Life in transit, dragging bags through Heathrow, preparing to board a seven-hour return flight to the States, communication necessarily a bit spotty. A man I met at the Psychedelic Society event last night — a hypnotherapist, to be precise — shared with me an account of an experience of his oddly similar to my own. For both of us, ordinary acts of pot-smoking birthed year-long bouts of manic scribbling — mysterious inner voices possessing us with an urge to write. The man spent several years after his experience editing the resulting material into a series of books that he went on to publish with Psychedelic Press. I return to the States knowing at the very least, then, that there are others like me: “New People of the Flat Earth,” like the characters in Brian C. Short’s peculiar novel of that name, a book I’ve been reading here on the flight, certain passages glimmering up at me from the page like features of a lucid dream. I check the Skymap on the screen attached to the seat in front of me, only to find written on the next page, “if I were something, it was a body in motion, a distant, dusty-blue spot…as seen perhaps from high above, tracing the bland potential of a straight line from one side of a map to another, making the real things now unreal, simultaneously giving shapes to other things that previously had none” (Short 210).
The interior bends and warps as the train travels its serpentine path toward Finchley Road, where Sarah and I disembark to meet with a psychoanalytically-inclined friend of ours at the Freud Museum. We view the famous couch, the books, Sergei Pankejeff’s “Wolf Man” paintings, the Qashqa’i carpets, the vast collection of antiquities, swapping tales of projects and travels along the way. Afterwards the three of us retire to Freud’s garden and chat excitedly about psychedelics. As a kind of last hurrah here in London, I zoom over to Hackney for another event involving Erik Davis, hosted this time by a group called The Psychedelic Society. Davis’s co-stars at the event include Jeremy Gilbert and Lindsay Jordan. As the talks commence, I note down on a slip of paper, “Something cool is happening here: heads coming together.”
I rove around the city buying books in a desperate last bid for gnosis as my SIM card kicks out and my time here in London nears its end. I thought I’d have my tarot read, but no one spoke to me, the moment never seemed right. I did have a lovely chat, though, with a wise old gentleman from the Swedenborg Society. He intuited some of the features of my condition, and hastened to furnish the knowledge I sought, while also gently warning about pursuit of such knowledge, providing me with a timely gloss on Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Eden narrative in the philosopher’s eight-volume magnum opus Arcana Caelestia. Where shall I go and what shall I do upon my return to the United States?
The Eden narrative holds some sort of terrible power over me, infecting my thinking, filling me with needless dread. I sometimes feel as though I’ve successfully extracted myself from it, carving off some space outside it from which to operate — but the perimeter it draws around consciousness always reasserts itself as all-encompassing. It’s the ultimate metanarrative, language pressed into the shape of an imprisoning imperial enclosure, hailing everyone and everything as its subject. Weird, then, that this story that so cruelly sentences the children of the first humans should also be one that posits the existence of “free will.” I imagine Eric Wargo’s book Time Loops will help me think through, around, or beyond some of these issues. Wargo’s ideas about retrocausation and precognition bubbled up out of the cauldron of weirdness at last night’s wonderful Strange Attractor event at The Horse Hospital, where Erik Davis delivered a talk to promote his new book High Weirdness, with assists by Roger Luckhurst and Daisy Eris Campbell. Daisy mentioned an interesting discovery at CERN where scientists developing narrative frames for data coming out of experiments at the center found that the frames imposed on the data retroactively changed the data. This causes me to wonder: how stable are these trance-scripts? Backing away from the lip of that rabbit hole, I hop on a bus and visit the William Morris Gallery up in Walthamstow, near the edges of Epping Forest. An old woman boards the bus carrying a bag of groceries. Printed on the side of her tote are the words, “I’M AN OLD BAG FROM SUSSEX.”
River of cars, sleepless night. Mississippi combustion engine goddamn. How are we to sit, how are we to practice loving-kindness, amid the unbearable moral burdens of our time? This question haunts me, prompts torrents of words. I lie awake in bed mulling it over, unable to fall back asleep after a fire alarm goes off at 5:00am. Perhaps I’m already dead, I think to myself. Perhaps I’ve been so for some time, my soul consigned to some after-the-end-of-history purgatory, the rotten world of princes and principalities. All it takes, however, is the sight of a pair of pigeons to convince me otherwise. I refuse to mire myself in the needless suffering of an overly grim worldview. Sunlight, temperate climate, free parks and museums, diverse assortments of humans, air filled with the music of many languages: Eden remains in potentia all around us.
