Next Stop – Goa, India – A New Generation of Pilgrims Hits India’s Hippie Trail –

In case you missed it… here’s a terrific piece from the New York Times back in 2006.  I know that I was only dimly aware (if at all) with Goa’s hippie history when I was becoming of age. Certainly, if I had been more aware of Goa’s role in the formation of the culture I claim as my own, I would have made sure to do more than touch down there en route to somewhere else when I was “in country.”  If you ever wondered why Goa, India has such a hold on the more Bohemian-minded among us, this article has it all.  It even references a DVD documentary I own called, “Last Hippie Standing,” which dates from about the same time period. If you ever wondered why India in general and Goa in particular hold such power among the more “artistically” (raver) inclined folks, this is why.  I may still write more about this or my experiences  at a later date, but I did want to pass this link along now.
Anyway, check it out if you like:

In Case You Missed It… Sasha Shulgin Has Left The Building

Although I am always sad to hear when a culture warrior has passed on, I am also secretly thrilled to see the New York Times obituary because it’s exciting to me to see my  counter-cultural heroes celebrated in the mainstream press, even when that exposure is post-mortem. In this instance, I heard a few days ago of the death of Alexander Shulgin, a psychedelic researcher, chemist, “neuronaut” of the psychoactive frontier, and synthesizer of more than 200 psychoactive substances, including MDMA and many related compounds.  (MDMA was originally produced by Merck pharmaceuticals in 1914, but when the company failed to find a way to monetize the substance, they allowed their patent to lapse, thus allowing Shulgin to re-synthesize the substance about half a century later.) Although I would not describe myself as a drug user per se, I have been long fascinated by the effects of psychoactive plants and chemicals on the human (and animal) psyche, by the variety of the chemicals and plant substances that have been traditionally used to alter reality, and by the lengths to which humans and even other animals have gone for eons to chemically enhance or alter their  reality, whether for spiritual, therapeutic, recreational, or other reasons.  (Among the more unique small books in my collection is the aptly titled, Animals and Psychedelicswhich anecdotally explores “the natural world and the instinct to alter consciousness,” according to its subtitle.) Most people who know me at all, even superficially, know of my fascination with herbs, supplements, and other natural substances, both with the rainbow of available options and the effects of these substances on the healthy functioning of our brains and bodies. What is less well-known — and really, this is partly by design because of the stigma that usually surrounds such subjects — is how I came to the study of herbs and medicinal substances at all.  I never set foot in a health food store, that I can remember, until the day I went into one to apply for a job.  As a child I was a student of the outdoors, and I always enjoyed learning about wild things.  In summer camp, I had a healthy fascination with outdoor crafts and learning survival skills, but really none of those experiences properly prepared me for my later encounters with wild foods, foraging, or the immense power of some innocuous-looking flowers, trees, etc. to heal or harm when used correctly or incorrectly.  At camp, we pressed flowers and butterflies, learned how to start a fire without matches, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to make rudimentary shelters, even how to make crafty things out of plants, rocks, etc., but I don’t remember a single syllable being uttered about how I should feed myself or give first aid if I found myself in the wild without food or a first aid kit.  Truthfully, our instructors geared any early preparedness training  more toward what we should bring from home to properly protect ourselves from the elements until help could get to us, not how we should feed ourselves if we became separated from our food supply or first aid kit. So how did I  come to the study of medicinal and edible wild plants?  Partly as a function of all the reading I did in high school about cultural upheaval in America in the 1960’s, I fell down a number of literary rabbit holes, digressing to dig deeper into various subjects and into the lives and literary works of  culture warriors and iconoclasts.  I read extensively about the lives and lively interactions of the Beat poets, spending a lot of quality time on Allen Ginsberg (an early gay hero of mine), William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.   Kerouac led me to Neal Cassady, who led me to Ken Kesey and the Acid Tests.  Ginsberg led me to the gay counterculture and to Bob Dylan.  I was already listening to the Grateful Dead, the Doors, and other bands, and it was thrilling to me to read about how Ginsberg, Cassady, Kesey, Dylan, and the Dead collided in psychedelic space and helped to catalyze one sphere in an already chaotic countercultural universe.  Reading a biography of The Doors’ Jim Morrison, I learned about Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and the French literary counterculture that swirled around them.  Everywhere woven  through these literary conversations was the creative use of plants, absinthe, alcohol, or other substances.  In many cases, as early as high school English, I learned how substances like these influenced the life and creative output of artists, writers, and other cultural icons.  (Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s use of opium springs to mind; reputedly, “Kubla Khan” was reputedly written under its influence .) Throughout my early forays into these controversial subjects there was always the background chatter from  Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign.  The chatter suggested that no matter how many writers and artists produced great works while under the influence, their success was almost accidental, and their work was of dubious value because of how they created it. Imagine my surprise when I had my first psychedelic experiences in college and realized that not only do a lot of these substances “work”, but they work well and there is not necessarily anymore likelihood that you will die the first time you try them than if you over-consume alcoholic beverages, which are legal.  In some cases (weed, for example), there is even less chance that you will overdose than with alcohol.  True, they aren’t for everyone, and there is a chance of psychological damage or physical injury if one is too casual or doesn’t pay proper attention to what is known in the psychedelic world as “set and setting.” (1) In any case, I was sad to hear that Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin had passed on but glad to see The Times give his life and work a nice review and give him a final send-off.

