High Literature

Hello freaks and geeks,

Some might say that much like hearing people recount their dreams, hearing people attempt to regale you with their drug experiences is bound to be a bore. To such people, I say phooey, the real bore is in fact, you! And to prove it, here is a new segment called High Literature, in which I loosely review substance related literature… Giddy up!

The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Odyssey by Bett Williams, 2020

The Wild Kindness is a delightfully chaotic antidote to scientifically-grounded drug reads like Drug Use for Grown Ups and Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, in which responsible, respectable authors translate complex science into something partially comprehensible to a lay audience to make a case for the legitimacy of drug use. In contrast, Williams leans into her capacity to alienate normies, regaling readers with tales of a fringe existence spent hosting psychedelic jamborees in the New Mexico desert while wearing a big cowboy hat. She heartily rejects the increasingly popular belief that to find healing through psychedelics, we need a medical container: to her, the mushroom is the teacher, sans shaman or therapist. True to form, the plants guide her through the sometimes scary, mostly beautiful personal and collective experiences contained in this memoir.

While The Wild Kindness is an ode to the deepened sense of trust and community that can come from doing psychedelics with others, Williams spends a good chunk of its pages lamenting an ex-girlfriend who she claims unfairly slandered her name and spread lies about her among their queer community. While the thought of being wrongly accused and ostracized from one’s chosen coven is no cup of tea, if your ex literally has a restraining order against you, I don’t think writing a book where you shit talk them to the tens is the move. Maybe those mushrooms have some more work to do on this one!

Either way, it’s a worthy read for inexplicable but perfect advice like this alone: Vortexes of good fortune are usually preceded by a person who appears as a clown or trickster. It’s always good to pay attention to clowns when they come around. They tend to signal the arrival of good things. Vortexes of ill fortune, however, are usually preceded by life coaches, wormhole openers, fortune tellers, and psychic mediums. Stay away from those life coaches, freaks!

Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream by Jay Stevens, 1987

Come to this book for its incredible title, stay for the comprehensive psychedelic history lesson. Stevens artfully outlines the origin story of LSD and other psychedelics in the United States and the cultural reckoning that took place in the swinging 60s, with a focus on a handful of key figures: Harvard professor turned general madman Timothy Leary, writers Aldous Huxley and Ken Kesey, of Brave New World and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fame, respectively, and psychologist turned spiritual teacher Richard Alpert aka Ram Dass. Side characters include Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and the actor Cary Grant, who allegedly took LSD more than 100 times, once waxing lyrical about his experiences with the memorable line: “The moment when your conscious meets your subconscious is a hell of a wrench!” I’ll say!

While Storming Heaven is thorough enough to feel like a bit of a tome, the absurd and juicy morsels scattered throughout kept me turning the pages with fervor. Did you know that in an alternate universe, psychedelics could have been called “phanerothyme”, had the psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond not rebuked that suggestion with the delightful little ditty, “To fathom hell or soar angelic Just take a pinch of psychedelic”? Or, that when tour buses full of curious gawkers arrived in Haight-Ashbury, the then hippie capital of San Francisco, bedraggled youths would hold mirrors up to the tourists, urging them to take a long hard look at themselves? Neither did I, but now I do!

I will leave you with a spicy take from Goodreads reviewer Justin, who gave this book five stars and noted only: If I have one criticism for this book, it’s that its writing is so aggressively engaging and colorful that at points it borders on being ‘cute.’ Note: I have never taken LSD. To Justin and his disclaimer I say that in this house, we love cute!

Until we meet again, please send me your dreams and first person experiences on the likes of caffeine, betel nut, peyote and absinthe.

Yours faithfully,

Your slurpy comrade.