“Have you noticed that Amsterdam’s concentric canals resemble the circles of hell? The middle-class hell, of course, peopled with bad dreams. When one comes from the outside, as one gradually goes through those circles, life becomes denser, darker.” -Albert Camus, The Fall
“To embrace my fantasy is to accept my godhood. To fear my fantasy is to accept my place in reality.” -David Verbeek, Fantastaphobia
“Looking down on empty streets, all she can see are the dreams all made solid, are the dreams all made real. All of the buildings, all of those cars were once just a dream in somebody’s head. There in the midst of it, so alive and alone, words support like bone.” -Peter Gabriel, Mercy Street
PART 1: Onset
Overlooking the ladies of the night in the light of day, preening like mannequins in their red-lit windows on the other side of the canal, my cousin, two of his friends, and I sat on the stoop of a famous little church in the center of Amsterdam, ingesting strange fruit. It wasn’t forbidden fruit per se, but when two policemen pulled up on bicycles there was a moment of regrouping. The fruit was gone by then, hidden in our bellies, but my cousins’ friend was caught green-handed rolling a spliff and, as the sober discourse between him and the lawmen went, that was something you were supposed to do at the designated coffee shops, not in the quaint cobblestone streets. They excused us, because we pretended we were from out of town, and they were about to send us on our way, when the plastic packaging that had contained the magic mushrooms, discarded on the steps around us, caught their eye.
“Those yours?” One of the policemen asked.
“These?” My cousin’s friend said, playing the fool. “No, sir, not ours.”
There was no apparent reason for him to have lied — mushrooms were legal here, we’d bought them moments earlier at what is called a smart shop, but still. A rebellious habit perhaps deterred the young man from telling the truth, plus he probably didn’t want them snooping around his rabbit hole and catching wind of the wonderland of illegalities he was carrying in his case. I also understood he’d served some time for a robbery a while back, so perhaps that played into his motivation as well.
“Well,” the policeman politely requested. “Would you mind picking them up and tossing them away?”
We all complied courteously, but our friend had one more button to push.
“What are these anyway, officer?” He asked.
“I dunno, prolly some kind of, uh, fruit container.”
Strange fruit, indeed.
It was the fabled year 2000. This was my first time returning to Amsterdam since I had migrated, and it was largely a sojourn colored by the deepening of my recent interest in psychotropic exploration. I was eighteen and had been living in the US for about six months then, and the isolation I felt in South Florida lead me to start an affair with that psycho-sensual seductress, Marijuana. I took her on dates — I’d take to the movies, to the beach at night, take her painting, writing; I took her everywhere really. Our conversations were mentally and spiritually stimulating and I found myself often jotting down — mapping — a lot of our exchanges, her dictations, shaping them into my perceptual outlook.
Now, back in Amsterdam, I visited my favorite coffeeshop, and spent my days getting high on small bits of potent, crystal-covered plant-matter, carefully documenting the subtle shifts in my awareness. Being back in the place where she is plentiful and where her presence is tolerated, it was funny to think I had moved abroad to fully appreciate her. She had always been so readily available to me throughout my youth, and though we’d had some casual encounters, I was never so much interested in a serious relationship with her. Until I found myself in South Florida, at the end of my existential hemp rope, isolated, loveless, and largely friendless — when certain cool thespian types caught wind of my origins and set me up with our mutual friend, Marijuana. It was in their home that I first fell in love. When all their attentions drifted towards glowing screens — Comedy Central or video games — she took my hand and directed it to a pencil and some paper, flirtatiously persuading me to experiment. I found myself awakening circuits that had long lay dormant. It had been years since I had drawn, but now I was craftily and confidently sketching what I saw — portraits of my friends, surrounded by the subtle psychic inventory of their outwardly projected interiority, along with written non-sequiturs that my antenna picked up in passing conversation.
Now, as I had proven to be a diligent and attentive lover, Marijuana felt I might be ready to meet her friends. A bunch of fun guys and fun gals, who I remembered hearing stories about in my mid teens, from a friend who seemed lost for words in trying to convey a peculiar state of mind that had left some kind of vaguely impressive impression on him. I would kind of write it off, dismiss it as a drug experience, consider him a bit troubled when he tried to talk about the stuff. But what I had found slightly intriguing, though impossible for me to fully fathom, was that he had told me that, one time, he had seen a gnome walk up to him and hit him on the hand with a little hammer, which was so real that it caused him to swiftly retreat his hand — much to the amusement of his trip-buddy. Beyond this story, I had no idea what to expect. I was not yet familiar with the responsible philosophy of “set & setting”, only that of Fear & Loathing. I had this idiotically naive notion that reality was some immutable, externally given, objective fact, and I never questioned that. I just took it for granted. I expected that the mushroom was going to get me high — the way Marijuana got me high — maybe with the added luxury of a hallucination, like a dwarf hammering my hand, but I also assumed that this hallucination would be easily discernible from what was real, as an objectively verifiable falsehood in my mind.