(1) Note: [Set is short for mindset.  In other words, how is your attitude?  How are you feeling?  Are you mentally prepared to ingest the substance you are about to consume?  Are you ready to face whatever personal demons you might stir up?  If you can’t face these questions, proceed cautiously, if at all.  Then, there is the other part of the equation, setting.  Are you going it alone or hanging out with friends?  Would you prefer sitting on a quiet starry hillside, playing frisbee on a sunny day in the park, or dancing all night at a banging dance party in a crowded, high energy club?  Not every altered experience is micro-manageable to this level, but learning that your preferences or safety needs are different from what you expected or planned for has consequences, ranging from seriously inconvenient to even downright dangerous under some circumstances.]

In Case You Missed It… Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sent Off By Salman Rushdie

So as some of my regular readers may have gathered, I have a fairly active mind and a lot of reading interests, many of which overlap somewhere between thirty years of personal journals and my regular reading of the New York Times.

I had just read the cover story of the “Book Review” insert in The Times from a couple of weeks back.  There was a lovely and generous send off of Gabriel Garcia Marquez by another master of “magical realism,” Salman Rushdie.  I got excited because I remembered an essay I wrote when I was applying to college.  In my memory, the essay was about how I related to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and so would have made great fodder for my take on Salman Rushdie’s send off of Marquez.

Only thing is, when I tracked down that essay (which I do still have, archivist that I am, in my “high school essay” folder), I was somewhat mortified to discover that it wasn’t about how I related to Gabriel Garcia Marquez at all but how I related to Mario Vargas Llosa.  Three names, from an older generation, from the Americas, and an author but not a lot of similarity beyond that.  According to Wikipedia, Vargas Llosa “writes prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers.”  Garcia Marquez, however, started off as a journalist but was most well-known for popularizing a writing style known as “magic realism.”

Oh, well, such are the vicissitudes of memory and time.

In any case, the article is well worth reading.  Go here to check it out.

Talking in my sleep

Trolling through old journals when I was at home with a sinus infection yesterday, I came across this little curio.  (Apparently, sometimes in my sleep, I say interesting things.)

Talking in my sleep [again.]  Chris told me that this is what I said last night:

“I like it

when the music






If it’s a sound

I’ve never heard before….




The intriguing thing about this to me is that this is a pretty good description of the music, especially the electronic music, that I like.  I like intense, psychedelic trance and sample-intensive or  bass-heavy tracks. I have always collected media, especially books, CD’s, live concert tapes, and vinyl albums.  I have an especially large collection of what I might describe as Net Label audio and found sounds.  When Black Lodge Video first opened here in midtown Memphis, I often rented unusual fare, and when I found soundtrack dialogue, music, or atmospheric material that I thought might sound cool sampled into music, I ripped it to cassette, so I have somewhere a fair-sized collection of stuff like that too.  Even as a child, I did stuff like that.  One of my earliest audio projects as a kid involved making audio cassette recordings of  one of HBO’s first original programs.  These shows were a series of very atmospheric, half hour-long renditions of Raymond Chandler’s early 20th century detective stories, featuring the private investigator, Sam Spade.  I faithfully recorded every episode but made the mistake of leaving the tapes in my parents’ basement while I was at college.  My mother, bless her heart, threw them away in one of her anti-stuff purges.  Periodically, I have looked for that series online, with thoughts of replacing those lost tapes, though buying them would only be step one, with re-recording all of those audio tapes a major step two, and I do have other projects.  Of course, the other side of the coin here is that this occurred a long time ago.  Why do I even remember this event at all?  I made those recordings years before I came to understand the reason to buy the highest quality recording medium you can afford, so I most likely recorded those shows on cheap cassettes that would have disintegrated or melted long before now in the less than archive-quality purgatory in which most of my remaining cassettes now live.  At the same time, if I still had those cassettes, I could have used them as sample fodder on my radio show or as fill when I was still doing the DJ thing occasionally.

