Fiction Points: Mira Gonzalez

miragonzalez
Mira  Gonzalez (credit: her Tumblr)

Mira Gonzalez is the author of the poetry collection i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together (2013) and Selected Tweets (2015), a collaborative double-book with recent Fiction Points interviewee Tao Lin. Her work has appeared in Vice, Hobart, MuuMuu House, The Quietus, and elsewhere. Gonzalez’s poems, tweets, essays, and musings are also available for your reading pleasure on her Tumblr page, at Thought Catalog, and in the two drug-infused columns she writes for Broadly. In 2014, i will never be beautiful enough… made the shortlist for the Believer Poetry Award; Flavorwire named Gonzalez among its “23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry in 2013,” and her book has been reviewed by The RumpusNylon, Vice, and other publications. Gonzalez lives in Brooklyn and hails from Los Angeles.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
I would probably be too confused by the penguin in a bar and concerned that my writing would offend the nuns to even tell them my name. I get worried about offending people. I want everybody to like me.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
I mean, if drugs and alcohol are what they find most interesting then I guess they would be most interested in my drug and alcohol use, particularly my use of less common drugs such as DMT. Or, I guess what I’m saying is that if I were an alcohol and drug historian, I would be most interested in less common, particularly psychedelic drugs, such as DMT.

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Fiction Points: Kevin Maloney

                 Author Kevin Maloney

Kevin Maloney is the author of the novel Cult of Loretta (2015), which centers on a fictional drug that blends the eye-opening properties of psychedelics with the depressant effects of heroin–and stranger elements sprung from its creator’s imagination. An excerpt from Cult of Loretta appeared at Vol. 1 Brooklyn in June. Maloney’s short stories have been selected for publication in such venues as Hobart, PANK, Monkeybicycle, and Pamplemousse, among others. A graduate of Johnson State College with a resume that includes stints in teddy bear sales, teaching, apprentice electricianship, organic farming, and more, Maloney now works as a web developer when not writing. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his partner and daughter. 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I’d say I’m a fiction writer working in the dark comic tradition of Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. If the nuns and penguin weren’t familiar with those writers, I’d say that I write humorous stories about the wonders and horrors of being alive.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

In my novella Cult of Loretta, the majority of the characters become addicted to a fictional drug called “screw.” The drug is an amalgam of substances, incorporating the otherworldly hallucinations of DMT with the addictive/destructive aspects of heroin. Specifically, screw makes its users believe they’re inside of their mothers’ vaginas, about to be reborn as butterflies. I utilized a fictional drug because I wanted it to serve fantastical literary purposes, not document an actual substance.Read More »

The Points Interview: Stephen Siff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome Stephen Siff, an associate professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami University of Ohio. Below, Siff discusses his recent book, Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience (University of Illinois, 2015), which chronicles LSD’s trip from multi-colored miracle to mind-melting menace.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Acid Hype is a history of how newspapers, magazines and TV reported on LSD and similar drugs in the1950s and 1960s. During that time, mainstream media enthusiastically promoted LSD as a treatment for all sorts of problems, and talked about its potential to provide memorable experiences to people who were not sick.

The book explains why journalists working for major newspapers and organizations like Time and Life devoted so much attention to describing psychedelic drug experiences, and how such work evolved as a genre within the journalism of the period.

Acid Hype leaves off around 1970. That’s when the media lost interest in psychedelic drugs, even while their actual prevalence in society was continuing to increase.

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Teaching Points- Tom Roberts on “Psychedelic Studies”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s guest author is Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D, an Emeritus Professor in the Honors Program at Northern Illinois University. He is author of The Psychedelic Future of the Mind, co-editor of Psychedelic Medicine and editor of Spiritual Growth with Entheogens. His website is: niu.academia.edu/ThomasRoberts. Below, he reflects on the history and purpose of his course in Psychedelic Studies, one of the first to be offered in the U.S.

“Psychedelics!? You mean they let you teach a course about psychedelics? I wish I could at _____.”

