget about the pandemic. Without pleasure and happiness, life is for nothing. Be selfish for a change and spread a little happiness around you. I disregard what St Paul said about self regard; Plato’s position on this is more useful. It’s important to respect yourself, for if you don’t, then it’s a recipe for depression and ill health. So, yesterday I indulged in a little fun, and the sky didn’t fall. It’s a mistake to think that our duty is to feel depressed. The very opposite is true to keep us sane and healthy… It’s a beautiful sunny morning in October. The leaves on the trees are changing, and today I’m living in the here and now, with some anticipation of the future. However, the past is not a bucket of ashes, because our past achievements give us confidence to achieve even more good things. It’s a series of ups and downs with no finish line.

Ten thirty five. It is possible to be selfish and generous simultaneously. Being selfish doesn’t necessarily mean hoarding or thieving, coveting, or whatever. It means being prudent and using your own judgment. You take care of your own needs first, and then help others to their particular happiness. Trying to be selfless is really to be soulless, and a soulless person is no use to anybody. And everyone’s happiness is something different and peculiar to them. So, a collective eudaemonia makes no sense. “One law for the lion and ox is oppression.” 

Reply to Sartre

Quarter after eight.

I totally forgot to buy dog food this morning. Shame on me! So I’ll give Aesop part of my own lunch today. The ground is wet from the overnight rain. Kat waved to me from her living room as I walked past her house. Last night, for some reason I remembered things that happened three years ago, when I was a client at P—. Everybody was such a robot who worked there, or a puppet on strings. In the lobby downstairs I would wait for my taxi when I was done, with a view of the breezeway to the hospital. Some days were better than others, though I often felt judged by the therapists. The nicest person I met there was a guy named D— who had an idea for how to clarify the language. Basically he would purge everything poetic and make it plain and literal, sort of like logical positivism. He was very kind and humorous but troubled. I liked him… I let Aesop know what his breakfast will be today, and now we’re counting down the minutes.

Nine ten. I don’t make a contest of things like I used to. There’s no sense in competition with others. My brother even made a Darwinian thing out of singing karaoke at a local bar, which missed the point completely. I think the best feeling you can have is freedom from guilt and shame that usually result from condemnation by other humans. If you can be remorseless consistently then your life will be carefree… or maybe not. At least we can try to create an earthly paradise for each other, so that heaven is other people. 

TGIF

Seven o’clock.

It was still dark outside when I walked to the store this morning. The partly clear sky permitted a view of the stars overhead. Out of range of the streetlight I could hardly see the ground in front of me. As I ambled along, I remembered a night nine years ago when I drunkenly made a trip to the same place, with my mind playing music by Khachaturian. At once, it was a romantic night and a miserable one, but sometimes we like to dream little dreams. Sometimes a dream can engulf us while real time leaves us behind… Michelle and the dairy guy were doing inventory when I came in the door. She was in a good mood because it’s Friday today and she gets weekends off. Just now the dawn arrives with rosy fingers, or rather a stripe of peach between banks of clouds that are breaking up. I read some Mark Twain yesterday noon. It made me think of what freedom means to different people. How is it defined? He might say with democracy and with honest labor. It seems to me that freedom in one respect entails a sacrifice somewhere else. Nobody has everything they want, so just appreciate what you have.

Quarter of eight. I spent a rough afternoon yesterday. My nervous system felt hypersensitive, as if I might go into a seizure or something like that. I was overwrought with anxiety and stress. When I wrote in my journal I reasserted my belief in Freudian analysis, and then I could relax a bit. One of the greatest lines I’ve read is by James Baldwin: “Funerals are for the living…” 

Very Fitzgerald

Seven thirty.

The cloud formation I can see from here is very pretty, more natural than during the wildfires. When I go out the front door, the writing in the sky might say, “Surrender, Robert!” Vapor trails left by a Wicked Witch. This idea made me laugh. No clue what it pertains to or what it means. I only got up an hour ago. Guess it’s time to go to the store. So far I feel good today.

