by j-a

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June 2007

Behavior Self

I doubt

I cause more trouble than trouble's caused me.
Kathe Koja, Bad Brains
Doubt creeps. (I like the grammatical ambiguity of that sentence. Which word is the verb and which the noun?) [I'm a fan of examples of this verbal phenomenon: Time flies like the rocket; fruit flies like an orange. I have a list of these somewhere on my computer, but I just can't seem to find it right now.] I'm starting to worry again, about nothing, of course. About silly things that aren't going to or aren't likely to happen. I doubt my way of life. This has nothing to do with my way of life per se. My way of life is just fine, I'm sure. What it has to do with is the doubt and worry itself.

I worry about how I like the way my hair looks when it's exceptionally dirty; I like it far better than when it's just been washed. I like the full-bodied bulk of it when it's burdened by heavy amounts of dirt and grease and combed loose to prevent that slicked down look; and I hate that loose and casual fly-away look of just-washed hair--not to mention that it's a pain in the ass to keep out of my face. I know the solution to this problem is to find a good product that makes my just-washed hair look exactly the way I want it to look; but I am not a product kind of guy. Naturally acquired "product" accumulated over days and weeks is more my kind of thing. And, to keep it (relatively) clean(-looking), I wet it down and comb it out frequently and wash the excess residue off my brush and comb with hot water, which serves to remove some of the filth from my hair and scalp without imparting to it that just-washed look. Disgusting, huh? I don't care. It's just easier for me this way. But I worry about it anyway. Again, it's not about the hair.

And I worry about the way I criticize politicians for their antics (and non-antics) and political beliefs and policies. Who am I to criticize, anyone, especially when I know that, if I would become better informed on any given subject, I would see the stasis the objectivity brings to all political issues: All sides considered, how can we do other than what we do? For example:

People criticize political candidates for adopting the views on issues that will most likely get them (re)elected (waffling whenever they feel it's necessary, not maintaining consistent principles and values, etc.). But what's wrong with doing this? In a democracy, politicians are supposed to represent the will of their constituents, and what better way to reflect that will than to adopt the opinions of that majority? Politicians shouldn't promote views of their own. They should champion the views of their constituents. And if a politician is running for president, their constituency becomes the citizenry of the nation, so to cater to the popular will in order to win is not only practically effective, but is theoretically democratic as well. If all politicians did exactly that, then we'd have a true democracy, instead of the corporate democracy that we now have. The candidates (try to) create their public image based what people want them to be, often establishing different images for different focus groups.

I do this same thing (though not for the same reason); and I end up doubting my own self-image, which is (of necessity) based upon my public image. For example, I don't want it to be true that I may have been (and still am, except that I now hide away from it so much) a troublesome person, and so I've gone to great lengths to create a peaceful and obliging persona, even (or especially) unconsciously, via a passive-aggressive personality. I don't want to see myself in this way; but probably it's true that I've caused more trouble than trouble's caused me. I certainly have caused some heartache, more as a matter of trying merely to be who I am rather than via any intention on my part. (But I guess that could be said of anyone; few people want to hurt people because it's an enjoyable thing to do.) But when someone understands that they've caused more trouble than trouble's caused them, what they really understand, if they will only realize it, is that a lot more trouble is out there ahead of them waiting to balance the books. This is what I'm afraid of, this is what causes me real worry and doubt.

I'm great/I ain't

This is a month for shallow introspection. My journal content is sparse due to all of the work I've been doing outside, which tends to short-circuit my desire (a feeling) to write, but not my need of it (a therapy). And, in the height of the afternoon, when I'm tired of working and I retire to the porch to drink a beer and read, I get ideas that I just don't want to deal with:

