a little bit wider

Everything was love. Everything will be love. Everything has been love. Everything would be love. Everything would have been love. Ah, that was it, the truth at last. Everything would have been love. - Iris Murdoch

---

I'm starting to understand. There's no going back. There's no stopping or even slowing down. All the scrambling I've been doing to stay above the surface is wasted energy. I have no choice but to sink. Breathe and sink. The nausea has subsided. Fear is still here, but really all I'm afraid of is how intense it is. I'm starting to understand that it will end, that I will be okay. In fact I am okay, right now. This is what I wanted, after all. It's not what I expected, it's so much bigger and deeper and brighter and breathtaking - but it's not going to kill me. My song changes: a tiny bloom of hope, of humor and light in the dark.

"Mason! Mason!" (I'm here)
"Did I break my brain?" (no)
"Did I...did I just open it a little wider?" (hahaha...yes)
"Am I going to survive?" (yeah)
"I'm so scared" (you're gonna be fine)
"What about dehydration" (that's just the drug)
"I'm on an acid trip!" (haha, that's right)
"Is this going to make a good story?" (oh yeah)
"Am I in a story now?" (yep)

Minutes go by, and I'm not sure if they feel more like hours or seconds. The most important things are remembering to breathe and refreshing my lifeline - asking for reassurance. But even speaking has become nearly impossible, because my mind is now continually dropping down through a series of trap doors. Or rather, my consciousness. The most essential, purest part of me. Just when I think it can't possibly go further, it does. I'm a galaxy away from home, where home = the regular bounds of perception.

There is a poverty of language to describe what I'm beginning to experience, and what will continue on in my brain, for the next several hours. It isn't thought, and and isn't feeling. It's more than vision or belief or emotion. The word that comes closest to explaining is "awareness", but even that isn't right. What's happening is so powerful and awe-inspiring that all I can do is retreat to a corner of my own self, sit quietly, arms wrapped around my knees, and watch in amazement.

I am starting to understand how much more there is.

And there is so, so, so much more than I ever could have dreamed.

---

What you know of the real world, of everyday life. What if you could encapsulate it, hold it in your hands like a crystal sphere? Say to yourself, This. This is what I know to be true and real. These are all the experiences of my lifetime and also all that remains possible, for the rest of it. 

And what if inside that sphere was another sphere, which contained another, which contained another. An infinite nesting of alternate realities, where the deeper you go, the more would be revealed to you. You wouldn't be able to explain the things you learned. You could only accept and marvel, humbled by the hugeness of it all. It leaves you breathless, awestruck, grateful. It's moving so fast, filling you up and dazzling you, making your heart pound, leaving you limp in its wake. You're coasting around in your own mind, blindingly fast, seeing its million tiny folds and pockets, all at a glance. There is a whole other universe inside your brain. You had no idea. No idea.

Meanwhile, there is still the outside world, solidly in the acid's grip. You've reached a point where you can take it in. It is no longer a nightmare. It is. It is. Oh my god it is.

Beautiful.

You lift your spinning head from where you've been cowering, and you see. And you feel. 

Color. That is the first thing.  

--- 

You timed it perfectly. Sunset. You chose the perfect place. A home with windows all around. This sunset - how will you make them understand? It's a painting, an impressionist painting that the house sits inside. Streaky clouds wrap themselves all around it. Pinks, blues, purples. It is a living thing, this sunset. It is part of the story. Is it telling the story? 

It's unbearable. Your heart might break, it is so beautiful. Pinks, blues, purples. These colors will stay with you forever. Indelible. You will always choose them, you will always go back to them. You will seek them out, clothe yourself in them, fill your home with them, tint your photographs to match them. Unforgettable. You didn't even like purple before today. Now it is forever emblematic of this night, a secret wink of the rainbow. I know what you did, what you saw. I was there and I'll remember. I'll remind you.

And there's the wind. It isn't wind, of course. It's just air conditioning circulating through the house, strong as it is, set to high. But you think it's wind, right now. You think you and Terence and the entire home have been swept up in a current of it, are floating on it, it moves through the house and through you, lifting everything up to a higher plane. Nothing has ever felt so good. The edge of chill, almost almost almost too cold but not. And it has a sound, a song like yours. Wind was never so loud, filling your ears, roaring and rushing like a waterfall. 

---

The shifts are almost violent in suddenness. One moment I'll be on the upswing of some blissful burst of perception, the next I'll be dropped into a mire of anxiety. And it all has to do with the call I'm still on. 

Mason. Speakerphone. Vegas. 

Talking me through it. Not angry at all. Patient, sympathetic - even amused. When I feel these positive emotions coming through the phone, I am calm, even giddy. Able to laugh about the craziness of what I'm doing. But the second I sense frustration or annoyance or even just fatigue, I panic. And plummet, psychologically. And all of this is manifested in my physical view of the phone itself. When I perceive all is well, it appears radiant, throwing off beautiful sparks of light, his name at the top pulsing with reassuring life. And wondrously: hot to the touch. When I grow fearful that he's bored or antsy, wishing to end the call, the phone darkens ominously, grows icy cold like steel in winter. 

