Bodies in motion roll to a stop, set down chairs, lather themselves in lotions and oils, and stare out at an unbroken expanse of ocean. Try as these people might, however, they still can’t leave the city, it being the thing they carry with them everywhere they go. I sit among them, eavesdropping on their conversations, feeling lazy and detached, wishing there was more to life than just getting and begetting.
I wake in the cabin of my brother-in-law’s boat, docked for the weekend at Watch Hill on Fire Island. It’s still early — not yet dawn, in fact — but I can hear birds chirping outdoors, so I climb aboveboard as silently as I can manage, so as not to disturb my companions, all of whom remain asleep below. A wonderful fog has settled over the bay, a saving grace obscuring from sight the many ugly neighboring yachts, flags already hoisted in preparation for the day’s festivities. I perform morning meditation sitting cross-legged on a cushioned bench. Afterwards I walk the short width of the island from bay to ocean and stare out at the Atlantic. Time dilates, water line waxing and waning with the tides. As the day progresses, I lie on my back, eyes closed, and become one with radiant energy.
After a month abroad, reentry into American society is inevitably going to be experienced as a bad trip. Screaming children, lousy music, conspicuous patriotism and religiosity among one’s countrymen, time bled away in cars. The south shore of Long Island is no country for old Dharma Bums. I love the food, and the beaches, and the proximity to Manhattan — but this place that my extended family calls home is in most respects the cultural equivalent of a Superfund site. As I noted a few days ago, however, Eden remains in potentia all around us. That sense of possibility is the one worth keeping at the forefront of our collective imagination going forward. (Plus the sunsets here on the water these last few nights have been fabulous.)
Colored flags lift and flap in the air above a parking lot as I ease myself back into the patterns and rhythms of life in the United States. People here seem hard-shelled and prickly, the air between them charged with menace. But the sun is out. The sky is clear. Allowances have been made for potted plants and beleaguered trees amid rows upon rows of strip malls. Hulks with tattoos order breakfast sandwiches at deli counters, but birds still sing outdoors, despite idling motorists, in the silences between waves of traffic. Next thing I know, we’re in crisis mode: an afternoon visit to a pool thrown into disarray when a nephew bangs his head on a diving board while attempting a back flip. Within a few hours, he’s back home with eight staples in his head playing Fortnite on his Nintendo Switch.
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.