When I was a child, we always had a resident madman somewhere in the valley. Although the place had its full quota of nervous breakdowns or village idiots, there was never more than one person recognized by everyone as a genuine nut. There couldn't be two legitimate madmen at the same time, nor did the one madman ever leave the valley; it was as though the valley community had a fixed complement of one lunatic, a component of society all the more indispensable for being out of the ordinary. On a number of occasions, I seem to remember, I was aware of a change in these madmen who, like kings, came one at a time. But from some time toward the end of the war, the role of the indispensable solitary had been taken over by Gii.
Kenzaburo Oe, The Silent Cry
This is me, I guess. I'm the resident madman in my neighborhood. Well, maybe not 'madman' exactly; perhaps just 'weirdo'. Is this how my neighbors think of me when they see me outside struggling to maintain an overly planted yard? Is this how people in general think of me? And why, now, do I even care, when all my life I've totally ignored what people think? Well, maybe 'ignored' is not the right word. Maybe it's more like I went ahead and did whatever I wanted to do despite the fact that I (sort of) knew that people thought me strange (because they were not capable of understanding my motivations and I was too withdrawn to bother to explain them), and despite the fact that, when people thought badly of me, it really did bother me, though I was very well practiced at blocking it all out.

One might think that someone so sensitive to fear of the forest was the exact opposite of the type who would go mad and take refuge in it. But as I see it, psychologically speaking, the two are one and the same type.
Kenzaburo Oe, The Silent Cry
We are, deep inside, that which we fear. The forest (woods) has always been my mental refuge; and, for short while there way back, my physical one as well. I like its mystery, far more than I fear it. What I really fear is society, which is also a forest, and mysterious. I hide away from that which I myself also am: of necessity, a competent social person. I hide out so much that I forget what I can do when I am out among people, schmoozing. And then, all of a sudden, I remember, and, look out! Ego city.

Sometimes, like right now, I am completely "taken" with my own self (well, I guess, that's usually the case; but right now it happens to be rather obvious to me) and I involve myself in myself, which I like to think of as introspection, but probably it's more like a narcissistic self-indulgence, except that it typically doesn't feel so good. (I think of narcissism as a kind of ego trip that takes a feel-good pride in the self, but I guess it can just as well be a kind of guilt turned back on itself, an aggrandizement via therapy, Richard Lewis sort of thing. "Hey, look at me, look at how fucked up I am. Ain't I great.") It's a kind of schizoid split: I'm great/I ain't.


I spend a lot of what would otherwise be productive time trying to classify (bits of a) would be writing methodology and listing story and novel ideas that I will never write; such as a novel composed of vignettes of strange abnormalities (especially psychological ones) of people the protagonist encounters, collected in the way that Woody Allen assembles character interactions into movie episodes.

I want to create appealing characters, like Michael Kitchen's character in the BBC mystery series Foyle's War, or the supporting characters in Kathe Koja's The Cipher and weave them into novel content along with brief images, passing comments, and snippets of dialogue (real or imagined) that I've collected or ideas I've have; for example, "Make gloves, not warts" can be a sign in a shop window or a bumper sticker, a la Mad Magazine's sign in a window that reads: "Yes. We sell bladeless knives without handles."

I want to do this same thing with real episodes from my life and people I've known, and also with people and events I've merely heard of secondhand. I want to record the history of my earlier life and the characters that populated it (sort of like the tv series "October Road"). One of these episodes would be entitled "The Yeti in the Spaghetti" and would be about the night that Mason passed out face down in a plate of spaghetti at Milliken's house after we returned from a long evening of bar hopping.

I want to change my writing style to incorporate Koja-like truncated sentences, staccato ongoing lists of descriptions, etc., leaving out unnecessary articles, adjectives, etc., like a kind of juvenile or almost caveman-like language that I can use when writing the unappealing (to me) transitions between the pieces I really want to write (the pieces I do write, in my journal), but have to put them into a context, which demands an ongoing storyline.

I could compile a long list of these ideas, and from time to time I do. I cut and paste them to a "procedures" file and then I forget about them, because there's only so much time in the universe and my apportionment is used up elsewhere, often in futile efforts like documenting procedural ideas that never get implemented; such as:

      I have a daily ideal schedule that I never conform to, but which serves only to remind me what (my) life, maybe, should be like.
      But to actually live this way would take a degree of focus and dedication that I can never seem to muster; yet, I can fantasize...
      In the morning, I write, early, for several hours; then I do some business (stocks); and then, just before noon, I go for a long walk.
      In the afternoon, I tend my garden, I sit on the porch and read for a while, and then I go into the studio and work on some art.
      In the evening, I split my time between tv or dvds, working on various projects, and practicing music. It's all very cut and dried.
      In fact, my days end up being some bastardized version of that schedule that includes, maybe, a few of those items. Maybe.
      And throw plans into that mix also. I guess I should accept the fact that I'm always going to be way behind in everything I plan to do.

you don't need a weatherman...

