Leaving my privately defined world

Leaving my privately defined world

My relationship with marijuana began like most teenagers. It was April 20th of my freshman year of college. My friends invited me to try taking rips from a three-foot blue-and-white bong filtered with ice during a break between classes. Being on the open-minded side of cautious, I asked myself what the harm was. And, as is allegedly typical among first-timers, I didn't get high. But my friends promised me I would if I had another go. So, a few days later I took a few hits from a small pipe. I remember the experience vividly. Music suddenly had a rejuvinated profundity, as if every deliberation of Cedric Bixler-Zavala's vocal melodies on the sophomore Mars Volta album Frances The Mute were just for me. When I closed my eyes, intense visual hallucinations spun on my eyelids, as if some part of my brain lay dormant, awaiting a rush of cannabanoids to unlock its gate.

As a rookie stoner, most basic tasks were unfathomable under the spell of the drug. I have memories of sitting in my car in a parking garage, watching the shapes of music take form on the canvas of my mind. I'd sit for a half hour, terrified at the prospect of interacting with other humans but content within the confines of my newfound cognitive adventure. I was hooked. But what did "hooked" mean, exactly? I certainly wasn't addicted. I didn't need marijuana in my life like a junkie needs heroin. I could function just fine without it. When I'd travel or visit family, I never craved cannabis. Marijuana just made everything better.

And, as so many users continue to believe, I thought it made me better, too. I felt more creative, more compassionate, and more grounded when under the influence of the drug. I had a sense of euphoria and oneness. It was as if I'd discovered a whole new mode of being.

Public perception of marijuana, especially in the United States, is becoming increasingly positive. 65 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 32 support Marijuana legalization according to a Pew Research Center poll. In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana for medical use. Pro-pot campaigns compare statistics surrounding the dangers of alcohol in defense of recreational cannabis legalization. A clever campaign video produced by a campaign organization for a marijuana referendum in British Columbia even goes as far as to compare alcohol to Microsoft and cannabis to Apple. With this kind of media acceptance, it's no wonder we're all toking.

After I finished college in 2007, I packed up and headed west. Here in Portland, I found a community of activists dedicated to the legalization movement, many of whom are medical marijuana cardholders. Despite still being illegal for recreational use in the state of Oregon, cannabis is as easy to obtain and less expensive per "dose" than alcohol. It also bears just about as much social stigma as alcohol, making it just another staple at house parties, on bar patios, and, as it would turn out, my living room.

In 2010, I purchased a marijuana vaporizer, an electronic device which heats plant matter to a temperature high enough to vaporize the active compounds in cannabis, but not high enough to combust the plant matter. This method of cannabis ingestion is arguably safer since fewer hazardous carcinogens are inhaled. Soon, I had a veritable marijuana appliance which became another "productivity tool" alongside my coffee cup. And the fact that my method of ingestion was physically harmless meant I saw no issue in more frequent use.

Calling cannabis a "productivity tool" may seem contradictory when I earlier mentioned I had trouble performing even the most basic tasks under the influence of the drug. As with all psychoactive substances, cannabis users experience diminishing returns as their bodies build tolerance to the drug and require more to achieve the same effect. In fact, many of the pleasant hallucinatory effects I mentioned earlier ceased within my first six months of use. Eventually, the cannabis high became less like a trip and more like a buzz.

Creatives profess achieving a state of flow, wherein they are fully immersed in their work with energized focus and enjoyment. Cannabis appeared to provide further immersion, to the point where I could sit at my computer for hours and produce without ever acknowledging the world beyond my screen. It also appeared to enhance my spatial reasoning abilities, a cornerstone of software engineering aptitude. I now know all of these apparent benefits to be erroneous.

In actuality, the alleged benefits of cannabis with respect to productivity and creativity are fabrications of the mind. In the same way cannabis conjures increased appreciation and admiration for art and music, so too it materializes false grandeur in the creative process. It's not that my ideas or execution were any better when I was stoned. They just appeared that way. At least, for the duration of the high.

