There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object.


Herman Melville, from Moby Dick, Ch 49, “The Hyena”




I had a bad dream last night that went on for several hours. In it, I agreed to take an SAT test to demonstrate my knowledge and intelligence. But it turned out that the test was so full of codes and boobytraps that I couldn’t get past the first question. So I suffered through this dream, feeling shame for incompetence and stupidity, until after I awoke and gave it some thought. Maybe it wasn’t about incompetence as much as about the inscrutability of life, and I made a connection with the book of Job, where he is forced to acknowledge his utter ignorance. When he does this, his life is restored to him many times over. It’s like the theme of vanity in Ecclesiastes, another book of wisdom in the Bible.

All this from a silly nightmare of taking an aptitude test and failing big. I may even be wrong about the interpretation, yet this fact only makes a stronger case for vanity. Was it ever possible for a human being to know everything? Never before and never in after-time.

Meanwhile it’s a beautiful morning of mild sunshine, which is knowledge enough for a mortal man. 


Six thirty five.

When I was on the street yesterday morning, I saw a neighbor of mine from around the block, so I saluted her. She was some yards away up N Park but she returned it. I didn’t see if she had her dog with her. She impresses me as a very nice person of around fifty. I haven’t seen her with another person on her walks. Something makes me think of missed opportunities, like the characters in “The Altar of the Dead” by Henry James. You wonder if the living people are just as dead as the dead people. Another writer has it, “Funerals are for the living.” Even as I write this, the room gets cold. My dog is begging me for breakfast: soon his whining will turn to barking. Outside, it’s just another cloudy day, yet the meaning of a day depends on what we do with it.

Quarter after seven.

On Tuesday, Gloria took me to Bi Mart. I went there while she went to the bank, and I ran into a friend from church plus my neighbor across the fence from me. Later I thought about the chaos the church is in now, and is the church fundamental to my recovery from alcoholism? What will happen if this support is no longer there for me? It’s easy to take things for granted, and people too. Aesop the man said it is easy to despise what you cannot get; but it’s also true that you may despise what you have, or believe you have. When it’s gone, it may be irreplaceable. 

Everyman a Sphinx

Eleven twenty five.

This must’ve been the worst day of my life because the world is incommunicado, as if I were a leper or something awful. Maybe tomorrow will make a difference for me but I won’t bank on it. Funny how fate operates and certain variables go together. Things have changed so that I may not go back to Community Market again perhaps for some time. Similarly, I didn’t hear from my pen pal all day, and hardly a peep from WordPress. When I made an afternoon trip to the store, Lisa was ranting about people she knew and she never did acknowledge my presence. I guess you never really know what other people are thinking. Also actions speak much louder than words. Probably humans are the only animals that lie. And how do you learn who your friends really are? The riddle of the Sphinx.

All the Answers

Eight at night.

After nearly thirty years, my absolutism with my knowledge is finally breaking down, replaced by a kind of skepticism and maybe relativism as well. In a way, Phi Beta Kappa was the worst thing that could’ve happened to me, though others in my family have been equally opinionated and authoritarian. I’m changing attitudes from knowing everything to knowing nothing with certainty. Life is more interesting when you don’t have all the answers, and you see things in new lights, as reality keeps shifting shapes and colors from moment to moment. For me, it’s an end to dogmatism in the philosophical sense.

Today’s weather was quite unusual. On the way home from the store, I was caught in a shower so I ducked into Karen’s salon, where she gave me a half hour to talk with me. I sat in a chair and listened to her as much as I spoke while the March rain drove down outside like a new thing, or an old thing rediscovered and recreated. On the wall, I watched the big clock slowly advance over thirty minutes, then at one twenty she said, “My next client is here” and got up. So I took my Snapple tea and the doggie treat and braved the cold and wet towards my home.


Quarter of ten.

By the time I left the house, the rush hour was over and things were pretty calm. The wet streets were more or less deserted and the store wasn’t busy. Lemon clouds admit just a little sunlight and the sparrows have come out. I put on a purple beanie I bought at the Dollar Tree five years ago prior to my trip. Lisa was outside with a guy on his bicycle on her break, shooting the bull. Her leg gave her trouble but she hadn’t been to the doctor, probably due to the expense. It reminds me that I’m very lucky in my position. I made a few food purchases, plus a little stuffed animal I thought I’d give to Gloria the next time I see her.

I’ve got a biography of James Joyce I’d like to examine again, or maybe just reread Dubliners and think about old times. It isn’t like I’m searching for lost time; I was very present for my youth. But somehow it seems that youth is wasted on the young. I guess you can’t have youth and wisdom all in one. It’s also true that making it to old age is a victory. If I had a dollar for every mistake I made; yet wisdom is its own wealth.

Apollonian Life

Nine o’clock.

I don’t know whether to feel tired or amped. I’ve got a zoom appointment at ten thirty regarding my PCA, so I’m a bit nervous. For a while I’d like to forget everything and chill out. The weather is foggy right now, and I saw how busy Maxwell Road was at eight fifteen. My own street was sleeping or dead to the world. Most of the traffic came from the south side of N Park or from River Road to the east. I hugged the inside of the sidewalk on my way to market as the cars whizzed past me. It tends to make me feel small and insignificant, like a kind of insect underfoot, dodging the world above my head. I can also relate to turtles and tortoises: anything that moves slowly like a sloth. But the rabbits of the world don’t take time to think about what they’re doing or what others do. Thus I’m fairly content with my lot in life. There are the thinkers and the doers, and I’ve never really been one of the latter. 