---

And then.

---

The first breakthrough of true, of real, of unspeakable, heart-stopping joy. Out of nowhere. A lighting bolt that splits me, shatters the crystal sphere into a billion pieces. And as those pieces rush to reassemble themselves, they become something new. A chandelier. A crystal chandelier that is lighting my - me - everything - up in the most beautiful (I can't), breathtaking (Oh god, is it possible?) way imaginable. 

I gasp. My mind gasps. My heart gasps. It cannot possibly be real, this much joy. It cannot possibly. I cry out, singing my song, because now more than ever I need to believe that I really am alive and okay, because I had no idea --- no idea that -- 

"Mason! Mason!" (I'm here)
"Did I break my brain?" (no)
"I'm on an acid trip!" (yeah you are)
"Is this going to make a good story?" (yep)
"Am I in a story now?" (sure are)
"Oh my god, I am. I am! And it's so beautiful! Do you see? Do you see?? It's. so. beautiful...."

---

It doesn't last. There are dips. Some of these lows are pure horror, still. But slowly, the frequency with which I am rocketed back up to peaks of sublimity increases.

And now I'm faced with the task of making you understand what was on some of those peaks.

---

Take the word "happiness." Plant it in a garden. Water it and tend to it until it bears fruit. Take the seed of that fruit and plant it in another garden. Repeat this process over and over for your entire life, and maybe - maybe - at the end of it, a word will grow and bloom, descended from the word "happiness" (but so far removed from it as to be unrecognizable) that will capture what it was like on those peaks.

to be continued (crap, really wanted to finish this in one last post but it's just too big, and the more I tell, the more I remember, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing worth taking my time with, so....more soon!)


the bell, the black hole

The fire and the rose, as it were, became one. - Federico Fellini

---

Twenty minutes into my first acid trip, I realized that the heavily stylized filmic interpretations of LSD experiences I'd been watching all my life were not the exaggerations I'd always assumed them to be. They were in fact faithful representations. Walls really did drip. Edges really did bleed. Color and shape really did squeeze one another until it felt like my brain was folding in on itself, my consciousness slipping and sliding endlessly, with nothing firm or real enough to hold onto.

Terence (who by now had also come back inside) tells me that for several minutes, in the beginning, he watched my face transform with wonder as I stared, mouth agape, at various objects around the house shifting and morphing. Paintings, lamps, chairs. And I remember this. I remember smiling, squinting in curiosity, laughing. And in those moments when it got too intense, I verbally reminded myself that I wasn't new to hallucinations. "It's a good thing I've taken shrooms before," I said loudly, like a bragging child. "Because this is like...you know?" He knew.

LSD plays with time, expanding or compressing it as, I guess, one's brain sees fit. There was a moment early on when Terence was right beside me and then snap! he was on the other side of the house, seemingly instantly. On the other hand, the two to three hours of "bad" tripping I did was interminable. But whether I was in a state of stability, sublimity, or hell, time divided itself up into what I'd later refer to as "segments". I recollect what I experienced sensorily, emotionally, and psychologically in these chunks of time. I suppose they are how my brain decided to make sense of what it went through. A library of tiny little multi-dimensional videos, filed neatly away in my mind. Fucking amazing, really.

One of the first segments felt like a conspiracy between color and geometry. Every surface burst into hexagons, or maybe heptagons? I remember thinking of chicken wire. And I do mean every surface, including skin - my own and Terence's. And no sooner had I noticed the pattern on our bodies than it was scales. Reptilian. A little weird, but nothing I couldn't handle. The scales began to lift and develop dimensionality. You know how it looks when you add a drop shadow to an object, in graphic design? That's what it was like. Only the shadow peeking out from underneath was both color and light. (One note I wrote soon afterward reads "it was like someone was using the pucker and bloat tools right behind my eyes".)

And then this segment - which was like an orientation to LSD's visual aspects - chopped itself up into smaller pieces of time, so there'd be minutes at a stretch where every surface was outlined in lime green and hot pink heptagons. Then electric blue and lavender ones.

Then suddenly the color/pattern visuals evaporated and everything went fuzzy and staticky, as if I'd been sucked into a television set left on after programming ended. Silvery-grey, glinting, snowy. I remember seeing Terence just a few feet away from me, made of the stuff. It was beautiful and so strange, and I marveled at the moment. I marveled at all of it. It really is like this. It really is the rabbit hole. I had no idea. No idea at all.

But for all the beauty, it was also incredibly overwhelming. Every second was more disorienting than the last. The air was thick, heavy, vibrating. I'd compare it to being underwater with your eyes open, just below the surface. Waves blurring the view when you look up at the sunny sky. Now imagine you can't get back above the water. You can breathe somehow, that's not the issue. But everything you know as normal and real - the world you want to get back to - is out of reach. And in fact you're sinking deeper, and you know you're going to stay under for a very long time. Can you handle it? Or will you freak out?

I freaked out.

