I’m a pretty good amateur pool player. Not a hustler, not consistent, not pro, not going to Vegas or winning any trophies, but I can beat 90% of the people in the world who pick up a pool cue. I’m just good enough to realize pool is more like chess than bowling; in eight ball, your opponent can have cleared all seven of his balls to your none, but you may be winning. Pool also seems the most egalitarian of all games: income and ethnicity, and to a lesser degree gender, have no bearing on whether you play and how good you can be.1
If you’re studying physics, books and teachers often refer to “billiard ball physics” as the simplest expression of action and reaction in Euclidian geometry. Perfect spheres rolling around a smooth, flat plane demonstrate some Newtonian principles, and these days, teachers move on to say nothing actually works like this outside a pool table.
In fact, nothing works like this on a pool table. Good pool is not about geometry, it’s about spin. Angle is important, but it is the basest lesson in pool. You should have already learned it before you pick up a cue, and spend your years merely refining it. The quality of the felt and bumpers, the grip of the tip, and hardness of your stroke,2 and the angle of impact are all details that need attention because they affect spin. Beginning pool players become frustrated because the geometry seems to get very close, but never quite spot on. This is because beginning pool players nearly always hit the cue in the dead center and hit it too hard. This forces the cue ball straight forward with very minor top spin, so it has no spin to transfer to the object ball. If the object ball hits a bank, it has either no spin or some slight back spin, which causes it to come off at a more acute angle than it should, since the forward roll of a ball traveling normally compensates for the grip and depression of the bumper. To make a bank shot with a symmetrical angle, you hit the cue ball soft and low.
Another oddity is that even though a pool table and its balls are some of the least anthropomorphic objects in the universe, everybody refers to them as moody opponents. “That ten ball just doesn’t like me,” or “that’s a really unfriendly table” are common laments.
So pool is a seemingly simple system that is actually so profoundly difficult and complex, it’s simplistic physical components are immediately endowed with amorphous intents and temperaments.
After the moment of the break, the nearly infinite and random pattern of balls that emerges immediately suggests reactive strategies both short term and long. Tiny missteps change these plans wildly, and if your opponent gets a chance to shoot, you can’t even start to come up with your next strategy until the balls are again at rest and it’s your turn.3 At the end of the game, you reset the balls on a nearly clean slate, but small variations in the depressions made in the felt by your game will alter the course of the next one.
This is an extremely belabored introduction for what I think is my most accurate metaphor: the pool table is your brain and a shooting a game is your three-minute window of short-term memory, or your consciousness. To kick the horse one more time, my entire episode was roughly equivalent to pouring gasoline over my table, setting it on fire, and trying to play a game of straight pool to 450.
I’ve had some complicated conversations about regrets with my friends, because of my opinion on them. I wrote a six-part anti-coming-of-age miniseries with Jake and his brother entitled “With Regrets,”4 where we comically lament the failure of our generation to grow up. I used to abide by the usual “no regrets” mantra, but then a few things happened that I deeply regret. Then again, I like who I am, so that should mean I have no regrets, right?
My friend VikingShaft put it together for me. I was looking at a recently returned bracelet after the protracted and violent end of my engagement, wondering what to do with it. I couldn’t really bring myself to sell it or throw it away, and re-gifting it would be raping the concept of sentiment. So I asked VikingShaft, and he said, without a pause, “Hang it on your wall. Some things you’re not allowed to forget.” That’s exactly what I did. Liking myself blindly isn’t enough. I have to remember the unfixable mistakes, and force myself to hold on to the aches from the past. If it makes me sadder, all the better, as my unforgotten mistakes caution my actions emotionally, not just abstractly. Saying I have no regrets is an unforgivable disservice to all the people I’ve hurt in the past. I embrace my failures, and feel better for feeling worse sometimes.
That said, all my regrets have to do with things I did out of selfishness that hurt other people. The harmless ones I don’t regret; I still do selfish things that annoy and offend people. I don’t care so much about these.5 The really nasty things, whatever my excuses were at the time, I regret.
