Sarah shows me how to put the lime in the coconut. Life is what we make of it, she reminds me, and from then on, the good times roll. I sit up, I pay attention, I build and traverse new pathways. Observe the way light falls across furniture. A new person is soon to enter the story. Let us fill our homes with loving-kindness — and don’t worry so much, I tell myself, for as Maggie Nelson observes at the start of The Argonauts, “nothing you say can fuck up the space for God.” I don’t think everything can be thought, and most of what I consider important can’t be put into words. The latter have effect, to be sure, but they’re spoken by Being, not by some small willing part of it. I’m not even sure of the authority of Nelson’s pronouncement. But I prefer to read generously, trusting what she calls “the inexpressible…contained — inexpressibly! — in the expressed.”
Ellen Sander’s book Trips begins with a lovely dedication to “the incorrigible spirit of the Sixties; a seed planted, a weed grown, the promise, forever beckoning, of a garden.” That garden is the same one that beckons to us as the before and after of these trance-scripts. Sander was an early rock critic who covered the scene for Hit Parader, Vogue, and Saturday Review, among other outlets. Her book documents a change in awareness, the consequences of which continue to be felt today. She wrote in an age of bombs, flying saucers, superpowers, rock and roll groups — the same age of “high weirdness” analyzed by Erik Davis in his recent book of that title. These were the years when we first made contact — people of the world united in dance. Where has it led us, though? Localized changes, small but significant, keep me hopeful, each of us doing what we can. One of my nephews honors me, for instance, by adopting my habit of wearing colored Tyvek bracelets, the kind acquired as tokens of admission during visits to amusement parks, concerts, carnivals, and pools. It’s a quirk of mine, I guess — part freak flag, part makeshift memento mori — something I’ve been doing ever since I was a teenager. A modest bit of deviant self-fashioning.
I find myself wondering about the relationship between psychedelics and the Situationist practice known as the dérive. A number of writers have hinted at one: maybe Sadie Plant? Alexander Trocchi? I also understand, however, upon arriving to campus, that my office could stand some redecorating. Time to occupy space with good vibes, positive energy. Time to fill the walls with doorways and windows. Ken Knabb, editor of the Situationist International Anthology, talks openly of turning on and taking psychedelics in his “Confessions of a Mild-Mannered Enemy of the State.” What I no longer like about Situationism, though, is the way it mired Surrealism’s “energies of intoxication” with ideological conspiracism and paranoia. They were a lot like the Discordians in that respect, suffering from what Timothy Melley calls “agency panic.” Situationism wasn’t loving enough or trusting enough of others in its manner of expression. The same is true of a Situationist-influenced anarchist group from the Bay Area, the Council for the Eruption of the Marvelous. What about Raoul Vaneigem’s famous book, The Revolution of Everyday Life? Does that, too, proceed from a paranoid, “gnostic” state of distrust? The other place to look would be British Situationist Christopher Gray’s book The Acid Diaries. Reality flickers and teases. Recognition coincides with forgetting. Best to hold true to a both-and worldview, exercising what the Romantic poet John Keats called “negative capability.” This is what allows us to be here amid life’s “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” This is our condition: let us explore it without undue vexation. Let us be flexible and open, granting the cosmos agency enough to be fun, weird, wild, delicious, and strange. Navigate by way of flashes of noetic insight, and an abiding faith in love as an unfolding process — a single mountain with many paths.