No amount of telling myself that I was prepared for this helped. I was in over my head and I was scared. Deep down I knew I had a long night ahead of me, but I didn't want to face that. So instead I tried to speed things up. I chugged water, trying to flush the drug through my system. (It only refreshed the sour taste of it on my tongue, which, probably psychosomatically, then just refreshed the intensity of the experience.) I asked Terence over and over: "How long, do you think? How long will it last?" And I threw up. A lot. Gotta hand it to my body. The acid hadn't gone through my digestive system - it wasn't sitting in my stomach, it was coursing through my veins. But on some level my body knew to try and reject what I'd given it, in the only way it could.

Poor Terence. He had no idea what was happening with me. He says he realized pretty quickly that I was in a bad way. Indeed, I sensed his anxiety, despite the reassuring tone he adopted, and it made things exponentially worse for me. I grew panicky. What the fuck were we doing? We were in the middle of the desert, hours from anyone we knew. This is bad, I thought. This is really...this is bad.

It was about this time that I started singing my LSD song.

I call it a song now, because later I came to see it as such. As something funny and sort of poetically, tragically beautiful. But really, it was just a series of questions and statements. Questions and statements that I said over and over and over again, because I was lost and frightened and desperately trying to find a thread of reality to cling to. Because truly, I thought I'd lost my mind.

Well, that's not exactly right. I thought I'd broken my mind. Overdosed. Unhinged it, with toxic chemicals. Damaged it beyond repair. Do you know what it's like to be utterly and completely convinced that you're going to be committed to an insane asylum? I do, now.

Fucking. Terrifying. Beyond words terrifying. Mad. I've gone mad. That's it. It's over. Everything I had, everything I knew. Gone. I could see it already. Straightjacket. Wheelchair. Padded room. Oh, it's so sad about Ellie. She was so smart, so talented. Just a drooling mess now. I could imagine their pity, their revulsion. Deeper and deeper I sank in my conviction that it was just a matter of time. I wasn't coming back. I wouldn't be normal again. I'd be forever lost to my former self and former life, gazing outward at it, locked within the hell of my splintered mind. Heartbroken. For several of the darkest seconds of my life, I knew that had there been a gun in front of me, I might have tried to shoot myself.

But while 99% of me was sure that life as I'd known it was over, there was, deep within my brain, a bell ringing. Faintly, so fainty, I could hear it. Its ring was the promise of normalcy. A remembrance of it, far away through space and time. Some tiny part of me knew that this was just an experience, and it would eventually end. But that bell, oh my god it was so heartwrenchingly quiet, so unconvincing. .....ding.......ding..... I wanted to believe in it, more than anything I wanted to trust it, but the counterbalance of what the acid was doing made it so. very. difficult.

"Did I break my brain?" That was the first line of the song. And every "no" answer was a ring of the bell. I asked Terence this, over and over and over. He patiently reassured me I did not. But I was still falling down, down, and I didn't believe him. I scrambled for my phone.

"Are you looking at pictures?" he asked encouragingly.

"No," I said flatly, trying to focus on the electric blur of numbers before my eyes. "I have to call Mason. Will you call him for me?"

Of course he would, understanding that in this moment of unbearable fear, I'd need the friend who's gotten me through a dozen other moments of unbearable fear. I needed my friend of almost twenty years, and I needed him right fucking now.

"Yo," he answered.

"Mase," I blurted, putting him on speakerphone. "Mase, I'm in Joshua Tree, and I took LSD, and I'm really scared I took too much. Please help me. I don't know what to do."

And so it began. The phone conversation that would shape the next several hours of my first acid trip.  The conversation that would color and inform my experience, give it meaning and structure and even a theme. Simply put: friendship. Friendship on the most profound, breathtakingly beautiful level imaginable.

But first back to the song.

Naturally, Mason did everything in his power to calm and comfort me, from the bar in Las Vegas where he happened to be that Saturday night. (Yep, that's right. Me and my two hundred micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide parachuted in to my dearest, oldest friend's vacation smack in the middle of Sin City and hijacked the shit out of it. Not a single peep of complaint, the entire two and a half hours I kept him on the phone. Ladies and gentlemen, that is what you call a friend.) He told me I was going to be fine. That if I'd taken too much, I wouldn't be talking to him now. That Terence sounded coherent and sober enough to judge whether or not I really needed to go to the hospital, and they agreed I did not. That I just had to relax and buckle in for the ride. That everything was okay.

Still, I needed to hear the same mantra of assurances repeated time and again.

"Did I break my brain?" (no)
"Am I going to survive?" (yeah)
"I'm so scared..." (you're gonna be fine)
"What about dehydration?" (that's just the drug)

Wispy threads though they seemed, they were a lifeline to me as I dangled in the abyss. And so these questions I asked, combined with the answers I was given, became like a song over the course of the night. And it kept me alive. And if that sounds crazy, I understand. But if not for the anchor which was Mason's voice holding me safely in place, in that beautiful house in the desert, I don't know what I might have done in that first couple of hours. But it probably would have involved fleeing my own boyfriend and running out into the dark, dangerous night, desperate for help and relief. I know I wouldn't have even made it ten steps outside without falling to the ground, though, because I was physically incapacitated by the drug. I probably would have just lay down in the dirt and screamed.

