Thoughts on a tropical vacation

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The privilege to pause. Under the fan of a whitewashed Colonial deck. That’s the first mango tree I’ve ever seen. This place reeks, humid with humans. Reserving a spot to lounge all day. Smoothing out stripes under mutating rays. A welcomed breeze. The bluest blues. Beers and fries with lunch. And this expectation to love everything about it. To match the atmosphere. Don’t worry, be happy. How could you be anything but in a place like this? Doused in SPF 50+ and bug spray. Still the only one with mosquito bites. Just five more days… Should I have a drink? “You can swerve on the road, you won’t get pulled over.” These bridges are empty anyway. How is this even Dutch? Was it peaceful, was it violent? It was violent. Abandoned multicolored mansions built on sand. We reminisce the past, but can’t remember it. We were never there. Hand picking parts of a whole. Thousands of slaves passed through these stone walls and I couldn’t find a sign. Just a mall. “Real Curaçaoans don’t like the Dutch,” she said. But so it is. They pour in to sleep and swim and pose on the beach. Fly in for a season or two to take the better service jobs. Front of house, pouring French wine. A hostess from the Hague said she likes it better here because the people greet each other. Hi ma’am, yes ma’am. How do you do? Can I ask you a question? What’s the source of that custom? I’m just looking for some sugar. The locals work the night shift  the cashiers, the janitors, the guards of gated communities. Descendants of stolen people. Pay the price to enjoy. A golf course in the desert. This island always catered to his comfort. But the checkered families brighten my mood. Feeding stray cats kipper snacks. A live band rotates at the Miles jazz bar. Drums, bass, timbales, congas, piano. La vida tiene sabor and it’s thick. Culture rich. A quarter later, gigging in my highchair. Now I can relax. “So what..?” written on black shirts. Dutch punks with tattooed arms serving Curaçaoans straight. Cuban rum, Italian grappa. The first Pernod I’ve found in Latin America. Ass sweat on a wood seat. The kid’s frown itself was jazz music. The kind of rhythm you don’t learn. Hands so fast you can’t see. The lights are shaking. Rastas speaking Dutch. Music as resilience. A lineage of pain. But somehow smiles and tunes so unifying. Warm. Sam, wake up, there are pink flamingos outside. Of course the church habla español. Why is Daddy Yankee headlining the jazz festival? Spoonfuls of full-fat European yogurt. Gouda and salami. We met a Dutch guy who’s been living here for 14 years over rolled tobacco. He showed us on his phone the finca he bought outside of Medellín. Said it cost close to nothing. His son speaks four languages at four. Almost stepped on broken glass on the floor. Tiny shells in my pocket. A lizard came to my call. Question where you lay to rest. We have access to the information, but will we use it?