Looking back, I realize most of the time I spent high I actually wasn't relaxed, euphoric, or productive. And it wasn't even enjoyable. I experienced, almost daily, symptoms of cannabis-induced acute psychosis. These included panic attacks, agoraphobia, aerophobia, hypochondria, persecutory delusions, mild sociopathic tendencies, and delusions of grandeur.

My first serious bout of panic occurred in the winter of 2010. I had just returned from an emergency trip to take care of my grandparents, both recently hospitalized. One night, I lit a joint in my bedroom, when suddenly I felt a horrific sense of doom come over me, as if I needed to escape from existence itself. My heart started racing and I felt intense pressure in my chest. Believing this was the start of a heart attack, I rushed myself to the emergency room. An EKG would later verify I had a healthy heart. In fact, at my doctor's request I completed a treadmill stress test and the technician told me I was the only patient she'd seen who made it all the way to the finish. My heart was fine. My brain certainly wasn't. My doctor suggested that cannabis was causing my anxiety and that I should discontinue use. But cannabis is harmless! Everyone knows that. I continued using.

Shortly after that episode, I made plans to visit a friend in Philadelphia. As I boarded the plane, an all-too-familiar sense of panic came over me. I clung to the armrests, palms sweating, breathing nervously for the entire duration of the flight. This continued for the next several years, despite knowing flying is the safest form of transportation per passenger-mile. Since stopping use, I haven't a shred of fear about my upcoming plane trip.

Similar to my fear of flying, I also suffered persecutory delusions wherein I believed, whether acutely or chronically, that something horrific was about to happen. In the case of boarding a plane, I believed we were certainly going to crash. I also, for a period of about two years, dwelled over the possibility of a catastropic earthquake striking the Cascades. I'd have persistent visions of the terror of fallen bridges and would panic if I were stopped in traffic underneath an overpass. The region is due for a catastrophic quake, but cannabis turned what should have been an exercise in humble preparedness into years of panic and dread.

But the most alarming side effect of my regular cannabis use was its subtle erosion of my empathy and capacity for interpersonal connection. People, mostly lovers, became mere instruments in a selfish, privately defined game with no winner. I found myself overly critical of every aspect of my lovers. One day I'd be head-over-heels in love. The next day, I'd have determined, by way of my own cannabis-fueled, paranoid means of analysis, that that person was insufficient. This cycle continued through one long-term relationship and countless casual dating encounters. I would become frustrated at the idea no one met my precise criteria, not recognizing the deadened and ill-natured disposition of my desires.

Most users are under the impression that because cannabis isn't physiologically addictive, they don't suffer withdrawal symptoms. Examining the reason for continuing use quickly debunks this myth. If the user believes pot makes everything better, then it should follow that their sober experiences would be, in contrast, worse. And that's the subtle trick that kept me toking for the better part of a decade. Cessation was surprisingly easy and I rarely experience cravings. When I do experience a craving, it's nothing like the infamous baby-on-the-ceiling scene from Trainspotting. Stopping pot was mostly an exercise in cognitive behavioral therapy, reprogramming my brain to understand that the alleged benefits of cannabis are mere illusions.

The dynamic of an abusive relationship is a reasonable analogy for my relationship with cannabis. Despite instinct telling me it's time to move on, pressures led me to persevere in the relationship. In spite of the misery, I became accustomed to the drug and took security in its presence.

Since stopping use, I've found myself more eager to help others and more in touch with the emotions of those around me. I operate in a space of emotional certainty, where I'm able to succinctly cast my desires and express my true feelings without lingering feelings of hesitation. And I want to engage in relationships not because of what I'll gain, but because of what I'll give.

Cannabis abuse is especially sinister because the consequences are so subtle they'll often go unrecognized. In the same way a functional alcoholic can continue to go through the motions of daily life, so too can the functional stoner exist and even excel in certain respects. Cannabis didn't take my home, my family, or my physical health. The dire consequence of chronic marijuana use is the steady corrosion of virtuous subjective experience.