Nonetheless, the pattern of sampling and archiving is one I began very early in my life.

Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, given that my mother was a librarian, and my father was a teacher for almost 40 years.   My father has always been quite rigorous in his archiving tendencies.  He keeps journals (as I do) and freely admits having kept a copy of just about everything he has written as well as copious notes on anything he’s read that relates to any of his several research subjects.  From my dad, I learned to archive my work, to keep journals, and to take notes on (and in) books, magazines, articles, etc. that touch on my subjects of interest.  My mother’s influences in this area are more subtle but still there.  She is ardently (and increasingly) anti-stuff, where I have always been a collector.  The collector impulse I got from my father, but my mother’s work as a librarian has meant that I spent a significant part of my younger years in and around libraries, and because both of my parents worked for the same academically rigorous and resource-rich private school, I had early access to world-class libraries with college-level resources.  As a child, I spent any afternoons not otherwise engaged in after school activities hanging out in the library where my mother worked.  As time went on and I outgrew the kids collection, I graduated to the teacher’s reading room where the grown up fiction was kept.  From my mother, I learned the importance  of reading, for pleasure as well as for a purpose.  Spending so much time in libraries helped me see the utility of catalogs and lists to create order.  By extension, keeping clippings and notes on an array of subjects has helped me to impose a kind of order on my otherwise chaotic universe of interests.

While on the subject of the personal archives to impose order, I just read an excellent eight-part series of reflections by London-based evolutionary biologist and writer Olivia Judson on the New York Times blog .  Called “The Task,” the series was an extended meditation on the power of stuff and on our complicated relationships with objects, mementos, and emotional debris accumulated over a lifetime. Judson talks a lot about the emotional attachments she uncovered after her father died, when she and her brother had to dispose of forty-five years of her parents’ accumulated stuff.  The author details some of the conflicting emotions that came to the surface, while at the same time conveying to us what interesting folks her parents were.   Apparently, her dad worked for Time Magazine in 1960’s, and he kept everything he ever wrote, as well as file cabinets full of notes and clippings.  And books.  And stuff.  Lots of other stuff.  At the time of his death — he was the surviving parent — his house brimmed with mementos, memories, and emotional landmines for her and her brother.  I read the entire series and can say that it is well worth it and is a surprisingly quick read at that for what it is.  I was most struck by Judson’s last few paragraphs of part one, though, and found these words most germane to my thoughts on the power of stuff.  In closing, I’d like to offer this quote from Olivia Judson’s “The Task” because it encapsulates a lot of my conflicted relationship with  stuff, both having it and collecting it.:

“…To anyone who suggested that maybe he did not need all the stuff, my father would invoke the great psychologist William James, who wrote that the loss of possessions gives ‘a sense of the shrinkage of our personality, a partial conversion of ourselves to nothingness.’

“I never agreed with the idea that personality is defined by objects; I would rather say that objects are defined by personality. Yet when someone is dead, and their belongings are all that is left, dispersing those belongings feels like an erasing of their physical presence on the earth.

“Moreover, although my father didn’t mean it this way, there is a sense in which James was right. An old T-shirt waves at you and says, ‘Remember when we went to Hawaii together?’; a plastic cup reminds you of a party you went to one hot summer day. A dried corsage — where was the dance? who was the date? — reminds you of the girl you were, who thought a corsage worth saving. In other words, objects are keys to remembering what happened and who you were, and their loss can make the memories inaccessible. So — for me at least — this task also brings with it a fear that in throwing things away, I am also throwing away access to parts of my mind.”

