I relax my thoughts and lean back. A large bumblebee draws circles in the sky: hints of other suns, other worlds. Leaves flutter in the wind.
A bird sings to me, other birds and I chuckling in reply. This bird is a dear friend. I admire him for his zest and energy, his cheer, his radical tenderness, his sense of humor, his positive energy, his knowledge born — well, you get the picture. This friend inspires me. Perhaps I can dedicate myself to the craft of fiction. Sarah waves the crackers toward me: “More?” “I would keep eating them,” I answer, pulled in several directions at once. I must build a problem and then use the act of writing to solve it, as if I were opening a box filled with Easter candy.
I take my seat at the table, a wooden one outdoors. Birds chirp and sing. In the distance, a neighbor mows his lawn. I picture a church with flapping wings, but with eyes reopened I spy a pair of cardinals. With these and the branches of a bush beside which I sit, I share a moment after a long day of work. Work, that is, for a system, an institution, a miserly master — so that, whether long or short, each day feels like a sentence served.
“Space is the Place” plays at a low volume, at the back (as opposed to front and center) of my thoughts, though in fact it’s one of the most bracing performances I’ve ever heard, while I reflect on my mixed feelings toward my discipline’s fondness for jargon.
Don’t get me wrong: I like it when my colleagues gather and talk texts. But I prefer birds whistling from treetops. Along with assists from the other elements of human and nonhuman nature, the evening orchestra performs its polyphonic improvisation — with me there to observe and to listen in surround sound in the hollow of a glade. Through these acts we teach each other. As we pull together, we expand each other’s capacity to sympathize and finally to love. I am describing an effort to bring about a fundamental change in “reality” itself, which is to say, in ideology.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I place a tab beneath my tongue, breathe deeply, and prepare for my adventure. Initial stirrings include a flutter in my stomach, warmth behind my ears. Intimations of an as-yet-unnameable source of wonder. I putter around a bit before finding my way outdoors. Autumn leaves flutter in the air as neighborhood dogs yip and woof. Squirrels gather in the trees. “My dear friend,” I whisper invitingly as one hustles toward me. It coos lovingly back and forth with a partner. Moment by moment, the beauty of this world is staggering. With each breath I take, I feel a tremendous ball of laughter welling up inside me. ‘Tis a divine joy, this flickering of sunlight on my eyelids. Slight giddiness, one’s entire nervous system aglow with energy. Amen Dunes soundtracks a restful, languorous moment with their “Ethio Song.”
Above me, flickering, fanning sensations, mushrooms welling up beneath me, offering themselves oh-so-tenderly and ceremoniously as a bed on which to rest. Sarah and I dance and touch tips, tendrils entwined. Much of the experience, in its directness and immediacy, is too glorious to squander, too lavish for words. Humming, giggling, the body does its thing, tests its sensory manifold, expands, grows outward, despite hardship and adversity — this thing is bigger, quivering, bursting, love everywhere triumphant. Let us know ourselves as this life impulse, this spirit of generativity and generosity. Time for all things — for all things there is a season. Sun and moon shed light on all, each yeasty striving, each humble beginning, budding gods and goddesses. Each and every one a universal plentiful complete cosmic plenipotentiary, spreading the good word of being. Climbing up or down from that perch, wherever one may be, allow oneself time to pause, look, take comfort. Recognize in each moment the crown and dignity of being. As we situate, as we gather and take stock, let us body forth this love toward one and all.
Sitting outside, facing the sun, listening to birds and squirrels, one is able to enter a zone, having drawn around oneself a magic circle, a sphere of being. Let us repopulate our communities with heads — multitudes of human and non-human persons, high on mushrooms, graced by receipt of the psychedelic sacrament. Walk, and one will encounter cool folks out and about. To fight a society of sadness and despair, we need to meet people, live in common with others. The struggle involves opening our hearts to the weird, the strange, the fantastic. These were qualities sold to us as children by companies like Marvel. Can we allow ourselves to find them again out there, in encounters with reality? Of course, some of these neighborhoods in late-capitalist reality discourage social interaction of any kind among strangers. Signs are posted around properties: Dogwatch, American flags, electric fences, “Private Parking,” “EXIT ONLY,” “This Property Is Protected By Video Surveillance Cameras.” That’s how fascism works. Within such environments, we must carry our spiritual notions lightly. Before long, however, I land at a local brewery — liberated territory — where I happen upon my friend, the Marxist Baptist preacher. We get into it: a wonderful, free-form conversation of several hours on topics as diverse as time, Christianity, capitalism, A.I., appropriate technology, paganism, psychedelics, and eschatology. He recommends I read Jacob Taubes.