I recognize the stigma surrounding drug addiction and understand I'm making a lot of admissions which could negatively effect my career and social life. However, I am choosing to take that risk with the hope that others might read my personal accounts and reevaluate their own recreational use of cannabis. If you're considering stopping, the /r/leaves community on Reddit is a great support resource. Literature on the subject is unfortunately sparse, but The Joy of Quitting Cannabis takes a positive, nothing-to-lose approach to the issue and was written by an ex-toker.

If you need me, I'll be busy getting high on life.

Sticker/poster designs.

I was bored sitting at Stumptown today, so I decided to let out my anti-globalization rage by creating a few bumper sticker and/or poster designs. If any of y’all like them I might get them printed and open an online store or something…

What Will We Eat as the Oil Runs Out?

Richard Heinberg has a wonderful paper which discusses the direness of the oil crisis, and eloquently debunks the idea that biofuels are a viable solution to our energy crisis:

One factor influencing food prices arises from the increasing incentives for farmers worldwide to grow biofuel crops rather than food crops. Ethanol and biodiesel can be produced from a variety of crops including maize, soy, rapeseed, sunflower, cassava, sugar cane, palm, and jatropha. As the price of oil rises, many farmers are finding that they can produce more income from their efforts by growing these crops and selling them to a biofuels plant, than by growing food crops either for their local community or for export.

Already nearly 20 percent of the US maize crop is devoted to making ethanol, and that proportion is expected to rise to one quarter, based solely on existing projects-in-development and government mandates. Last year US farmers grew 14 million tons of maize for vehicles. This took millions of hectares of land out of food production and nearly doubled the price of corn. Both Congress and the White House favor expanding ethanol production even further - to replace 20 percent of gasoline demand by 2017 - in an effort to promote energy security by reducing reliance on oil imports. Other nations including Britain are mandating increased biofuel production or imports as a way of reducing carbon emissions, though most analyses show that the actual net reduction in CO2 will be minor or nonexistent.

Heinberg, unlike many alarmist environmentalists today, attempts to offer viable solutions to our impending crisis, which can be summed up with one word: conservation. I encourage everyone and anyone to peruse his article carefully; it provides a well-cited, insightful overview of the resource depletion crises which will affect every human on the planet. Most importantly, Heinberg stresses that “applying mere techno-fixes … will almost certainly lead to dire consequences.”

See you all on the farm.

I am in love with this town!

  • There is no sales tax.
  • Coffee shops have free wi-fi. Period. Oh, and my favorite americano and bagel combination costs less than at Juna’s in Ithaca as a result of the lack of sales tax. Oh, and the coffee here is good. Really, really good. Better than Gimme. Sorry, Gimme.
  • I pay $45 more per month for a house that is 1000% more livable than my previous apartment.
  • Pabst Blue Ribbon isn’t an option. It’s a staple.
  • I was at a crosswalk, and the cars stopped for me. They have to. By law.
  • There’s a multi-acre park on a main boulevard. The trees in the park are taller than the shops.
  • I have never seen greener grass in my life.

A smattering of holiday “cheer”

I was at the bank today, and sure enough, they had a television tuned to CNN. While waiting in line, I figured I would see what the rest of the country deems “news.” What I saw in the ten minutes I watched was a report about how Domino’s Pizza expects a 6% increase in profits today due to some tradition that claims tonight is a great night to eat pizza. This is not news. This is an overpriced commercial for pizzerias. We’ve entrusted the responsibility of rigorous appraisal and objective scrutiny of our government with the likes of CNN, and they offer us a report about pizza. Fuck you, CNN. Fellow Americans, you pay for this? You actually take out your wallets and say “Hey News Corporation, I want you to tell me about celebrities every minute of every day and neglect to address key issues like our energy crisis and our three escalating conflicts in the Middle East!” You should be ashamed. If you want to see change in the world, put away your wallets and open your notebooks, turn on your cameras, and start screaming.