To a certain extent, Judson speaks to my fear too.  On some level, I think my objects (and the collections of which they are a part) are like place holders for the memories and experiences they represent.  I wonder if I’m afraid that parting with my things, whether journals, or books, will erase the memories or experiences they represent.  Should I continue to buy (or collect)  books, music, etc.?  Am I afraid that without such reminders, I won’t remember the present five, ten, or even thirty years hence?  On what level do I use objects to hold space for memories I’ve made and experiences or connections I’ve had, and on what levels do the memories impart relevance unto the objects?  Does collecting these things help me to form or hold on to my memories?  Do these objects enhance connection or insulate me from it?  Which objects enhance and extend my life and which detract from it?  Does having these books, journals, magazines, and media in general offer enough value to my life that it is worth it to have them around, or do they mostly provide another excuse for why I am so rooted in my life in Memphis?  After all, I can’t load all of this stuff in a truck and go on the archetypal Great American road trip across the country, or can I?  And would I even be able to enjoy such a trip if I hauled all of my stuff with me?

All are good questions, really, but there are no easy answers here.

The best I can hope for, I think, is that wrestling with these issues will help me live in the present, write honestly, and continue to engage in my life while not simply archiving or recording it.

If only the world thought more this way

Of course, one could view this as yet more Google-positive spin, but all the same, it would be a more interesting world if more large corporate employers employed similar hiring criteria to those that “Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies” professes to use.   In essence, he says GPA (and even college degree) is largely irrelevant, along with “expertise”.  Instead, he looks for both large and small egos in the same person — the ability to take control but also get out-of-the-way of the team.

For an intriguing glimpse inside one of the worlds most successful companies, check out this interview from the Times:

One Window Into 18th Century Has Just Closed

Landing on Pitcairn Island - Bounty Bay in 1970's

Landing on Pitcairn Island – Bounty Bay in 1970’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am an inveterate reader of the reader of the New York Times.  Every day I manage to find some small moments to dig in and see what’s going on in the world, across the United States, or even just in New York.  Quite often I find a story that appeals to my many interests.  Today’s offering was a window into 18th century Colonial history as well as the adventure stories of my youth.  I remember when I was a kid being given a tattered cheap paperback copy of  the original 1932 novel The Mutiny On The Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.  It joined other treasured adventure books.  Favorites included copies of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen.  I pored through all of those books, drinking in the rich details of bygone eras.

Imagine my surprise today to see that the original mutineer on the HMS Bounty, Fletcher Christian, had a great-great-great-grandson who was well know enough to get almost a half page obituary in the New York Times.  Fletcher Christian’s descendent, Tom Christian, died over a month ago at the ripe old age of 77.  At the time of his death, he still lived on, and in fact was the most well-known voice of, Pitcairn Island, part of the Pitcairn archipelago, Britain’s last colonial possession in the South Pacific.  Pitcairn Island’s only real claim to fame, at least in the positive sense, is as the final resting place of the HMS Bounty.  It has, according to the Times, a “permanent population” of 51 people and survives on quarterly supply deliveries and sale of baskets, honey, stamps, and trinkets (carved from wood they harvest on one of the uninhabited islands of the Pitcairn archipelago).

If you didn’t have a chance to read this obit, it is well worth your time to catch a glimpse of a vastly removed time in history.  Indeed, the famed mutiny took place in 1789.  To read the article, go here.

Another Great Article on The Origins & Practice of Creativity

English: The New York Times building in New Yo...

English: The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s New York Times front page yielded a lot of really sad news, but nestled comfortably mid-page there was a really interesting, curiously uplifting article by one of the Times’s art critics on why he began to write in the first place.  Reading this piece, I saw a lot of familiar scenes.  I am sure that we are worlds, perhaps also generations, apart in many ways but the scene he paints early in the article, I could have torn from the pages of my childhood as well:

“Then there was reading, a lot.  Typical scene: Four people — my young father and mother, my sister and I — in different parts of the house, glued to the page late into the night.  Many books around, on shelves, on desks, on chairs, an environment I duplicate wherever I live.”

There are differences, of course.  There always are.  Holland Cotter had a sister, I had a brother.  His father was a medical doctor, mine has a PhD.  His parents allowed him to wander freely through museums because they used the museums as a sort of “surrogate nanny” (his words). Our family went to museums together, more as a family outing.  Still his description of being seized by the aesthetics and the obvious stories of the Pre-Modern art initially and then gradually beginning to read the descriptions because he needed to know more, until finally he took notes on what he saw, all of that seems very familiar.  I did a lot of that too and do still.  I also write a lot, though perhaps (not yet) as well, and certainly not for as well-known an outfit as the New York Times, but still, the similarities were startling.