“Well,” I thought, “ now that I’ve started teaching a university course about psychedelics, the ice is broken. Professors in other colleges and universities can start theirs too.”  So I thought in 1981. Naïve optimism can be a great asset. For the next 30 years almost nothing happened except at some specialized graduate programs near San Francisco.

In 1980’s, there wasn’t much new research on psychedelics. The War on Drugs was in full swing with DARE, “Just Say “No’”, and a lock-em-up attitude. “This is your brain on drugs” aired in 1987.  As Nancy Reagan said, “Drugs take away the dream from every child’s heart and replace it with a nightmare.” This wasn’t an auspicious time to teach a psychedelics course, and my optimism about other professors following suit was wildly optimistic.

Now, however, things are beginning to pick up. NYU Langone Medical School –  Bellevue Hospital has a course for medical students that’s open to others too, and at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health, Dr. Nicholas Cozzi includes a psychedelics unit in his Integrated Neuroscience course. Two undergraduate courses are going now, at last. The College of DuPage, a community college west of Chicago, has Psychedelic Mindview, which is mostly oriented toward both mental health professionals and the general student body. Best of all, the University of Pennsylvania Comparative Literature and Literary Theory Department, for the first time in the fall of 2014, offers Drug Wars: The Influence of Psychoactive Rhetoric.

History of the course

The exact origins of my course are lost in the mists of history and the fog of my memory. I know that in the early and mid-1970s, I offered a special topics course on transpersonal psychology. This was probably in the wake of a conference I organized in 1973 that looked at consciousness and transpersonal psychology, including psychedelics. I know that when Stanislav Grof’s Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Psychotherapy was published, the class took turns reading chapters from my copy and discussing them in class.  That was 1975.

Realms of the Human Unconscious (1976 edition). Via amazon.com
Realms of the Human Unconscious (Via amazon.com)

By 1981, the transpersonal special topics course became focused on psychedelics and took on the name Psychedelic Research. The first time I taught it — in fact, for its first two decades—I offered it as one of those one-shot special topics courses that are commonly titled “Special Topics in X”, “Selected Readings in X,” or “Advanced Study of X.” This didn’t require approval beyond an OK from my faculty chairperson. Fortunately, I was in the Educational Psychology Faculty of a College of Education. Unlike some departments in the liberal arts and sciences (which guard their intellectual boarders jealously) and others that restrict research only to an approved paradigm or two, colleges of education are singularly open-minded. A common College of Ed attitude is, “If it works, or even might work, let’s take a look at it.”

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Guest Post: Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s Moral Vision of Hashish

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is written by journalist and biographer Justin Martin, author of the new book Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians (Da Capo Press, 2014).  His post today is a reflection on psychedelic pioneer Fitz Hugh Ludlow. 

Fitz Hugh Ludlow was a psychedelic pioneer and author of the 1857 classic The Hasheesh Eater. I’ve just completed a book about his circle of Bohemian artists, which hung out at Pfaff’s saloon in Manhattan. As I researched, one of the things that struck me was how Ludlow made a distinction between drugs that promised enlightenment, and those that offered only empty sensation.

Portrait of Ludlow (Special collections, Schaffer Library, Union College)
Portrait of Ludlow (Special collections, Schaffer Library, Union College)

Nowadays, this is a common view. Drugs tend to be sorted into two distinct categories, at least among the lay public. Those such as LSD, mushrooms, and peyote are viewed as means to heightened perceptions, albeit at the risk of one’s mental stability. Those such as cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin are viewed as agents of sensation, for use by people seeking sexual thrills or mere numbness. It’s akin to the classic mind/body split explored for eons by philosophers.

But Ludlow published The Hasheesh Eater at a time when drugs occupied a very small role in popular culture. This was more than a century before the Grateful Dead peddled their vision of psychedelic bliss, say, or the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman furnished the umpteenth Hollywood cautionary tale about the dangers of heroin use. Circa the 1850s, Americans made recreational use of everything from alcohol to opium to chloroform. Crucially, however, moral distinctions about the properties of different drugs didn’t yet exist.

