My New Diary, 11/22 to 11/27/2018

By Alan Carl Nicoll

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Abraham Maslow, 1908-1970

{11/22/18}  One final thought.  My answer to the question is not very satisfying.  I suppose that no answer expressible in words can make us feel what another human feels, but in coming years a technological solution seems almost conceivable, some kind of a helmet, say, that would transmit “brain waves” directly from one brain to another.  Even at that I suppose we could question whether my experience of “the helmet” is the same as yours.

This morning I was living my very own horror movie, called Bedbugs!

A tweet from Z:  “What’s everyone thankful for this year? I’m thankful for life, family, friends, and food. #HappyThanksgiving”

I responded:  “Your list is excellent. I’d add that I’m thankful for the #Resisters and books.”

Now, what’s wrong with this response is the first sentence, which, lacking tone of voice (or regardless) it seems to me now an uncalled-for judgment, practically the sin of “mansplaining.”  Judging her list was ridiculous; more sensible would have been, “I like your list.”  However, she responded with a “like,” so I guess no problem.

I am fond of quoting Iago’s “I am nothing if not critical,” but maybe I should just quit it.  Being critical, I mean.  Where it’s not called for.  Like, when it’s gratuitous.  That would be incredibly challenging, yet so worth the effort.  We’ll see if I even remember…



I was reminded of an incident while reading Abraham Maslow:  The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, The Viking Press, New York, 1971, hc.  On page 65 he says, “…the greatest cause of our alienation from our real selves is our neurotic involvements with other people…” In the margin I wrote, “including film stars.” Then, “…dropping masks, dropping our efforts to influence, to impress, to please, to be lovable, to win applause.…the self-observing ego and an experiencing ego…”

So after highlighting these passages, I remembered that during the month after my initial arrest, I was sitting with Sue and we were talking about [my son].  And at one point I sobbed—and in mid-sob I said, “I didn’t know I could still do that.”  It might have been better to have “stayed with” the sobbing, but of course I had made that impossible by my self-observational habit.

This leads me to no conclusion.  I’m not sure that there’s anything wrong with a self-observational habit, or anything right about longing for something so apparently out of reach as “my innocent self.”  Which is badly expressed; yet, is it possible to strive for innocence?  (By “badly expressed,” I mean, clearly there’s nothing even putatively “right” about the “longing”; it’s the innocence that I was doubting the rightness of.)

The reference to “film stars” is regarding my being semi-smitten—all right, smitten—with Hailee Steinfeld in a movie, The Edge of Seventeen.

Maslow is claiming that “innocence” is important to creativity; while I can see that, surely he means that one needs to be able to adopt an “innocent eye” or “stance of innocence” to allow creative impulses to flourish, not that one is to become innocent, really.

In my present circumstance, I think that even greater self-awareness is needed—to become aware of when I am adopting a critical stance where it is most emphatically not wanted.

Another incident comes to mind:  I was driving home with [my son] and I made fun of his choices of words, making “jokes” that he was not amused by, and I did this to such an extent that he began crying.  Of course I apologized immediately, but the damage had been done, had, indeed, been ongoing for who knows how long.  It was shortly thereafter that everything came crashing down.

Bedbugs were annoying me so much that I left my comfortable chair for the less comfortable but bedbug-free alternative chair.

Persistent mild bellyache this morning, probably due to yesterday’s overindulgence in chocolate milk, cookies, and ice cream sandwiches (my lunch and dinner).

Well I set off two anti-bedbug bombs in my living room and left the house for five hours.  When I got home I ventilated the place as well as I could.  Within an hour I was again being eaten alive.  Apparently they are more than I can handle, so the comfy chair has to go, again.  I have a chair that I can use, but it’s far less comfortable, and I suppose eventually it will have its share of bugs; but with fewer places to hide, maybe I can keep them down to a bearable level.  The bedroom is a separate problem that, right now, is at a just-bearable level.  But I need a place where I can spend hours and hours without having to examine myself every twenty minutes for bugs.  I swear, it’s as bad as I imagine lice to be—though I have yet to find bedbugs in my hair.

Spoiler-free review:  Watched the movie Life, which reviewers always compare to Alien.  But what I don’t see on Rotten Tomatoes is any mention of The Andromeda Strain, which I found similar for a while; Andromeda is one of my favorite old science fiction movies because I like seeing the brainy types working together.  Anyway, Life is too in love with Alien for my taste, and doesn’t do the job as well.  The “twist” ending of this film felt like a cheap shot and really didn’t add to my enjoyment.  The music seemed heavy-handed, but the effects were excellent and the acting good enough.  Overall, it was fun while it lasted, but afterwards, a “meh.”


{11/27/18}  Weight 221.0.

Finally, a solution to the bedbug nightmare:  get new stuff.  I’ve asked to have the problem chair removed, and will also ask to have the bed removed and replaced.  If my landlord can’t or won’t replace my bed, I’ll sleep on the floor.  The critical factor is to give the bugs no place to hide.  In any case, my bedbug problem will absolutely be solved.

Which may also help with my depression.