And so, unassuming, I welcomed her friends in. My first impression of them left a bad taste in my mouth, which I washed away with a can of Coca Cola that advertised Always beneath its brand name, as if to foreshadow that I was ingesting implements of eternity.
Walking away from the scene of our ingestion like a gang of droogs up to no good, we laughed and echoed the cop’s fatuous response “prolly a fruit container of some kind”. It had only been a matter of maybe ten minutes since I ingested those 28 grams of fresh Psilocybe Mexicana — double the dose recommended for beginners, I would later read — but because I had accidentally fasted, they came on faster, and I got transcendentally blasted. A feeling of anticipatory excitement rose inside me, as if I were being pulled up on a rollercoaster before its downward trajectory. A lightness gathered in my gut and my giddiness took shape as colorful orbs, like bubbles fizzling from the beaker of my body, drifting off with my awareness in every direction. So even then — ten minutes in — I was already literally tripping balls. Levity triumphed over gravity; the ground below me had a bounce to it, my step feeling more springy and elf-like, spry.
“I feel like I’m in a Daft Punk video,” I said. I must have been thinking of Revolution 909, the only Daft Punk video I knew, shown to be me by that old friend I mentioned earlier, the one who’d been assailed by a hallucinatory carpenter gnome.
We passed under a bridge, through a tunnel under the overpass. Its darkness enveloped us, shrouding us with its tangibly cold and spooky essence. I could feel the emotive shift, the light-sensitivity of the others.
Futile voices conversed, perhaps hoping to light the darkness and keep its monsters at bay with their words.
“Whoa, It’s really dark” someone remarked, a dry contained acoustic.
“Yeah… H-how dark do you think it is?” Said another, having obviously not examined their rhetoric. Humans have a tendency to cling to arbitrary quantification, as the feeling of infinity encroaches upon the senses.
“Thirty,” I chimed in, meeting stupidity with absurdity. I could feel the zigzagging jigsaw of puzzlement squiggle along the wriggles of their brain.
“Thirty? Thirty what?”
Emerging from the dark tunnel, as though from some seemingly eternal birth canal, we were born into the cityscape of Dam Square. The bright, bustling vista flared up with the rapid dilation of my pupils adjusting to the eruptions of chaos and cacophony encompassed by the overwhelming scene, the nexus of the now — the weight of potential catastrophe bearing down on it. The unnerving promise that anything is possible. As though at any moment a collision could happen if I did not find some order, some pattern in it. If I did not keep it together. Whatever it is that was regulating all this ubiquitous traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, was an unsettling mystery. And if no-one was directing this orchestra, did that mean it was all left to its own manifold volition, helplessly out of control? It felt as though I observed the modern world from some ancient vantage point, the cosmic mind of the natural world in which all invented, human artifice — ordinarily taken as The Real World — was embedded. The sound of an ambulance’s blaring siren with its Doppler effect was the especially abrasive and concerning icing on the catastrophic cake.
My cousin commiserated with me, which reassured me, and I reclaimed the harmony of our togetherness. It was his first time too. My cousin was a talented musician and had been playing in a band with these two guys he’d brought a long on the trip, both of which were already experienced in this department. He and I, growing up, did not see each other often, but when we did we shared a genuine connection based on our mutual love of music, film, and later cannabis. We were pretty much the only ones in our family passionate about these things. Except perhaps for our grandfather — my father’s father, his mother’s father — who had survived the holocaust. He never cared for cannabis, but was a gifted visual artist with an affinity for The Beatles and Buster Keaton, and undoubtably the genetic source for our creative interests. We had both been very fond of him. After his funeral, a few years before this trip, my cousin and I ventured into Amsterdam as well and bonded over a spliff, commemorating our forefather in our own way. It was only natural that we would share this maiden voyage into “psilocyber space” together as well.
Next thing I knew, a small memory lapse later, I was completely captivated by a silvery face extending holographically from the surface of a concert poster. I was utterly astounded. Gasping and awestruck, how was this possible? What kind of advanced technology had been utilized to achieve this miraculous effect? I turned to the others to share this moment of flabbergasted, wild-eyed amazement only to find them, a droll posse of three, still fully submerged in mundane reality, unfazed by this most remarkable sight. In fact, it seemed they didn’t even see what I saw! (Did that mean… it was just a normal poster?)
The leader of the pack, the one who was most experienced when it came to drugs — the one who had pushed his luck with the bike cops earlier — explained that “this happens sometimes when people are tripping,” and his dismissive comment rubbed me the wrong way. I found the fact that he couldn’t see what I was experiencing at that moment, but still pretended to be non-specifically in-the-know, terribly offensive; casually brushing off my revelation like it was commonplace, even though he couldn’t currently access it himself.
I didn’t express this outwardly though. Perplexed, I just shook it off, and we carried on, deeper into the heart of the city and the essence of The New Now.