This story is getting away from itself, I know, but holy hell is it hard to explain everything that was happening at once. But here's how to picture me in these moments: pinned to the cool white vinyl lounge chairs we'd flattened and pushed together in the living room. On them was a mess of blankets that I rolled around on, clutching the edges of the cushions for dear life, as I frantically tried to get my psychological bearings. I was terribly thirsty but didn't feel like I could drink. I was nauseous and dizzy and disoriented, and nowhere that I looked made it any easier. I had a dim awareness of Terence moving around the room, getting water, trying to help me. But looking at him only freaked me out more; his skin was unnaturally alive, shifting and oozing as if liquid. The shape of his face was distorted and ugly, and I turned away in fear that image would imprint itself permanently in my mind.  All I could do was stare at the phone, at the letters of Mason's name which glowed white in the slow-settling dusk. A life raft. His voice a rope thrown to me on an ocean of fire.

Fire. That was another thing. So hot. Not my body, which was cool, pleasantly chilly even, from air conditioning that felt like wind moving through the house. But my brain boiled with the heat of too much...everything. Too much color and light, too much fear, too much resistance. Because oh my god, was I ever resisting. Mason called it out. "Listen to me," he said. "Are you listening?" I was. "You have to stop fighting it."

A surge of fresh terror. "I can't!" How could I make him understand the depths of hell that awaited me, if I'd just give in to them? "Mase, I can't. It's too much!"

"Listen to my voice," he continued firmly. "You know this. You know this because you've done drugs before. If you fight it, it's going to be a lot harder. Just give in and let it happen."

I knew he was right, of course. I knew the only way out was through. But oh my god. The way my mind was melting, sucking the rest of me down into it. The helplessness was utterly terrifying. What would I find there, if I did let go? Where would I go? Letting go felt like jumping blindly into a black hole. Less giving in than giving up - on reality, and on sanity. (From my notes afterward: sanity a placemat that kept shifting under my brain.)

It didn't matter, though. It didn't matter one bit whether I wanted to resist or embrace the LSD that was blazing new neural pathways faster than I could take a breath. I was approaching my peak and any ideas I had about controlling or guiding my experience were long, long gone. I could no sooner stop what was happening than stop a roller coaster, mid-loop.

But the good thing about roller coasters is they go up, as much as they go down...

to be continued (only one more, I promise!)



reentry

So I guess that's what unplugging during a vacation feels like? Difficult (though probably good) for me, but unavoidable either way. The past two and a half weeks have been go-go-go, see-see-see, and do-do-do. Tennessee, Georgia, and quick jaunts to North and South Carolina. I had internet access but no energy at the end of each day with which to use it. Collapsing into bed every night sun-soaked, bug-bitten, and lake-logged. Took another few days since I've been home to catch my breath, reconnect with my boys, and wash the South off (though happily, parts of it are stuck on me forever).

Cannot wait to share my Bonnaroo and Lake Burton stories. Shivers just thinking about all of it. But first I have the unfinished business of Joshua Tree, and all that unfolded there.

To get back into spirit of that day, I pulled up a song on YouTube. It's one we listened to on the drive out, and so became forever linked, for me, with the experience I had there. Now, I had never once seen the video for the track; I only searched for it to share here, rather than embed a song from SoundCloud. I laughed, delighted but somehow not surprised, when I saw the video was shot in the desert, with some visual elements straight out of my LSD trip (will explain in the next post).

It's ridiculous, of course. Flower eating, fire dancing, and one very nervous-looking chinchilla. Please ignore all that silliness and focus on the music, which is so very pretty, and so perfectly representative of my birthday in the desert. I'm going to listen to it myself right now a couple more times, as I try to slip back into the wild, weird, and wonderful world I visited almost one month ago.

I'll see you there very soon.

Greetings from *looks out window* heaven, I think? Yes, let's go with heaven.

Got a text from my friend Autumn yesterday:

You survive Bonnaroo? Still patiently waiting for the LSD post, hoping the festival didn't dull the descriptive blog posts I've been promised. ;)

I did! And it did not! More embarrassingly purple prose descriptive blog posts are on the way. It's just that between flying to Nashville, shuttling from Murfreesboro to Manchester four days in a row, shuttling back to Nashville, then driving through two national parks to Lake Burton, Georgia (where I am now), I haven't had time to write them yet. Okay, made time. I haven't made time yet.

But in my defense, this is the front yard where I'm currently staying:

There aren't even any mosquitos here, that's the level of Elysium we're talking about.




So it is exceedingly difficult to tether myself to a wifi connection indoors. But hello! I hope everyone is having a wonderful Wednesday and getting in some summer relaxation and/or adventure, as desired. Talk at you soon, mes amis.

blood and brains

When the light turns green, you go. When the light turns red, you stop. But what do you do when the light turns blue with orange and lavender spots? - Shel Silverstein

---

I was unsure about dosage, that was the first problem.