At any rate, the entire piece is definitely worth a read if you have the time.  It’s today’s paper, page A1, “Finding Poetry on the Page and, Later, on the Canvas,” by Holland Cotter, for the Critic’s Notebook.

An (Almost) perfect morning

Today is a fine example of what I might call an (almost) perfect morning.  I began the day with 45 minutes of yoga — a basic warm up section and then a more aggressive Suryanamascar (Sun Salutation) sequence.  My form is dreadful (so a work in progress, I suppose) but as it has been probably five years since I have made yoga a regular morning event, I am really trying  to build a habit, so I can then break the process down and hone in on each pose trying for perfect form.

So 45 minutes of yoga, followed by a high antioxidant, green smoothie with vegan protein to restore my energy, so that I can spend some quality time on my front porch, sans glasses, sipping  my (mostly decaf) coffee, soaking up vitamin D from indirect sunlight, and reading the New York Times.

Coffee in one hand, smoothie in the other, I am on my front porch now ready to greet the day.

Except for one thing.

There’s no paper today.

The first ripple in an otherwise placid morning.

Don’t know why I’m still surprised, though.  I’ve had to call them every day since last Thursday about delivery problems.  We have had to go through this whole process about once every six months since we started subscribing.

We picked up the New York Times about a year ago last spring, I think, after dropping Memphis’s sorry excuse for a paper, the Commercial Appeal.  I wanted to drop the Appeal after they redesigned it to look even more like an Unholy union of USA Today and the Smyrna Neighbor, a small town paper near where I grew up.  Not long after, the Appeal gave me all the reason I needed to reconsider my support.  The C.A.  ran two or three straight weeks of full-page, anti-gay, anonymously written ads, after the second or third week of which they printed a letter from the editor apologizing for agreeing to run the ad, while at the same time saying essentially “we only have to run the ad in question for one more week, and then we  promise we won’t do it again.”  Until the next time.

Back to the New York Times, though.

Our edition is printed in Nashville and trucked to Memphis in time for early morning delivery.  Unfortunately, they have to rely on the same local network of delivery people who every other paper does.  As a result, the Times comes every morning like clockwork until one morning it just stops.  Or it is there to greet me every morning until one day it comes wrapped up with the C.A.  Or some times they both come but in separate bags.  One memorable day (last Friday, I think) we got the C.A. and the New York Times together in one bag and USA Today in a separate bag.

If you were wondering, no, we don’t subscribe to USA Today either.

So coming around to this cycle of Memphis dysfunction, starting last week it was C.A. + NYT Tuesday through Thursday, then C.A.+ NYT+USA Today on Friday, nothing on Saturday, nothing on Sunday morning, but some time Sunday afternoon, the NYT was there, and nothing at all thus far this week, Monday through Wednesday.

Every time I come out to find…nothing, I hear a line from a movie play in my head.  It’s Donnie Darko talking to Roberta Sparrow, “No mail today. Maybe tomorrow.”

After the fourth time I call to get credit and report no paper (probably tomorrow), the NYT will escalate the complaint to a local distribution manager, who most likely will resolve the problem eventually, and then we will have perfect delivery for six months or so before the cycle will start again.

But I digress.

Back to my (almost) perfect morning.

Smoothie.  Dark coffee.  Hair done.  Breakfast with Chris, featuring the first fruits of the summer from our yard.  A small bowl of blueberries, a tiny but very sweet peach, and a small Gala apple.

Perfect balance of sweet tastes to welcome a fine day.

My country is my country even when it makes me sad

Facebook is a miraculous site. Through it, I keep in touch at least provisionally, with many, many more friends than would otherwise be possible. Through my news feed I can maintain a running commentary on my friends reading habits and be exposed to media documents I might otherwise never see. To keep things in perspective, though, my engagement with most everything that crosses my screen is pretty superficial.

Serendipity plays a large role in what I end up watching. My friends are pretty prolific with the videos, audio, links, essays, poems, etc. Just last week, I saw a link to something on the New York Times website, and while I was there, I picked up a story that has had deep and rather persistent impact on my outlook since I began following it. Most of the media I encounter on a daily basis is pretty superficial. Rarely have I seen anything that is as disturbing as this. Since I first watched this clip, I’ve been besieged with memories and hints of stories yet to be written. Read the rest of this entry »