My therapist once suggested that I might have Bipolar II and why yes, I did find this theory quite sexy.

Bipolar is the creative kind of crazy. You're fucking intense, channeling some insane energy from beyond this world, your mortal life overflowing, bursting

OR (and also subsequently)

you are dead. worthless. not even worth berating, you miserable piece of shit. Also moving hurts, and being hurts, and it seems impossible that you should keep doing so, but there isn't the energy to do anything about that either. The mom in Shameless has bipolar and the music that accompanies her depressive episodes is so fucking haunting. Watery, empty, barely there. The sound of sonar pulses echoing into a Hadean sea and finding nothing.

I know we're not supposed to say things like Bipolar is the creative kind of crazy because that romanticizes mental illness and that. Is bad. And yet, there they are. The words, flickering away in my brain, super not giving a shit about any of that. We don't ask for our thoughts, nor their antecedent, that endless frothing mastication of images and episodic fragments spooling out endlessly in the space behind our eyeballs. And yet, there they are. You can hush them and Be Larger than them and you can meditate and visit Yoga To The People and they'll read that Pema Chödrön quote that is by this point so irritating and yet still, perfect. And you will be like Yes. I am the sky. I am empty. And then comes the rain.

We don't ask for our tides, but they move us regardless. Drown. Rise. Drown. Rise. etc.

the red man

I remember the exact moment I realized Santa wasn’t real.

Really, it wasn’t a single moment so much as a realization that steamed and frothed and finally boiled over one Christmas eve. Things hadn’t been adding up for a while. Why were my parents so insistent that we get to bed before Santa comes? How, for that matter, did Santa have time to visit everyone? What was up with the subtle smirk on their faces when they talked about this now-that-you-mention-it-very-improbable-sounding man?

Five-year-old me orders another scotch from the bored-looking bartender who knows better by now than to tell me I’ve had enough.

“So you’ve got a beef with the Red Man.”

No, Frankie. I’ve got no beef with no one except that damned fairy, two-toothed Tina, and we all know why that is.

The Red Man just doesn’t make sense. Why are there so many of him? Yeah, sure, brothers, cousins, I get it, I’ve heard the stories. But one in every mall? How big is his family? Why are they all alcoholics? Why are his favorite cookies dad’s favorite cookies too? And what did I see that night, when I snuck downstairs and peered through the slats in the banister? What were the parents doing?

“Maybe they were fucking,” Frankie offers.

“No, Frankie. They weren’t fucking.” I take a drag of my neglected cigarette. “They were wrapping presents. Santa presents.”

Frankie nods like she knows, and maybe she does.

The next day I finally asked dad point blank if he was Santa. He denied it up and down, which was the clearest confirmation you could hope for. Dad’s always been a terrible liar, and this lie he sold with all the vehemence and credibility of a kid with his hand not just caught but actually stuck in the cookie jar.

Of course, I told my sister at once. I understand now that this is a violation of the Covenant, in which God promised to never again drown the entire world as long as we all agreed to tell one oddly specific and frankly peculiar lie to our children.

“But why, God?”

“It’s not about the story,” He replied, uncharacteristically. “The story could be anything. It’s about giving them something to believe in.”

“So they can learn the shape of true faith and eventually come to worship you?”

“Oh. No, that... doesn’t really work. No, it’s about the moment when they losethat faith. That moment...” He paused, I suppose to work out how to pack a deep cosmic truth into a profoundly inadequate brain.

“That moment is delicious,” He said.

Anyway, nobody told me. My parents did not sit me down and give me some “okay, you figured it out, now here’s the deal:” talk. So what would you do? When you’re five, Santa is a a pretty big deal. Hell, even now, Santa is most likely the biggest goddamn conspiracy you have ever unraveled in your entire life. A cover up engineered by NASA, the DoD, numerous multinational corporations, the President of the United States, the Presidents of Various Other Places, and every person above the age of ten. This is God tier. Q-Anon level. 9/11 truthers have nothing on Santa, and frankly, the existence (or, rather, generally accepted and simultaneously denied non-existence) of Santa gives credence to the wildest of those theories, which are nearly plausible by comparison.

“Just think of how many people would have to be in on it. The workers who planted the explosives. People who worked on the weakened floors. Basically every structural engineer except for that one guy all the truthers quote and who is not, in fact, a structural engineer. Not to mention everyone who planned it! And anyone they told, or who suspected—partners, family members, therapists. You’re talking about hundreds, maybe thousands of people.”

“Okay. But Santa.”

And who could argue? We were all duped by the biggest con around, and then we all signed up to keep it going, like a pyramid scheme, or chicken pox, or the cycle of abuse.

Officially, we perpetuate the Santa thing because it gives kids “a sense of Christmas magic,” or some variation. Of course this is bullshit. Have you met kids? Do you remember being a kid? Kids do not need adults’ help in creating magical worlds or imaginary friends. When I was a kid, one of my best friends was a friendly monster slash nature spirit named Gorp, who lived in slash was our compost heap. I looked at a hay-covered compost heap and summoned a spirit in it, because I was four and that’s what you do when you’re four, and what some of us never stop doing.