A lady in a red dress walked towards me and swanned past; meeting my eyes in passing, she smiled flirtatiously, sharing a secret. Everything softened to serenity. Her entire being glowed with radiant significance — like she was an actress spotlit in the movie of my life, a hired extra, and my life a sort of Truman Show, this entire trip staged, fated… Her fleeting presence pulsed with reproductive mysteries — the origins and future of the species. As though my eyes were on her leash my entire body swung around with this vixen’s passing, keeping my gaze fixed on her, uninterrupted. I must have just stood there staring at her shrinking form as she sauntered into the distance, this femme fatale, she who guards man’s fate. Her dress was so vividly red that everything else was muted, pale in comparison. Everything else was gray.
A commonly known effect of psychedelic inebriation is synesthesia, the cross-wiring of the senses, like smelling colors or seeing sounds — but a lesser known effect is what I have termed “cinesthesia,” which is the blending and blurring of the lines between reality and cinema.
You see, this trip took place right around the time that the first Matrix movie had hit theaters, and that would have been the logical connection to make when I chanced upon the lady in red, but my mind was on the wrong track, and instead of making that connection it drew upon a different red dress reference — further evidence that I was teetering on the gambling brink of ecstasy and entropy:
“This… this doesn’t feel right…” I pondered in soliloquy at no one in particular. “Shindler’s List? This can’t be right if it’s like Shindler’s List…”
“It’s all right,” my cousin reassured me, pulling me back to the surface after my brief dip into the pool of genetic trauma. “I saw her too. We all saw her. Come on, let’s go to The Cave…”
Oh yeah, I recalled — my mind refreshed with purpose, steadied by the pattern of my habit and the foresight of my ritual. We were going to The Cave, my staple coffeeshop, a tastefully, candle-lit cavern with the aesthetic of a Hindu underworld — something between a bar, a cave and a temple, but also giving off the sense that it could be the interior passageway of some opiated ant hill.
By the time we reached The Cave, I felt really good, mightily acclimatized to the maniac highness of this trip. The place was alive, and I’m not just referring to the human co-mingling commotion inside. No, the actual place itself was alive. The spaces between the mosaic floor-tiles were slithering like serpent river channels, and the giant, intricately painted mandala on the central wall was writhing with meditative swells. At the center of its labyrinth a painted Kali figure danced, lording over all, yet small and captive in its central prison. I perceived empty faces, extending holographically from the surface of the terra-cotta walls. The walls were breathing; colorful hues drifted on their surface, changing along the cadence of my respiration, phasing from green to orange to red. Gracefully, like waves ebbing and flowing on the shore, they seemed to be regulated by my personal mood. The colors registered in my mind as “energy”. Downtempo music filled the air as well, equally tangible and colorful.
I began slithering my hands in a dance-like fashion; fingertips facing one another, sending undulating waves, elegant and rave-like waves, along my fingers, hands, and arms. These fluid, serpentine motions summoned strands of these seemingly sentient colors towards me, braiding them into the subtle, expressive dance of my extremities, which in turn became more pleasurable and dynamic. My cousin and his friend tuned in to what was occurring, and my cousin got caught up in the excitement of these seemingly supernatural motions and their effects.
“How are you doing th — that’s really cool — do you see what he’s doing? Wow, that’s cool!” he said, sincerely astonished, and there was communion in that moment. But then I replied from my unassuming subjectivity, in that quizzical way, “yeah, especially when it goes green.”
“G-green? Haha… W-what are you talking about?”
I assumed that he had been reacting to these “energies” that I perceived, shifting with my motions, some colors more preferable than others. But as it turned out, yet again, the others did not see what I saw, even though the colors seemed as objectively real as anything else in the room.
It seemed that when I expressed my subjective experience it cast a cold wave of separation from what seemed otherwise, when unspoken, to be warmly One — when spoken it cast others into contemplative isolation. Perhaps they worried about where my experience had drifted off to, or perhaps they envied that they were not in this super-sensual mindset. Useless, worrisome Mobius’ strips of concern, negative feedback loops — of my imagination of others’ imaginations of my imagination — fed on me, subliminally.
The more I’d drift into thought, the further I was from my carefree outward exploration, and the closer I was to visions adrift in the starlit void of my interior. There was my own face; silver like the hologram I’d imagined earlier — just the head, afloat in a vacuum. Most notably, just the face, the facade — the mask of me — an empty image that brought to mind the peeled faces in M.C. Escher’s Bond of Union — the glassy eyes gazing vacuously, stoically enraptured with eternal dream. The face turned ever so slightly, just a notch, like a tic — the motion looped eternally like a twitching glitching GIF. And it spoke the word “trip” overandoverwithoutpause, till it sounded like “drip”, till it sounded like no more than a sound, a modulating drone, an ever-expanding reverberating chirp.