Home again, stretching, settling in after seven weeks of travel. Initially I find myself needing to focus on nesting, repair, self-care, readjustment. Vacuuming feels like manual operation of a Photoshop airbrush. I get better results and greater satisfaction when I kneel down and clean the floor with a wet rag. If that’s what the life-world needs, then so be it. I give gladly. Throughout the day, I catch myself renegotiating use of will, contemplating my relationship to various entities and objects. Slugs, spiders, chairs, old bits of clothing, bottled water: all of these things require care and attention, as does Erik Davis’s High Weirdness, a copy of which I pluck from the pile of mail that arrived for me while I was gone. Also in the pile is a copy of Fredric Jameson’s new book Allegory and Ideology. Time to start reading, I tell myself. Both books feel weighty, but High Weirdness is the one that warrants immediate attention, I decide after some hemming and hawing, the Stranger Things soundtrack modulating through my head. The Davis book is the one I’ve been waiting for these last few months. It feels timely. It speaks to present hopes and concerns. As Jeffrey J. Kripal notes in his blurb on the back cover, “May this book, like a glowing UFO, land on your lap, and every other lap, and weird our world beyond all measure.” I approach it with a degree of trepidation — but also with great excitement. Across from me on the wall of my dining room hangs a reproduction of the famous Ambrosius Holbein engraving from Thomas More’s Utopia, looking suddenly like an emblem representing macrocosm and microcosm: Genesis, Paradise Lost, and Frankenstein woven into a single grand narrative, the figures down at the bottom reminding me of the debaters from the garden of branching paths. “The devil in the details,” as one commentator puts it. The figure I’ve imagined in the role of Adam wears the name “Hythlodaeus” in the engraving, referring to the character in More’s text whose name means both “God has healed” and “Speaker of nonsense.”
The line traced by Agitation Free’s “In the Silence of the Morning Sunrise” runs along an axis that transcends the usual three-dimensional plane on which I’m trapped — or so I like to imagine, though I freely admit my ignorance regarding matters of topology. Point being, I can’t help feeling like I ought to be elsewhere.
With capacities renewed, however, the feeling gives way to joy, increased attentiveness, a sense of excitement. There I was griping, whereas now I can see. Beauty everywhere: a pot of garden lobelia, beside which I meditated this morning, and from which a tiny bee finds sustenance. Plants do that to us: they heal us, they modulate consciousness. From them comes that phrase in the Bible mistranslated into the English of the KJV as “our daily bread.” So sayeth Reverend Danny Nemu in a conversation with podcaster Lex Pelger in an episode of The Psychedelic Salon. Out of me pulses and flickers eidetic imagery — maybe even the tactile, fully immersive vibrational sphere of a cannabis-induced liminal dream. Family also provides sustenance, equally necessary. Time to get out there and love. That’s where I stumble, though. My every move feels judged and found wanting. Can I change those vibes, feed back something pure rather than base? My nieces step outdoors and cheer me up a bit. One talks about missing her kindergarten classroom, with its rugs, couches, and tables. The other one tells me that she does not like men, and that her favorite thing is bubblegum. Afterwards I tip-toe sentence by sentence through the section of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America titled “The Message,” the words on the page threatening to cohere into some fearsome allegory. What I find instead, though, is further evidence of a loving cosmos waiting patiently for me as I struggle toward an approximation of its wisdom.
The insistence on “Law” in The Kybalion, the book’s privileging of “Ego” and “Mastery,” its claim that “Chance is but a name for Law not recognized” (171): all of this suggests that the book is both more and less than it seems. The Three Initiates dedicated the book to Hermes Trismegistus, after all; and Hermes, of course, was known to be something of a trickster. I appreciate the book’s evocation of an ancient, secret doctrine. I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the answers I seek lie hidden from plain sight, awaiting my readiness to receive them. But most of what the book offers — from its defense of “the strong” to its claims regarding the origins of its teachings — seems flawed and suspect: expressions of the prejudices of the man thought to be its author, a Chicago-based occultist from the turn of the last century named William Walker Atkinson. Yet this is precisely how the Hermes archetype tends to operate, using thievery and deception to transmit messages between worlds.
Laid out on a futon on a screened-in porch at my sister-in-law’s house in upstate New York, I sip a Belgian-style wit brewed locally with hints of lavender, children’s voices rising up from the park across the street. Origami birds hung with wire circle and converse beside a Japanese maple. My favorite moments are ones like these when, through modest experiments with sense and awareness, I’m able to reach out and investigate my surroundings. The books I’ve been reading these past few days all seem connected in accordance with what the Three Initiates refer to as “the Principle of Correspondence.” Brian C. Short’s New People of the Flat Earth, The Kybalion, even the movie Back to the Future, which my nephews watched for the first time last night: all of these works seem to resonate when properly aligned. The same can be said of these origami birds hanging by the window, their forked tails and black-and-white plumage resembling those of the frigatebirds I noticed last night flying in the sky above my sister’s back yard. The question now is: how might I utilize this principle in service of the good?