No, Santa is for us. For adults. We give kids Santa because... well, significantly, because of social pressure, which is an important transmission vector of the Santa memetic contagion. If you spill the beans, nearly everyone over the age of 18 will tell you that you’re a terrible person. Contrast hanging a confederate flag from your window, which has a 60% disapproval rating at best.

But apart from that, we do Santa because it gives us power over kids imaginary worlds. You might often feel smugly superior to the kids around you, but even the most insufferably adult adult has to admit that they have pretty much zero idea what’s going on in the world of kids most of the time. But with Santa, we give them an imaginary friend that we can control—and, importantly, eventually kill. Yes, Santa has to die. Santa was born to die. The sacrifice of Santa is an important rite of passage. It is the adult world tugging at a thread and unraveling a child’s entire world. If Santa isn’t real, what about faeries? Invisible friends? Mermaids and monster? The whispering trees and the amorphous, talking compost heaps? And in this way, all those thing are made to fall from the world. We lose faith. And that moment? Is delicious.

But perhaps that’s unkind. It’s not just that we want to kill Santa. We also love him. We love that for a few years, we have access to childhood magic again, even if it’s diluted with a wink and a smirk and the lingering taste of fig in our mouths.

I’m saying “we,” but I don’t derive particular joy from Santa. I don’t like lying to my niece and nephew. I don’t like feeling like I’m in on a con. I don’t like knowing that I’m giving them a solid reason to distrust me.

But neither would I take pleasure in killing the jolly old man—if I even could. The Santa industrial complex is powerful, its collaborators many. Forget the teachers, forget the parents, forget my sister’s inevitable death glare if I gave up the Santa. Forget the other kids. Every TV show—and I mean literally everything they’ve watched in the last week—has either been a story about how Santa Needs Help or about how Some Villain Hates Christmas And Tries To End It, And, Obviously, Fails. The wound of this failure is then salted by the arrival of Santa, which doesn’t even upset Some Villain, because somewhere along the way they discovered the True Meaning Of blah blah blah

It’s monotonous, even more monotonous than kids TV usually is, and it was while I was trapped in this Santa onslaught thinking these unfestive thoughts that I realized it:

I’m the grinch.

Which is perhaps second-most powerful self realization I have ever had. I thought the thought, and immediately, I was free.

I don’t like Christmas. I don’t have to like Christmas! It is a completely reasonable thing to not like Christmas. Other people don’t like Christmas! Like people who have regrettably had family members die. And people who have regrettably not yet had certain family members die. Also numerous Jews who seem mostly to wish, as I do, that the festival didn’t consume two whole months.

But I am a tolerant woman, and I do not require the entire world to conform wholly to my whims immediately (just most of it, significantly, and quickly). And there are parts of Christmas I quite like. The lights and trees are lovely. The giant presents are cute for about a day. The songs are miserable almost immediately, but I have headphones, and I don’t mind using them. I don’t need to ruin anyone else’s desperate attempt to stave of suicidal ideation in the cold clutches of winter by spending excessive amounts of time with extended family members they loathe. I’m not going to burn down the Rockefeller tree. I’m not going to sell a kidney to fund a personal war on Christmas.

I will, however, get a Grinch onesie. If I am going to be miserable, I am going to be cute about it.

And then there’s the Red Man. What to do about him?

He’s too powerful to go up against directly. You come at the king, you best not miss. His hold on this house is still too strong. It would get bloody. There would be screaming. Counting to five. This year, I stayed firmly neutral on the Santa question. I did not bring up Santa unless Santa was brought up to me. When my niece pounced on my bed on Christmas morning, squealing “Auntashi Auntashi! Santa came!”, my reply was equivocal. “Oh really? I wonder when that happened.” I do not personify Santa. When some day I am asked The Question point blank, I will not lie.

Against the Red Man, you play the long game. You plant seeds. You wait.

Hey kid.


I’m not saying one way or another. Not today. Too many ears open today. Too many things you’re not ready to hear.

There’s powerful forces at work here. More going on than you realize. But when you’re ready, really ready, to hear the truth...

...the truth about Santa...

You come. You find me. Look for me at La Cave.

I’ll be in green.

the wild & night

The sky over Milan this morning was the glowing inner skin of a dry sea shell. Not quite blue, not white, not violet, not orange. The color of relief, of the light at the end of a long dark. Something that can’t be made by dyes because it’s not a color at all, but rather, a sensation of pressure: a force of a distant apocalypse over the area of the sky. Pantone 666: Lucifer’s Breath.

I was warned that Milan is somewhat conservative, and so I might not like it very much. It is. I liked it anyway. Apart, that is, from the lighting on the streets at night, which was nearly suffocating in its day-white LED intensity. It’s impressive, but also, shockingly disorienting. More than once, I stepped outside only to think myself inside. Pity any creatures trying to hunt at night—though, presumably they’ve all starved by now.

Apart from its aggressive umbracide, I liked the city in a similar vein to Paris, or New York’s financial district. It’s glittery and expensive and a bit demanding, a perversely comforting patina of brand capitalism layered liberally atop tremendous gothic cathedrals and ornate rococo stonework. Just to walk down the street, I feel like I should be wearing a bit of makeup, a nicer coat than I had, and just generally quite a bit more black. I’m aware of how this stern commitment to fashionability serves the capitalist treadmill and undermines the self. I’m aware of how smoking is terrible for you. It’s just... they look so cool.