A waitress came to take our order. My cousin was having difficulty with the commonplace task of the procedure and explained that we were shrooming. The waitress was sympathetic and said casually that she had gone on “a little trip” just the other day. I couldn’t believe how casually she was able to say that, without feeling the need to further explain her experience. I felt that what was happening to me, whatever it was, was extraordinary, and I found it absolutely offensive that no one had ever openly talked about this. Luckily I had also been rehearsing my drink order in my head, so when she reached me I could subdue the chaos by simply reciting my order. Like a magic summoning, it arrived not much later in a glass with ice cubes.
All the while I had been trying to pack weed into my little black pipe, and attempting to light it. This last bit proved futile, because my lighter sparked but did not flare into a flame. It was frustrating, felt like a flint-stoned caveman’s dilemma; I shook it, tried again, and when it again failed me I didn’t know what else to do but try and pack more weed into my pipe. I was like a malfunctioning automaton, continuing to perform a task repetitively, even after its completion was practically attained. Pack the pipe. Pack the pipe some more. Pack it, the pipe. Pack it some more. Not unlike the skipping-record effect of my triptriptrip GIF vision, the glitch that kept me from functioning beyond this mode of over-emotionally frustrating OCD was perhaps due to the repressed dissonance of my subconscious, existential spite — about the fact that there was some unexplainably arcane reality that no one had tried to disclose, perhaps out of laziness, or perhaps a witch had cursed the tongues of humanity, rendering these matters unspeakable! Or perhaps my frustration simply had to do with the fact that I myself could not explain, could not map the shifts that were now occurring at a supernatural rate.
I tried the lighter again, cussed, and caught my cousin’s attention. He tilted his head, amused, like an curious animal catching wind of another’s senselessness. He observed, and asked me what I was doing. I explained superficially that the lighter was malfunctioning, and asked if there was something he could do about it.
“Lemme see,” he responded, snatched the lighter from my hand, tossed it into an empty corner of The Cave, and laughed.
At first I laughed along, but my gaze followed the lighter as it disappeared into that vacant, dim-lit corner, and a sadness welled up in me, because I had been spending my days in this place, getting high and taking notes on the subtle shifts of my awareness — of the peculiar non-sequiturs and strange thoughts that would sing through my bemused mind. And every day that corner had been inhabited by a small group of what seemed to me like self-realized freaks, Spanish caravan folks, carnies — those who had run off and joined some dark proverbial circus. Everyday I’d receive the reassuring, acknowledging nods of the knowing ones. But now, they were missing — evidence that time was taking its toll, that a change had taken place, and I hadn’t noticed it — and the only thing that now filled their absence was my malfunctioning flame. Had they been avatars, ambassadors from this dimension, this altered state, there to nudge me onwards, encouraging me to enter into their realm? What strange notions.
I grabbed my drink, stood up, stated something about my trajectory, and strode towards the light at the end of the cave — the exit, the street! Like the steadycam POV of The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up I watched the drinking glass engulf my lens, my vision filtered and distorted through its refracting blur, as the liquids and ice cubes poured into my mouth. I crunched the ice cubes ferociously — very satisfying — and felt powerful, like I was crushing the North Pole between my jaws.
At the opening of The Cave, I paused in the portal, stood among the cigarette smokers and outsiders on the gab — non-specifically scanning the streets, taking it all in — a buzzing perceptual blur. It was still light out, just before twilight. A busy and dazzling display of energies danced before me, the mingling of personalities, sounds, lights and architecture.
In that moment it all distanced from me, the thought that this was all a dream and that it didn’t matter addressed me, so I let the glass freely roll from my hand, as if in response, effortlessly released from my grasp, like some profound metaphor — letting go — as I simultaneously slipped into the dissociative shelter of my interior, merging with that sound of freedom, the glass violently shattering into a thousand pieces. I was indifferent to the concerned murmurs that welled up outside of me, seeming superficial and insincere, cultured reactions to a liberated gesture, and I stepped boldly into the impending night.
PART 2: Peak
I, whoever I was then, had stepped boldly into the pedestrian streets in search of a light to call my own, but I didn’t get far before I was completely overwhelmed with confusion again, to the point of immobility. Bicycles zipped by, the metronomic ticking of spokes at odd time signatures, foreign conversations, the lights, neon signs, distant music. All too much, ill-orchestrated, a disjoint symphony.
A self-evident voice of informative light haloed my head, and spoke in the sweetest voice — it said, (En dit is dan dus leven…) and so this, then, is life… it was as much a statement as it was a question. In fact it called me to question it as a statement, because all this life was now so foreign to me. Was this life? This?
I did what any human would do in times of confusion, I attempted to quantify: I checked my watch and tried to tell Time, but Time would not listen. My watch was an indecipherable tool. No matter how closely I held it to my eye, or how faraway — squinting to try and pinch a grain of sense between my eyelids — that it was nine o’clock meant nothing then. It was a completely useless and broken understanding. Something rattled inside when you shook it. The only thing it came to mean was that nine o’clock was the hour when I noticed little bubbles pulsing under the skin of my arm — my blood pulsing through my veins! My heartbeat! This was time telling me!