This episode was not one of those things. Yes, it hurt a lot of people, yes, it fucked up my life for years, but it was formative in who I am today, and at no point in the entire saga did I intend to do harm. That I did do so much harm says much of rats and men, but the lessons were practical, like “I personally shouldn’t do acid” and “don’t do acid at high noon in Bar Harbor” and “get some shut eye before the 168 hour mark.” There was no moment where I was rationalizing an action, that I absolutely knew would hurt someone, for my immediate personal gain. This all started because I wanted to share an amazing experience with my closest friend, and that, plus a lot of naiveté, can go either way.
The personal economic fallout was pretty minor, since I was in college, and not, say, midway through a career and paying my own rent. It took a while to earn back everyone’s trust, but when I did finally get back to college I burned through it like a good little paper-writing monkey.
The emotional toll, if billed in US dollars, would cover an EZ-Pass for the rest of my life. I will be paying this off forever.
Socially, I had to wrangle up a whole new set of friends, but I like these friends, so that’s okay, and politically, I’m banned from public office, as are my children’s children.
Narratively, it was like a reset button. All the regrets and angst stories of my past became trivial. It was a new lease on life, albeit in a shitty cognitive neighborhood. It became a near absolute low point, and having recovered from that, I can stiffen my ego and resolve when faced with new problems, because they’re never as bad. The daily grind, bad days at work, relationship fallout and unemployment all suck, but are laughable hiccups as long as I still have some modest control over my mental faculties. The only things I fear are death and madness in me or mine.6
On to questions:
What kind of drug-user were you before you went mad for three months?
I did a fair but not exhaustive amount of acid. I did shrooms a few times but only liked them the first time. The last time I did shrooms, I literally couldn’t speak for three hours because words kept falling apart in double-meanings in my head, and some girl told me “Sara” really wanted to talk to me and I should call her because otherwise she might hurt herself. I still don’t know know who Sara is,7 so at the time I just nodded and went back to watching thirty-legged spiders crawl over the ceiling. I started hallucinogens fairly late for my demographic, so it was always an intellectual enterprise for me, something I thought I could master. If you go in like this, shrooms are a pain in the ass because they defy mental tricks, and you have just be cool with the fact that you’re literally poisoning yourself. Give me the designer drugs any day.8
I did Ritalin like candy, and my favorite story about that was reading three hundred pages of the wrong book for an assignment. The book I was supposed to be reading was the one next to it on the shelf, and when I went for it, I missed by two inches.
I also smoked pot like it cured cancer.
Have you experienced mental “glitches” prior to this episode?
None. I was 100% mentally stable beforehand, and I’ve been 99% stable since. Outside this period, I’ve never been medicated for a mental issue. My doctors occasionally try to give me something for anxiety, but since I have a good social life, a healthy relationship, and a six-figure job, I tell them I’ll call them when I think I need it.
Where do you stand in the drug war today?
Mostly, I don’t care. When I do care, I consider the “drug war,” which is not a war, a means of incarcerating and killing immigrants and poor people. I support legalization, taxation, and health awareness of all substances, except maybe PCP and crack. This is one of those things that is so fucking obvious I’m ashamed to be human when people debate it; the war on drugs just saps our economy and funds organized crime.
What made you write this story?
If I kept it to myself, it would just be a painful and terrifying memory. If I make it public, it becomes spectacle. Also, I want to stop working a day job, so anything I can say that people might buy gets said. Give me money.
About how many days did you go without sleeping?
Somewhere between 12 and 14. I’m not clear about the exact point I fell asleep. I do know it beats the official world record.
After all that you went through, are you still an advocate (maybe that’s too strong of a word) of LSD and other hallucinogens?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Currently, I believe people are investigating LSD as a way to treat some psychological disorders.9 I also recall hearing about a book where two authors spent years researching LSD, and at the end, one of them said “everybody should do it” and the other said “nobody should do it.”
I’ve been asked this question a lot over my life, even before writing this. When I hear it from people like me who have done it significantly and stopped, it’s usually to start the eternal dialogue we all have: was it worth it? Even before anybody does acid, there are stories similar to mine, mostly apocryphal: every drug community apparently has the guy who thinks he’s a tea pot standing on some corner, or the guy who thinks he’s an orange who won’t let you hug him because you’ll squeeze his juice out. I’ve never met either of these guys, since even though they’ve lived in all the same places I have, they always leave six months before I get there. These are telephone whispers of the risks involved, and everybody who takes acid wonders both what would have happened if they’d never come back, and what would have happened if they’d seen the other side.