An ode to assholes

I was 14. A freshman. In the backseat. The car full of older boys. Three juniors, one sophomore. It was a four-seater Ford Explorer. My spot in the middle had no belt. We were drinking and smoking. They had these mini Coors and a massive blunt was being passed around. Immortal Technique was blasting. Point of No Return. Of course he had a sub in the back. I always wanted to complain about the volume and drifting tires, but I never did. Every cell was screaming: this is not good. I wanted to speak, but the words just never came out. I didn’t want to be that girl. I felt silenced. We were going 75 down a curvy 15. I forget the name of the road. Scotts? Smith? Something with an S. They used to bomb it all the time. On a skateboard, in a car. It connected Kennedy and Shannon in Los Gatos. Fuck, I forget. But I remember the rest. They were all screaming, “scare the shit out of her!” I guess they all wanted to scare me? I don’t know, but next thing we were drifting towards a fence. And a tree. Time stopped between the bumps in the music and I couldn’t hear a thing. I flew over Matt and my head broke through the side window. My vision dripped red like Game Over in GoldenEye 007. I put my hand to my head and it was wet. Blood kept flowing. My ex and I left the scene and went to the Burger King public restroom to wipe up my bloody face before getting me home. We pulled up outside my house. I didn’t want to tell my parents what happened but wanted someone to check my head. So I lifted my hoodie up, walked up the driveway, put on an I’m-not-blitzed face as I opened the front door, and went straight to the bathroom I shared with my brothers. Turned on the shower, soaked my hair, knocked over a bottle of shampoo, faked a loud gasp. After that pathetic little charade, I went to my mom to show her the gash. The words spilled out. Shaking and inaudible. I fell in the shower and hurt myself, it bled a lot. Do I need stitches? She said it looked like a clean cut. Phew. I disappeared back into my room. Parted my hair and took a picture with my flip phone. Uploaded the photo of my skull to Myspace with the caption “Fuck.” Willy, the driver, years later, said that post made his heart stop. That accident made my heart stop. Still does to this day anytime I’m in the backseat of a car with an aggressive (always been male) driver. It’s not speed that scares me, but speed accompanied with stupidity. Cutting people off. Whipping the passengers around like rag dolls. Riding too close. Constantly slamming on the breaks. Jerking the wheel back and forth. Trying to pass without visibility. Happens more than I’d like it to, riding in cars with strangers who quickly reveal themselves. The occasional cabbie, some random friend of a friend. It happened just yesterday. On the way back from Jardín to Medellín. Sam’s cousin was driving. His wife always takes a pill before the ride apparently, to sleep through it. They both prayed before we left. That gesture. The father, the son, and the holy ghost. And as soon as the car was in drive, I was his subject again. To his sheer violence. Personified anger. He must have cut off 40 cars ahead of us. Going three times the speed limit. Weaving in and out of cars on a winding two-lane road through the mountains. Speeding into oncoming traffic. Right before a blind turn. Brake fast, lash forward. Apparently this is normal here and no one really questions it, not even after an ambulance comes to take them away. The ones in the back who couldn’t say no. Again, I didn’t have a seatbelt, because he had them tucked behind into the trunk. One arm stretched straight to the seat ahead of me and the other gripping hard on the grab handle. My heart was racing. I’ve never felt more uncomfortable, unsafe. I’ve never been in a car with such an asshole, of all the assholes. His ego, his issues, held above the well-being of others. I wanted to ask him why. “Why do you drive like this?” “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?” How could he do this? But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t question his disrespect, his disregard, his way. Silenced again. Powerless and paralyzed. My own safety beyond my control, my consent. In the hands of a madman. It felt like abuse. All I could do was cry. So I started sobbing uncontrollably while looking out the window. Why was I in that car? Why didn’t we get the bus back or drive separate? Sam asked him to slow down, and said I was feeling unwell. He couldn’t question him either. Afraid of the snap. The car was silent other than his 80s playlist. Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper, Toto, Alan Parsons Project. But my discomfort brought even more awkwardness to the car. I felt guilty, like I was the problem. What was worse: my reaction or the reality? I couldn’t bear to face him. I wanted to vanish. What was I going to say when I said goodbye? Thanks for the ride? Sorry for being so scared, it’s just I… I felt like I should be the one to say sorry. To apologize for my fear. For bringing it up. Luckily we hit traffic. He was forced to stay in his lane, so I was finally able to calm down a bit. To enjoy the scenery. Lush, green, but with the window down, still smelled like gasoline. I kept wondering. Why? Why’d he put us through that? Does he always do this? And to who else? Why didn’t he feel remorse? Why didn’t his wife care? Why didn’t he say sorry? All for what? Because he liked it? Because his brain’s already scattered into a million pieces? Just because? No. Not again. I wiped my cheeks, relieved to be that girl. I wasn’t sorry. I was right. Maybe I’d just tell him to take care. Because he needs to. To fulfill the upheld expectation of appreciation for the ride, I ended up just saying thanks, bye in a blur. He’ll never know the way he made me feel.

Away

It’s easier to establish a voice after leaving home. Surrounded by expression so foreign from my own makes me feel more alone. And there’s comfort in the solitude. Background voices merge into a mush of sounds. Hidden in a cafe, away on a train. Language becomes noise. Until I hear my own. That familiar accent pierces past and I distract. Mind deciphers meaning. “We sold two so far.” “She was so wasted she couldn’t stand.” “Should I be writing this all down?” The words of others crowd my mind and expel any I want to read or write. Familiarity pauses attention. Everything stops. I fall under a spell of the known, craving the strange again. Lips moving in silence. Everywhere I go, one language turns up the volume and pulls me back. Drowns out stream of thought. The others become a sea of sound I can sense, but not grasp. A loss of comprehension can liberate. Submerged in the unknown, searching for significance. An inner voice becomes more clear. More distinct. I can think.