As prepared as I was - as I thought I was, rather - mentally, physically, logistically, I'd never actually handled LSD beyond purchasing it from Pinkman and stuffing it into the back of a drawer for safekeeping. I had two kinds: paper and liquid. Both were wrapped in small pieces of foil, presumably secure from the spoiling effects of air, heat, moisture. Really, I had no idea, because I'd never so much as looked at the stuff. I'd just bought it sight unseen, figuring when the time came I could consult my young provider for guidance. Which is exactly what I tried to do.

I texted Pinkman at 6:15 pm. Hey, got a sec? But Pinkman was busy doing whatever it is he does in between selling me psychoactive drugs. Terence and I were on our own.

We opted for the blotter paper, which was at least divided into obvious, square-shaped portions. (By contrast, the rubber band-thin "ten strip" of liquid acid had no delineating marks. Determining where one hit ended and the next started looked to be a matter of pure guesswork.) There were three squares of paper, which corresponded with my vague recollection of having bought that amount over a year earlier. Why I bought three instead of two or four or even just one, I have no idea. Maybe I thought I wanted a spare, in case I lost one? Without any further thought or discussion - we'd agreed earlier that I would take more than Terence, since it was my idea, my birthday wish, my funeral, etc - I tore the paper, handed my boyfriend one third of it and popped the other two thirds into my mouth.

It was awful. Terribly, startlingly bitter - how I imagine battery acid would taste. We winced, surprised at just how bad it was. Terence plucked the soggy square from his tongue after a few moments. "Nuah!" I barked, my mouth gone numb with chemical. "Youah haf to ret it dissov alla way!" The one thing I knew for sure is that the blotter paper must be allowed to disintegrate completely. Watching one another with eyes wide but lips pursed shut, we let the drug work its way into our blood and brains.

Still holding the softened squares on my tongue, I went to take a shower.

Intention. A big part of successful drug use is finding - feeling - good intention. That's what I focused on, as I washed the grime of the day's hiking from my hair. I felt one hundred percent sure that I was going to have a positive experience. That having controlled my "set and setting" (the who and where of tripping, said to be of tremendous importance), I was already ahead of the game. And maybe I would have been, if the game had been based in anything resembling reality. But it wasn't. And as I was about to learn, not only did I not know the rules or the objective of this game - for much of the next several hours, I wouldn't even understand I was playing it.

It set in quickly. Much, much more quickly than I'd been expecting. Showered and dressed, we'd decided to sit on the front stoop, take in the desert dusk, let things unfold organically. Hilariously, I'd put on my fuzzy bear hat. Not quite a spirit hood, but a close cousin. I guess I thought it would make me feel adventurous, or playful, or even animalistic. But within minutes I'd forgotten I was even wearing it. Within minutes the clothes on my body, so carefully considered when I packed, were comically unimportant.

An upright, oblong, ridged planter in the yard was a cockroach. The change wasn't sudden....because there wasn't any change at all. It had always been a cockroach. Segmented. Humanoid. Taunting. The spindly fauna that shot up from behind it formed perfect antenna. Again, this wasn't a matter of something becoming, or seeming to become different, in the way that psilocybin gently rolls out hallucinations. This was just fact. A new reality. There was a massive, live stone cockroach watching me, feet from where I stood, and there was no unseeing it. No unknowing it. 

I tried to shift my attention to the breeze rustling through the trees, to the dusty glow settling over the boulders that cradled the estate. But no matter where I redirected my thoughts, it was like grasping the shifting mechanism on an amusement park ride - like being granted the briefest glimpse of control before getting wrenched sharply back onto the track. No question: I was a passenger, not a driver. It was then that an inkling of what I was in for dawned on me. Big. This is bigger. Bigger than I. Wow. This is.  

I tried to play along. I walked over to the waist-high planter, smiling determinedly as I pointed the creature out to Terence. "Do you see it? It's a bug! Look, do you see it?" The question seemed stupid as I spoke it. Of course he saw it. He had to. It was as real and clear as the sky above. But Terence was already slipping down his own slide, and any intuition with which he might have soberly grasped my state of mind (i.e., Anxiety trying not to acknowledge Fear peering in the window) had melted away with his blotter paper.

"Do you like insects?" he replied, and to my already apprehensive self that was exactly the wrong question. It felt like a dare, or maybe a warning. Like he was purposefully trying to wedge open a window I didn't want opened. No I do not fucking like insects. All at once I was unbearably dizzy.

"I'm going inside," I announced, feeling defeated by my body load, disappointed at already having to forfeit the beauty of our surroundings. The whole point. Joshua Tree. Sunset's coming. The whole point was to. Terence offered to join me but I pointed at him severely, then swept my hand out in reference to the landscape around us. "No. You stay put. I just need a minute."

I shut the door behind me and took a few wobbly steps into an empty, silent house. It gave me all of ten seconds, I'd say, before beginning to breathe, bulge, pulse and twist in a way that made it clear any authority I'd had on psychedelics was about to be shred to bits. Colorful, beautiful, terrifying, wondrous, unforgettable bits.

to be continued



may leftovers

Come hell or high water, I'm going to write my LSD post later today. I'd put it off for a few extra days to see if when the dust settled I'd have a different perspective. (I don't.) Also because it feels impossible and enormous, as if all the colors of the rainbow escaped and it's my job to wrangle them back into order.

