Monday, February 28, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Photo: Mr Michael Phams
[Editor's note: We do not condone the use of illegal substances. This is for entertainment purposes only.]
FACT: Drug use has occasionally been responsible for inspiring people to high levels of achievement.
There are lots of examples in music and works of art, but the likes of LSD and cocaine have also resulted in radical breakthroughs in science and some famous works of literature. These are some of them.
Created by early man all over the world, using audiodriving and psychadelics.
Many groups around the world have long practiced drug-induced or drug-like experiences as a way of accessing a mental world that is invisible to the normally conscious self. While some indigenous American groups would use tobacco and fasting to induce this trance state, others would use psychoactive drugs (peyote anyone?) found in nature to explore this other world.
The San of Southern Africa, for example, would use a technique known as audiodriving. Which is based on prolonged sessions of dancing and repeated beats. The stimulation of the music and the exhaustion of the dancing combines to produce an altered state of consciousness not unlike an acid trip at times.
In the modern world, some folk do a very similar thing at all-night dance parties, or in the halls of char! ismatic churches, where worshippers might sing and dance feverishly for hours before someone becomes possessed.
The way this bizarre effect was explained in an unusually engrossing Archaeology class years ago, was that humans are basically neurologically wired so that when the brain overloads, it will trigger nervous activity on the optic nerve. The result of this is that when tripping in hallucinogenic states, you may initially see certain basic shapes that your optic nerve creates on overload.
Grids, spirals, lines, and dots are all common to the human eye-brain connection when hallucinating, and then these visions are rapidly interpreted as the brain tries to understand what our eyes are seeing. A grid may be the patterning on an animal for some or cloth for others. And so the magical voyage begins.
Its not particularly surprising that this inner world, full of magical creatures and events which cannot be explained, would form the primitive basis of religion.
If not invented, at least heavily crafted by Bob Marley and involved a large amount of cannabis.
One of the worlds first pop superstars and the man who gave the world I Shot the Sheriff, No Woman, No Cry, Could You Be Loved and many more. His posthumous compilation album Legend went platinum more times than its possible to smoke Mary Jane in a single sitting.
Marley was a member of the Rastafarian movement, for whom marijuana is a sacrament, taken to clear the mind and heal the soul. And, occasionally, make some damn good music. The relationship between musicians and drugs is hardly new. Or that occasional (and sometimes much more than occasional) drug ! use fost ers creativity in a manner that is just not possible using, say, mind mapping or word association.
Marley himself saw smoking dope as something to be taken seriously though, consistent with his Rastafarian roots. For him, it was an aid to meditation, and opening the mental and spiritual door that inspired much of his art.
Hunter S Thompson took pretty much everything and changed the way journalists wrote.
We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.
Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge, and I knew wed get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.
Pro-drug and anti-authoritarian, Hunter S. Thompson was credited with the first example of Gonzo journalism for his article The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Fear and Loathing followed soon after. It was a wild trip into Las Vegas, sampling most of the drugs of his generation. The New York Times would call it by far the best book yet written on the decade of dope.
Later a movie, Fear and Loathing was the result of Thompson attempting to capture the soul of a drug trip in Vegas in sober writing after the fact. With the help of a voice recorder, he tried to ! capture and then unscramble what had happened to him on his wild inner journey.
Writing himself into the story with a heavy dose of literary technique, Thompson made it acceptable for a generation of aspirant journalists to become emotionally and mentally invested in the stories they told. It was blasphemy to how Journalism had been done in the past, but the popularity of his approach has endured.
Oh, and on his death, his ashes were fired from a tower he had designed, in the shape of a two-thumbed hand holding a peyote button.
Dr Kary Banks Mullis and Dr Francis Crick, with a little help from Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.
Dr Kary won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993 for the invention of PCR, a technique which would allow certain sequences of DNA to be amplified for testing. This would would revolutionise DNA chemistry, making it far easier to isolate, amplify and test DNA sequences. In an interview, Dr Mullis attributed part of theorising this breakthrough to LSD:
Would I have invented PCR if I hadnt taken LSD? I seriously doubt it. I could sit on a DNA molecule and watch the polymers go by. I learnt that partly on psychedelic drugs.
In the field, Dr Kary is in good company. Dr Francis Crick the godfather of the double-helix structure of DNA was equally frank about his use of LSD during his career. It was rumoured that he may actually have been on the drug at the time of theorizing the double helix structure of DNA.