(En dit is dan illusie…)
And so this, then, is illusion…
Time! Everything around me was changing so rapidly. With the dimming of daylight, the territory of the unknown expanded faster than I was able to map it, and my mind was slipping entirely off the charts. Information flooded my filters, slipped through the cracks, infiltrating my thoughts; there was no turning back. Every facet of existence was competing for my attention, all things distracting from each other, decentralized, unstable. I was undergoing a perceptual apocalypse. My life in Miami, these past six months, a distant dream. Did the US still exist, even? Even this city that I had known so well in my youth, was turning into an unquantifiable dreamscape. All I knew was that this had something to do with a vague recollection of my cousin and I, sitting on the steps of a church, ingesting some kind of strange fruit.
Looking down at the Hawaiian shirt I was wearing, I noticed the shoreline and the sky depicted in shades of blues, black and grays, were set in motion, flowing, a self-contained universe. So vividly alive, I felt like I could take refuge in it.
It was then that a strangely lucid, cinesthetic notion descended upon me, as I thought of my best friend David. The logic that lorded over this altered state bore an uncanny resemblance to the philosophical ideas he had set out in a short animated film that I had helped him make, shortly before I moved to the US. The film was called Fantastaphobia — a neologism that signifies the fear of embracing one’s fantasy — The Imagination, wherein lies the seed of one’s divinity. It offered a rather prophetic look at the virtual frontiers of inner-, outer- and cyberspace — poetically navigating a future in which humans had linked their minds up with their technologies, harnessing their potential of becoming gods by creating what he termed “second reality”. These were virtual worlds made of thoughtforms, peopled with autonomous creatures that would help the “gods” find the answers that lay beyond the bounds of their Divine Ignorance, extending them one tier deeper down the infinite well. These creations, in effect, hatched a nesting doll universe — “worlds within worlds, gods within gods”.
In this world of David’s invention, there were hierarchic levels of divine creativity. I had provided the voice-over for an insecure, stuttering Level-3, a low level god, who showed the audience the simple paradisiacal world he had created — a “state of order in its climax,” he had called it. A world in which his creations could take refuge, find comfort, and be happy. But his world proved unstable, unsustainable, collapsing under the critical gaze of a visiting Level 9. This Higher Level Being explained that it was not him, but reality itself that had darkened the Level 3’s world, because its foundations were not attuned to the laws of a more complex, Higher Truth. The comforts of paradise lacked the drive towards advancement. It lacked the ambition to conquer the mystery’s many dimensions, to solve the puzzle of universal understanding, and “systemize itself towards complete self awareness”. Because the inhabitants of the Level 3’s world had shunned chaos and settled for being content, they didn’t stand The Test of Time.
All these themes now rang so close to home for me, as my twilight world slowly darkened. It seemed like the world I was now inhabiting — because I actually started to believe I was inhabiting a parallel world — was the philosophical realization of David’s implanted semantics! And if this was indeed akin to that world, which he had glimpsed, grasped, and analogically relayed, then he would surely be able to help me better understand what was happening to me! Yes, perhaps he could help me understand the foundations of this “Higher Truth” to which one must attune in order for one’s reality to stabilize and sustain itself in the face of radical change. I realized I urgently needed to get to David’s house before it was too late, before all was lost, before reality was irreversibly distorted beyond recognition, return, or redemption.
But… one small problem. David had left for New York the day before. But did New York still exist? It seemed this world I found myself in right now was the only world in existence, and well, I stubbornly decided, against all odds and rationality — perhaps in this world David will still be here in Amsterdam! Only one way to find out!
And so I drifted, as if magnetically attracted, in the direction of his house, towards the wise man, towards the answers. But when I hit the miraged main street, I stopped in my tracks as the truncated tree of knowledge came plummeting onto my path. The street, receding back into the twilight sky, was a mirage of polished, mirrored marble awash with the sky’s reflection, an oil-slick sheen of prismatic iridescence coating all surfaces. Distorted impressions of what I could only assume were humans omni-directionally traversed these mirrored stones.
Not only was my mind releasing reality from its rational grasp, but the physical world and all its solid and separate forms were now dissolving into an impressionistic, vibrational pixilation wherein all things bled into one another — wherein situations, emotions, and circumstances were the only true entities in existence, and persons proved to be mere mediums by which these processes expressed themselves.
Depth perception was almost illusory. Though I could see the street from my localized perspective, it felt as though I was equally tuned in to all ubiquitous happenings stretched out before me, near and far. The people-specked street was an overwhelming ocean of informational pulsation, a palate of mind-blending gene-swarms writhing and mixing their uncontainable colors uncontrollably. One of these chattering personalities-reduced-to-vibrationality approached me, chirped into my lens, then left again.
Picture the holy terror painted on my awestruck face.