First some leftovers, before they get lost in the shuffle of Bonnaroo and Beyond.

"And you get a hair cut, and you get a hair cut, and you get a hair cut...everyone gets a hair cut!"



No fairy tale ever boasted so handsome a prince! ...and the human is okay, too.


All the best Memorial Day barbecues include faith-healing sessions and height-offs.

This is my neighborhood showing off for you, being all clear and bright and jazzy on a Saturday night.


This is my dog showing off for you, being all smart and considerate to his fellow city dwellers. Believe it or not I didn't teach him to do this. He must have read one of those "please curb your dog" signs and interpreted it as literally, because I had nothing to do with it. Pretty fancy footwork, no?

girl walks into a salon...

...says, "Make me look like a scarecrow. No wait. Make me look like Tim Minchin in drag."


Actually, what I said was, "I saw some pictures of myself and nearly broke my jaw yawning. I've looked exactly the same for the past three years. Help" - but controlling outcomes has never been my forte. 

It's not as orange--excuse me, strawberry bland--in person, this was just the most flattering filter for the rest of my mug. Still not used to wearing it down; that's when I really notice the loss of length and start having palpitations. But pulled back in a wee bun, with some bang action, it's not so bad. Almost grown up, even. Ugh.

Joshua Tree

We were giddy on the drive out. A feeling of escape, of slinking early out of school to get the jump on summer recess. The backseat was piled high: bags, groceries, blankets, pillows. We'd packed light, clothing-wise, but had brought plenty of creature comforts from home. We previewed festival music, joking and dancing in our seats as I poked around on Spotify. Being out of the city had unburdened us, and the quickness with which we sometimes fall to bickering evaporated. Companionabilty eased into the space left behind.

Southwestern desert looks and feels the same no matter which state you're in. "It's exactly like Tucson," I informed Terence, who's never been, but who has mentioned wanting to see my Arizona roots. "Now we don't have to go." Around sunset we passed through town - a scraggly stretch of strip malls, antiques shops, saloons. We stopped to get a few more food items; I wanted to fix pasta for dinner, to fuel up for hiking the next day. Terence foraged in produce while I wandered down the breakfast aisle. When he found me a few minutes later, I was staring blankly at a box of cereal. I'd been distracted by the music playing in the store: Willie Nelson's version of City of New Orleans. I turned to Terence and tried to explain, but choked up before the words got free. "My dad loved this song."

Forty was a birthday I'd love to have shared with him. My mom, too. Their reassurances that I was doing okay, that the middle isn't the end, would not have gone amiss.






The house we rented was nestled up against a small mountain ridge about half a mile from the highway. It shared a dirt road turnoff with a smattering of other homes, each spaced a respectful distance apart. Breathing room for everyone, privacy for all. The property had a name: Sandpiper, "a hideaway in Panorama Heights". By the time we pulled up to Sandpiper's standalone garage (past an electronic gate requiring a passcode for entrance), I was already unbuckled and half out the door. The sun was starting to set the western horizon ablaze, and I couldn't wait to take its picture. There's nothing like a desert sunset. Nothing in the world.

Terence unloaded the car while I made ever widening circles around the yard, snapping photos, reconsidering angles, then snapping more. Joshua Tree gave us a stunning welcome, showing off with a fiery display of purple, blue, and orange. Perishables put away, Terence joined me on the dusty driveway. "Do you like it?" he asked, a question rendered absurd by the smile on my face.

"It's perfect."

"It's so quiet," he said. "I feel like my body is melting."






Inside, the rooms were even more spacious and minimal than they'd appeared on the website. Mid-century modern with a healthy dose of quirk. The front sunroom, the feature that had sold us, was lined on three sides with windows whose gauzy curtains we pulled immediately, letting dusk seep heavily into the space. The silence, intense after the constant din of downtown, felt like a third guest.

After a quick tour of the rental and the discovery that neither of us were hungry yet, we went back outside. Equipped with a flashlight, we climbed atop one of the loveseat-sized boulders to the side of the carport and sat watching headlights on the freeway. Our nearest neighbor was puttering around in a quaint little shack just down the hill; we could hear him clearly through open windows. We talked, our voices low in automatic reverence for the beauty around us. We listened to the desert. I put my head against Terence's shoulder and in the warm night air we plotted our next two days.

I was already itching to explore, though. We were on the edge of the park, minutes from the main entrance, but I was anxious to see it spread out before me. My suspicion was that if we got over the ridge behind the house we'd see, illuminated by a nearly-full moon, an expanse of land covered in brush and cactus and crawling with invisible wildlife. I convinced Terence it would be safe. "Snakes are most active at dusk and dawn," I lied, more to myself than to him. I hadn't spent fourteen years in a climate I'd loathed only to be scared of it now. "We just need another flashlight."

But another flashlight wasn't to be found, though we checked several drawers and cabinets in the kitchen. Terence lit up, remembering something, and I followed him out to the car where from the trunk he pulled a small tote bag. "It's a windup radio," he explained, unsheathing what looked like an old-fashioned transistor radio. "And it has a light. It's from RH," he said sheepishly.