It was Samson, the “crazy man” of the Hemlock Club, who gave me the idea of sleeping on the floor.  At first I thought it was a crazy idea, but finally I saw that it would actually work and I could live with it (I hope).  Getting up from the floor is always difficult for me, but in a sense it will also be good for me—you see, I’m expecting not to get a new or replacement bed from my landlord.  This place has its drawbacks, but having to move would just about kill me, because 1000 books.

Reading Maslow has me itching [not bedbugs!] to do some art; he says it’s therapeutic, and I’ve been urging myself to do it as a regular thing anyway; so, why not?  These things that I want to do yet never or rarely do, like exercise—how am I to understand this, generally?  Good intentions going nowhere—how tiresome.  But if I am so reluctant to do things that actually need doing, like dishes, showering, vacuuming, and laundry, why would I expect it to be otherwise with these self-improvement schemes of dubious value?  Which may satisfy the desire for an explanation, but it does nothing towards actually getting me to do things about which I am conflicted.

Speaking of which, when  am I going to see a doctor?

Seeing a show on TV about a man who broke his neck skiing, and thinking of the sad case of Christopher Reeve, and wondering about people who bungee jump and skydive—I want to ask questions that can’t be answered, such as, “How much risk is too much?”  Some sports, some activities, are inherently dangerous.  But one cannot live in a closet—like love, that would carry its own risk, such as suicide.  I’ve lived a largely risk-avoidant life, but when it came to sex I was willing to risk prison (plus a lifetime of ostracism).  I have no conclusion to offer, except that we will do what we will do, and take the consequences, with or without whining.

In response to an email I wrote the following (usual quotation marks omitted):

It is impossible to escape beliefs, every time we get out of bed we assume that there will be a floor under our feet.  This kind of belief isn’t interesting.

All I can talk about is what I personally believe, and why.  This is not “off the top of my head.”  I’ve been working on these questions and answers all my life, and I’m 71.

As you know, I’m an atheist.  I decided long ago that I cannot base my beliefs on the experiences of others, though perhaps that’s unrealistic in the abstract.  It’s more to the point in the matter of, let’s say, foundational beliefs, such as whether a god exists.  If I were to accept testimony of religious experiences as “good enough evidence” for the existence of God, I would, if I hoped to be consistent, be forced to accept an endless array of beliefs:  demons, palmistry, astrology, UFOs, “ancient aliens,” and so on.  And there are many people who accept all these things, and more, as you know.

I have heard arguments that “all religions are, at bottom, the same,” or “all roads lead to the one true God,” or whatever.  I have not found it to be so.  I have read more than enough to convince me that these arguments are faulty.  I have explored all the major religions, superficially, and found only two or three to be of much interest:  Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.  These, in their basic form, profess no gods.

I can’t really do an adequate job here of explaining everything; that would require a book, which I might write someday, but not right now.  I have already written an extensive piece that covers much of this ground, and it’s on my blog and called The Bleak Philosophy.  It’s not entirely adequate even as it stands, but I hope you’ll read it and respond with questions if you want to know more.

But perhaps the real question isn’t answered there:  what is it like to live life as an atheist?  In fact, to me it’s not anything.  It’s just me leading my life.  I don’t “practice atheism,” I just do what I do.  I worry about ethical questions and try to find rational answers; I read philosophy and science in the hope of justifying, extending, and refining my own beliefs; I consider my moods and try to minimize my own suffering and increase my sense of meaning.  I find meaning in my life by pursuing my stated goal of making the world a better place through my writing.  I pursue that goal in whatever ways I can devise that are compatible with my other preferences, such as through my blog, the book I’m working on (a memoir), and on Twitter.  Since Trump was elected I have become politically active in a modest way.  I also read books that promise something of significance, and I consider that a “meaningful” activity.

What “meaningful” means in that context is something I have considered, and it’s an important question.  To me, meaningful acts are those that I expect will prove to be a continuing source of satisfaction, when they are looked back on.  Most day-to-day satisfactions do not have this quality; a remembered “good meal” rarely means anything more than remembered nourishment, and if it means more, it’s likely not because of the food.

Well, I’ve written more than I expected or intended, and I think it’s a valuable expression of some questions I haven’t written much about before.  So I’ll save it and eventually post it on my blog, if only as part of “The Bleak Philosophy” or as a diary entry.

Until next time,


After that, I wrote again to “N”:

N, despite my long answer, I didn’t really answer your questions, which were:  “what defines what is true about the world? Is it each individual’s experiences, what science can identify, something else?”

We can hardly ignore our own experiences, and we are unwise to ignore science.  In either case, these generally constitute “good grounds for belief.”  Of course, experiences don’t come with instruction manuals; they can be “misinterpreted.”  People have “religious experiences” because they generally have been brought up to interpret unusual mental phenomena in that light.  I have had one or two myself, but I did not take them to provide any evidence of God.  If I had grown up in a family of practicing, devout religious believers, instead of my nominal Lutherans, I might well have come to a different conclusion.  As it was, I considered my experiences, and concluded that they weren’t important.  They were transitory moods, is all.

Science is our civilization’s systematic attempt to “define what is true about the world.”  The same might be said about any religion; but I personally would not say that.

Hope this helps.


Diary entries from 6/1 to 9/30 are available in this file:  link.
Diary entries from 10/1 to 10/31 are available here:  link.

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All right reserved.

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