The sky domed over it all like a cusping tidal wave, as if the sheltering night sky could at any moment come crashing down to crush all this impersonal, insectoid humanity — these once-upon-a-people in the streets of Amsterdam, all chattering, chirping in fractal foreign tongues. Myriad world languages all melted together into alien chatter, none of which I could decipher, all sound reaching me in simultaneity. The nightmarish Babel of boiled down dialects churned through my being till they flooded my overloaded senses with oceans of blissful oblivion — its bottled-up bodily momentum gathered in the transcendental elevator shaft of my being till it was about to burst! And I must have pressed that button “up & out” because I was all at once blasted from my body and rocketed into the sky in a glass elevator (the sound of glass shattering into a thousand pieces, the sound of freedom) — my being expanding over the sky and the earth.
My expansiveness was made manifest to me like the conclusion of an episode of The Twilight Zone — my expanding perspective, like a craning camera pulling into the sky, zooming back to reveal more and more — with me, the soul-evacuated, molted man-husk, stranger-in-a-strange-land, standing in the middle of the mirage-like streets of the cricket people’s planet.
I was back in that vacuum in space, where the glass face had floated, except now I was it, and a voice-over narrated the following words:
“Imagine a man who desperately felt the need to try psychedelics, exposing him to the truth we’ve been trying to protect him from his entire life.”
For me that moment of solipsistic, free falling consciousness marks the crossroads. My panicked, disincarnate soul began frantically praying into that void, begging really — pleading with the invisible god-or-void-knows-what behind the curtain, to whatever it is that lords over the emptiness — begging for another chance to take my place in the composed illusion of the human world, promising I’d do things differently this time around, repenting my sin of having eaten the fruit.
I believe that is when they contacted me. When they expanded me, that’s when they contracted me. I suspect that somewhere in that rattling tattle of plea-bargains and promises I caught the attention of… something, or someone, and I signed its contract there on the crossroads.
It seems obvious now that I had been strategically maneuvered to end up in this compromising cosmic chaos. That this moment was engineered to occur. Whatever it was, it had been using me for years, testing me and communicating with me through the liquid crystal display of my computer screen, engaging my sub- and unconscious, magnetizing these states to the forefront of my awareness, allowing me to write all those strange screenplays — those abstract Twilight Zone-ish screenplays that held up a divinatory mirror to the deeper dream-logic of my mind-made-manifest. Then they gradually inspired me to loosen the format, to evolve the language — into prose, into lyrical poetry, into music, until I grew aware of it — The Living Language and what it had to convey.
PART 3: Comedown
An hour or two later I had reached safety. Home at last. There was a documentary playing on the TV, about the making of Gladiator and I saw Russell Crowe addressing the camera as a pompous stooge, inauthentically showing off nothing in particular. Then, in an instant, all my senses heightened in intensity and swelled momentously like the last water speedily spiraling down a drain, before returning me to utmost normalcy.
Base-level sobriety. As if literally the last bit of the perceptual poison had passed through my body. Now I was back in, shall we say, “reality”, and the secret of the parallel world has been cunningly hidden away again, locked behind the appearance of normalcy, gaslighting me. The entire inanimate world testified to the denial of its existence. Move along now, nothing to see here.
Perplexed, I looked around the quiet, empty room, as if I were looking for some clue to tell me if I was still “dreaming”, and that’s when the phone rang.
It was past midnight, and this was a landline, so it was a bit unlikely that this was happening, but I cautiously placed my hand on the horn, paused a beat, lifted the receiver and skeptically placed it to my ear.
“Hey, it’s me.”
It was my cousin.
“That was fun, huh,” he said. “A little trip?”
“Yeah…” I said, drearily, dreamily collecting my thoughts. “It was like the Matrix, like my whole life had been a lie.”
“Hold on, I gotta go, we’re driving right now, let me call you back.”
He called back an hour later and we basically repeated the same conversation, word for word. He was checking in to make sure I was okay, that I had gotten home safe, because the last time he saw me I was in the middle of the road, forking a stream of slow-moving traffic, while my mind was submerged in a vision of an alien puppeteer towering over a ruinous amphitheater, remote-controlling my and everyone else’s actions. I was wandering somewhere between the stars and the street; my head up in space and my feet on concrete, when my cousin’s hand on my shoulder called me back to consensual reality. The blemishes on his face were holographically hovering before him, disconnected from his skin’s surface. He had reminded me of a fraggle. I think those were my last words to him, delivered with laughter, before he and his friends went their way and I communicated I had my own path to traverse.
After hanging up the phone, my once solid mind was now set in motion, running like a faucet, dripping like a knowing nose that could now see further than its own tip, but didn’t quite know how to make sense of what it was seeing. I did my best to recall the previous night, recounting my steps — from my outer-body-experience to the safe-haven of my home.
