Diary, 1/14 to 1/18/2019

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

la vie
“Blue is the Warmest Color” from 2013

Comment:  Since I no longer have home Wi-Fi, my posts to this blog will become somewhat more irregular than they have been in the past.  The current entry includes a continuation of my last post, continuing the diary entry for 1/14.

{1/14/19 Continued}

I feel like I’m having a crisis of self-confidence, brought on by my recent silly purchase of a couple of marginally-useful, marginally-interesting philosophy books.  The problem is, I have more books now than I can read in my remaining lifetime, I am even giving away books that I haven’t read because I want to set some kind of limit on how many books I’m willing to have in my house.

And how do I know that I’m not just getting stupider (due to age)?

Admitted:  more new books allows more potential discoveries.  Getting rid of books I’m unlikely to read makes sense.  I cling to some books even though I know for almost certain that I will never make use of them, probably out of a sense of nostalgia:  the three volumes of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook is an obvious example, and the two volumes of Gibbon.

My ability to do meaningful philosophy is surely a fantastic dream, in part because I don’t have access to the philosophical journals that would be available if I were a university professor.  Reviewing the bibliographies of these two new books makes that painfully obvious (again).  And, of course, I don’t even have time to read all the philosophy books that I’d need to read to make my work even a little bit “well informed.”

So, is this just a bad mood brought on by a somewhat unsettled stomach?

Kick Me can be a modestly successful book, I’m convinced of that.  It has the chance of being important to a few people, perhaps even very important, if for no other reason than that I am uncommonly honest in that book.  The Bleak Philosophy…?  Not so likely.  And yet, look at all the stupid books that people swear by, like, say, the works of John Bradshaw or Lynn Anderson or Graham Hancock.  Surely there is room in the world for my amateur philosophizing?

So:  Walter Kaufmann and W. W. Bartley, III, who were important to me, get no respect from philosophers, and I have way less going for me than they did.  But I never expected or even dreamt of such respect.  I want to help people; surely Rabbi Harold Kushner has offered some comfort and perhaps understanding to some people by writing his (to me) inferior books.  And professional fathead Dennis Prager, and disgusting Dr. Laura Schlesinger—will I let them have the field when I have better things to say?  If I think that I have help to offer, shouldn’t I go ahead and write The Bleak Philosophy?

Okay.  It’s good that I have expressed these thoughts, because let’s face it:  Leo Tolstoy was no great philosopher, perhaps not even a great religious thinker and writer, yet he persuaded.  The combination of specific writer and specific reader can work miracles, even if neither is “of the first rank.”  Because books are, at bottom, communication, and it isn’t necessarily the most perfect book that changes someone’s life.  We pursue our dreams because they are ours, not because they are guaranteed of success and high praise.

{1/15/19}  Weight 220.4.  Damn.  I blame the three sugared sodas I drank.

Desert Sojourn continues to impress and disappoint me.  Impressive was the description of the author’s shaky grip on sanity; disappointing was her mouse-phobia.  But overall, there is much more to this book than I’d hoped when I started it, and surprisingly little to carp about.

Barr hearings today.  I turned it off when I heard that Lindsey Graham is chairing the committee.  There’s a limit to how much disgust I can swallow in a day, and this “show” will certainly exceed that limit.

Apparently, if I want speech recognition (i.e., dictation to replace typing) at home, I’ll either need to go back to home Wi-Fi, or pay $150 for software.  This is very annoying, because, while I’d say that the $150 is “worth it,” I don’t think I can do both that and the trike out of my next paycheck.  So I’ll at least have to wait six weeks until the following paycheck.

I just looked through all my TV channels for the day, and the only thing I’d consider watching, aside from my two or three news programs (Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Democracy Now!), is the movie Jeepers Creepers at 7:00.  I have six or seven new things on DVD that I haven’t seen, however.  Well, I got rid of Wi-Fi because I wanted to spend more time working, so I guess this is the time to do that.  Shall I say, “Blech”?

My work on Kick Me is that top priority that I don’t want to do; The Bleak Philosophy is the second priority that I barely want to do; other priorities, such as those listed yesterday—actually, at the end of the 1/13 entry, two days ago—are daunting; and routine priorities, like laundry, vacuuming, taking a shower (always a “big deal”), get routinely neglected.  What else do I think that I have on my plate?  Painting book covers?

So:  where’s the joy?

So here’s what I’m going to do today:  go to Dagny’s early to work on KM and use the Internet.  When I get too hungry to ignore it, I’ll go to Lorene’s for a couple of poached eggs, then, hopefully, go back to Dagny’s for more of the same.  That will make this an “expensive” day for food, while yesterday was also because of dinner at Leon’s Burgers ($18 plus $5 tip, for two).

