Never Mind Walking A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes, Try Seeing The World Through Their Eyes

The reason organizations like the ASPCA use pleading, wide-eyed dogs in their fundraising appeals is because they work. Maybe those people who fear photography captures something of their souls are on to something. Even a photo of a pleading animal’s eyes touches us deeply (as compared to the actual animal itself, pleading directly to it with its eyes). Something of us flows from our orbs. Look deeply enough into them and you’ll even see past any attempts to deceive about who or what we really “are” to “us” — the real, honest-to-goodness US.

An honest-to-goodness “us” really exists inside each of us. It’s that entity behind our eyes that we spy in the bathroom mirror whenever we take a moment to acknowledge that it’s there. That is what we all do when we gaze past our reflection and into our reflection’s eyes — we acknowledge the stone cold fact that there really is a presence inside our heads that knows us even better than we know ourselves. Its voice sounds like ours. Its habits and peccadilloes — ours. In every way imaginable, it’s us! And yet, as we gaze at it — as we converse with it even — we can’t get past the weird sensation that as much as we know that “it’s us”, it’s also a weird sort of “separate us”.

It is bloody hard being a sentient creature, isn’t it? Thinking is exhausting. Even more so when your brain sees everything as a problem to be solved. More so still when the problem to be solved is “why me?”

We know what we know about us. We know where our bodies are buried — somewhere between us and the person staring back at us in the mirror. Not only does that person staring back “know what we know” about us, that person knows what we know about the world beyond the mirror.

Add a layer of complication: we honestly have no idea how it works — how the electrical activity flashing through our grey matter — does its “perception thing” and creates the thoughts we’re having about ourselves (or about anything else). We know we have feelings. We know that chemicals in our brains cause our feelings (or the feeling that we’re having a feeing) to ebb and flow. We don’t know where our feelings “live” when we’re not feeling them. I don’t know why I feel the way I do and I don’t know why you feel the way you do. While I can empathize with how things feel to your body, I can never know how they feel. I can only know how things feel to my body.

Same goes for pain. We all experience it differently. It is pure arrogance on my part to assume how pain effects me is prototypical, as if my tolerance were some sort of standard that should apply to everyone else; it absolutely isn’t.

One of the things I find interesting about cannabis is the pure subjectivity of the experience. My experience will differ from yours because our brain chemistries are different. It’s only by comparing notes with each other about that experience that we can adjudge 1) how cannabis works on our minds to begin with and 2) how any particular strain, with its own terpene profile and THC/CBD matrix works on our minds. If my experience with the classic sativa Durban Poison is similar enough to yours (a solid, warm, consistent beam of delicious mental focus), then we can agree that smoking Durban Poison will probably produce that particular effect inside a smoker’s head.

For a decade and a half, I struggled with a deepening depression related to an event in my past that I’d suppressed — I was sexually molested twice when I was 14 by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged. For the 45 years that I kept that secret from myself (meaning — I knew this thing had happened to me but I refused to acknowledge that it had happened to me), I looked out at the world with this little detail as part of how I saw the world. Having a terrible secret puts you on an island inhabited by just you and your molester. If no one else knows this terrible secret about you, then obviously, they don’t know YOU. How could they? They only “think” they know who you are.

Having survived a suicidal depression, I know for a fact that I saw the world differently than anyone else around me. I understood (well, on some deep, abstract-thinking level) why silly, seemly insignificant things set me off into a volcanic, self-directed rage. My wife and kids would look at me during those moments as if I was a Martian who did things for no understandable reason. Ah, if only they could have understood me the way I understood me — and saw the world through my eyes.

It wasn’t possible for my wife and kids to see my pain my way in part because even I didn’t see the pain correctly. Once I did, I was able to articulate my pain. That helped. A lot.