And I had missed the feeling of being in a place with teeth, even the manufactured teeth of a fashion city. I’d spent the last week and a half in easy places. Berlin is bitterly cold, but this is the only way in which it’s trying to kill you. If you’re sufficiently bundled, the only requirement to go outside is that you smell like cigarette smoke. And Athens wasn’t even cold! It was sunny and lazy and pleasant and bubbling with surprising resemblances. There’s something in the shape of the buildings and streets and the resinous scent in the air that reminds me of Beirut. The streets are lined with smooth-barked trees with fern-like leaves that pulled up memories of the trees in Bangalore, trees that long ago rooted into deep parts of me.

Athens clarified a geographic gradient sweeping east and west from some central point roughly around the nile. A gradient defined by the the exigencies of building cities in earthquake zones where it never snows, and by the shape of trees slowly conforming to the wind and sun, and also by an ancient path, where long ago the first people walked north out of Africa and started to explore along the coast, walking into the enormous, dark wild.

Every summer, I’ll find myself out in the woods or in a farm—in any case, beyond the reach of city lights. At some point, there is a new moon night, and on that night, I invariably try to walk some very short distance without a headlamp. “It’s not that far,” I think, “I’m just going to the barn.” And I’ll take a few steps away from the fire and the thick dark will swallow me, and I will learn again why we worship fire and why the night is full of spirits and monsters.

Sometime over the last hundred millennia, as we walked, our minds precipitated out of the murky waves of night. We began making symbols and whispers. By firelight, we began stacking moments into stories, making gods. By daylight, we began stacking stones into temples in their honor.

I didn’t really get history until recently. Now, I find I can’t get away from it. In Athens, I wonder at the story witnessed by every stone. Standing at the Acropolis, I imagine how it would have been to see it in ancient times. Even in our age of wonders, the place is still impressive and beautiful. What would it be to experience it when it was new and grander things still unknown?

The world would have been different then, and the acropolis a more powerful magic. We were smaller then, and the world was wilder.

This NYT feature about the disappearance of insects has been haunting me. The gist: remember how there used to be more bugs? I’ve moved around so much that it’s difficult to calibrate a baseline—for all I know, there are still just as many bugs in Kansas as when I was growing up there. Except there aren’t. There don’t seem to be as many anywhere. There are surprisingly few records of how much bug-mass is around, but where there are records, the the records do not paint a promising story. One scientist, trapping insects in the rainforests of Puerto Rico, measured a 60-fold drop in bug mass since 1970. An entomological society in Germany found that over the last 30 years, three-quarters of insects across the wide area they work in had vanished.

There’s less of everything else, too. Fewer birds, fewer fish. Fewer whales—really, whales are right fucked. Fewer of everything. Except humans and our pets and livestock. There’s billions of us, and though cows’ quality of life is mediocre at best, the quantity of cow life is just outstanding. The article quotes E.O. Wilson, who calls our era not the Anthropocene—the age of humans—but rather, the Eremocine—the age of loneliness.

Once upon a time, the world was wild. Then we started telling stories.

On the plane in front of me, someone is watching the Meg. It’s a movie about some very attractive scientists who run into or perhaps somehow create a very, very, very big shark. (The subtitles are in Japanese, so I’m guessing here, but I think I’ve got the gist). Later, they kill it with poison. During the celebration, its mate pops up and eats one of them, kills another in a collateral, non-culinary way, and knocks their ship over. They’re pretty surprised by all this, and I suppose I would be too, but I also think I wouldn’t be celebrating on a boat carrying the carcass of a shark the size of four Greyhound busses. I would not want to be on that boat. Or any other boat, ever again. Anyway, this next shark devours some vacationers, and then they cut it up with a submarine.

The moral of the story is that if you run into a big shark, or maybe are responsible for creating it, you have to kill it before it eats everyone.

On another screen is The Quiet Place, a pretty-looking film about a nice white family—with, relevantly, a deaf daughter—living in the aftermath of the rise of blind nightmare creatures with incredible hearing.

The moral of this story is that there’s always some terror in the woods waiting to kill us all.

In the film, the deaf girl learns that her cochlear implant does something to the creatures. They scream and writhe, their armored skin rippling apart, rendering them vulnerable to the simple pleasure of a shotgun shell to the face. She figures out how to amplify the effect with a radio. Thus technologically empowered, she and her mom, it is implied, kill them all.

Two years ago, I visited Bangalore, and I realized that the trees along the streets there are the same as the ones that grow in my dreams, something about their strong, undulating branches having imprinted me as a child. When I see trees growing out of the sea and reaching for the stars, this is the shape they take.

Of course, those gargantuan mangroves growing in my imagination are no more trees than people are fungi. There’s a similarity, sure, and if you had nothing else to compare it to, you’d be on the right track, but they’re really a different order of thing.

Their seeds are the hope that one day the world will be wild again. That some of us will choose to leverage our minds to create an energy gradient supporting a new explosion of life. Not just human life. Not just useful life. All of it, in all its terrifying possibilities.