Finished reading Desert Sojourn, which, it turns out, is a great book.  Not perfectly to my taste, but perhaps that’s important, too.  Potentially life-changing, it’s going into my “Best Books” list on my blog [link].  Here’s my Amazon review:

I give this book my highest recommendation, because it is both a very entertaining read—more gripping than most novels—and potentially life-changing.  I seek and seldom find this level of honesty and courage in books that have similar “survival stories” to tell.  It is also possible that I feel a more-than-usual identification with the author because I once took a solo two-week camping vacation in the Sierras, intending to journey both outwardly and inwardly, a sort of mid-life crisis that I didn’t handle very well and ended up cutting short after a week because of overwhelming loneliness.  Perhaps if I had been less well prepared and had less perfect weather, I’d have come to the happy ending that this author did.

I’ll avoid spoilers, but want to say this much about the plot:  she goes into the desert for forty days and immediately discovers that her preparation is woefully inadequate.  You already know that she survives her first amazingly awful first night, because you’re reading her book, but what happens afterward is simply amazing.

The author is clearly imperfect, which is good, because it makes her more relatable.  She has a modest level of personal vanity that, even so, is likely to make male readers impatient, which I say because it made me impatient.  That she already has a boyfriend waiting in the wings seems likely to frustrate female readers, because if she’s got that, “What more does she need?”  Her tone occasionally gets rather whiny, which is regrettable, and her phobias are hard to relate to.  But her courageous decision to “stick it out” early on is inspiring.  Well, cut her some slack—the journey ends up feeling all too brief, and is well worth some initial impatience.

What about the “message”?  Well, I don’t know.  If I could summarize it, I probably wouldn’t, because the journey is essential to the understanding of it.  Briefly, she found a strength within that she hadn’t expected, and I might say that she found a bit of maturity that had definitely been missing before—my words, not hers.  She gets a decade’s worth of growth in forty days and nights, and some people can, it seems, go a whole adult’s life without finding so much.

I’ve read all the reviews here, and basically agree with all of them, even the two-stars.  A book, above all, is a communication from writer to reader, and each reader’s experience will be different.  I urge you to try this book, and I would welcome comments.  It’s unfortunate that the paper version has gone out of print; many less-worthy books seem to be immortal.

Is that all there is?  Well, not quite.  I want to add a couple of quotes, and to consider at greater length the “message.”  Perhaps the second quote is enough.

“I have almost no specific memories of what happened the first month after leaving Denver.  Perhaps the mind enfolds itself around events that are simply too painful to remember, dragging them deep into the subconscious like a shark with its teeth buried into a seal’s neck, refusing to let them surface where they could possibly get loose.”  p. 42.  If the subconscious is full of memories more painful than those that keep me awake at night (or did until I wrote them all into KM), I don’t want to know it.  The metaphor seems rather too labored.

“I don’t recall ever turning to a new page on the calendar and thinking Here come the next thirty days of my life.  Each day will matter, each day will contribute to the whole, and at the end of this month I’ll look back and see all I’ve accomplished.”  p. 234.  I don’t know that I can add anything meaningful to this.  It’s another view of the “meaning of life,” different from my “two time scales” and the necessity of satisfying both needs, but perhaps just as good.

I’m regretting a bit that I had more spoilers in my Amazon review than I suggested.  But it will do, perhaps.

I went to Dagny’s, and spent a lot of time on the DS book, about ninety minutes between finishing reading, then writing the review.  Then about an hour on KM, met Pablo for breakfast at Lorene’s, then back to Dagny’s for a while, finally going to Walmart for his Xmas present and some odds and ends, then home.

{1/16/19}  Weight 219.4.  Isn’t diarrhea wonderful?

A dream this morning is merely a confusion of images.  The situation was that Donald Trump visits a high school.  I remember two people looking at each other in disgust at this sham visit; I tried to interpret some handwritten grades on papers—was it “plus zero” or “minus zero?”—Salome was concerned about the grade she might have gotten, but I was saying that there was no chance that Trump had read her paper; there was a movie and a photograph of four sisters (playing basketball?), ages 6, 8, 10, and 12, their heads having been replaced by the faces of others, and I looked at their bodies (in plain basketball outfits), trying to determine the ages, and only one had visible breast development.  That’s all.