Where there was little precedent in molecular science (or shapes in general existence, for that matter) from which to derive and manipulate the twin helix structure, its not too hard to imagine a ladder bending or polymers in flight when tripping on LSD.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr H! yde
Robert Louis Stevenson, with a foreward by cocaine.
Stevenson was busy destroying stereotypes way back in 1886 and proving that cocaine could enhance the performance of others besides advertising executives or the celebrity nightlife circuit. While high on coke, he would write one of the classics of English literature.
All sixty thousand words of it. In six days. in 1886. Which would make NaNoWriMo look positively lazy. While cocaine may not have been the primary inspiration for the book, the idea of two separate mental universes in a single character would not have been too much of a stretch for Stevenson to imagine during his frantic writing.
Took Cocaine, Freud gave the world Psychoanalysis.
Whatever your feelings towards your father, Sigmund Freud is akin to the godfather of psychoanalysis the man who invented ideas of the unconscious mind and repression which still inform branches of psychiatry. His contributions to modern thought also included the practice of free association, the idea that dreams could be a gateway to the unconscious, and the assertion that sexual desire ultimately motivates much of human endeavour. Bars on Friday night appear to corroborate this thinking.
Less well-known outside of the psychoanalytic circuit was the fact that Freud was something of a coke fiend in his tw! enties, back in a time where the stuff was as common as Coca Cola (which contained coca extract as well). In 1884, he published a paper titled On Coca, expounding the virtues of the drug in curing a range of mental and physcial problems.
He would eventually come off the stuff (mostly) by the time he produced his most famous psychoanalytic insights. A minority credit his earlier interest in dreams and the unconscious mind in substantial part to the effects of the drug, arguing that cocaine in moderate doses is known to enhance sexual arousal and provide heightened focus for investigating new feelings.
Art and Music are some of the most strongly drug-influenced areas of human endeavour, but by no means the only ones. Do you have any fantastical drug-inspired creation stories that are not widely known?
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I NEEDED A PLACE to clear my head. To find some space to think and breathe. I booked a ticket to Baja, Mexico and packed a small bag containing only the essentials: a bikini and my tarot cards. I would stay at a friends secluded yoga resort an hour outside of Cabo, built in the desert on the Pacific Ocean. I found exactly what I needed.
Organic meals, daily meditation, the soothing crash of ocean waves. I felt peaceful and centered, physically and mentally. Perfect for some quality time with my tarot deck. I walked down to the secluded beach, gathered my thoughts, and pulled a random card.
I am supposed to start graduate school this month. I moved to New York City, enrolled in classes, applied for student loans, and convinced myself that this was the right decision. Yet, I keep imagining myself as a travel writer, a childhood dream I have dabbled in for the past year but not fully committed myself to. I seized the card in my hand, held my breath in anticipation, and flipped it over. I smiled.
I had chosen the Magic card, which suggests a growing awareness of the magic within, a yearning to grow beyond perceived limitations, and the ability to transform through the strength of originality and power. Renewed creativity. The Magic card is an excellent omen symbolizing new opportunities, the importance of new enterprise and that you will have the willpower and initiative to succeed in whatever you do.
My love of the tarot started in college. I went to Ireland to study James Joyce for a semester and I brought my cards with me (they were a recent impulse purchase). As soon as the deck came out I was surrounded by fellow students. Some curious, some skeptical, but each with a question for the cards.
I refused to take payment in anything other than a free pint of Guinness. I wasnt psychic then nor am I now, but I am good at listening and tapping into my own intuition while encouraging others to tap into theirs. Tarot by itself is not magic. The magic comes from the individuals.
The tarot started as a game in the 15th century, a time when few were literate and printing was expensive. The tarot offered the masses an illustrated version of their lives. Today, the cards are seen as examples of archetypes that all humanity can relate to.
A traditional tarot deck contains 78 cards, divided into 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. The Major cards are the biggies, where you will find the famous Sun card and the infamous Death card (which is actually about endings, not about physically dying).
When I got back to New York, I set the Magic card on my desk and emailed Wald Amberstone, co-founder of The Tarot School in New York. He has been reading cards for over 50 years and teaching others how to do it for 16. I wanted to know, how does one become a tarot card reader?