After my encounter at the crossroads, I recalled retching cavernously without actually throwing up, and felt relief when I saw the lit-up face of a tram appear, approaching in the distance like a supernatural apparition, a valiant, mechanical worm in whose intestines I could travel. Inside the tram it had felt like the entire vehicle was rotating vertically, like a tumbler of lotto balls. An older woman on the tram had reminded me of the Dutch queen Beatrix, and she had been looking at me, sneakily from the corner of her eye, eliciting paranoia as she amusedly gossiped to her friend, “look at this one, look at him”.
The names of the same stops seemed to repeat endlessly at every platform we passed, and I was absolutely convinced that it was all (not-so-merrily-merrily-merrily) but a dream, and since none of it mattered I had considered following the blond girl with the nice breasts who got off at the same stop as me — the end of the line, quiet and suburban — but thought better of it when my conscience chimed in that things were starting to feel more familiar and that it was possible that this was not a dream, after all.
By the time I arrived at my sister’s vacant house, where I had been staying, I turned on the TV for comfort, but felt dissociated from its glamour. Endless channels of talking heads, scripted lines and buffoonery. I could see through its bland and tawdry facades.
PART 4: The Aftermyth
The following morning I awoke staring at a framed, painted portrait of an alpaca that my sister had brought back from her travels in Peru. It was beautifully rendered, with vibrant, saturated colors, and the alpaca stared back at me from behind the glass with an unironically absurd, slack-jawed expression. Something about it addressed my plight, and suggested the lackadaisical attitude with which to tackle it. Something like, “yeah, sure, the ‘Peruins’ of Machu Pichu speak of some ancient civilization that had an alliance with star-people, but don’t worry about it, bro, let’s graze.”
Shaken to my ontological core, that morning I questioned every given, every assumption about reality. The notion that we painted portraits of animals, for example, but that they didn’t paint portraits of us, was now utterly ungraspable to my talking monkey mind. That we framed these portraits behind glass and hung them on our walls, as well, seemed strikingly peculiar. I had taken the make-up of the wishful human world completely for granted up to now. Humans are so adaptable, I reasoned, that it seemed we simply accepted the fabricated realities we were born into because they were all we had known, and because there were no other sophisticated, civilized realities by which to relativize it — that notion that the Universe, the one-and-only-entirety, is judged by its own measure, because there’s nothing else like it.
The measure for our perceptions, it occurred to me, and the enforcer of our inherent beliefs is language. We ascribe words to things, and call them by their names, and those names, when unquestioned, would trap things in their given roles. In my altered state, I had felt estranged from the ascribed functions of things, because it had uncovered the charted veils of the familiar world and left me with something completely off-the-charts!
What masks the alien is the familiarity of language!
Language is at once a perceptual and a communicative tool. If we could conceive of a building in our mind’s eye, and communicate it to others, then we could build it into existence — we could realize our dreams. This, I now perceived, was what civilization was: a dream ushered into the world, riding on the infrastructure of language. Whereas before that night I would never have questioned that Amsterdam had always existed — after all it was there when I first arrived onto the stage of the world — it now seemed an extremely alien and fabricated place, a renaissance spaceship, an unsunken Atlantis. I was haunted by its antiquated lantern poles casting that static golden glow onto the nocturnal streets, the quaint houses slightly slanted forward, the infernal canals and the little bridges that arched over them, reflecting full-circle in the water. All of it a ruse, a concrete ruse, gaslighting us away from the notion that the world is but a stage, that civilization is the theater of life, a stage in evolution where the human animal acts out its dramas, gets lost in role play, improvising along the guidelines of their beliefs and limitations. We are living in an exteriorized dreamscape, a place that we have dreamt up — envisioned, communicated, and realized.
That night’s overdose of truth had recalibrated my relationship with reality, separating assumption from perception. In the aftermath of that first trip I considered myself essentially a solipsist, based on the echoing insight that if poisoning the brain could alter and distort reality in such a profound way, then reality, as I perceived it, must be a creation of the brain. Over time I would refine this outlook, coming to terms with “the problem of other people” that is the central fallacy of classical solipsistic thought. What I developed is what I’d call the tenets of solipsistic solidarity: “I am the only one who exists, and knowing this I could say the same for all others.”
When I returned to The Altered States of America, I went from telling no one to telling everyone about that night’s maiden flight of hallucinogenic whimsy. Because I truly had felt like I was Amsterdamned, I described the experience as having gone through hell, with the bravado of having survived and vowing I’d never return. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something hyper-real and of utmost significance about the altered state of the psychedelic experience. In time, the spiteful attitude I had held towards others, who chose lazily not to talk about their experiences, lightened up when I discovered the hardship of my own descriptions falling short.
The world, as perceived during a psychedelic experience, with its odd, immeasurable dimensions, is by no means some skittish rabbit that could be cunningly captured by the nets that our language casts out, or the traps that our syntax has set. It is more like a shimmering chimera, a fantastic, cryptozoological beast whose lore we could only perpetuate through the fabled, often embellished accounts of those who have intrepidly sought out and encountered it.
