My Diary, 12/23 to 12/26/18

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{12/23/18}  Weight 219.4.

There are some thoughts that are too horrible to be written down or even described.  Some such thoughts came to me between 4:30 and 5:15 am this morning, thus I have no hope of getting back to sleep before I have to leave for the Hemlock Club at 9:00.  Thus I again recognize my complete inability to control my own mind.  At this moment, “free will” is (again) revealed to be a joke, an impossibility.  This fact seems so certain and indubitable right now that I am forced to wonder why anyone ever believed in such a thing.

Now, at this moment, I am not forced to think and rethink the horrible thoughts.  Indeed, I can’t think them while I am writing something else—the writing fully occupies my conscious thoughts.  And when I stop writing, the thoughts don’t automatically return, though I know that they are on a convenient shelf, waiting to be picked up whenever I decide, or they decide—which word choice is the most accurate, I’ll leave unsettled (unstated?) for now.

Given the thoughts of that last paragraph, I am again persuaded that there is a kind of free will.  The inability to stop my thinking that I experienced half an hour ago was at least partly, and I think wholly, due to my being less than completely awake.  Rather than think something I don’t want to think, I can direct my thoughts to some other place, such as to the plot of Der Ring des Nibelung; I name that opera because that is where I deliberately direct my thoughts when I have a persistent unwanted earworm (specifically, “The Ride of the Valkyries”).

My description of Salomé, just now on Twitter:  “From Ukraine, with Russian accent, friendly, vivacious but not ‘vulgar.’ She’s a watercolorist, teacher, degreed, currently seeking employment. A nice dresser.”


{12/24/18}  Weight 221.4.  (Too much holiday cheer yesterday.  Del Taco is holiday cheer?)

It’s 11:10 pm but I’m not necessarily ready for bed.  I’ll try my sleep-reading.  What a day.  I said on Twitter that I was “emotionally hammered.”  [The explanation of this is too personal for a blog, sorry.  It affects others.]


{12/25/18}  Weight 220.2.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Listening to music and dozing, reading desultorily in half a dozen books, then a CD of Philippe Entremont playing Debussy and being amazed:  each piece so very alive, as though Debussy had created, not music, but so many living animals.  Posted this on Twitter, plus a quote from Camus, and photos of D and C.  All this was completely ignored.

I’ve begun referring to Trump as our “sick President,” in a hashtag, and saying that pity feels better than hate.

So, what is going on with me and my emotions?  I mean the “sudden empathy.”  Christmas?

On 12/20 I wrote about checking my blood pressure.  Well, I did it the next day, and the reading wasn’t up compared to previous readings, so I’ve neglected it since then.  When it comes to my health, I’m not that different from the stupid average American male, i.e., stupid.  I like having some control over my health, so I buy books and go to them first—and usually, last.  I do not recommend this course for others; but many others are even more into self-direction than I am, and so they get into homeopathy, essential oils, crystal healing, and other “alternative medicine” which I see as about 99.5% pure scam.  If I ever get an inoperable cancer or something like that, it would be my last resort also.  What I don’t understand is why young, healthy people flock to these alternatives, like any old fad.  I understand the pernicious influences of Big Pharma and so on, and the dread of big NGOs, but I also appreciate the importance of double-blind, controlled studies and peer review.  My last doctor, indeed, should have retired at least ten years ago.



3:30 AM.  After lying in bed for an hour trying to sleep, I got up.  It’s annoying, but apparently comes with old age.  I can’t blame caffeine this time.

One thing I did want to write about was my discovery that José Ortega y Gasset has a delightful style.  I picked up his Man and People last night for my bedtime reading.  The matter wasn’t terribly interesting, but the manner was fun without being stupid.  A rare philosopher indeed.  Albert Camus is quoted as saying that he, “after Nietzsche, is perhaps the greatest ‘European’ writer.”

This book was one fruit of my last visit to Bookhounds; another was Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value, basically a collection of notes.  I tried the latter I think on the previous evening and found it, let’s say, not worth pursuing at present.  The Ortega is, but perhaps should wait, because I have too many books going at once:

  • Bartley: The Retreat to Commitment
  • Camus: Notebooks 1935-1942
  • Köhler: Gestalt Psychology
  • Something about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
  • Kane: The New Oxford Guide to Writing
  • Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor

There are others that have been started but “temporarily” put aside.  The last two are sort of in the “actively want to read” category, though I restarted the Farnsworth a few nights ago as bedtime reading and it migrated all by itself into the living room.  Those are not exciting books, but seem “important.”  The Bartley (which is exciting—for a philosophy book) is what I read on the bus, and so is “top of the stack.”

At home I try to flog myself into reading Köhler, but it’s really dull, which means that none of it will “stick”; but I’m highlighting, so I can easily review it and hopefully get something useful out of it.  Which is more disparaging than it deserves; I think he has slightly enhanced my understanding of perception vis-à-vis gestalts, which isn’t quite right.  The title of Chapter VI is, “The Characteristics of Organized Entities,” which clarifies for me what I wanted to say:  that perception is more organized than it seems, and I’ve learned this from Köhler.  That’s probably not very clear, but it is 4:20, so I’ll let it go.

It might not be correct to say that obscure philosophy is the bane of my life, but I’m saying it.  I guess sex would be that.  Anyway, the Köhler, perhaps surprisingly, isn’t very obscure, but it often seems terribly wordy, so it’s a real slog.  Why read it, then?  Because it’s pretty important in the history of psychology, and I want to know what it says.  Once I’m done with it, it’s likely to just sink into the mush like most other books that don’t excite me, and many that do.

The Camus is interesting.  I posted a quote from it on Twitter, which is worth noting here:  “Lying down, he smiled clumsily and his eyes glistened.  She felt all her love flood into her throat and tears come into her eyes.  She threw herself on his lips and crushed her tears between their two faces.  She wept into his mouth, while he tasted in these salt lips all the bitterness of their love.”  (p. 105).

This is awkward but seems to me incredibly powerful.  And, of course, it’s a translation, so one expects that the original would be even better.  Out of any context [there is no context, it’s a notebook], perhaps it will seem less powerful to most readers, but I sense here an effect that I would have to labor mightily to even come close to (and likely would fail in coming close).  In a word, I can see how outclassed I am as a fiction writer and probably as a human being.

But if I am to write at all, I must say that that is not for me to judge.  Do your best and let the readers and critics make their judgments.  Which might seem a bit glib, but I believe it firmly, and not just as a face-saving.  I would add:  and ignore those judgments.  All writers write better than they know, at least for some readers.  The coming together of many factors is what makes for a reading experience, so there’s no telling how you will affect your readers; and, as has been noted, perhaps by many, the parts that some readers hate will be for others the best parts of all.  Do your best to let your heart and mind, your personality, warts and all, flow onto the page—that’s really all that’s needed.  That, and a bit of tidying up at the end.  (The last statement is controversial and self-serving, because you know I hate to rewrite.)

I see a larger principle in this, too:  we don’t know how attractive, or unattractive, we are to others.  My wife often called me “handsome,” which I found and still find laughable.  Yet, I’ve really never had very much trouble attracting women (shyness has been the important handicap), but I’m painfully aware of many of my flaws.  What I’m blind to is whatever attractiveness I might possess.  But the point is, assuming no gross physical deformity, you are, you will be, more attractive to some people than you can guess.  And you don’t need to please everyone.

It’s now 5:00 AM; I’m going to post this, but I may add more later.

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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