It’s not that I, myself want to be hunted throughout the night any more than I already am. We will still have our bubbles. But I want there to be hunters out there, slithering things, old things, creatures without explanation. In a million years, will humans be around? Hopefully not. Hopefully we will have given birth to new kinds of creatures, nurtured an explosion of spiritual descendants. But for that to be so, life needs room to explore.

I think to do such a thing is a tremendous expression of power, and I hope humanity can find it within us to do this: a voluntary reduction in our safe habitat. A sharpening of the teeth of the world. A commitment to the protean churning of life, to the many colors of blood and skin and feathers, to shadows, to spirits, to monsters, to moonless nights that swallow without explanation.


I tried out a new kind of seitan last week. Rosemary garlic. As I picked it out of the cooler, I wondered how much longer I would be able to do this. Go to the grocery store. Pick out food. New, interesting food. Food which has been designed to be new and interesting. Food which was grown in California or Kansas, which has traveled many miles to get to me, which has been processed and packaged and the packaging stamped with a design, itself the product of many years of school, and many weeks of emails going back and forth—re: bird - final version; we still think its eyes are too big / re: bird - FINAL final version; I have removed the eyes). The emails ripple across switches and relays, bouncing across a mesh of machines, each maintained by invisible people, all built with material drawn from distant mines, great gashes in the earth, carried by sea and on and on and on.

I go home and eat it. It's good, of course it's good, rosemary and garlic are great together. I eat a little too much. I feel very full. I wonder if there will be a day when I cannot remember what it is to feel very full, when I look back and remember wistfully what it was to be able to go buy seitan and chocolate and eat as much as I want.

I find myself saying goodbye to things over and over.

My parents are going to die. I didn't used to know this, and then I did, and it's impossible pin down the moment when all living things die and my parents are living things gave birth to their inevitable conclusion, but only recently have I begun to feel anything like the full weight of it. And still I know there is a mountain I cannot feel. My parents are breathing and well. Aging, but not sick. Mom practices yoga. Dad practices tennis. Yet every living thing lives so that it may die.

The past few years have seen a subtle reorientation in our family dynamics. For a while, there were rends and rumblings and tumult between my parents and sister, and the movement of those plates has released tension on my own relationship with them, in the social tectonics that underlie the bedrock of all families. Surely, also, we have all changed, and the consequence of this change is that I love them more easily now. With mom, who has since I came out to her spent hours in meditation, there is a new openness. With dad, I have finally come to accept that there are things inside him he cannot bear to look at, locked doors that must at this point stay shut. I was angry about this for years, frustrated at the mess he was leaving around, an enormous horde of emotional baggage left laying about for my mom and I to step around or surreptitiously tidy up. Now, I simply don't go into those rooms. We talk about math and space and watch science fiction together. I'm sure that when he passes, there will be an enormous amount of cleaning to do. But I can't make him do it. And even if I could, it feels almost cruel to make an aging man go through and clean out the carefully aggregated and ignored traumas of a lifetime. Besides, perhaps the house will burn down first.

I see myself in my parents, and I'm lucky in that this doesn't strike me as a bad thing. Dad is intellectually curious and capable; he delights in science fiction and electronic music, although our tastes in both, ah, differ. Mom is also brilliant, adventurous, and empathetic. She speaks five languages. She moved from India to Iran in her early twenties, moved back two days before the revolution, and then left again for the U.S. They're both really quite impressive people. We agree politically—mostly, enough, far more than most. They see racism and hate in the world and wish it wasn't there. When I came out, they didn't respond well at all; and, eventually, they got over it. They just want us to take care of each other, they want a government that embraces and helps everyone, and so we can connect in our despondency over everything that's happening in the world right now.

My sister is like our parents too, though she leans towards dad, mirroring his handiness and intransigence, blending in some of mom's anxiety to round out the palette. My sister has been watching The Handmaid's Tale, and I'm not sure it's good for her.

I've also been watching The Handmaid's Tale. I'm not certain it's good for me, either.

Both of us watch anyway, sucked into the portrait of our world unravelling in a way that plucks your insides with terrifying familiarity.

I didn't used to have much truck with apocalyptic fiction, being depressed in a more Sandman-prone way. These stories about the Fall or the time after the Fall when everyone is struggling to survive in the Wastes—they seemed to offer facades of gritty realism, but were, in their own ways, as impossible as Death walking up the street in a top hat.

I didn't use to think the world was going to end. Anyway, I certainly hoped it didn't. I didn't believe, and I didn't want to believe, a gyre of optimism and delusion spun in part by necessity. I suspected at the time that I would be useless in an apocalypse. I think I'm a bit better off now, and also, I am pretty sure it has already begun.

I remember reading histories of WWII in high school, and thinking why didn't they just leave? If it's 1938, and you're a Jew in Germany: get out get out get out. Of course, this is stupid and patronizing. Escape is not easy. You have to move to a new country, which takes resources not everyone has. You have family. Friends. Work. Your life is here. Do you end your life to save it? Is this the moment when you decide things will never get better?

And so here we are, as traumas rain down like punches from a bully we knew—we knew—was coming for us. He holds us as he hits us. He has many arms, like a Hindu god, but he is not one of them. His face is ten thousand faces all twisted up with hate. It is an old god. It was more powerful once; it was beaten back; it was not killed. It has been growing again; is strong, again. Is this the moment it lets itself go?