Most eccentrics and radicals with opinions often offer little in the way of a solution. These are the rabid protesters at every WTO rally, the Democrats, the Republicans, Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly. There is one thing all of these folks lack which I think needs to be addressed at a public hearing immediately: balls. No, I’m not talking in the physical sense — I haven’t checked whether rabid hippies have testicles and God would know I wouldn’t want to check under Michael Moore’s trousers… if I believed in God. The balls I’m talking about represent the ability for an individual or organization to stand up for what they believe in and be able to rigidly define those beliefs without succumbing to fear that their particular ideology will be shot down by another party. That certainly isn’t to say that women don’t have balls. As a matter of fact, many of the women I know have bigger balls than most men — they take action and do so with passion. Perhaps us men have become comfortable with our balls to the point where they have shriveled so far up into our abdomens that we have turned into a rowdy bunch of cowards: the Gonzalez’s, the Cheney’s, the Bush’s, the Murdoch’s, the Turner’s, and the Rockafeller’s.

This holiday season, I want each and every one of you to do something radical. Do not lavish your friends with expensive shit they will not use because the TV tells you to (and don’t pull the “the TV didn’t tell me to, I did it by my own volition” card. I stopped buying gifts for people at Christmas as soon as I rid myself of the propagandavision and I will never look back). Instead, take extra time to think of your family. No, not just your mother. Not just your siblings, your aunts, your uncles, your cousins. They’re all important, but they’ll do just fine without iPods. I mean your distant black cousins down the street whose mother is working Christmas Day because her children’s father left her. I mean your distant Iraqi cousins whose house just got destroyed in a raid and spent Ramadan fighting for their lives. No, don’t send them iPods — they don’t need them either. Meditate on the world and find peace within yourself. No amount of wrapping paper, pretty bows, and blister-packed electronics can possibly compare to the humility of awareness.

Change starts with you. I had a conversation with my brother I’d like to share with all of you. He told me he didn’t have any idea what he wanted to pursue in college. No subject of study seemed relevant to the world around him. I told him to look outside, and tell me who decided that there should be a traffic light at the intersection. He hesitated, and I told him a civil engineer probably decided that — a civil engineer that might retire soon and expect our generation to pick up where he left off. I explained to him that our generation is about to take the reigns of the sleigh of humanity, and that, to be quite honest, it looked as if we were heading straight into a tree. I could tell this started the wheels of his brain turning. Change starts with you. It is your world and your responsibility. Your XBox, CNN, ESPN, NFL, CBS, Wal-Mart, NASCAR world is a fantasy. It is a condition of a naive mind to believe that the problems caused by the machine of the world will be solved as a cog. You must be the operator of that machine. Consumption breeds corruption. Gluttony breeds greed. Ask any good-hearted Christian and they’ll tell you it’s in their Bible. It’s too bad we’ve all lost sight of the true meaning of it all.

The West Coast Departure Project

[revision 2 | mp3]

[revision 1 | mp3]

Casper’s Doppelgänger


They sold out.

So much nonsense.

Able Danger.

Last night I recorded music for the first time in 2 years. I’m a bit rusty yet but this is a good start. Click the image to listen.

I just traveled five hours to sit at Gimme! Coffee.

I’m sitting at Gimme! Brookyln on Lorimer St. in Williamsburg. Not surprisingly, it looks and feels identical to the Gimme! Coffee locations back home in Ithaca, boasting the same iconic stamped cups and white-on-black signage. There’s also the familiar ambiance of indie music playing in the background and kitschy artwork hanging along the white, black and red walls.

The lack of worthwhile eateries in Williamsburg is striking. The streets are littered with the usual fare: pizza, Chinese food, deli, deli, deli, pizza, pizza, pizza, Chinese food, Chinese food, and the occasional mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant also serving Chinese food as if it will drive more business. I settled on the greasiest slice of eggplant pizza I’ve ever eaten.

Tomorrow I’m going to McKarren Pool to see Modest Mouse in concert. Toodles.