Ludlow – always supremely modern in outlook – made those distinctions just the same, promising that hashish offered “insight” rather than “indulgence.” And that seems to have been a key to his book’s success. It was one of the year’s best sellers, quickly going through four printings. It even sparked a short-lived vogue for hashish in the United States.

The Hashish Eater (1903 edition,  personal collection of author)
The Hashish Eater (1903 edition, personal collection of author)

A reporter for the New York World ingested the drug and then wrote about his experiences, concluding, “For me, henceforth, Time is but a word.” As a student at Brown University, John Hay – later Lincoln’s personal secretary and secretary of state under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley – was also inspired to try the drug. “The Hasheesh Eater had recent appeared (1857),” a classmate reminisced, “and Johnny must needs experiment with hasheesh a little, and see if it was such a marvelous stimulant to the imagination as Fitzhugh Ludlow affirmed.” Hay himself would look back on Brown as a place “where I used to eat Hasheesh and dream dreams.”

After getting to know Ludlow, several members of the circle at Pfaff’s saloon felt compelled to celebrate hashish, at least in their literary efforts. Thomas Aldrich wrote a poem called “Hascheesh.”  Walt Whitman – the mainstay of this Bohemian group – also made allusions to the drug in some of his work from this time. Given Whitman’s moderate drinking habits (no one at Pfaff’s ever saw him so much as tipsy), he is unlikely to have indulged. More likely, the poet – always ultra-receptive to societal trends – simply wished to attend to a current fad.

Ludlow was ahead of his time, touting hashish for qualities that were morally acceptable, even desirable. If only the ill-fated Ludlow had held fast to his own instincts.

In Memoriam: Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin (1925-2014)

We’re sure that most readers of Points are already familiar with Sasha Shulgin and are aware of his passing on June 2. But the death of the man responsible for popularizing MDMA in the United States cannot go unremarked upon, especially as the slew of related news reports are bringing up important questions about the drug’s therapeutic use.

shulgin_alexander9_med

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Shroomer Publications

Editor’s Note: This cross-posting is part of a series featuring items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo collection recently acquired by Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, Gretchen Wade, and Judith Warnement of Harvard’s Botany Libraries for contributing the original post at Houghton’s Modern Books and Manuscripts blog.

What to do if you are looking for the “ultimate guide for safe mushroom picking”? Frank and Cheeri Rinaldo had the answer in 1979 with Safe-pik, a flip book of handy mushroom identification cards featuring photographs by John W. Allen. Measuring only about 2 1/2 by 4 inches it could easily fit in your pocket and deals mainly with Psilocybins, the type of mushrooms that contain a naturally occurring psychedelic compound. There is a helpful disclaimer that children should not take mushrooms, one should never trespass, and that mushrooms should be used for the purpose they were intended … mind expansion.

mushroom-guide_example
Safe-pik mushroom identification cards / [Frank & Cheeri Rinaldo; photographs by John Allen]. [Seattle?]: Shroomer Publications, c1979.
Visual identification of mushrooms is hardly a new concept, as seen by the German publication Naturgeschichte des Pflanzenreiches in Bildern by Dr. Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert.

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The Points Interview — Thomas B. Roberts

Editor’s Note: Tom Roberts’  The Psychedelic Future of the Mind: How Entheogens are Enhancing Cognition, Boosting Intelligence, and Raising Values is due out this month from Inner Traditions-Bear & Co. in Rochester, Vermont.

roberts-cover-21.  Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

This book looks forward, not backward. Experiences beget ideas, and The Psychedelic Future of the Mind is an exploration of some ideas psychedelics engender.  Based upon a collection of pieces of scientific research, case studies, anecdotes, and other information about psychedelics, this book asks, “When all these pieces are assembled, what do they tell us about what it means to be a human, about our minds, and about the future?”