At what point can a reader start accepting money and not beer as payment for her skills? He invited me to his Monday night class. When I walked in the door, Walds partner, Ruth Ann, ! greeted me. She asked me for my birth date, did some calculations, and announced, You have a burning need to travel. I can see it in your birth cards. Was this a sign from the universe?
I took a seat at the conference table among 14 other students. Some had been coming to class for nine years, others were brand new. The tarot decks were spread out in front of them.
Wald used an analogy to explain learning to read tarot cards.
Becoming a tarot card reader is like making a cucumber into a pickle. You take a cucumber, throw it in with the other pickles, let it marinate, and eventually you have a pickle.
Unsatisfied, I pressed him further. But how long until you get really good?
One year to become confident. Two years to become amazing. Three years to be a pro. And you cant skip years. I tell my students, you come to me with whatever talent you have. Maybe youre a little psychic, you have a third eye. I cant make you more psychic, but I can give you skills. I can teach you to observe, notice details, and give you knowledge.
Photo: Alejandro Lezcano
He spent the next two hours talking about the Moon card in comprehensive detail. When my brain had almost reached capacity, Ruth Ann announced we would do a reading in the round.
One student asked, Am I marrying the right man? Another drew her cards and we went around the table each student describing what they saw in the drawn cards. The querent seemed satisfied. Her cards were all positive, full of bright colors and feminine cups, a good omen for marriage. Thats what I thought, she said.
While I walked home that night I let my thoughts wander to fantasies about traveling the world with my ! tarot ca rds, reading for locals and tourists in different locations. I sat down at my desk and looked again at the Magic card. Then I went online and dropped my graduate courses.
If youre not completely convinced to sign up for the course, we have a $10 one-week trial to test drive it.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
IT WAS MY last day in New York last summer. I was in Park Slope on 7th Ave, waiting for the copy center to open so I could print my Megabus ticket to Toronto for that night. I had nothing to do and no money to spend (Id spent the last of my US dollars on a chocolate bar). I crossed the street to sit on the church steps. The doors were open and without thinking I entered
[Note: The following is hastily scribbled notes that I just found saved in my Drafts folder of my email. I've left them untouched.]
Walk in to hear the end of a girl speaking into the microphone. Scattered attendees around the pews. Lots of empty space. Take a seat as far back as possible, right at the edge of the bench for an easy escape. I find myself hoping that they dont close the doors when the service starts.
Lady sits at the pipe organ elevated above the congregation and starts playing. Three pre-teen girls sit on the stage in big wooden chairs. One in a summer dress, one in short denim shorts. Im wondering if theyre showing a little too much leg and shoulder for church.
The pastor enters, wearing all black with two white strips that descend from his collar, like Canadian and British lawyers. Theres a small table at the back of the room in the corner with a big coffee pot on it and paper cups. Down at the front I see a door with the sign for mens/womens bathrooms. At the back the tr! affic ou tside on 7th Ave makes it hard to hear sometimes, but Im not moving any closer.
The pastor explains that the girls are from the Sunday School and will be doing some reading. But first we stand and pray, then sing a hymn. A woman in her Sunday finest two rows down keeps looking back at me. When the prayers are being read, she offers me the prayer sheet. I smile and say, Im fine, thanks. When the hymn singing begins, she looks back again and this time offers me a hymn book. Again I smile and in a whisper that almost approaches full-blown talking say, thanks, Im good.
Photo: America Redefined
The pastor looks like a choir leader up there. During the singing he raises and lowers his right arm in choreography with the song. High note, the arm comes up. He has about five levels of notes I count.
People are filtering in slowly, spreading themselves out. Apart from the lady two rows down from me and maybe a couple others, everyone is in casual clothes. Maybe the girls showing all the legs arent so out of place.
Before the girls start reading passages, the pastor takes a moment to welcome everyone. He makes sure to mention that EVERYONE is welcome: all races, ethnicities, sexual orientation. Were all welcome there to praise God.
About 10 minutes in it hits me. Despite what I think of organized religion, this is just a gathering of people, brought together with a common goal. Every Sunday they gather as a community. In todays world, where more and more isolate themselves, I think its an important thing.
In The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner after stating that social scientists have determined that about 70% of our happiness stems from our relati! onships, both quantity and quality, with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors comes to the the following conclusion:
the greatest source of happiness is other people and what does money do? It isolates us from other people. It enables us to build walls, literal and figurative, around ourselves. We move from a teeming college dorm to an apartment to a house and, if were really wealthy, to an estate. We think were moving up, but really were walling off ourselves.