I sit with squirrels on a November afternoon absorbing golden rays of sunlight. ‘Tis given freely. Our mutual inheritance. The squirrels jump and scurry among branches of trees. Where shall we place our attention, if not on speaking squirrels? The one above me, in its lovely ahhs, its lusty cries, its squaws, its pleas, sounds like a tearful Donald Duck. Through our stillness, we allow others space and time to be. A lawnmower supplies a buzz to compete with a leafblower’s roar. The neighborhood performs itself as would an orchestra for an audience of one. This is what I want as a communist: control enough of means of production so as to live free, our days, mine and yours, always occasions for pleasure and growth. Michael Davidson’s The Karma Machine reads like a prearranged signal, alerting those who read it of the planet’s wish to mutate-convert into a crystalline “ecstosphere” (162). How do we get there in the midst of what Erik Davis calls “reality meltdown”? Mass media’s programming of listeners and viewers to spur mass consumption gives way to the absence of shared points of reference. Today’s competing news agencies tell competing stories, thus creating competing consensus realities: a plurality of maps, all jostling for control of territory in the Desert of the Real. Against this, argues Davis, rise forces of re-enchantment. Movies of future disasters, journeys through the cosmos. Let us attend to the truth of experience, he cries, and carry stories lightly! “Doubt is a medicine! Skepticism is a medicine!” Always inquiring, always probing amid a totality filled with human and non-human persons. By way of the imagination, he suggests, we can interface with the non-human, the alien Other. “Let myriad things come forth and illuminate the self.”
Before arriving to the thing itself, I instruct myself to regard the 9-acre suite of Japanese gardens on the grounds of the Huntington not only in cynical terms, as a tourist site and a marker of social status, but also in more hopeful terms, as a site for encounter and self-actualization: manifestations, in other words, of Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise, enabling rebirth on a path toward enlightenment. Our observations, these gardens teach us, are always contingent, based on changing points of view. In the library itself, I request access to the “Aldous Huxley Oral History Papers, 1985-1990” and several rare books by Huxley’s friend and fellow mystic Gerald Heard. I also browse old issues of a journal called Aldous Huxley Annual. Consciousness airdrops into an altogether different Earth, however, some postindustrial world, an Earth of a different geological period, once the Subject exits the library and actually enters, sets foot into, the desert garden. Curvilinear profusion, flesh of the Earth thorny, prickly, and hairy. Morning doves and amber-bellied fox squirrels in the trees, lizards scurrying up the torsos of cacti. This is my Utopia, my garden at the end of time: this hot, wet, earthy, noisy, citrusy, fruit-bearing, sun-absorbing, multi-scented surround. I’m swept with the conviction in this moment that, whatever the details of this Utopia (apart from “full communism now”), our presence in it should be airy, minimal — an attentiveness to life’s formal richness that nonetheless remains light in its imprint. Let us be great lovers, tending only to our role as gardeners, nurturers, machines of loving grace, I’s who preside over the self-presentation of being. In these gardens and their surrounding bungalow heavens, this gift, this experience my love has given to me, LA prefigures its nickname “City of Angels.”
After landing and grabbing a quick lunch at an In-N-Out Burger near LAX, we drop off our bags at our Airbnb, a pretty little poolside cottage a short walk from the Huntington, and begin to tour the city. Everything near and far looks amazing here in Pasadena: the trees, the hills, the restaurants, the architecture. We spend our first evening admiring the flora while walking the grounds beside the Griffith Park Observatory, and peeking in at Skylight Books, where my eye lands upon a new book in the 33 1/3 series on Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker and Rob Chapman’s Psychedelia and Other Colours. Most of this West Coast ground of being hasn’t yet been “languaged” for me, so it’s a bit like “seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation” (as Huxley says of his experience with mescaline). On the morning of day two, we drive to Santa Monica, landing for brunch at a somewhat mediocre, overpriced crêperie. After just a few short hours here, one detects firsthand the city’s monstrous antinomies, ones Mike Davis evoked so powerfully more than a quarter of a century ago in his book City of Quartz. Walking through Tongva Park, for instance, I observe homeless men and women sleeping on benches beside lush beds of what I soon learn to identify thanks to an app on my cellphone as Lindheimer’s Beeblossom, American Century Plant, Birds-of-Paradise, Tree Aeonium. Out along the Santa Monica Pier, a middle-aged topless man with glistening skin performs a rendition of “People Are Strange” while photographing himself with a selfie stick. Upon our return to Pasadena, we allow ourselves time to swim in a pool and lay in the sun. The day concludes with a dusky stroll through Bungalow Heaven, our wandering met by twin cosmic giggles: an ostentation of peafowl and an outdoor performance by Top 40 rapper Bryce Vine.
I am fully alert and fully capable, I remind myself as I pass through security and board my flight. It isn’t long before I’ve achieved a speed of 520 MPH and an altitude of 37573 ft. Squares of land etched with the roots and branches of rivers and streams pass below me as I chew bits of a caramel-flavored Stroopwafel and read a chapter on Terence McKenna in Tao Lin’s new book Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation and Change. All that I normally encounter—what I on other days might call the “dimension of lived experience”—appears from this height abstracted into patterns that are at once simple, geometrical, and marvelously complex. I inhale deeply; clouds part to reveal circles cut into rectangles and squares of farmland. Further cuts into several of these circles reveal Land-Art Pacmans in tan and lavender and green. Up rise the Rockies, clouds casting shadows onto snow-covered peaks. Beyond that lie patches of brown desert, landscapes of a kind that, prior to this journey, I’ve never seen before. Ancient, intricate ridges and plateaus, like the surface of a rocky brain. Clouds again—and then before I know it, we descend, and holy asphalt, there they are: the gridded blocks of Los Angeles.