Creating a schedule and procedures, whether I actually use them or not, is an attempt to define my own way of doing things, perhaps independently of society or cultural norms and mores.

(I always have to be re-inventing the wheel.)

I can imitate how other people do things, anything; but I can only do creatively the things I learn to do all by myself. (I don't know if this is really true, but it feels right.)

In art, for example, I can copy images; but I'm a poor copyist and the artist (or nature) who did it before me certainly will have done a far better job. But to the degree that I deviate from the original, I can be creative. (Well, duh! I guess this idea is more obvious than I originally thought.)

I have a specific, functional purpose for art: it can direct my attention to the environment; in particular, to the treasures of the summer, when I am in a somewhat pensive, detached mood and fail to pay attention. It can do this in the winter too, and though I may not care so much for the cold winter "terrain," still, I can appreciate its beauty by turning it into art, thereby creating my own mood.

My real (sense of) creativity, though, is probably more of an observant than participatory nature. It's just that I appreciate art more when I create it myself.

I construct my world by way of observation, which I only wish I could render graphically as well as I can mentally. Eidetic images are pleasing, but only to the immediate observer:

I sit peacefully on the porch while the neighbors hustle around preparing for the coming storm, while the wind whips around in fits of pneumomentum.

My mood changes like the weather. I am blown around hither and thither by ideas, only some of which are really of my own choosing. I change as a result, swallowing the nutrients of mentation:

I'm changing my opinion (again): I think that whatever the administration does in Iraq is just fine with me. It's not like the troops were drafted or anything. I mean, they volunteered. Okay, so they were bellicose and/or stupid cocks (and cunts). Too bad. Live and learn (or die). Survival of the fittest.

When I write, I write out ideas I think are important to document, usually because I fear losing them, which is silly because I end up writing a lot of them over and over again (so that, obviously, I did not forget them), sometimes forgetting I previously wrote them (so, obviously, I did), because I write so much, and sometimes even though I know I wrote them before, but the context is slightly different. Certain ideas possess me in an ongoing way, developing. I can see how this works when I read back through my journals, and I can see how others might see this as simply boring repetition:

When I wake up in the middle of the night (or maybe earlier while unable to fall asleep), I sometimes think that I've got to get serious, that I can't go on continuing to drift through life, that I've got to get organized, gather my wits together and reestablish some sense of (self-) control.

And then, in the morning (or maybe later when I awaken in the afternoon), as a result of my previous resolve, I start to work, after my first cup of coffee tentatively creates a serious mode of being; but it lasts only so long, until I look out the window, see how nice it is outside, and say why bother?

When I'm working inside and it's nice out, I want to be outside even when I want to work. (I can work outside on the laptop, but I just end up tuning the outside out anyway, so what's the difference?) The same is true when I'm sleeping and the weather is nice. I don't want to sleep when I can be outside.


I sleep too much; but I never get enough sleep. I miss my youth when I could sleep for ten hours and wake up refreshed and pain-free. Back pain restricts my length of sleep, and I hate to take pain killers.

I've been having a lot of problems with my back recently, not nearly so bad as it's been in past years (in late spring/early summer), but in a slightly different way, which causes me to remain bent slightly at the hips after standing up from a sitting or lying position, so that I'm reminded of the chronic effects of the disease (ankylosing spondylitis): the permanently bent-over stance of those people you see walking along with their faces fixed staring at the ground immediately in front of them, only able to look forward by twisting sideways and turning their heads.