La ciudad de la eterna primavera

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Where the sidewalks stop. Sending a letter in the mail can cost you 120,000 COP/41 USD, but a joint 2,000 COP/.70 USD. Every new apartment comes with servants’ quarters attached to the laundry room. Buses and trucks push black clouds into your pores. Would you like meat with your meat or more meat? Men, this. Women, that. Everyone is looking. ¿BIEN O QUE? Run before you get hit. Breast and butt enhancement. Worship God and a virgin. “Oh my, how this place has changed.” Hasta abajo. High interest rates at banks. GOOOOOOOOL. Thunder. Fruit you’ve never tried. Grocery lines that are never express. Rat tails. Arepas con quesito. Please take a number. Maximum capacity. “No, no, really, hire a driver.” Mr. Tea at the country club. Pico y placa. Unfinished buildings, unfinished business. Días violentos en la comuna 13. Mazda, Mazda, Mazda, Renault. Venezuelan migrants trying to get their families out. Saturday sin, Sunday mass. “Yo no creo en las brujas pero que las hay las hay.” Numerology readings and pink quartz somehow under your pillow. European backpackers flocking to resort hostels to sit on the beach and drink beer. Selfies so they know. Chicharrón everything. “Restaurants don’t let me park my taxi outside when I’m a customer, so I don’t really eat out.” Don’t question, have faith. Buenas. Nonconsensual reggaeton. Got cut in line for the cable line. +DMT, -TV written all over the city. People say hi. Hooks under the table. Don’t give papaya. White lace on a five-year-old girl. Her brother almost went priest. Juice with added sugar or milk? Postobón brings the family together. Weekend lunches into TV marathons. Magic realism can’t extinguish the trash fires, but the butterflies are real. Long tees asking if you wanna buy some coke. More likely perico (not the bird). Trauma. Un tinto, porfa. Bricks. Near misses on motorcycles. Feedback loops break with a punch in the face. Two condors poisoned in Tayrona. “It’s God’s Will.” Cream paint job with tinted windows. Still a patrón. Don’t say his name. Salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia, vallenato, champeta. Brave bicyclists wearing facemasks. Nada cambia. Single/American/male tourists who often refer to themselves as digital nomads and openly cackle over the conversion rate. Parents hustling candy at traffic lights. Sniffing gasoline will suppress the hunger. Medellín es una chimba. A child begs for money while an older man watches from a distance. The leaves will breathe it all in and spit it all out until the valley suffocates.

Cosmic Travel in 20 Minutes

Originally featured in Michael Pollan’s ‘Trips Worth Telling’ series

Just one inhale sent me falling backward into my pillow. A phantom in my mirror sat up from my body, then walked away. My eyelids shut, and I shot into space. Flying through vibrant tunnels of geometric patterns and down paths not unlike Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road, I eventually landed on “the other side.” Everything was white and black, simultaneously. I seemed to be standing on firm ground in the clouds, with the agency to navigate. I was in the void. There was no distinction between high and low or here and there. Though I’m not religious, Ganesha — Hindu god of beginnings and “remover of obstacles” — appeared. The elephant figure pulsated in the center of my vision as several arms swayed up and down. I was awestruck, eager to explore. I turned and faced a large audience, a sea of young Asian boys. (Don’t ask why. I know it’s specific.) They were all giving me a thumbs-up, cheering me on. Smiling eyes roared in unison: “Keep doing what you’re doing, Erica. You’re doing the right thing.”

At this point, my roommate opened the door, and the visions evaporated. I told her, “I’m on DMT. Please shut the door.” The room returned to silence. The walls seemed to be morphing and dripping with sheen paint. Then, just as suddenly as I’d blasted off, I made a gentle landing back to sober consciousness. I checked the clock. Only 20 minutes had passed. I remember thinking, “That’s it?” But now, several years later, the psychological benefits of that experience continue to crystalize.

That was it. Just one bong rip of DMT — also known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine, a molecule found nearly everywhere in nature and a powerful hallucinogenic — sent me out of this world. I had no idea it would also send me the precise message I needed to hear as a 20-year-old trying to figure out my life.

Like many young people, I went through a period of feeling uncertain about everything. What to do, how to be. I was depressed, skipping class, avoiding responsibilities. (Smoking pot all day didn’t quite ease the existential anxiety.) To escape this inherent developmental discomfort, I used all sorts of substances: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, sketchy pressed pills, various pharmaceuticals. But psychedelics were always different. Rather than a diversion from reality, they provided a meaningful and direct confrontation with my inner self and this outer space we find ourselves tucked into.

On larger doses of LSD, I’ve seen divine feminine figures in kaleidoscopic vision. All women in one woman, or me. Yoni, apparently. On psilocybin (four grams, a doozy), I once forgot everything about the world, including myself. Even my name. Rediscovering everything as I returned from the fog renewed my appreciation and awe of existence. When you forget that music exists and hear a song for what feels like the first time, even T-Pain on WiLD 94.9 can bring tears to your eyes. On ketamine, the most mundane information transforms into divine comedy. And on MDMA, I’ve connected more deeply with people I love. Once I even saw green energy sparks coming out of my hands after rubbing them together. I was able to see the unseeable.

