I took a massive dose of mushrooms at the beginning of the Trump regime. I was trying to prepare myself for the worst, like they do in the studies for cancer patients that have been carried out at Johns Hopkins.
This was entirely off the books, an attempt to reinvent the underground in the face of a new tyranny. Or at least a new face of an old tyranny. I got a big bag of fresh mushrooms from one source and went through several therapy sessions with someone else. Then, on January 3, 2017, I took a moderate dose of about four grams. My guide sat there with me, but he didn’t need to do much. I lay on the couch with a blindfold. Things were kind of dull until I ate another little piece, took a bong hit, and switched the music to Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach.”
Then I was flying. The feeling was one of motion—for the first time, after almost 30 years of tripping, I realized why it was called that. I was moving through space. And through Trump’s face, which I burst through.
But a couple months later, in March, I doubled that dose. Immediately I started to shake. People talk about the heavens opening up and becoming one with the light—well, this was the opposite. An abyss in me opened and I imploded in on myself and fell endlessly through myself like the darkest and coldest and unhuman empty space. I screamed that it was torture. Nature was a Herzogian nightmare until I had been ripped entirely apart.
I always thought mushrooms had a sense of humor. But this was brutal—if extremely valuable—and there was nothing funny about it at all. I ripped my shirt to shreds in the throes of my misery.
After five hours, I texted my wife that I was hungry. It is one of the great things about mushrooms. No matter how intense it is, the trip is pretty short lived, about five hours.
Psychedelics are having a big moment. Food guru Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence just came out and got a New York Times Magazine cover. Pollan’s book gives a certain legitimacy to the work being done by a number of doctors, scientists, and therapists at Johns Hopkins and in weird back rooms and jungle shacks around the world.
Alleged creep “alt lit” wunderkind Tao Lin also just came out with his own “expose” into the world of psychedelics, Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change, which will surely introduce the work of the now-departed psychedelic theorist Terence McKenna to a new generation of seekers.
But there is something about all of this psychedelic rebranding that troubles me—and it is mainly because I am troubled by myself. It struck me at a Willie Nelson and Sturgill Simpson concert on Memorial Day weekend in Washington, DC. On the surface, things were changing, but under us, in us, was always the abyss, even in the most beautiful places. And the Anthem, a new venue, on the newly developed waterfront, was a gorgeous space with great sound and great lines of site. It is, if anything, a bit too opulent for a country show. Or it felt like it that day as I checked on Twitter for updates on Ellicott City, a nearby town that was being swept away by the thunderstorm clapping outside. Seriously, the mix of climate change and bad policy was destroying Main Street in a pretty decent-sized town for the second time in two years. Maybe it would not come back.
In light of this, the space reminded me of the Patti Smith performance of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” at the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Sweden right after Trump was elected. With the Swedish royalty and all the dignitaries, the room seemed like something from the past, and I couldn’t help see it from a future that hadn’t happened. It was prophetic in the best sense—not predicting the future but using it to excavate the present. We were all somehow seeing her sing, at first vulnerably and then triumphantly, from the future where the forecast rain had already fallen. It was beautiful, and both broke and sustained me.
On the way in, they looked in my fanny pack and found a bag of weed. In a city where weed was—mostly, except on federal land—legal, so the risks weren’t great. But to get your weed taken at a Willie Nelson show—and not by Willie! What the fuck? I had a vape pen and some edibles, anyway.
I’ve been seeing Willie Nelson play all my life. “Pancho and Lefty,” where he and Merle Haggard cover Townes Van Zandt’s tragic ode to outlawry, set my third-grade brain afire.
And Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles All the Way Down” brought psychedelics, McKenna-ism, and infinite regress into country music.
I was excited about the show. So why did it feel so weird? For one, Sturgill had become a jam band, rocking out way too long to guitar solos that were just so-so. But Willie was better than I’d seen him in years.
But when I looked out at the crowd, it looked just like the crowd at a Trump rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—mostly white, suburban, and relatively wealthy. I am really uncomfortable in mainly white spaces now. Like, what is wrong with us? The frat boys in plaid sang along as Sturgill belted out “Turtles,” and I wondered what they could know of the abyss I had fallen into in March.
That feeling has stayed with me, and I have felt it when going through difficult things—when my mom was sick, for instance—as a sort of ball above my shoulder. But it had ended. And the Trump regime has not yet brought that upon me. But I imagine that feeling of being ripped to pieces as you fall through an utterly inhumane darkness is the everyday reality of the children that Trump and Sessions are ripping from their parents at the border each day. And for them it does not end. We are the abyss and we are the darkness. But we might be so busy looking inward that we miss the atrocities afflicting others.