I’ve finally figured out that when people who haven’t taken acid ask me this, they’re wondering about doing it themselves, and want some kind of blessing from me to allay their fears, since I describe it in exactly equal terms of ecstasy and agony. This blessing I cannot give. Nor can I warn them away from it, because if I do try to instill fear, that’s all they’ll think about if they ignore me and take it, and if I ease their anxiety, they may take it recklessly.
I reiterate Jun’s quote: “Drugs are a revelation we’re not ready for.” One of the things the aforementioned writers did was feed LSD to buddhist monks. They said it gave them a mild headache, which is emphatically not what it does to most people.
I’m not an advocate of anything, except maybe a better educational system, atheism,10 and being nice to people.11 I cannot in good conscious recommend LSD to anyone, ever. Nor can I, with the same good conscious, tell anybody not to take it. Some guy did a study of the CIA and LSD, since the CIA did so many fucked up things with LSD once they got their hands on it. His conclusion was that LSD was a non-specific psychic enhancer. I think this is accurate, if incomplete, and I think if you put your brain through its paces the hard way, you can achieve all the good things in LSD with less risk of losing your mind, to say nothing of the shitty hangovers. But those paces are long, arduous paces that pretty much take over your life if you walk them, and who wants to do that when there’s cheap beer in the world?
I have no opinion. LSD is simply a substance that does something unique to you, along with penicillin and cyanide. It depends on what you want. I wanted LSD very badly for a while, now I never will again.
How do you know all of those memories were true if you said many of them might be fabricated?
I don’t think any of them are fabricated. Some of them might be, and as time passes, everybody fabricates and alters memories. Witness testimony is the least reliable evidence, and I have slightly more trust in my memories of what happened than a lot of the other things I purport to remember, because every moment was such an extreme experience.
Most of the factual events have multiple witnesses, if not police and medical reports. The only actual physical thing that happened that was out of the ordinary was the vanishing rose-woman and the shooting star splitting. Since they were the only two visual things that happened that were strange, out of three months of madness, and because they have plausible explanations, I assume they happened.
As far as the delusions go, I actually made a list of them shortly after I recovered, and they’ll probably be the last things I remember when I go senile.
Would you say that you were happier when your were insane, or was it just different?
Overall, no difference. I had more extreme feelings, but they balanced out to the same average I have now. People are born with a baseline mood, and they hover around it your whole life, barring extreme chemical or physical changes in the brain, temporary or otherwise. Emotionally, I had the same swings, they just swung farther.
The difference was I had external meaning. Many people search for meaning and invariably end up disappointed or deluded, because there’s no meaning to find. Everybody who has meaning in their lives creates it for themselves, and their desperation for it and the means by which they find it characterize their lives. Whether you seek it with words, gods, institution or protestation, there is no actual meaning Out There, there is only the meaning you create, because meaning is a name for the process of our brains by which we communicate.
I’ve slowly drifted from the Omar Khayyam poetic justification of life, or “we’re all going to die, fuck it, let’s get drunk,” to the Lucretius poetic, or “everything is infinite randomness, life is awesome, let’s get drunk and fuck.” I don’t need a reason to live, I just need access to booze and sex, and that’s motivating enough.
However, I can understand why so many people give up booze and sex and all the other good things in life if they’re let their search for meaning take over their minds to the point when they think they’ve actually found it. That’s what happened to me when my reason left the building, and the thought that the universe cares about you trumps everything.12 It’s not that it made me happier, it just alleviated existential dread. And, frankly, I think alleviating existential dread is bad for humanity: if we really want immortality and rocket ships and all the possible pleasures of existence, we need hubris and dread. Monks be damned.
Do you think there is any merit to using psychedelics for any group/label of mentally ill people? Do you think, at the peak of this experience, LSD/psychedelic therapy could have been any use to you?
I don’t think this guy read everything.
The short answer is no.
The long answer is also no.
