Jackknife Barbers

Quarter of ten.

I was off to a late start this morning; I simply slept in a while. One thing I keep telling myself is the difference between fantasy and reality. And it’s the reality that counts for more. We’re having rain showers today, so I took my umbrella on my walk. The FedEx driver waved when we passed on my street. Just now a little tune by Jethro Tull appears out of nowhere, with exaggerated moralism: “And the jackknife barber drops her off at school…” I ran into Melissa, a former employee of the market, while I was there. She says that her four year old boy is a dinosaur expert and can inform you all about them, and correct you when you make a mistake. At the time I was shopping, I sneaked a peek at the price on my old poison of choice in the beer cooler: $10.49 before deposit. But I was only curious and not seriously tempted. “There’s no problem that a little alcohol can’t make worse,” said my next door neighbor five years ago… A few factors have conspired to make me think of Aqualung, the classic prog album. It gave alcoholics a bad reputation, perhaps, even with these lines: “Aqualung my friend / Don’t you start away uneasy / You poor old sot, you see it’s only me.” I guess I’m sensitive to criticism like this. It’s much easier to judge others than be in the hot seat yourself. Everyone needs a taste of their own medicine occasionally… The showers have ceased for now, and in a symbolic way also. My five year birthday will be sweet.

Quiet

Nine thirty.

I slept very poorly and today it’s raining a light rain. I took my umbrella and hiked off to the store as always. For now the rain has ceased. I never did get any reading done yesterday but Russell still sounds like a good choice. It’s good to feel so levelheaded, even on a rainy day, so typical of Oregon. I see a squirrel climbing the magnolia tree out back. Ten years ago I knew a friend living in Scotland who liked analytic philosophy because of its proximity to science. I believe she was smarter than I was, though toward the end of our friendship she told me she preferred silence to conversation. Was that a form of nihilism? I wish now that we could have worked it out. In King Lear, the Fool says it’s better to know more than you show; but I think he was ironic about that. After knowing me, my friend went back to being her old self, and today I have no clue what her life is like. Hopefully she took something of myself with her that she can use. And from her I got Russell and Carnap— and some great Beatles music; and much else that is even more priceless.

The daylight is bright like springtime in spite of the occasional rain. It’s a day to be quiet and speculative. 

Republic

Quarter of eleven.

A lot of staying sober depends on your beliefs on determinism. If you accept the influence of genetics and the sort of psychological “beast” that Plato talks about, then you might have some trouble with your recovery. But lately I’ve had my own problems trying to maintain sobriety. When you look for the dark places in your experience, it’s easy to find them. The trick is not to give in to them, or your mind can turn into a rationalizing function for a lot of bad stuff. I guess Plato is actually helpful here, where he discusses the tyranny of the soul. You are okay as long as the rational part rules over the appetites and impulses. But when these overturn your reason, it becomes just a yes man to craziness. It’s kind of like a tale by Poe about a mental hospital where the patients have revolted against the doctors and taken over their roles.

My dog is becoming a creature of habit. He begged me to go to the store this morning so he could have his cookies like every morning. It is just over 40 degrees outside and clear blue skies. I went out and saw Michelle and Karen— and I bought Aesop’s cookies, plus his dog food, and some things for me. Right now I feel the Snapple calling. 

Can’t Have Everything

Eight thirty five.

I feel really good this morning. At ten o’clock I’m going to the agency for a couple of prescriptions. When I was at the store, Michelle let me know that she had taken another job out of state; she’s going to Wyoming to be with her family. The news is a good thing for her, but rather sad for me. I said I would miss her. My mind flashes back to last Christmas time, when she told me about having a Christmas party at her house. She let herself be talked into it even though she really didn’t want to do it. I think the truth is that Michelle is a very likable person with a lot of friends. And by contrast, if you say no to people, you won’t have as many friends: but you will be in control of your life. You can’t have everything.

Aesop gets breakfast at nine thirty and my taxi is coming after ten o’clock. I see some sunshine out of my windows but it’s still very cold outside. I need to trim my beard back probably today sometime. I might be getting together with Tim for coffee on Monday morning; we didn’t set it in stone yet. I look forward to that.

Some days are better than others. I believe this will be one of the better ones. 

Life’s Winter

Ten o’clock at night.

I wonder if everyone goes through burnout when they reach 55 years old. Only ten years ago I could still experience exquisite pleasure, but now my sensuality has withered up and blown away like a fragile plant in the winter freeze. All that remains of me is purely mental and logical, like a person from planet Vulcan, devoid of heart and soul. Or perhaps this is sobriety at any age in a person’s life? I can say with certainty that it isn’t much fun without the elixir… though the drink is like Mother Kali, giving life with one hand and butchering it with the other. A philosophical temperament gets old and wearisome, but still it goes on and on like a plodding old tortoise alone in his shell. His method may win the race after all, while the rabbit’s lazy complacency never finishes. And he may dally with his pleasures on the way, become stranded with the Lotus Eaters and not know up from down… A coworker long ago told me that persistence pays off, and the historical Aesop would probably agree with him. And Aristotle lectured something about the lone philosopher, as I observe my knuckles growing knottier and knottier with knowledge and logic. I guess that after all, it’s not the sensitive plant that endures, but rather the adamant of the mind, sturdy and stolid as the mountain crags. 

Overcast

Eight o five.

At the market it was Raj taking care of things today. Since it was very early and a Sunday, I didn’t see many other people outside. I looked at the sky and saw a hint of blue through the overcast, and the forecast says sunshine later. I had a strange day yesterday, just with my mood and mental state. Caffeine can do that sort of thing to you. By the way, Raj told me that Michelle will be back next week, so I said I’d be glad to see her… I feel I ought to read something, maybe a Hemingway novel, but it’s hard to focus my attention for very long. My mind is often a flight of ideas when it’s not impoverished of thought. Although I told Pastor I’d be in church today, I have to ask myself if I really need that anymore. Next month I’ll have four and a half years of sobriety, with or without church support. The thing that has helped me the most is to avoid feelings of guilt and shame. Learning to do this is a philosophical thing, something existential. When you disable remorse, it’s possible not to drink or otherwise self destruct, and then life can go on.

Eight fifty five. I’d like to say the weather is beautiful now, but it’s still cloudy and windless. Yet even with the cloud cover there’s an abundance of light. 

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.”