The first sentences of Psychedelic Mind’s introduction pretty well nail down the book’s perspective. Early books on the psychedelic experience reported on some fascinating events and curious people. Newer ones describe the burgeoning field of psychedelic psychotherapy or offer accounts of neurotransmitters and synapses. Meantime, the river of autobiographical trip reports flows constantly onward. When collected and organized, the nuggets of information hidden in these sources provide clues to the human mind and how it might be developed. They hint at our social future, including in relation to education and business. They prompt new scholarly fields of endeavor, offering new insights into such diverse territories of investigation as the study of cognition and intelligence, of values and religion, of immune system strength, and of our conception of death. They stimulate new perspectives on film criticism, history, and philosophy.Read More »

The Points Interview — Michael E. Staub

Editor’s Note:  Michael E. Staub’s  Madness is Civilization: When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980 (University of Chicago Press, 2011) is bedecked with a number of favorable comments at its Amazon storewindow site.  Staub’s previously authored books include an oral history, titled Love My Rifle More than You, about a woman soldier who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.   The author suggested this work might also interest drug and alcohol historians. 

  1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

It would depend on how old this hypothetical bartender was. Is she old enough to remember the 1960s? Let’s assume that she is. Then I’d ask her to remember her reading of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Verge of Time or seeing Alan Bates in King of Hearts or listening to Arlo Guthrie’s riff in “Alice’s Restaurant,” where he discusses how he evaded the draft not because he yelled at the military psychiatrist that he wanted to “kill, kill, kill” but because he’d been arrested for littering. (Admittedly, this is a pretty cultured bartender I am concocting, but it’s my bartender and I’ll imagine who I want to.) So I’d tell the bartender how the 1960s are routinely remembered today for all kinds of things like hippies, Che Guervara, Tricky Dick, Neil Armstrong, Ho Chi Minh, Black Power, and SDS, among others. But what almost always gets left out of the history books is how much critical and popular attention in the 1960s and 1970s was lavished on issues relating to madness and the asylum. And I’d say that explorations into madness often became a means to address a host of other political and social concerns, ranging from the dysfunction of the nuclear family to the devastations of militarism to the problems of gender and race relations to the failures of the educational system. As one social psychologist put it in the early 1970s, and I am paraphrasing here, this was an era in US history when many Americans felt that the entire country had gone crazy, and the question for many was how to maintain their sanity in an increasingly insane society. That’s what my book is about.  Read More »

Santa Claus, Mushroom Beer, and the Dutch

In my home country, The Netherlands, Santa Claus does not come for Christmas. By then he has already left. Santa Claus comes every year to the Netherlands to celebrate with us his birthday on 6 December. A few weeks before his birthday he sets out from his home in Spain by sea, on a steamer (he has arrived a week ago).  Santa Claus is accompanied by his assistants, the so-called Zwarte Pieten, or ‘Black Petes’. What is rather strange about Zwarte Piet or Black Pete is that his skin actually is black. To some this is offensive. To these people the fact that Santa Claus’ assistant (not himself) is a black person is a racist trait, a legacy from the age of slavery. The first appearance of the modern incarnation of Zwarte Piet in Dutch popular culture seems to date from around 1850, when slavery still existed in the Dutch colonial empire and when black slaves still worked the plantations in Dutch Suriname in the Guianas. Other interpretations seek the origins of Zwarte Piet in a more distant past. Might it already be a surprise to many children and their parents to learn that Zwarte Piet could actually be a Surinamese slave, it might be even more surprising for them to learn that he could be the descendant of a psychoactive plants or mushrooms consuming Germanic warrior.

Santa Claus and his Zwarte Pieten

Relating the Santa Claus traditions to ancient pagan beliefs and rituals is common in literature on psychoactive mushrooms – more in particular, in the literature on the fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria). In this perspective Santa Claus is Odin (Wodan), the Germanic god of ecstasy, warfare and poetry. Some nights he haunts the countryside on his Wild Hunt, with his warriors and his Valkyries, the immortal maiden who inspire the mortal heroes and select them for Valhalla. In ancient and medieval times Odin’s special warriors were the bear- and wolf warriors, the Berserkers and Ulfheonar who would fight naked (that is, without armor) in an uncontrollable and trance-like fury. This trance was, it is maintained, induced by the consumption of psychoactive substances. The fly agaric is routinely mentioned as the most likely candidate for the substance used. This mushroom is also commonly used as a decoration motif in Christmas trees and on Christmas cards.Read More »