The next one is a long two parter:
A) You seem to be implying that there’s such a thing as OBJECTIVELY INSANE and it goes beyond being weird. Or, beyond abnormal. Or, beyond not behaving the way most people behave. That doesn’t make sense to me, given the rest of what you’ve written. As someone who has lost their shit can you go into more detail on what you meant?
I sort of thought this immensely long story would give the answer, but to be explicit, yes, there is such a thing as OBJECTIVELY INSANE. “Weird” and “abnormal” are purely relativistic judgements, thus have little bearing on the psychological and medical realities. You are insane when you’ve lost your ability to second guess, doubt, reason, and adapt your primary narrative to evidence, instead of just finding a way to modify the evidence to mean something that will fit in your narrative. It’s safe to say everybody does this to some degree, but once you do it on a word-by-word basis and knowledge of physical laws are no barrier to the process, you’ve lost your marbles. As I said, it’s a scale, but there’s definitely a dividing zone, past which you’re nuts. The brain is still the same three pounds of flesh; it’s going to work on the same principles no matter what it’s doing. If it can’t distinguish between dreams and reality, it’s broken, but not a fundamentally different thing.
Since so many people have rightly pointed out that we are witnessing a vast social explosion of people squeezing and ignoring facts in favor of their personal narratives, from the truthers13 to the birthers14 to entire demographics, parties, and nations saying things that are not even internally consistent, I’ve been trying hard to think of something that can I point at and say, “if you’re doing this, you’re crazy,” at least for the purposes of average discourse, or nonlinguistic philosophical discourse that comes in under three volumes. It’s particularly hard because the waxing fanatics are blurring the lines, but here is my best shot:
I think I’ve been overusing the term “narrative” to cover my bases, when I sometimes mean “theme.” My actual narrative of what happened was clearly crazy: I thought things that hadn’t happened had, I thought people were other people who were dead, I thought I was specific people I wasn’t. There was a thematic narrative as well, and that was also extremely complex and changing internally rather than at the mercy, but not inherently different from an only slightly bipolar conspiracy theorist or a baptist, or anyone fanatical about anything. Being a fanatic entails the exclusion of reason.
What’s not in question15 is the lingual level. If I say “that’s a car,” you do not nod your head and think, “ah yes, that’s a dragon.” Let’s say that every time I see a yellow car, you actually see what I would call a green dragon, and we’ve just adapted to different driving styles. If this has been going on your whole life, we both still see and communicate “car” without much issue. We share the reference point to a physical entity, and it’s a relatively stable piece of communicable datum.
Now let’s assume we both see an object descended from the Model-T, and not the offspring of a bat fucking an iguana in a wood stove.16 Except now I’m secretly attaching the symbol of car to dragon. I did this by thinking transportation, some people rode dragons in myth, myth is real, myth is symbolism, all is myth, myth is now, dragon is powerful motion and transcendence, car is powerful motion and drive-thru, two out of three ain’t bad, dragon and car are one, merely facets of the gem on the blind men’s elephant’s brow. Good. Now I’ve made two symbols, that I know are different, interchangeable. But I haven’t lost the language, nor the knowledge that is classically bound up in those two symbols. So now I freely mix the referenced qualities of cars and dragons.17 So you can have a perfectly normal conversation with me about cars, since I recognize the actual physical properties of a car, but then I’ll say, “Yeah, it hasn’t been able to fly lately, I think it’s hungry.” You’ll laugh nervously, then try to force what I just said into your car-referencing system, relating “fly” to speed, and “hungry” to oil, gas, or use, and above all try to avoid thinking that I actually believe my car is both a Honda and a thing that gets hungry and flies through the air, because that’s crazy. Odds are you’ll think you’re behind on the slang, and you’ll start telling everybody your car’s “hungry” when it’s low on gas, and can’t “fly” because you haven’t changed the oil, and that will all make perfect sense.