I picture any tripping trapper’s attempt at apprehension akin to a cartoony escapade wherein the pursuer pounces on the prowler, after which ensues a rumbling ball of smoke, with tumbling arms and legs protruding and retreating, matched with the sounds of a violent struggle. When the smoke clears, the stalker is convinced that he has caught his prey, only to find that all he’s grasping in his embrace is the husk of its veneer, as the disrobed trickster runs free, naked and out of sight, defying any binding or blinding description.
But my attitude remained ambitious and hopeful, believing that through trial & error we would be able to sharpen our tools to evolve our language so as to to convey and describe the experience more accurately with time. Because, rather than feeling failed or disheartened, the trapper realizes that those forlorn fabrics left in his grasp are actually enough to feed a scent to sniffing snouts, and set the hounds of exploration on its trail.
Invigorated by the fathomless depths of the void to which I’d been exposed, and thirsty for knowledge with which to fill it, I delved into the recently commoditized Internet to do research. Here my sense-haunted hounds caught onto a scattered trail of literature littered like hopeful breadcrumbs along the dirt path of the road less traveled. And contrary to society’s ill-nutritional trail of dread-crumbs shed from mostly moldy wonderbread, these memorable morsels proved to stand the test of time without added preservatives! As it turned out there were others who had spoken up about their experiences, and some of them quite eloquently at that! A veritable mount Rushmore of notable alumni looked on from the sidelines of this path. Among the spread of faces peeking down from this peanut gallery of psychedelic trailblazers were Tim Leary with his holy-shit-eating grin, Aldous Huxley with his bespectacled, sci-fi sophistication, and the alcoHolistic Zen master Alan Watts. Their themes lined the road like tomb-stoned billboards, advertising notions of set & setting, of mystical relevance and revelation — echoing my intuition that there was something supremely valuable to be forged from this furnace of what was thought to be fool’s gold.
I also found that, besides the litany of the dead, there were still some active construction workers in hi-viz visionary vests, doing their best to maintain the signposts and infrastructure along this largely neglected, privately-funded night-highway of the soul — such as the folks who tended to the vaults of Erowid, a website stocked with trip reports and other valuable, available research materials that, together, amounted to a roughly outlined map of this largely uncharted terrain.
It would be another few years before I’d uncover the archeological site of Terence Mckenna’s countless lectures and their transcripts. One of this spellbinding orator’s many memefied maxims was that “the world is made of words. And if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish.” The statement might seem plain and straightforward at first glance, but is actually rather ambiguous. “The world”, for example, is a very broad, binal term. I don’t believe that Terence was implying it was the creation of the natural world that came into being this way. The world that I suspect he was referring to is the world of human artifice — civilization. I think he implied that “the world” is indirectly made of language, of words specifically. It’s directly made up of some kind of vibrational, informational Living Language, sure, but it’s indirectly made of actual words. Certainly, words direct perception and implement the world, enforcing reality to maintain its structural, syntactical integrity, keeping it seemingly solid under our stern super-vision. But what I take it to mean, that the world is made of words, is what I alluded to earlier — that this form of language — the spoken and the written word — is the communicative and perceptual infrastructure on which the anthropocentric world rides into being.
In this light, it deserves mention that the magic words abracadabra come from an Aramaic phrase that means “As I speak, so I create”, the enterprising sequel to cogito ergo sum — “I think, therefore I am”.
McKenna also hypothesized, in what he termed the “stoned ape theory”, that the psychedelic experience had played an important role in our distant evolutionary past. He proposed that the missing link between the primitive mind of primates and the modern mind of man was a fungal sacrament, which stimulated our cognitive and creative abilities, gradually transforming us into the tool-making, world-wielding, time-binding, technologically advanced, culture crafting creatures we are today. This transition would signify the proverbial fall from grace — from innocent, primitive simplicity to the complexity of consciousness and the kind of “spiritDuality” that comes with knowing.
So in a sense, we awoke at the dawn of man’s imagination, but snoozed till The Fall — the ultimate wake up call. Forbidden fruit for breakfast, our last supper in the garden, and the rest is… well… history. And when you think of history as paradise’s hangover, or think of civilization as purged eternity, perhaps its not so far fetched to consider that, indeed, what may have caused man to fall was that he… tripped.
The Ungoogleable Michaelangelo is a psychonautic explorer, internal journalist, visual artist, musician, filmmaker and actor from The Netherlands, currently residing in Los Angeles. He is the host and creator of the podcast Self Portraits As Other People. Utilizing wit, wordplay, and a 6th sense of humor, his work mindfully investigates where the limits of language meet the fringes of reality. If you share his esoteric appreciation for all things surreal, sublime, and absurd, you may consider going spelunking in his heartfelt brain-cave at www.voidandimagination.com. You can support his creative efforts by becoming a patron on his Patreon page, and reap rewards in the process.