My sister and I plan our family escape. Routes and meeting points. Guns and motorcycles. I am not authorized to discuss specifics.

We open these conversations with clear statements of our belief that what we’re talking about is very unlikely. But how it is, nevertheless, a good idea to have a plan to get the family out of the country if it becomes excessively fascist. Better to have one and not need it than the reverse, as they say. We say these words as a ritual of protection. We wear them as gloves to handle possibilities that would burn us if touched directly.

There is something pleasurable about the process. This is a pleasure rooted not in joy but perversion, in the incredible satisfaction of picking at a scab. Each pluck hurts, just a little, and this tiny pop of endorphins spurs your fingers on. Reading about the apocalypse strikes me as onanistic in this way as well, power fantasy combined with torture porn. Getting your thrills at the end of the world. The Handmaid's Tale show gets its share of critique for this, the powerful visuality of TV making clear the voyeurism of experiencing suffering in this way. But it's not clear to me books are better—rather, simply, that the horrors we summon for our pleasure are locked away in our minds, rather than illuminated in billions of glowing pixels.

I think often of our family escaping. We would make good TV in our own right. Our parents are in California, and we both think it's unlikely that California will fall, at least not at first. Even in the Handmaid's Tale, the whole west coast is still free, fighting Gilead. My sister and I and her family are all on the east coast, near the levers of power, and if the world goes pear shaped, this will likely necessitate an escape to Canada. In the show, my sister gets the first kill, blowing someone in half with a shotgun to protect her kids. I end up carrying whispers and hope between resistance cells, learning and then teaching fighters how to drop IEDs from drones. We do not make it to Canada, at least, not in season 1, which ends with all of us separated, in different peril. Pence is sworn in, Trump having finally died from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt earlier in the season. There is a vigil by the mall. A silent protest. Soldiers approach. Open fire. We don't hear the gunshots. Instead, Punching in a Dream (Stripped) plays.

There are many possible futures, and this is just one. In seeing it, recognizing it, and putting energy towards it, we inevitably summon it. We choose the gods we give energy to, and when you pay tithe to the God of the End, you rest your palm on the minute hand, nudging it just slightly closer to midnight. Of course, when the great wolf is outside braying for blood, it would be stupid to block your ears singing la-la-la and hope it goes away. Maybe it's braying for someone else's blood? No. We have no choice but to prepare for the end—and all of us together, preparing for the end, serving the god's many faces, this is what shall bring it about. Facing the end, we must be ready to protect each other; we must be ready to run, and to fight. This fire in our blood is the God of the End's favored form of worship, and it gobbles up the prayers hungrily.

The God of the End promises many things—amongst them, liberation. We will be free, without all this. Hunted, yes. Traumatized? Bleeding? Possibly dead? Yes, yes, all yes. But maybe we can build something better, after all this has gone. Maybe to save the world, we have to just burn it all down.

I used to think about killing myself a lot. You could get away from all this. Little demons, minor souls of Ω, whispering as dad yells at me. It could all be over they tell me as my whole family fights, their vaporous, heavy souls curling around my stomach, their pungent tongues whispering an offer of power, the greatest power in the whole world: the power to end it.

They don't come back much these days, but once you've cracked the door to those whispers, you're never really rid of them. These days, I treat mine as tiny messengers, telling me when the world is becoming unbearable, and other things too.

The apocalypse choir sings with many voices. Some say kill yourself. Some cry warnings:

They're trying to bomb politicians.
They're murdering Jews in Synagogues.
They are growing a new kind of army.
They are teaching it the taste of blood.
It can get much, much worse.
Look: The kettle is barely hot.
The world has only just begun to warm.
You know where this is going
All of this is going away.

All the lights go down as I crawl into the spaces
Fight, flight, or the screams, life tearing at the seams

On the worst days, I think they will shoot me as we try to cross into Canada. Perhaps we drown crossing in a boat—I have always suspected I will die by drowning.

If it falls apart I will surely wake it
Bright lights turn me green, this is worse than it seems

There are moments when I think perhaps there will be an election, and it will turn the boat of state that, for better or worse, we're all on together, and we will make it through this storm. These moments are vaporous, and I do not really believe them. The injuries seem too massive, the wounds too deep. Uncle Sam's dead, kids. The cancer finally got him.

Wait… I don't ever want to be here
Like punching in a dream, breathing life into my nightmare

There are moments when I walk through the city and think: I am going to have to leave here someday. And this makes me love it with a ferocity I did not know was there. Someday we will not have grocery stores or trains; my parents are going to die; I am going to die. Will we die together? Or will we be separated when it happens, by time or distance? Will I be in New York when I get the call? Will I have to fly out and disassemble a life, all of us mourning as we excavate long-sealed rooms? Or will the flights be grounded? Will I be far away? In another country, unable to return. Or returned, and jailed. Returned, and fighting in secret. Huddled beneath the floorboards, we whisper old stories to one another, of all the times they have tried to kill us before, and how they have failed, and they will keep failing, because we are the heroes at the end of the world, and we too are the cells of something ancient and powerful, we will fight, and we will live, and we will live, and we will live until we can no longer

cracks and fissures

The first time I tripped, I was seventeen, visiting K in San Francisco. I don't remember how it came up, but he had them, and I wanted to try them.