With Pablo at Lorene’s yesterday, I showed him the trick where you turn the pepper shaker upside down, and grind the salt shaker against the bottom of the pepper shaker to dispense pepper.  He tried it, but he was moving the pepper shaker against the underside of the salt shaker.

I got up at 6:00 this morning, and it’s now 8:20 (without coffee) and I’m feeling sleepy.  Do I take a nap?  Do I drink some coffee?

I spent those two hours working on my philosophy paper, which is growing increasingly difficult to work with—in part, it may need better organization, and in part, the questions are requiring more research.  I decided to start on “Pragmatism” as a subject, because although I call myself a pragmatist, I’m not sure which parts apply.  My reading this evening persuades me that I should forget about C. S. Peirce and concentrate on William James for now.  Though I recall highlighting considerably in some of Peirce’s selections in Barrett & Aiken.

I took a nap, then went to the Beale Library, meeting with Pablo and picking up a number of valuable books, mostly poetry and Wing-Tsit Chan’s Lao Tzu, which I’ve been wanting (regrettably, it doesn’t include the Chinese text, though I have that elsewhere).  I let Pablo take the Chuang Tzu, though I wanted it—I have too much, too much, and of course I had read it before and got literally nothing out of it but bored.  I kept the Rimbaud, though he wanted that, too.  He ended up with two large stacks to carry home, I one smaller stack.

Met some guy at the bus stop; he saw that I was reading The Oxford Handbook of American Philosophy, and he spoke to me when we got on the bus.  He said something about “the Metaphysical Club,” which I didn’t immediately recognize (it was James, Dewey, Peirce in the 1860s); also the name of a NF book, he said.  I invited him to the Hemlock Club and gave him a card, and though he seemed somewhat interested, he didn’t exactly gush or promise.  He didn’t give me his name.  We’ll see.  I could use another person who is actually interested in philosophy to the point of reading books about it, because right now I seem to be alone in that regard.

I’ve been watching and greatly enjoying The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the Terminator-based TV series.  From the library I got Tali Sharot:  The Influential Mind:  What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others, from 2017.  I heard about it somewhere and wanted it very much, but of course the enthusiasm has cooled in the month since I requested it.  At least the author is a genuine neuroscientist, or at least an “associate professor of cognitive neuroscience,” hardly the same thing.  Well, I didn’t expect much from Debi what’s-her-name, either (her book has already more or less disappeared into the memory mush).


4:25 am and I’m coming off a couple of long dreams.  First, I’m in a parklike place and there’s a setup of some radio equipment.  It seems I’m to host a radio show.  There was at the end of the desk, piled on the grass, a kind of thick green cloth with a hole in the middle and I imagine covering the table, leaving just the microphone sticking up through the hole.  I rush around trying to get ready, finally asking a woman where the microphone is.  She doesn’t know, but she reminds me to mention “the club” often, we’re trying to get members, and she suggests interviewing members, having them introduce themselves to the audience.  She says she’ll do twenty minutes.  Then I go upstairs to get my microphone.  When I pick it up, I discover that I can float it above the magnet in a speaker.  It’s twenty after nine and the show was supposed to start at nine.

Second:  I’m with a man and a boy, and we’re trying to find our way out of a dilapidated and peculiar parking structure.  There are dropoffs at the end of the pavement, then I find a stairway down but it doesn’t look safe and there are no handrails.  But the boy starts down—he seems quite young—I follow, and the stairs seem solid enough but are irregular, slanted down, then the steps down are unusually far apart.  Then we’re on a freeway and the boy is now with another and they are on roller skates, zipping right along with the cars.  Soon I’m out there as well, watching the road and noticing many coins scattered along the road.  Somebody is telling a story about a little girl who had picked up a handful of silver coins from the road and had called them “pennies.”  That’s it.

Last night in bed I was reading Hannah Arendt:  Thinking.  She says that she’s no philosopher, but she goes on to mention ideas by Kant, Plato, Hegel, and several other standards, and I’m feeling woefully ignorant.  She also includes Latin words and even a modest paragraph of some medieval writer I’ve never heard of, and I think there’s a little French.  And again, I’m thinking that she’s had a serious exposure to the Great Books as well as Latin, and I’m feeling very under-educated.  It’s interesting now, that I can recall these thoughts, but almost nothing (okay, nothing) about what she was saying.  So again I see the importance of emotion to memory recall.  Also, I would not have wanted or enjoyed the education that I’m assuming she had.  That is, I enjoy reading Bertrand Russell’s book about those authors (i.e., A History of Western Philosophy), but have never gotten very far in trying to read their books.  Plato is something of an exception, though I’ve read only perhaps 10% of his dialogues.