Following Regent’s Canal out of Camden Town, I wind past hyenas in a cage at the zoo, landing midafternoon cross-legged atop Primrose Hill, the whole of London spread out across the horizon down below. Passing some bobbies afterwards on my way through Chalk Farm, I realize: I encounter more police per day in the US than I have throughout the entirety of my month-long stay here in the UK. The immense psychic toll of all of that surveillance finally begins to sink in, inspiring fury and a desire to immigrate. By day’s end I’m back at the flat downing tallboys listening to DJ Edu’s “Destination Africa” mix on Radio 1Xtra. Heat collects beneath me as I lie on a couch taking stock of my surroundings: white walls, exposed wires, lightly stained wood cabinets, track lights, scarlet curtains. A doorway appears wreathed by a rectangle of fire. All I can do, though, is listen and observe, the dream’s interface not yet robust enough to support more advanced interaction.
A car alarm on a feisty BMW temporarily disturbs the peace as I sip a lager at a pub a few blocks from Marble Arch, near a flat I rented the last time I lived in London. Sarah sits across from me reading a story by Helen Oyeyemi. It takes everything I possess to keep myself from throwing an ashtray through the car’s windshield. When the alarm goes off a second time, we take the hint. “Enough of this outrageous fortune,” I mutter to myself. “Time to cut and run.” But the car proves to be one of several environmental irritants encountered throughout the day. To put it plainly: things don’t go as planned. The London to which I’ve grown accustomed feels as if it’s been hijacked for the day — booby-trapped, sabotaged, reprogrammed to include pranks, gags, obstacles churned up by a trickster demiurge. “Something needs to change,” I decide. “It’s time for another dramatic alteration of consciousness. My patience is wearing thin.”
Clouds appear puffy and white with shades of gray the way they do in the paintings of Turner and Constable above the stack of three-level Victorians at the corner of Cowcross and St. John. To sit at a table under an awning at a café here in London is basically to resign oneself to inhalation of secondhand smoke. I see little evidence of Glastonbury and Windsor and the other acid-fueled free festivals of the 1970s remaining here in England’s cultural DNA. The same goes for Madchester and late-80s / early-90s rave culture. The neoliberal counter-reformation has wiped clear near about every last trace of these consciousness-expanding influences, allowing Her Majesty’s loyal subjects to throw themselves whole-hog again into their old habit of killing one another with cigarettes and drink.
Sunlight reflected off passing cars on the street below travels in a ghostly manner across the ceiling of the flat, short fleeting flashes matched with sounds of engines as I lie on a couch beside the window. Sarah and J. type at their laptops. Air releases as one of them twists the cap from a carbonated beverage. I try to open myself to these sounds. I try to welcome them as aspects of experience. Before long, conditions change: J. rinses a dish in the sink, Sarah leafs through a catalogue, the sun passes behind some clouds, and suddenly I’m up on my feet, I’m stretching, trying to release tension from my neck and shoulders. What is the source of this tension? Blocked kundalini energy — energy I’ve awakened, trapped along its journey up my spine? Perhaps it’s just pain related to the shitty mattresses on which I’ve been sleeping these past few weeks. Rather than dwell on the discomfort, I hop over to the Tate Britain, where I wander around listening to Third Ear Band’s Alchemy while viewing works by Ithell Colquhoun and William Blake. Beautiful carved objects greet me by day’s end — ornate wooden chessboards, masks, figures, and statues at a West African restaurant near the British Museum. Dining alone in close proximity to neighboring tables creates a slight sense of awkwardness, as I know not where to direct my gaze, other than at the art on the walls.
The solstice approaches. Time to wake and greet the dawn. After morning meditation on the floor of the flat, I venture out to grab a sandwich and pastry at a nearby cafe. Workers in hardhats mend the facade of a building from a scaffold across the way. Property values dictate endless construction under the present regime. Commuters hurry past smoking, vaping, interacting with their phones. My flatmates meet me at the Farringdon Station, bleary-eyed students in tow, the lot of us then boarding a train for a brief outing to Essex. We arrive to Mistley, a small port town, air thick with the smell of malt. A local woman named Josie leads us on a tour, sharing with us her research on the seventeenth century witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins. We cross the village green and journey along a public footpath, Josie filling our ears with juicy lore related to Old Knobbley and a ghostly hound named Black Shuck. After the tour, I retire to a pub and down a few pints of Guinness, mood darkened by lack of magic.