"You and your gadgets." But it was the perfect prop to dispel the tension on our dangerous, dark trek. As we carefully picked our way along the rocky path, Terence continually wound the little radio. It would reward his efforts with ten or fifteen seconds of Christian rock and weak light from a bulb on the side. We laughed every time the music faded and he had to re-crank the handle, which whirred and whined painfully. Before we knew it, we'd reached a clearing about two hundred feet above the house. The moon flooded the ridge with an eerie glow.

"What about coyotes?" he asked suddenly. "And mountain lions?"

"You're such a city boy," I teased, but I was secretly glad for an excuse to turn around. The desert will always be in my bones, I'll always feel at home there - but it's treacherous and callous in the extreme. I'd collected the bites, bruises, and twisted ankles to prove it.







Back in the house, we realized we were too hungry to start cooking. We opted for the quick fix of cereal, which we ate side by side on one of the retro floor lounges in the sunroom. There were two of these lounges, which were a cross between a futon and a recliner, with massively thick white vinyl cushions on adjustable wooden frames. These lounges would be where I'd spend most of my LSD trip the next day - where I'd cling in terror and gasp in wonder, mere minutes between the two extremes. For now, though, they were where we planned tomorrow's hikes.

Our next day figured out, I wanted to go back outside again. The sultry desert night was intoxicating; I'd missed it so much. But first Terence wanted to give me my birthday presents, which he did in the cooler, smaller spare bedroom. Lights off - less pressure that way. Blue moonlight spilling across two gift boxes. The first held a delicate silver bar necklace - I'd been wanting one for ages. The second, a slippery handful of midnight blue satin and black eyelash lace. Kiki de Montparnasse. Another something I'd always wanted.






Later, when we realized the master bedroom was too hot to sleep in, we dragged the sunroom lounges into the colder living room and lay down on those. We shut the lights and put our heads together in the dark, our bodies separated by the gap between cold plastic cushions. Terence played the ukulele he'd brought, and I marveled not for the first time at his ability to play an instrument without looking at it. "What time is it?" he asked drowsily.

"Go to sleep," I ordered, knowing he was exhausted from an early morning, and from the drive.

"What time is it?" he repeated stubbornly.

I sighed and rolled over to grab my phone off the floor. "Eleven thirty. You'll never make it."

He plucked at the ukulele and looked over my shoulder as I scrolled through the day's photos. We talked about Chaucer, whom Krista was keeping watch over back at home. We luxuriated in the quiet, so exotic-seeming. We looked out the windows at alien shapes: porch lamps and joshua trees with long, lanky shadows. "The cactus have so much emotion," he said. "They look like people." Then, a moment later: "What time is it?"

I reached for my phone again. Midnight exactly. We laughed. The ukulele started up again. "Happy Birthday to you..."







After Terence fell asleep, I wandered from room to room, thinking about my half-life ahead and how it will different from the one I just finished. I took my phone into the bedroom to read Krista's birthday message, a list of 40 reasons she's thankful for me. I hadn't yet mustered up the strength to look at it, fearing it would overwhelm me. Which it did. 

For a few minutes I just lay on the bed, absorbing. Knowing she'd be asleep with the ringer off, I texted her. All the good things you see in me you recognize because you have them too.  

It took me hours to fall asleep. Might have been the green tea I had at lunch, or might have been the million thoughts I'd accidentally packed along with my hiking boots.







Terence woke me with more ukulele, then coffee. "I saved you the better mug," he declared.

"Why is it better? Is there Bailey's in it?"

"No," he said, "but it has coyotes on it." He sang me a song he made up on the spot, about a sandpiper who'd come to tell us how much Chaucer missed us. It was adorable and I made him immediately record it on his phone while I brushed my teeth.

We dawdled, lazy in the thrall of our first real vacation together. Much of the morning we spent in the sunroom, sipping coffee and discussing our creative lives. We had a very long, very emotional talk about art - what constitutes it, and what does not.

It was early afternoon before we left for the park. We hit Arch Rock, then Barker's Dam, then just stopped here and there as we pleased, slowly making our way through to the opposite entrance. The trails we chose were short and easy; we wanted to reserve some daylight for later.

The desert was beautiful to me in a way it never had been when I lived there. The dry, acrid air; the scarcity of green that I used to hate; the hot dust settling into my pores - it was all strangely seductive. We scrambled up and over boulders, pausing to take in the view and catch our breath. We shimmied through slots tight enough to merit nervous jokes about getting stuck. We clomped through thorny tangles of boot-sticky spurs to reach picturesque petroglyphs. We took sweaty selfies and slow-motion videos. We got hungry and punchy. And after three hours of exploring Joshua Tree, we decided to head back to the house for the other big adventure of our weekend.





surpises

Well, I did it. I went to the desert and took LSD for the first time. And I could very simply describe what it was like in a single, short sentence. Indeed, I've thought about what I'll say to people in conversation, if and when they ask. Because I won't always be able to ramble on endlessly, like I can in a blog post. I'll have to have some kind of succinct reply. So here's what that will be: It was the most profound experience of my life.