Last Word on Birthday

Yes, a birthday today. The occasion brings to mind how I came to exist, or rather the one who bore me: I mean my mother of course. I tried to believe what they say in phenomenology, that I somehow determine my own being, but this is hyperbole or a just plain lie. So instead of this philosophy I moved back to Lucretius with his “nothing can be made from nothing.” Common sense says that every human is born by woman into the world; everybody has a mother. After a while, all of this reasoning becomes extraneous and illegitimate, but the problem still bugs me at an emotional level, or I still grieve for my mom unconsciously. Meanwhile I’m kind of forgetting what she was like the more time goes by, so it feels more mysterious. I think a lot of knowledge depends on what we can remember. I know some people don’t remember very much of anything for very long, so it’s easier for them to postulate nonsense stuff. It’s like the ones who claim the moon is made of cheese or the discoveries of nasa never happened.

Anyway, it is no leap of faith to believe I was born into this world by a woman named Gloria M— who married a man, Robert Graden, and so on and on. Again, my thinking is pretty flaky and ridiculous, like someone who’s read too much intellectual tripe that goes to his head. Probably the field of phenomenology is all bogus and a brainwashing waste of time.

Maybe philosophy is a thing that makes you feel better in times of adversity or pain? We use it for consolation. Or I should say not we but I. It can be a defense mechanism against my emotions— and right now my feelings are probably pretty difficult to sort out. I’ve pushed them down underground to be unaware of them.

Now I’ve turned my birthday into a problem rather than a cause for celebration and joy 🥹. If I did remember my mother better, then maybe I’d still be drinking heavily to blot it out.

But it’s been an okay day all in all. The morning sunshine was transformed to rain this afternoon and it continues even now. As I write, darkness is falling and the sky goes midnight blue. My neighbors across the street turned on Christmas lights one more time. I’m keeping my tree up till after tomorrow. Gloria was here and took me to Bi Mart to get food for Aesop. And I’m thinking of scrapping the kit bass I put together a few years ago. Maybe I’ll give up music entirely depending on what happens this year. The longer I live, the more I feel like the project of life is solitary and totally up to me. And maybe this is the prerogative I should have had for my whole life.

Maybe I really did have it but I didn’t choose it until now.


Thanks for feeding back on what I wrote yesterday. I think it was the influence of Coca-Cola! But today I had two Snapples and afterwards I felt pretty lousy, so I took a gabapentin and went to bed for a few hours. The old proverb is true that you are what you eat— simply because the brain is a physical thing and every thought proceeds from brain activity. This is what I believe, anyway; there are some who will deny it, saying the mind is unrelated to the body, arguing for a sort of dualism of spirit and flesh. I think their position would be very difficult to prove. It’s a throwback to Cartesian thinking four hundred years ago. Descartes identified the pineal gland as the location where the soul interacts with the body— since proven false.

I’m thinking specifically of Pastor. He is quite paranoid about the facts of biological psychology, the physiology of the nervous system. Perhaps his belief system could fall if my point about materialism were proved to him. So it’s best not to discuss it with him. In biblical language, the personality is carnal and spiritual, but what I’m saying is the whole thing is carnal and the spirit likely doesn’t exist.

Culturally, people generally accept the soul or spirit. In ancient Japanese history, people would drive a hole in the skulls of their dead before burial to let the soul escape. I guess to most people the phenomenon of consciousness is a divine mystery, something imponderable and sacred for the reason that they don’t understand it. A lot of philosophy has been written about it. Sartre actually turned perception around to make the mind logically prior to what it perceives, in the same vein as “I think therefore I am.”

Mind over matter and matter over mind. Idealistic philosophers often eliminate the existence of matter totally, so only the mind is real. Maybe I’m getting a little tired of philosophy. The evidence points to nothing but the physical state of existence, and this is realistic and probably the truth. Philosophy is the most useful when it approximates science, in my opinion.

But then again, you wonder about the ramifications of materialism for freedom of the will…

I had a very brief dream that I had a book in my hands, open to a chapter titled in big bold letters, “FREEDOM.” Somewhere I might have seen this in reality.

As You Like It

Five o’clock in the morning.

Every day is a challenge for me mentally and emotionally, especially when the holidays come around. To think that the illness all started with a mononucleosis bug when I was in high school is an idea that blows me away. To think that it could have been avoided if I hadn’t gotten the virus is so regrettable. But I guess everyone is damaged goods to some extent. We all have scars of battles won or lost. Often our misfortunes are unjust, the adversity unmerited, so the notion of karma doesn’t make much sense. I don’t like to believe in retribution or other spiritual laws. The events of life just happen like cause and effect. What else will science discover, given a chance? For some odd reason, people try to halt scientific progress and turn it around to Dark Age superstition. We make martyrs of those who would improve our knowledge. Something tells me it’s a biblical tendency that holds us back.

And yet, my life has turned out favorably to me, for I live in comfort and some degree of freedom, as if justice held sway. Or rather, life was flexible enough for me to fashion my own fate as I desired. And then I recall the ones who are less fortunate. Every situation can always be worse.