“What happens if I have a bad trip?”

“You won't have a bad trip,” he promised, “Just don't let your thoughts spiral. I just remember: I'm on a drug. I'm going to have fun.”

We ate them raw. They weren't unpleasant, just a peculiar kind of crunchy that became an equally peculiar sort of spongy, with an aftertaste that I can only describe as bluish. We lay on his bed as a slight queasiness came and went, became transfixed with a glowing plastic cube for an hour or two or god knows how long, really, and then he took me to Golden Gate Park. As we walked to the train, there were people all around.

“What are these people doing?”

“They're going to work,” K replied. We took in the street together, the crowd of people, all with somewhere to be, something to do. “Isn't it weird?”


K managed Muni, thank god. As we walked up towards the park, the trees began to come into view. In that moment, they were impossibly large. They were breathing, moving like giant, gentle monsters. Then they reached down with their great arms and scooped up my mind.

In the park, I was consumed by a playfulness I hadn't in felt in years. I felt like a little girl, dancing on the park's lawn. K sat watching, cross-legged, Buddha-like. He is an immensely comforting presence to me, I realized then, as he floated above the lawn, the edges of him shifting like a character from Waking Life.

The mushrooms pulled me out of a phenomenal depression that had engulfed most of my adolescence. I decided to put off killing myself, a decision I'm pleased about today. I don't think I was really going to do it—but the image of my past self is irretrievably tinted by the fact of my survival, so who knows. There are so many futures for every past; I don't know what would have happened if what happened didn't happen; I'm trying to somehow avoid emitting the cliché that mushrooms saved my life, but I really can't, and anyway, it feels tremendously petty to deny them the credit. To this day, in the armory psychedelica, I consider them the shield: heavy and protective, the surface the gnarled and knotted branches of the oldest tree.

Horizons (subtitle: Perspectives on Psychedelics) takes place every fall in New York. The perspectives on offer broadly fall under the umbrella of ‘do them,’ and if you imagine every sort of person who might be interested in such a thing, can come up with $155 for a ticket, and can show up to something at a prescribed time despite perhaps not believing in time, you'll have a pretty good sense of the crowd. There were researchers and theorists and depressingly few indigenous people, burners of course, people who I'm reasonably sure would describe themselves as radicals, libertarians, and worse, cops. I presume. I didn't meet any cops, to the best of my knowledge, but it's impossible that they were not present, at this conference, Illegal Drugs: Perspectives on Drugs (the illegal kind).

The cops didn't affect my experience outside the usual way that they always infect every moment. This is why I mention them: they are a pervasive presence in my psyche, and if I don't name them frequently, they and the attendant stresses and coping mechanisms that stem from living in a militarized panopticon will fade into the backdrop of invisible threads from which our world is woven. Then I'll never be free of them, even deep in the forest, even safe amongst the trees.

Michael Pollan was there too, for he has a new book out about psychedelics—How to Change Your Mind. I should mention here that I loathe Michael Pollan (I'm sparing you the pollen puns). It's not entirely rational, it's just that his approach to the entire universe is approximately that of a white guy on safari, for whom nothing is quite real. He wrote an entire book on the ethics of eating meat, eventually arriving at the conclusion that it's probably a bit bad, but he really enjoys it, I mean really enjoys it, so.

There are, unsurprisingly, tensions in the psychedelic community, in part because of Michael Pollan and his book, and really, what his book represents, which is the final blandening of psychedelics, the completion of their journey from magical sacrament to tech CEO passtime. As with any conference, the drama presented most prominently during audience questions, that time during which conference organizers ill-advisedly put microphones into the hands of anyone who manages to walk in the front door and appears sober.

The first talk I saw was Sarah Lappan and Peter Hendricks discussing their research on using psilocybin to treat cocaine addiction. Almost casually, in the midst of sharing a series of genuinely powerful first-hand narratives from their patients, Dr. Lappan mentioned that they the researchers don't condone using mushrooms recreationally. This struck me as an odd thing to mention to a room full of people who definitely do, coming from someone who almost certainly has. I mean, who goes into psychedelic mushroom research? You were really into chanterelles?

When she was done, the first question was immediately: what did you mean by that? And we were off. Dr. Lappan responded with something entirely unsatisfying about the possible dangers, like maybe you take mushrooms at a concert and have a bad trip, the asker went off about harm reduction, Dr. Hendricks weighed in finally and almost hit the heart of it. He said: Look. We are researchers at a public university. We are doing publicly funded research. Did not say: We have to say this. We receive funding from, amongst other places, the DEA. Hell, lady, there are cameras right there.

This is what I mean by drama—literally a performance, practically scripted. Don't get me wrong, I was into it. I delighted in what the woman in the audience was asking, even though the play was going nowhere. The researchers could say nothing other than what they did. But she couldn't just be silent. She was channeling anger, and beneath that anger, fear. Everyone was afraid. Everyone in the building was afraid of the cops. On stage, the researchers shouting: Don't you see? There are cops everywhere! We're trying to make friends with them, and you're ruining it. And the reply: Yes, we know. Don't leave us alone with them.

It's not unlike when gays were fighting for marriage, and queers were fighting to burn marriage to the ground, and there were arguments about subverting marriage as an institution and the allocation of activist resources and what it all boiled down to was: look, we are dying, and if you win this, if you can join up with them and be normal like them and be white like them you are going to abandon us.