I so much don't want to end up that way that I take great pains (literally) to remain straight-backed. I lie on my stomach for fifteen to twenty minutes after awakening from sleep to counter my tendency to bend forward and, since I find this position so relaxing, I end up falling back into sleep and awakening in pain, having remained in this position for too long. I should lie like this, instead, when I am awake. But it wouldn't work. I'd fall asleep anyway, I think. But I'm just making excuses here. I could manage it if I really wanted to.

And I should probably start going to the chiropractor again, but I just can't justify the expense when I know that, with a little bit of dedicated routine and exercise I can achieve the same results; and I hate to take advantage of their "no bad back left behind" policy (i.e., significantly reduced costs for people who cannot afford to pay so much; which, of course, they can afford to offer because their services are so way overpriced in the first place. I mean, thirty bucks for a two or three minute visit? C'mon).

same old story

So, after wavering back and forth for days between a pensive mood and a carefree summery attitude, I awaken this morning beset by doubt and worry, poised on a precipice of catastrophe. Can anxiety and paranoia be very far behind? Actually, looking back over (my shoulder, a la paranoia) the last few days, I realize this has been coming on for a while now and I have been ignoring it:

I go out to work in the yard each afternoon, but after only an hour, my back is hurting so badly that I have to quit for the day. Not that I mind quitting and sitting down on the porch to drink a beer and read; but there's so much work to be done. Will the yard, that is, my garden project/vision, finally overwhelm me? They might one fine future summer day find me collapsed up in back, hidden among the cherries and the plums, dead after days of having suffered in agonizing silent pain. Okay, that's a bit over the top; but it's the way I'm starting to feel, independent of whatever reality is involved here. I can't catch up, and each summer the yards get just a small bit more difficult to maintain; and the gardens are only one of the many projects I have lined up, awaiting my dwindling ability to attend to:

There are, of course, the house and shed roofs, the leaks during rains slowly spreading, despite the patchwork I do every summer; and there's the chimney top that I need to fix before winter. How long before my roofs are mere sieves1 to filter out birds and the larger of the many small animals that populate the area? Already, I fear, the neighbors are talking about me, have a derogatory pet name for me that they call me behind my back, something like "The Plant Man" (actually, I wouldn't mind at all being called that), or something far worse.

And then there's my back itself: Each time I re-injure it, I think that it's going to remain a permanent injury and I'm going to have to walk around twice bent over, at the waist and at the shoulders, characteristic symptoms of the disease I work so hard at fighting, so that I will remain ramrod erect and thereby symbolically functional for the rest of my aging life.

I did manage to clean and organize the house the other day, bringing it up to a marginal level of social acceptability, because Joyce had "arranged" to bring my nephew over so that I might talk to him (i.e., talk him out of his stance against going on vacation with them). But he never showed up--which I suspected would be the case, because I figured that he was just humoring his mother when he told her he'd come over and talk to me.

I'm finding it difficult to go on with this list of complaints, having all but forgotten the feeling I awoke with, having now had a cup of coffee.

Right now, everything is fine. If this time, right now, sitting on the porch, writing, drawing, reading, listening to a Timothy Ferris' tape of The Red Limit, drinking a beer, looking out at my gardens and appreciating their growing beauty, is the reward I get for all of the hard work I've done over many springs and summers, well, okay. This is nice; but I could have had this same reward, more or less, without all of the work. But this is not a time to doubt and worry about being (i.e., feeling) so overburdened. What do I have to worry about, today? No. What do I have to appreciate today? Tonight--every night; or at least every night when I am beset by doubt and worry; or every morning before coffee--I should ask: What did I think would happen today (or yesterday)? And what did happen? The difference reveals a path into the depths of the unconscious mind. I need to get a firm grasp on my negative expectations before they create self-fulfilling prophecies. I need to abandon my shallow, forgetful, dismissive approach to my inner life and begin again to delve more deeply into my inner being. Yes. I'm definitely going to do that. Maybe tomorrow.

Click on footnote number to return to that respective point in the text.
1. sieve: 1. a utensil or apparatus for straining or sifting, consisting of a frame provided with a a bottom of wire mesh, etc. 2. One who spreads gossip, reveals, secrets, etc.