I just finished watching a CBC documentary called Peep Culture. In it, they explore the Internet and reality-TV culture, how weve become obsessed with sharing our most intimate and mundane details with the rest of the world (or anyone whos willing to listen and watch). The host, Hal Niedzviecki, ponders:
putting ourselves out there for public consumption is supposed to make us happier, help us meet people, help us feel like we belong. But point a camera at us, and we change. The question is, what are we changing into? What are we becoming?
It is easy to dismiss this culture as narcissistic people screaming for attention, but what is at the root of it? I think its community. Connection. To me, this is a backlash at what our society has become, how weve walled ourselves off from each other to such an extent, that the need for connection is so strong many of us are willing to go to great (and strange) lengths to get it.
FB friend map / Photo: ethorson
I am at a lonely time in my life. I find myself on Facebook more than I probably should be. But this is exactly what I am seeking. Connection to other human beings. What is that surge of emotion you ! get when someone friends you, or invites you to an event, likes your status update, or comments on your photo? Its a feeling that youre being heard, that someone else relates. For a brief moment youre connected. And it feels good.
I grew up in a big city and really had no frame of reference of what community actually meant and how important it is to us. In the past four months, Nelson a town of about 10,000 people in southern British Columbia has taught me more about community and human connection than in my previous 30+ years. At the moment I am learning how to love myself and be happy within myself. But at the same time, I know that connection is a basic human need and I will always seek it.
Is it fair to judge how people choose to connect to others? Or is connecting in whatever manner all thats important?
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Yoga is a holistic experience, balancing for the mind, the body, the soul, and the heart. It is a metaphor for life and the universe we inhabit. Perhaps fitting then, that rather than in a studio, these shots are taken outside, close to nature, and grounded in the earth.
13. Dancers Pose Naturajasana. Photo by Nicholas_T
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Photo: Ed Yourdon
MY FAVOURITE moments of Valentines Day go back to my elementary school days, when we used to make little cards, have envelopes taped to the front of our desks, and put the cards inside other kids envelopes. It was a great ego boost back then. On the other hand, it must have been terrible for those kids that had empty envelopes (there were some I remember). Now that I think of it, what a horrible exercise.
Anyway, I was sucked into the whole thing in my teenage years (I had a girlfriend all throughout highschool incidentally, if youre a teenager in a serious relationship, get out now. Its not the time.), celebrating Valentines Day with teddy bears, chocolates, and heart-shaped pendants.
Eventually I came to the realization that its a rather silly day. Why do we need a dedicated day to show our partner that he/she is loved? Shouldnt everyday be Valentines Day?
In a group email thread amongst the Matador team, we were throwing around ideas for Valentines Day articles. People were sharing their plans for the day, some were describing past romantic days. What surfaced as a common theme was the involvement of French food. Many plans revolved around eating at a French restaurant. This prodded Kristin Conard to contemplate:
It is interesting how often French food is coming up as the dinner selection.
Pau l Sullivan also chimed in:
What do people really think is romantic these days? whats real beyond the cliches? what did people do for romance before the Romantics came along?
Which led me to ponder:
What makes a romantic moment? is it inherent in the place/activity/time? or are they results of culture? do romantic moments feel romantic because we were conditioned to believe that those moments are supposed to be romantic?
If, indeed, it is just a matter of cultural conditioning, does that make it inauthentic? Or is the very fact that what we think were doing is romantic enough? What the hell is romance?
Photo: Sugar Sweet Sunshine
Getting back to the Frenchaccording to the all-knowing, omnipotent Wikipedia,
The more current and Western traditional terminology meaning court as lover or the general idea of romantic love is believed to have originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, primarily from that of the French culture.
So it is no wonder that French food plays a significant role in many peoples idea of romance. Apparently, the French gave us romance in the first place! Which kind of drives home the point that our general idea of romance is culturally ingrained. And which further makes me wonder if there is anything innately romantic.
Before romance existed, was there anything else that raised the emotions we currently associate with romance? In other words, did our ancestors swoon?
I wont pretend to have the answers, but I thought it interesting to posit the questions and to reflect on something that is easily taken for granted.
Happy ! Valentin es Day!
Your turn. What is romantic to you? Share some of your most romantic stories below!