And if the person asking me is curious, and has a few minutes, this is what I'll go on to say: It was the most terrifying thing I've ever been through. I thought I'd lost my mind. I swam in and out of states of panic and semi-psychosis. I threw up multiple times. For three and half hours (out of the twelve hours the trip lasted), I was convinced I'd overdosed and had irreparably damaged my brain. I was one hundred percent sure I'd have to be committed to a mental institution, because I'd never be sane again. There were stretches of time so unbearable I wanted to kill myself.

That being said?

Those hours of horror were also shot through with the most incredibly sublime, the most indescribably beautiful moments I've ever known. I saw, felt, and knew things that made me literally cry out with disbelieving joy. I screamed with laughter - actually screamed - as blissful tears ran down my face, about happiness, about the beauty of friendship and love. I saw myself and my life in ways I didn't know I could, and experienced gratitude and self-love on levels that the words "feeling" and "emotion" can't come close to capturing. I've spent the last two days thinking of how I'll even attempt to explain what acid was like for me. And the best way to describe it, as ridiculous as it sounds, is that I had a consciousness-gasm. I had no idea it would be like that. No idea.

Me being me, I have so, so much more to say about it. In fact I don't know that I'll ever shut up about it, because it changed my life. And yeah, I can imagine the eye rolls a statement like that inspires. Believe me, I'd have rolled my eyes too. But that was before I ingested somewhere between two and three hundred micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide.

But me being me, I have to do things in chronological order. And before I can write about Joshua Tree, I have another awesome thing to share, to jot down in my humble digital scrapbook. Because on Thursday night, the sneaky little squirrel that is Krista threw me a damn surprise dinner party. Sneaky. Little. Squirrel.

A few weeks ago when she found out I'd be gone for my actual birthday, she asked if she could take me to dinner the night before I left, to celebrate early. Sweetest thing ever, that she'd want to, and so unnecessary considering I see her all the time. I'm of the opinion that if I'm lucky enough to see my friends on the regular, the last thing I need is a big official fuss made over me on the Blessed Day of My Birth. Anyway, of course I happily accepted her invitation and was looking forward to a chill night of drinks and sushi at our spot, before I went home to pack, sleep, then hit the road with Terence.

Well, after she set that up with me the little squirrel went and reached out to Terence behind my back, to see whether he'd help up the game by inviting Kerry and Ross. Which he did. So on Thursday, after a day of super-excited texts from Krista (which were cheering me up like crazy, since I was feeling a little weird about the big four-oh), I met her downstairs and we headed to the restaurant. Only when we walked in, she steered me away from our usual place at the bar and to a table, where my boyfriend and dear friends were waiting for me with drinks, freakin' presents, and a vase of my favorite flowers (peonies).

So, yeah. That's what the lovelies in my life did for me on Thursday night. I started crying immediately of course, which freaked everybody out a little bit, but there was no helping it. I was just blown away. Terence and I had just seen Kross a few days prior on Memorial Day, for a barbecue at their house. And again, that was plenty for me, in terms of celebrating anywhere near the week of my birthday. And yet there they were, both of them so busy with work and with so little free time. But they had made time. And I mean, for Krista to have planned and executed a surprise like this was just too much. She is already always doing the most considerate things for me. I was just speechless.

I was also a little bit spooked, because I'm the kind of person who gets nervous blending friends together. I'm always afraid that it'll be awkward, which is dumb because my friends are all such great, outgoing people that it never is awkward. But I get nervous all the same, because I just always want everyone to have a good time. Well naturally, they all made fools of me. Krista and Kerry were brilliant, mixing it up, getting to know one another, melting my damn heart. A couple of acquaintances from the restaurant showed up and joined the party, and the seven of us were solid for a good four hours. Dinner, drinks, shots, then we migrated to another bar downtown for more of the same. Krista even brought her camera and took the time to get some great shots of everyone I can't wait to see. It was all just fucking lovely, and meant the world. Best and most surprising send off ever.

Oh, and the presents. Getting gifts embarrasses me, because just seeing my friends assembled is gift enough and also I'm forty damn years old and don't need presents. But Kerry got me a beautiful ring, hammered gold in a really neat organic shape that kind of sticks out, and which I can fiddle with (perfect, as I'm a big fiddler). A few months ago at dinner with her I'd lost a ring, a cheap silly thing that didn't mean much. And I didn't realize it at the time, on Thursday, but that must have been what was on her mind when she picked it out. So freakin' thoughtful. And Krista, that sneaky little squirrel? Oh, no big deal, she just secretly did a photoshoot with Chaucer and made a book out of the portraits. Check. This. Shit. Out:










Unreal, right? She apparently coordinated with Terence, to have him walk Chaucer one morning when I was asleep, to a building around the corner with a good backdrop. Terence then supplied the captions, which are some of the silly things I say to Chaucer when I'm nuzzling on him. She then edited the photos, did the layout, had it published, and even ran to our building's sister property on Thursday to pick it up, when the delivery guy found our rental office closed.

Ridiculous. The people in my life are ridiculous. They're also damn photogenic:







That bitch in the dumb headband is too lucky for her own good.