I’m tempted to believe this is how human culture mutates. If you go through this whole process very slowly, you have culture and language. Go through a little faster, you have philosophy and rhetoric. Go through at a canter, you’ve got politics, and if you break into a gallop, you’re insane. The faster the process, the easier it is to get smaller, more literal symbols in the mix. Think about this sentence: “God is God but not God, God is everything, God is the water and the wave, the vision and its completion.” Sunday morning, right? Now, trying to make Friday night before prom something worth confessing on Sunday: “Love is Love but not Love, Love is everything, Love is the water and the wave, the vision and its completion.” Sweet. I’ve just demonstrated how the bible can be used to get young atheists laid. Grab a short passage, replace God with Love, and say it to an insecure girl late at night. This can be done because Love and God are both huge, ancient symbols describing nothing in particular. Love, God, Earth, Hell, Heaven, Hope, Faith, etc. are all big words people argue about, because by the process of insane osmosis18 these words have merged with every other concept and thought process we have, and thus mean jack all. They’re shortcuts between other, more literal concepts.
Now check this out: “My car is my car but not my car, my car is everything, my car is the water and the wave, the vision and its completion.” You say this, you’re fucking crazy, no matter how much you “love” your car. “Car” is a small literal concept, like pinky, femur, or table, that can’t be randomly attached to other murky metaphors. Now imagine crazy land, where every single word and concept was like Love, God, or Cool.
B) A definition of crazy that I’m rather fond of is laughing when nobody else is laughing, or crying when nobody else is crying. Maybe all you mean is: a simply weird person learns how to behave in a not crazy way when it matters, which makes them not crazy. A crazy person can’t figure out that this is key to their survival in society. Does this jive?
No, it doesn’t jive. This is sophomoric diarrhea. Many people laugh when nobody else is laughing or cry when nobody else is crying; these are simply normal reactions to different information, or a perfectly normal difference in interpretation. Envision this scenario: a bar full of people watching the news, a report comes on about a woman who died from an infected weasel bite. One of the people in the bar is Dave Barry, who rightly finds all things weasel related funny, so he laughs. One of the other people is the guys widow, and she bursts into tears. Even if you say this is an exception and not indicative of a life long habit, a person who laughs when nobody else is laughing is Andy Kaufman, or for that matter anyone who gets an obscure pun because of rare knowledge, and a person who cries when nobody else is crying is half the depressed people I know. You may say that if the widow laughed, she’d be crazy, and that’s the distinction because she’s reacting to a situation atypically, but it could just be an effective coping mechanism, or she could be a psychopath, and a psychopath isn’t necessarily crazy. We could play this game all night, repositioning the situation, but we won’t get anywhere. This is a ridiculous definition.
A truly crazy person can survive just fine in society, and—under the right circumstances—can do better than a “weird” person, or run a country. I’m submitting that crazy in the way I was crazy is not a social definition, it was a severe chemical lapse in my brain’s ability to do its job. I’ve heard people say “if everybody was crazy, the sane ones would seem crazy.” Also not true. If everybody was real deal crazy, civilization would collapse overnight. You may have the thoughts and dreams of a god, but you have the practical living skills of a retarded puppy.
After speaking to Jun, I would be remiss in pointing out a couple of things. Yes, I do argue that the drugs didn’t help me get cured, but it’s important to note I didn’t jump off any piers or buildings once I was on them. I did steal a car, sure, but I actually thought I was being directed to steal a car; the drugs made me supremely biddable, which is important when your autonomous direction is telling you to drive to San Francisco and tame alien queens. I was also able to make a complete recovery because I had no underlying chronic mental illnesses, if you do have such an illness, please do not stop taking your meds and expose yourself to complex social environments. I’m sorry to say that severe bipolar disorder is not going to go away, nor will persistent schizophrenia or psychosis. I didn’t stop taking my drugs until long after I recovered, and then I was carefully weened from them under the supervision of three separate doctors.