The guy who spoke to me on the bus:  he was at my bus stop, so perhaps he lives close by.  I told Pablo about him, and he asked a couple of times for details of the man’s appearance.  I told him he looked like a thug.

Actually, I remember quite a bit of Desert Sojourn, though the names of the characters escape me, as well as the author’s hyphenated last name.  It’s Holmes-Binney; the Holmes is memorable enough.  The first name, Debi, she chose for herself when she was I think seven, though I don’t remember her given name.  The book’s message to me?  Something about appreciating a month of days ahead, as each new month starts.  Here’s the quote:

“I don’t recall ever turning to a new page on the calendar and thinking Here come the next thirty days of my life.  Each day will matter, each day will contribute to the whole, and at the end of this month I’ll look back and see all I’ve accomplished.”  Less impressive than I remembered it being.

Five minutes into Inside Out and I’m in tears and full of admiration.  At the end of the movie, I am loving it.  It’s far smarter and subtler than it has any right to be, you might say.  I particularly liked the mechanical nature of most things shown in the brain:  gears and such, which have neither personality nor intentionality about them.  That the emotion characters have a kind of control might be carped about, and the plot gets a bit overinvolved in chasing here and there by Joy and Sadness, but this is just petty carping.  I absolutely love the movie, though I doubt that I’ll want to watch it again any time soon, unlike Moonrise Kingdom.  I just don’t know how well it will hold up to repeat viewings.  And I think that the happy/bittersweet ending is too happy to relate it to the real craziness of my own life.  But it’s certainly a lot of fun and a lot of sentiment, all of which I bought into.  A very lovable movie, and there’s plenty of room for a sequel that could be just as good.

{1/18/19}  Weight 219.2.

A silly dream:  I’m playing “bridge.”  In my hand I have four black aces, two in clubs and two in spades.  The opposition bids one club; I bid two clubs, impossible under the circumstances because I have a long, strong club suit; the opposition bids three “blenge” (or some other nonsense); I double.

(To non-bridge-playing readers, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.)  That’s all I remember, but the deal reminds me of my most memorable bridge hand.  It was at T.I. [Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution], and I had a solidly-topped (AKQJ9x) heart suit.  I bid hearts three times, which the suit didn’t justify, but the opposition end up in three no trump, which I doubled because I had five solid tricks in hearts, so I can set the contract out of my own hand if my partner leads a heart.  My partner leads a diamond, and I’m naturally ready to eat my cards.  Perhaps he doesn’t have a heart?  It’s barely possible.  He gets the lead again, and again leads something other than my suit.  As play proceeds, at one point my partner discards a heart!  I’m throwing away hearts and the opponents make three no trump, and finally I call my partner a “fucking moron.”  His explanation was that he was afraid that if he led hearts, it would have “cost us a trick” because the declarer presumably would have honors sitting over mine, apparently forgetting that the whole point of establishing a suit is to force the opponents to cash in their tricks in the suit, even if this costs a trick by inefficient play of the suit.  My partner on the occasion was also my cell mate, and though I never really forgave him (hence the memory is indelible), we subsequently got on about as well as before.

I did give up bridge shortly thereafter, because I hate getting bad cards, which I suppose is childish of me.  It’s not like poker, where you get a new hand every three minutes or so; in bridge, you get about four hands an hour, making it all too possible to have crappy cards for an hour straight or more.  Rubber bridge (unlike duplicate), while it can be great fun, can also lead to long, dismal evenings watching your opponents rack up rubber after rubber.

Watched La Vie d’Adéle:  Chapitres 1 & 2 on DVD (available also as Blue is the Warmest Color), an exceptionally sexy and passionate 3-hour love story that I thought utterly wonderful.  The plot is mundane, but the actresses are excellent, especially the younger woman who is also named Adéle (Exarchopoulos).  She has the kind of face you can hardly get enough of:  beautiful, with an exquisite mouth, eyes, and everything, but also very mobile, vulnerable, and earthy-looking.  The cinematography at times is wonderful; I thought one scene quite exceptional, in which the leads are kissing and kissing, and the dazzling sun continually appears and reappears between their almost-touching mouths.  Despite the length and a leisurely pace, the movie hardly ever drags—a few scenes in a kindergarten class where Adéle is teaching go on too long without becoming at all interesting, and there are a lot of scenes of food preparation and eating that I could have done without.  I was gratified to see an almost total lack of violence, which would very likely have shown up if the movie were made here.  A bonus interview with Adéle is fun, and more-than-hints at upcoming “chapitres 3 & 4.”

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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