And they did. Some of them.

There was a rift, anyway, and it burned painfully, magma seeping out, waters boiling, and it is still cooling and erupting and cooling and erupting. But this is how new land is born.

I didn't start transition immediately after my first trip. But it did plant a seed. It showed me: look, you can be happy. It opened the door for me to consider what happiness would look like for me. Slowly, over the next few years, with the help of the Internet, I figured out a hormone schedule, ordered the drugs from Vanuatu, and started to make myself who I wanted to be. I never sought a therapist's help for any of this. It's not just that I was afraid they would say no. I was afraid of putting myself in the position of having my experience evaluated by someone not party to it. So I didn't. This was my own expression of fierce individuality. I became my own science experiment.

This path isn't without risks, and so I don't know if I would recommend it to anyone who has better options. But I didn't; all alternatives seemed intolerable. In consequence, I never got a single, authoritative stamp on my identity. The evidence was never filtered through authority, never coerced into a definitive boolean value: yes, you are really trans. Instead, I had the powerful but somewhat unsatisfying answers of science. My model fit the evidence, and it seemed to be working, but always in a Bayesian sense, with an unbounded universe of possibilities at the periphery, doors held ever so slightly open.

While K meditated on the lawn, I went into one of the park's bathrooms, where old streaks on the wall were still dripping and the shadows were full of spiders, and some of them were even physically there. I did not like the bathroom. I would not have gone in, but the mushrooms demanded it.

When I emerged, K was no longer in his spot on the lawn. I walked over to it and looked around, my eyes darting across increasingly blurry trees. Okay, if K is gone, if I was alone—I started to think, and my thoughts touched the edge of a whirlpool.

“Hey,” K said, coming up next to me. He'd gone a few feet down the hill.

“See,” he said, “If you'd come out, and I wasn't there, and I wasn't anywhere around? That would be a bad trip.”


I've had several trips that could reasonably be described as "bad" since then. In the first, T and I had mushroom tea in our apartment, and my ego dissolved. I was wholly unprepared for it. I tried desperately to hold on to my self, which at the time was still squishy, still cooling. I only wanted to listen to Teagan and Sara. I walked and thought in circles, muttering, “they're Canadian. i'm Canadian. they're lesbians. i'm lesbians.” It's funny now, and it was funny then, to some part of me. Some timesliced laughter process allowed to run just after tick, but well before tock, when the world would reset to a moment before.

“You just have to breathe through it,” T advised, but I couldn't. The whirlpool had caught me off-guard, and I was sucked in. I eventually ended up on the bed, being born and reborn, floating in a miasma of my earliest memories and deepest insecurities, amongst them my favorite anxiety at the time: whether or not I was really trans. I wasn't yet out to my parents, and their imagined reactions flickered, mixing with childhood memories and implanted anxieties that I'd thought were long gone, but of course, were just waiting for me to return to the past.

This is what's really scary about ego death. Sure, you have to die, and that's not great—but then you have to be born, and it's in that space, right where we've rooted into the world, that our most potent unhealed wounds lie.

That trip was bad in the sense that it was not particularly fun. But it was useful. For one thing, it taught me that when the world is being ripped away, it's okay, it's going to come back eventually. This makes it much easier to let it go.

My more recent bad trips were undertaken with someone who was not safe or particularly good for me at the time, for reasons that are a few stories unto themselves. I was already in a tremendously low place. I likely would have ended up having some kind of breakdown regardless—but the acid certainly helped me along. Acid is the armory's finest dagger, whose infinitesimal point can tease apart the thread of moments. In those trips it peeled off my skin, rendering me vulnerable and receptive to my then-friend's poison.

I fell to pieces. I went to Iceland. I put myself back together. I named my dynamic with that person as abusive and got the hell away from it. I grew skin again. It all worked out in the end, and I grew tremendously from the experience. It was terrible, and I didn't love it, and I wouldn't trade for it, either. There have been times in the years since when I've wanted to return to that blown-open state, when I was nothing, and felt like I was going to die, and so felt like perhaps I could be anything.

But then people say the same thing about cancer. Cancer, which we treat with poison. The chemo kills all of you, but hopefully kills the cancer a little bit faster. Psychedelics are the psychic equivalent of this, in reverse. Fertilizer for the mind. Everything grows, trees and mold alike.

In the far right—no, farther than that—“red pilling” is getting someone to wake up to the truth of that world: that white people are under attack from feminists and communists and the Jews of course, and the master race must fight back by embracing fascism and white nationalism and, reluctantly, killing us all. The term comes from a movie by two trans lesbians, and I don't really know how they've factored that into their world.

Anyway, Unicorn Riot has an archive of messages captured from far right Discords, and Robert Evans analyzed how some folks there said they were red-pilled. Several of them mention LSD. “LSD freed me,” one says, I suppose echoing my own experience. Another says that in the beginning, he was watching Hitler speeches on acid. He also says that growing up, he watched Hitler's speeches with his dad every day, so I think we may have different definitions of “the beginning”.