I’ve mentioned many things good and bad about the psychiatric profession. If held parallel to the rest of the medical profession, psychiatry is making progress, but has yet to find its germ theory. It will be many, many years before the brain is cracked, and until then, they’re doing the best they can. I put drug manufacturers right next to oil and tobacco companies in terms of diabolical evilness, but the innovators and prescribers of these drugs are trying to help people, with some results. Drugs are ubiquitously over-prescribed these days, because drug companies can profit by expanding the hazy demarcation between functional and non-functional on the continuum of mental problems. Everybody has psychotic thoughts once in a while; non-psychotic people call it creativity. Everybody has mood swings; if those swings go between from suicidal depression to psychotic mania, it’s bipolar disorder. Since illnesses and personality quirks are not a fundamentally different operations of the brain, the unprincipled can blur the distinctions to profit from the untrained. Everybody on Earth has a variation of ADD, especially when growing up. It can be so severe the person literally cannot function, but frankly, I know a number of pretty bad, unmedicated cases, myself included, and we’re all programmers, musicians, and artists. The mind oscillates between neurotic reflection, which spirals inward, and psychotic, nearly random connections, which create new patterns and loops of thinking. Either of these operations can go too far, and the trick to enjoying good mental health is, by whatever means, finding a stable speed and breadth for these oscillations. You can’t stop them, and have a single, perfectly rational train of thought, because your brain is a rushing river and your control over it is not the control of the earth or a god, it’s a small team of civil engineers.
Finally, and I cannot overstate this, I am not a doctor. I have no training or license, I have a handful of mediocre psych classes from a school I left eight years ago. At best, I am a dilettante armchair scholar, and any advice I may have appeared to have given should not, under any circumstances, be construed as something that could take the place of professional consultation. When I needed details about the medical parts of this story, I went to medical professionals. This is just a story, and to quote my brother, “I am not special and so is everyone else.”
Ultimately, I think LSD gave me a window into the universe I’m glad to have, even if it also shoved me out of said window. I am happier, more productive, and definitely much better paid since I quit drugs, but I firmly support the legalization of marijuana. In fact, I think there should be mandatory joint a day for everyone with a job except me. But every drug is a remixing of the mind that can be achieved without the drug. I say I miss weed and drugs in general, but I’ve realized over the years that the reason I’ve haven’t done them in so long is not because I can’t do them, or that I fear them.19 It’s because I don’t need them.
Thanks to all who wrote me with your stories and comments. They have been at turns flattering, enlightening, and informative. (I would say humbling, but I’d be lying; I am a magnificent specimen of manhood and I knew that years ago.) In the course of writing this, I’ve returned to the scenes of some of the crimes, taken pictures, contacted people I haven’t seen in years, found I misremembered a few things, and remembered some new things I did and thought. Also, the whole plan backfired horribly: I wanted to stop having protracted conversations about this, now it’s all anybody wants to talk about.
So, given all of the above, I said fuck it, and I’m going to edit it, expand on it, do more research, release it as a book, and accept that the best case scenario is that this is all I will talk about for the rest of my goddamn life, but maybe it will get people to read my novel once it comes out.
1 Poor people tend not to be good at golf and polo.
2 I basically never hear any pool player make all the obvious jokes inherent to the game, because you know from age seven on that they’re just too easy. The only exception was when my friend was talking about getting a replacement front end for his cue from the pool manufacturer Viking, and said “When I got my Viking shaft…”
3 This is why pool is a great drinking game. You don’t need to pay the slightest attention to your opponent’s actions.
4 And yes, this title is registered with the WGA, so we’ll sue if you steal it.
5 This blog alone has left me running out of people to offend.
6 And spiders.
7 Or was.
8 Well, don’t, but you know what I mean.
9 I’m not doing the research on this, and please don’t bore me by telling me about it.
10 Atheism; not anti-theism
11 Because why is this so fucking hard?
12 Note, however, how much of my delusional escapades involved sex.
13 Don’t write to me.
14 Don’t write to me.
15 Unless you really have a serious amount of time on your hands.
16 I say natural selection demands that if you did this enough times, something would survive, and I bet that something would be a dragon. If there are any crazy people reading this right now, you have your mission.
17 Programmers can think of this as suddenly finding a lot of bad pointers. In fact, even though only ten percent of my audience got that joke as it was meant, the colloquial and literal uses of “pointer” also apply, so you’re all thinking of something different. See? YOU’RE ALL MAD. But actually not, since the term “pointer” long ago lost any literal attachment to an object, so it has fewer definite qualities, and more metaphorical heft, without risk of madness. You can watch this process in action if you keep track of the public usage of the word “osmosis.” Or “democratic” for that matter.
18 Choke on it, grammar nazis.
19 Except for LSD.