Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician

Less than a week ago, I'm not sure when, Linda brought home a book from work. She does this now and then, taking books from the "free table" that she thinks I might enjoy. So far, she has judged my interests well. The newspaper at which she works receives numerous newly-released books of all kinds, to be reviewed and written about, naturally. So many hopeful books, looking for careful consideration by a professional journalist. Some get that consideration, most don't, but all end up at the free table for employees to take home. And then some make their way to me. It's like being a member of a book club better than any other. It's not Oprah Winfrey picking out a book for me to read, it's someone who is very close to me, and loves me, and whom I love back.

The latest novel that I can't seem to read fast enough is entitled, "Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician" by Daniel Wallace. It reminds me of Ray Bradbury's, "Dandelion Wine" although I'm not sure why. Both are given to writing caliginous, poetic celebrations of the ordinary, as if we are living in a world of dark magic. In a very different way, "The Terror" by Dan Simmons also engages the reader with the notion that there are great forces at work in the universe, that we are not alone, and that even if there is a god, he or she or it may not be what you had in mind.

There is nothing supernatural out there, in my opinion, which may be why these books are so compelling to me. Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician is one hell of a novel so far (I have yet to finish reading it) , but the magic therein feels as if it comes from the characters themselves, and not from a magical universe. It's full of eternal mysteries, but it's not working to solve any of them, at least not without creating more mysteries in the process of answering one.

These are beautiful romantic fantasies that offer up truth with little concern for the facts. Again, I'm fond of stories told in this way. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the neighborhood children fill their days by playing, in an attempt to kill their boredom and spend their imagination with the easy ability of a child given time with little to do. We all remember "Boo" Radley, who the kids elevated to mythic status, mostly via Jim's story-telling and Scout's earnest desire for there to be more in the world than meets the eye. So a mentally-ill man, who happens to live in a house the children also find creepy. Or it could just be that way because, in the mind of a child, it should be that way. Evil should look evil. Good should look good. And Radley displayed all the aesthetic inclinations of being evil. The omens and signs are there to be read.

Again, we all know what happens. "Boo" Radley saves Jim's life, and Scout learns the lesson that things are not always what they seem. But even before Radley played the hero, he was very valuable to those kids. The natives on Skull Island had King Kong, and these kids had "Boo" Radley. Something or someone to add a modicum of mystery and magic to their plain lives.

What a thing to have! As an atheist and existential nihilist, I can't have such a thing. Those are just labels, self-applied, but they simply mean that I do not believe in god, or that life has any purpose except the one we provide for it. And it ends at death. Science has mysteries unending, but they are cold to me. The Void makes frequent appearances in place of god or heaven. When I look up at a night sky and sees stars, I see the Void. Others may see god. After death, there is that Void again. Others may see an afterlife.

But before you really start answering these questions one way or the other, when you are a child, the world is a mysterious, wondrous place. And these books help me remember a time when I seemed to be living in a different world, and was, in a way. Of course, the world has changed little and it is I who have done most of the changing.

But I have found fear again. Not a fear of physical pain, or of heartbreak, or for family members' health. Those are all normal, I think, and come and go for everyone. The fear I speak of motivates to paranoia. I'm afraid that I am a grotesque parasite living off of a healthy world that exists apart from me. I'm on disability, and the student loan people are after that with a vengeance, but they will not succeed. And I living in pubic housing. Yesterday, I went to a food pantry to get some pasta, coffee and cereal. I'm physically able to work, but it's true that mentally and emotionally, I would not last long in anyones employ. So I'm stuck, unable to work but in grand self-loathing because I do not. Do those who love me, who are close, resent me for not working? I suspect that they sometimes do. Getting up and going to work all day is hard for everyone, and I admire them for that. I'm also endlessly grateful for all the help I get.

Usually, in the course of my day, I have a very hard time just walking into a store or calling my doctor for an appointment. For every time I talk to one of the living, I feel that contact is a conduit to a place of judgment. To be judged, you must be seen and/or heard. And then I go through manic phases where I post near nude pictures of myself, or kick the front door apart. Every time I think of my manic stupidity, I wince.

All day long I'm trying to scatter nasty, self-hating thoughts away, like pigeons as you walk through a public park. My conscience never stops whispering into my ear, "You are a sycophant. Good for nothing. Weak. Everyone is ashamed of you." It goes on all day, every day. Some days I ignore it well, most days it whittles me down to size to one degree or another.

Just last summer I tried to get back to work, at a newspaper, no less. I even went to the interview, and with the help of a friend, had my first assignment. Naturally, I backed off, ran away, defeated and pitiful.

These days, I read a great deal during the day, and do chores, go to the market, walk the dog, that sort of thing. If I'm useful and kind, and a good partner, maybe the self-loathing will dissipate, to any degree less that it exists now. I'm also writing (besides on here) for various left-wing political groups. It doesn't come as easily as it once did, but that is of no importance.

The greatest mystery left for me, about me, is about my mind. Will it improve with time? My degree in biological anthropology and former work experience are ready to help me. The plot thickens, the story moves along, and time will tell. For now, I just want there to be peace and happiness at the House of Four Cats.

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