Each of these seemingly sacred experiences has brought me closer to what feels like my most “authentic self.” And while the psychedelic experience has historically been written from a male perspective, with an emphasis on ego loss as the big shebang, that recurrent theme has been a bit less profound for me and other women I’ve spoken to about psychedelic visions. Maybe ego loss is less focal to the female psychedelic experience because we’re primary caregivers biologically. Maybe it’s neurochemically and socially easier for us to “lose ourselves” in flow states of caregiving, such that becoming aware of a lack of boundaries between ourselves and the world may be a bit less mind-blowing. Instead, reaching an inner state of pure self-compassion, giving my ego a damn hug for once, and being reintroduced to myself sans judgment has been paramount. Some space to say: It’s okay. You’re okay.

Reflecting on all the substances I’ve taken, DMT stands above and beyond the rest. DMT delivered the words of encouragement I desperately needed as a young woman to “find my way.” Not a degree. Not a boyfriend. Not a grade on a paper. Not a like on Instagram. I needed to know within the deepest part of myself that I was okay; I was enough. A very basic human need that comes more naturally to some than others.

That brief message brought me back home within myself. And over time, it made it easier to ignore self-doubt and distractions from my truest goals, dreams, and desires. The things that make me talk too fast. The things that make me write. The things that make me feel full: love and learning. The things in this world that need some editing and rewriting.

I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but that single experience gave me the reassurance I needed to simply be as I am. To stop trying to embody a personality or mimic a state alien to myself. To stop worrying about what others are thinking and feeling at all times. This is not a story of ego loss, but a story of ego restructuringA moment of solitude that allowed my mind to better prioritize what matters and what doesn’t. What deserves attention. Especially for women, who may exhaust too much mental energy outside of themselves, constantly thinking about how others are feeling, thinking, and perceiving, this return inward can be especially therapeutic.

People familiar with DMT will often ask, “Did you break through?” And I did. After cosmic travel — whether in a spacecraft or within your own mind — your perspective is bound to shift. Anxiety lifts. Everyday trials and tribulations seem more petty than before. Spiraling thoughts of self-doubt become irrelevant, because, according to the laws of universe, it’s going to be okay. Really, you’re doing just fine. For anyone who grew up programmed to think otherwise — that they’re not good enough, that they should conform like this or dress like that, that they deserve less — a psychedelic experience can help send those negative thoughts out of orbit. DMT politely called bullshit on all that disorienting psychosocial conditioning that surrounded me as a young woman, and then said: Keep going.

Goodbye Berlin

Saying goodbye to Berlin. All the history, the hofs, the cafes, the dark hallways. Messages in bathroom stalls. Strangers and smirks and lit uBahn station tiles. The haircuts, the black. Dogs waiting outside Lidl off-leash. Seven spätis on my block. The canal. Sourdough brötchen for breakfast, with extra butter. The zimt rolls. Working at Clue. Kotti. The first time I tried to pronounce Straße. The complaints and the appreciations. Grey skies in winter. Fucking February. Sonnenallee. Hermannstraße. Karl-Marx-Straße. An apartment all to myself. Quiet mornings. Summer sidewalk seating. The smell of cigarettes. Nah? Sunset at 4pm; sunset at 11pm. Candle-lit bars. Clubs with no phone policies. Femme attire including white sneakers on the dancefloor. Faces full of speed and ketamine. Event poster on event poster on event poster on event poster. The first warm day of spring. 3€ slices at Pazzi. Buying groceries at the Schillermarkt. Cherry blossoms and momentous parks. Eyes on thighs and catcalls. That one pitbull on Dresdenerstraße. She’s not there anymore though. Grunewald? Bad pot at Hasenheide. Learning the proper sauna regimen. Nudity. Being scolded by an aufgussmeister. Seeking bougieness in Mitte. Falafel und halloumi teller, bitte. Azzam. (But Maroush is better.) Reminding grown men not to litter. Open air festivals. Feeling empty then full. Looping thoughts. Australians, Australians everywhere. Natural wine. Getting into Berghain. Not getting into Berghain. The wedding caravans of honking Mercedes. The wedding dress shops of Neukölln. The chocolate cake at L’eustache. Ambulance sirens. Keith. Blaming and praising Angela Merkel. Sitting topless at Tempelhof Airport. Funkhaus. Being called Frau. Spilling gluhwein at Christmas markets. Unapologetic PDA. Still saying hella. Babies in backpacks and bike baskets. Abandoned TVs and mattresses. Cryptic heartbroken messages. Gold plates under your shoe. The Ausländerbehörde. A mountain made of rubble. Trees you wish could talk. Rides on the front of his bike. Music everywhere. The people. All seeking and leaving and finding and hiding and yearning and making and changing. See you soon/never/always.