A while ago, I was talking with my brilliant friend L about 90s culturejamming, the practice of fucking with people's expectations, creating noise and chaos to knock people out of the thrall of the capitalist machine. Underlying the practice was the sense that if you could just take people and shake them, make them look up, look around, and see what's going on, then they would be with you. Or, if not with you, at least heading in the right direction. There was a general sense that this strategy would not work for conservatives and authoritarians, that they lacked the requisite sense of humor; that theirs were paradigms of rigid order, and so anything which could rupture that order was a radical tool. Like putting acid in the city water supply and waiting for the great awakening.

Nobody ever tried that, perhaps because deep down, nobody ever truly believed it would work. No, who am I kidding? Plenty of people truly believed it would work. It's just that none of those people could get their shit (including, mind you, a truly monumental amount of acid) together. Probably a good thing, because they were demonstrably wrong. Here we are, in the future, where culture has been pretty thoroughly jammed, yet the machine churns on. Turns out, when you break open the world, people swarm out like fluttering, confused moths, and we fly into the light, yes, into any light we can find, and sometimes that's a burning cross. Turns out, you don't need to be funny to take advantage of chaos. You can just stand in front of people and lie to their faces until they believe every word.

Horizons closes with a massive panel of all their speakers. This panel, like Horizons, like the hippies it sprung from, like the MAPS board of directors, is incredibly white. Blow open the doors of perception, I guess, but not all of them. If folks dosing themselves into Nazism didn't do it, this should give lie to the idea that there's anything uniquely directional about the effects of psychedelics on the psyche, or the effects of chaos on the soul. Psychedelics let you see farther, but you still have to look. They let you crack yourself open and reorganize, but they do not dictate the new arrangement of your organs. They are stimulating and slightly euphoric, and that’s nice, but people can get excited about a lot of terrible things.

Michael Pollan was not present on the panel. But he came up, in a question that was even less of a question than the recreational mushrooms un-question earlier. The “question” was, why is this guy speaking for us? This guy who, just to pick one example of mediocrity, interviewed tons of researchers for his book, and quoted zero women. He gave more examples, this not-question asker. It was really quite a long and satisfying takedown.

One of the organizers responded with a story. Look, she said. I live in a very small, very red town upstate. A lot of folks voted for Trump. I don't talk about this stuff with my neighbors. But this book means that they are talking about it. It creates an opening. It's good for us.

She said some more words, but I'd stopped listening. I was thinking about who the “us” in “good for us” refers to, and how that question unavoidably, hopelessly, complicates the “good.” I was thinking of her, living up in Trump country. About how she is able to do that, and I am not. That's the thing about being white. You can always go stealth.

My family and I have begun having those talks, the ones that sound a little bit insane. We talk about leaving. No, fleeing. About meeting places near the border, about routes and waypoints, figuring out how much distance we can cover on foot, with two kids.

Perhaps it's just The Handmaid's Tale that's gotten under our skin, and we'll all look back on this and laugh. Remember when we were making plans to escape the U.S.? Ha ha.

But then you read the news. Today's terrible news is that the government is considering bureaucratically erasing trans people. What does “considering” mean? (Apparently, there is a memo.) What would the effects be? Who the hell knows, but it seems stupid to assume they're not serious, or the impact would be benign. We're coming up on two years of reasonable, level-headed people saying “oh that'll never happen” of things that, subsequently, did.

In response, Michael Pollan would like you to not take the bait. The most charitable reading of this is that he believes that the government is not serious about any of it, and are just using it as a political distraction (and indeed, it is quite distracting to think that I might wake up tomorrow to find that my passport and driver's license are invalid). But I don't know why an evidence-based man of science would say a thing so clearly not in evidence. More likely, he's saying: sshhhhh. Don't scream, you'll ruin everything. Just shut up. Just be quiet a moment. It'll all be over soon.

I'm sure Michael supports rights for trans people, in the same bloodless way he thinks that we probably shouldn't eat factory farmed animals. Michael is not a farm animal, he loves no farm animals, and so the proposition floats, held like a balloon. If the wind picks up, he can let it go before it cuts his palm, and it is impossible to escape this flesh-knowledge of fundamental safety.

I called it the psychedelic "community" before, but that sense of the word, to describe a group of people drawn together out of shared interest, it's a rather new one. In the older sense, a community is the people you have around you so you can make it through winter. It's the people who you may or may not like, but whose lives are entangled with your own so thoroughly that you have to work together. Community may condense through shared interest, but it is cemented by shared suffering, and when this is lacking, the rumbling tectonic processes of our social planet will open cracks and fissures and, eventually, there will be fire.

I've been a bit mean to Michael, here. He doesn't deserve it (but there are many things that have come to him that he doesn't deserve, and I think we can agree that, on the whole, he's gotten a pretty good deal out of them). All of us are a little bit Pollanated (I had to). We can't fit inside of ourselves the breadth of human experience, and we occupy positions of power and safety which we can never truly sever, and we have skin which we could not put in the game even if we wanted to.

So this is the work. The daily cutting of skin. Peeling back the layers of yourself and trying to tuck into your flesh experiences it cannot hold. Your skin will grow back. The experiences will reject. And so the work is to keep doing it, day after day, until you have taught your bones the meaning of justice. And this is daunting, and painful, and humiliating, and necessary, and there's medicines that can help, if you know how to use them.

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