Quarter of nine. I met with a couple of surprises on my outing this morning. The first was seeing Lisa, who used to work at Karen’s salon, in the parking lot of the market. She greeted me by name and with a deft movement stripped off her mask while I fumbled to remember who she was. Then she told me she had a new job at a salon that fit her better. I’m happy for her on one hand, but the happiness is superficial when you begin to think about it. I also think to myself that cream rises to the top, but it’s always at the expense of somebody else. Maybe I’m being too Charlie Brown about an otherwise good thing… The other surprise was the sight of schoolchildren on their way to the middle school. I was a bit worried for them crossing Maxwell Road, but apparently they knew how to do that… The more I think about Lisa, the more I dislike her supercilious attitude. There’s something very Scott Fitzgerald in this scenario: an oligarchy of the beautiful people, whereas those without beauty are the losers. It makes me self conscious. I tramp around the neighborhood in soiled clothes, the epitome of penury; and yet I have something that Lisa seems to lack. Give me a few minutes and I might recall what it is… Does she know who Fitzgerald is? And what is an oligarchy? 

The Yellow Signal

Nine fifty five.

I had a nap for about four hours with some strange dreams, quite nonsensical and random… In real life, it tires me to watch people conform to trends like herd animals. After a while it makes us look impersonal and mechanical, as if no one had a heart or a thinking brain, nothing they could call human. Or maybe superhuman. Green means go, red means stop, but what about yellow intersections where there’s some ambiguity and the call is up to you? And there’s a lot more yellow than we admit to ourselves. Everybody wants an almanac to give them cut and dried answers because they prefer to place authority outside of themselves, which is really a recipe for unhappiness. I still don’t have much respect for sociology as a field of study when instead we can opt for ethics. The almanac you seek is your own heart. Don’t read the book. Be the book. 

Sanity’s Return

Eight o’clock.

Going to the store was quite nice this morning. Heather gave me some jerky strips for Aesop and was smiling at me when she thought I didn’t know it. Compared to yesterday, I have a bit more common sense today. My sister may try to call me, but I will just let it ring. There is band practice this afternoon at one o’clock. I have to take a few things with me: a small hex wrench, a guitar pick, and gifts for the guys.

Nine o’clock. The air outside is immobile as death; supposed to get up to 90 degrees, and with no breeze it’ll feel warmer. The house is super quiet right now. The last time I read a book was over a week ago: John Berryman. But I find contemporary literature dysfunctional and disturbing and not very didactic. From Emerson to Philip Roth shows quite a moral decline, like reading the “General Prologue” to The Canterbury Tales. It takes one genius to spearhead a literary movement and a host of successors to screw it up. Perhaps due to the cooler weather, my wits have come back and I can think again about virtue of the Emersonian kind. I didn’t care for June and its events in my life. Hopefully July will bring better things.

Ten o’clock. I have a gorgeous big volume of Montaigne that I haven’t even begun to sample, so that’s something I can do on a quiet day. 

Sunday Faith

Quarter of ten.

I walked to the store in the rain this morning. It was warm, so I wore no jacket and just carried an umbrella. When I got there, Heather was very good to me as she always is. The other customer inside the place was talking about the price of the Sunday paper, which had gone up to five dollars… Before I left the house, I was brushing my teeth and I thought of the history of psychiatry, particularly Freud’s theory of what causes schizophrenia. He said it was repressed homosexual desires, but of course he didn’t know anything about genetics. So I said to myself that it makes no sense to psychologize the phenomenon of mental illness. I thought it was surprising that Freud was revived three years ago. But the run of my life since 2017 has been like a Hegelian process, dictated by history and politics. The motivation from within really comes from something bigger than the personal self. I’ve taken a ride on the carousel, deluded all the time that I was free and independent.

Even in time we shall control the day

When what you see

Deep inside the day’s controlling you and me

It’s an old Romantic idea, but I think it’s probably true what this lyric by Yes says. And yet if psychology is bogus, then how can philosophy and poetry be more accurate? I guess it’s better not to generalize human experience into abstracts…

Ten fifty. The weather forecast predicts rain this afternoon, and I have to go to Mike’s house at around two thirty. If all attempts at knowledge are futile, then life as a skeptic is rather difficult. We need to have faith in something, so it might as well be something that gives us pleasure.