April 01, 2008

Body chemistry

John C. Lilly
I'm big on body chemistry. I used to get in bad moods easily, and they could mostly be traced to eating too much bread. Since I moved onto a low carb diet I've had zero mood swings, but yesterday I ate a loaf for lunch and by 4pm I was feeling bad. It was a good test of the system.

I still drink too much coffee, it's my one true addiction. I used to run it in cycles, upping my consumption until I got the shakes and then cutting it out for a week or so, moving back to tea. Lately that system's been abandoned, but I cut down by moving from a pot to twin Vietnamese drippers, a fast and slow one, and let my obsession with details run wild with new combinations of beans. Around the corner is a coffee wholesaler, and when I die I'll be riddled with caffeine.

My coffee use echoes that of John C. Lilly and ketamine, although in truth I show more moderation. He'd stay up for three weeks injecting more as the last dose wore off, and even shot up while conducting classes (albeit at Esalen).

Lilly with the Janus equipment, getting ready to communicate with dolphins

It's my birthday soon, and I got some books as gifts. One of them was The Scientist by John C. Lilly, the other was On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee, and I'll be surprised and rather disappointed if the latter doesn't turn out to be more of a trip. I read about what I'm eating, drinking, and it's another way to become closer to things.

The many different ways of seeing an apple: culinary, nutritional, botanical, economic, chemical, aesthetic, metaphorical, and so on. The idea being to extrapolate as much meaning as possible from what's already present, to see things much more as they really are. But it'd be hard to do this without giving in to madness for a while, and then no way to talk about such things without boring the hell out of others and giving the game away.

The only [formerly] legitimate guy with comparable psychedelic experience to Lilly was probably Timothy Leary. Shuglin and others are names to conjure with in the first rank of the community, but Lilly and Leary are the two who are best known for taking too much, too often.

I read the two recent biographies of Leary, caricatured as the pro and the con versions of his story. In neither does he come out very well, more like a Hugh Hefner wannabe who hooked up with drugs rather than porn, but for much the same ends. If you look at them, they're like brothers, always the same big smile on their faces, and probably with good reason, but their aims and ends are not what it was supposed to be.

But then here I am, setting limits like a puritan. Still, a smile can be faked. It was Marshall McLuhan who told Leary to smile beatifically at cameras in order to sell his message more convincingly. But I don't like his smile, it annoys me like a commercial. It's the smile that I do when I have to.

That said, I came across Leary's 1964 Cooper Union address the other day and it holds up very well. Part of the background is that he's just come back from Mexico after an early experiment in psychedelic communal living. He's already way gone into the 60s lifestyle, but the rest of the world doesn't know a thing about what's looming. He can still be welcomed as a public speaker to a group of students. In this talk he's lucid, charming and doesn't oversell the stuff, while also kicking off the whole scene. A rewarding hour from another time and place.

Now Lilly is a very different character. While Leary went off and set out to become an international playboy, Lilly shut himself away in an isolation tank and tripped hard, and I feel quite an affinity for the guy, for his need to get further away from people and further into something else. Will be dipping in and out of the autobiography over the next week or so, and posting things as necessary. I doubt there will be as many anecdotes as with Leary. Floating alone, in lukewarm water, in the dark, doesn't really lend itself to narrative. But so what? Life isn't a work of fiction.

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