Ecstatically Ordinary: The Noise of One Mind Tripping
June 22, 1993
This is my prose.
This is my prose on drugs.
The theory, mind you, was to make it immediate. The last time I did ecstasy was November. Being no habitué, I wanted to refresh the synapses, so for veracity’s sake, I paid the cash and a day.
Sitting in St. Luke’s Garden, M. turns and asks, “What are you thinking?” I’m thinking about drugs, which surprises her. It surprises me that it surprises her. Doesn’t everybody? What I don’t say is that I am hearing deeply murmurs and sounds and voices — the wind, the tires on asphalt, the friends talking. That noise is the best thing about this drug; it is the payback, the astounding feedback. If people like to dance on it, it’s not just because it’s speedy but because sound is different, vying more aggressively with the visual for perceptual primacy. I am also wondering whether I would like the look of the brick apartment house across the Hudson, if not for a change in my internal weather.
In the beginning, there was the word. On the bookshelf of the the den was Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, with its marbled-orange cover jacket. Of course, I never read it, or saw the movie with Charlton Heston. Years later, there was Sir Kenneth Clark speaking, if you could call it that, about Bernini’s St. Theresa. There, badly projected on the screen of a Denver class room, was the face of ecstasy. I have always aspired for something akin to that paroxysmal vision of the ecstatic — the religious piercing, the searing illumination.
In Berlin, my friend S. kindly babysits me. I am day tripping and she is not. In a market underneath the train station, it takes. I stiffen some, the brainstem and stomach a little tight. The cacophony begins: muffled German melds with the squeak of a shopping cart and the clang clang clang of a register bell. I am convinced that Wim Wenders knows (in the biblical sense) this drug. After all, the first minutes of Wings of Desire are this sublime: it is the noise of the world heard and seen — all the suffered and achy whisperings in his town, our town. I am also convinced that what X has to offer can be achieved without it, and I try to prove this with S. by explaining how I am hearing the world: for much of the day she feels it. On the train from East Berlin a drunken man sits across from us and begins speaking. There is no fear. S. moves, leaving me alone with his raving and my dumb bliss.
“First of all, I don’t think ‘Ecstasy’ is a good name for MDMA,” said Andrew Weil not so very long ago in these pages, “because the state it produces is not ecstatic. It’s a state of great tranquility, relaxation, self-acceptance, and non-defensiveness.” Weil is the author of a book on the mind and drugs; it’s nice to have science support my research. Ecstasy is a great consumer-seducing name for a drug that reaps something quite different. But anything closer to the point would sound like Calvin Klein: Tranquility. Serenity. Calm. Or perhaps the name of a memorial garden.
No raves, no outlaw parties on the corner between this and that, no midnight to midday marathons — if this is the drug’s profile, I don’t fit it. More solitary wanderer than group groper, I tend to do this and other drugs solo (though the sight of a pretty-committed-to-the-team queer girl smooching her best boy buddies seems in keeping with X’s reputation as an orgy enhancer). I tend to take my drugs at exactly the times those PSA films from grade school warned not to: when alone, when depressed, anxious, etc. That one can do this with X and live to tell is one of its charms. There was the time I popped a leftover X tablet into my mouth as I began roasting a chicken for my parents, who were flying from out West to mark the first anniversary of Kevin’s death. That my brother’s passing coincides with a turning away, perhaps only temporary, from the hardier, and less forgiving, hallucinogens to X is no coincidence.
On a beach miles south of Cancun, the sun is hot. Since this is precisely the kind of discomfort one might not notice on X, I am exceptionally tender and goofy with myself. Just so under this palm, just so in the water. Be naked. Be careful. Be steady. Don’t be afraid. Get cozy with the seaweed that freaks you out. Cool. Pretty. No one said drugs weren’t banal. Onto this beach I take my whole reason for being in Mexico: a stack of cards and letters Kevin sent when he lived in Paris. And on X, I read many. But I can’t make emotional sense of what I am reading. Instead I wind up looking, no, seeing, the cards, these tens of postcards he sent with gargoyles, with Paris, saturating them.
Yesterday I did X, probably for the last time (though I could not have guessed this before I started). No anti-drug bug, just noticing the law of diminishing returns at work. X is a weird blocker of lows: you can take it and not miss the people you miss most desperately. But it muffles highs as well. As an epiphany junkie, I’m not sure I even yearn for a drug to deliver an acute awareness of the unbearable lightness of being. Still, I have a desire to work for rewards of the spirit, to like or live with the world, on my own. Like alcohol, X is not very labor-intensive. As drugs go, LSD is work, mushrooms are work; maybe not for everyone, but for me, Jacob and his angel come to mind. It’s a struggle, always; on hallucinogens, I am not necessarily a party.
Having the sense of bringing something to a drug — a lot of history, a lot of desire and confusion — something that it recombines with to make the adventure one’s own, that’s a weird escapism worth straining for the escapism of being here. Of course your personal lab results may vary — this is my body, my very own chem set. On X, you may cry and feel less inhibited or, like my drug buddy, dance better, be beautiful all night long; and that’s more than enough to keep you buying. Different ambitions, different results. To make the quotidian adventurous, or deeply compelling, to make the obvious all that there is, and good enough — for awhile X suggested the way. Not so much these days. Still, one likes to remember that first time, that endearing moment when a gang of four X virgins made trips to the john, fascinated by nothing more than the act of pissing.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 21, 2020