Now, I have a certain advantage here because I could articulate my pain once I understood it — and that helped me recover from it. Being able to express my pain, what was behind it — liberated me because I no longer had to bear its burden alone. When anyone gets to express their pain, it’s liberating. Sometimes people have to be coaxed though. That’s when they look out at the world in silent desperation. Maybe they’ve surrendered already and given up hope than anyone else will see their pain. Maybe they feel unworthy. They’re not. Maybe they fear being judged.

I have no idea what it “feels like” to be LGBTQ. No one gets a choice about what kind of brain chemistry they’ll have. We don’t stand there as sperm and egg fuse and our two sets of DNA begin to dance with each other. We don’t get to sort among our dominant or recessive genes or snag a predecessor’s skill set. What comes to us comes to us. It makes us who and what we are before we even “are”. And our genome isn’t “perfect”. It’s malleable and fluid and error prone. And that’s just the parts we’ve figured out. There’s plenty we haven’t yet. I know people who were born with external male characteristics but the overwhelming feeling that they were female. That’s not them being “dramatic” of course; it’s how they actually feel inside their heads — because their biochemistry is at war with itself.

I wonder: do judgy Christians judge a lupus sufferer whose immune system is at war with them the way they judge a person whose sexual identity is at war with their biochemistry? Christians are a particularly judge-y lot. That’s ironic considering as the religion’s founder was all about “judge not lest ye be judged”.

Why does sexual repression slow dance with religious fervor? Why do deities inspire all sorts of sexual peccadilloes? Why can’t people who insist their deity connects them to other people, appreciate the people that deity supposedly connects them to?

Sigh… I guess if I could see the world through their eyes? I’d know…

The Only Confession Booth Anyone Needs Is Their Own Bathroom Mirror

No confessions required. We all do this. We just do. We stand in front of a bathroom mirror and we get real with ourselves — realer than we get with anyone else because the person we’re getting really, really REAL with is US. When we look into our own eyes, we see a version of us that no one else sees because no one else can (or ever will) — the you YOU know. The you you are. We speak to ourselves with a voice we don’t use for anyone else. It’s the most honest voice we have; maybe the only honest voice. Don’t think we can’t bullshit ourselves. We most certainly can and do. But we know, deep down, that we’re bullshitting ourselves even as we do it. We see that lack of belief in our own eyes.

I named this blog after a book I’m writing — “How to Live Bullshit Free: A Practical Guide To NOT Killing Yourself” — in which I tell my personal story — how a secret I kept hidden from myself for 45 years finally achieved a kind of critical, self-destructive mass inside my head and tried to kill me. Between a great therapist, a mood stabilizer that successfully mitigates my depression and copious amounts of THC to mitigate my creative hypomania so I can be creative, I beat back depression’s grip on me. The thing about one’s darkness — the thing causing one’s depression — is that it knows you better than you because it is you. It knows where all your bodies are buried because it helped you bury them. The more you listen to your darkness, the less perspective you hold onto. That’s depression’s MO — it robs you of perspective, convincing you that the whole world is the ever-shrinking misery-nubbin you live on. There’s nothing else out there so why bother going on?

Except that’s not true. There’s plenty out there. Hell — there’s EVERYTHING out there, beyond the reach of your darkness. If only one could figure out how to open one’s eyes to it.

My darkness had me convinced that I was responsible for being sexually molested twice when I was 14 — by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged. The man who molested me put me on an island with him — an island built upon the secret we shared about what he did to me (and the fact that I never reported him). If you didn’t know that secret about me, I told myself as I grew up, you didn’t really know ME. And since I wasn’t sharing that secret with anyone (I was even keeping it from myself, remember), there was NO WAY for anyone to get to know me. My molester condemned me to 45 years of self-destructive isolation where long-lasting, deep, trusting friendships were hard to come by because I had no idea how to forge and maintain those bonds.

I remember looking in the mirror at myself wondering why I was so unhappy. I would stand there, searching my eyes for a clue while, ironically, all the clues I needed were right inside my own head. If I had to describe the inside of my own head, I’d call it a black box theater. Think a shoe box, painted all black on the inside then turned over. Anything can happen inside that space. You can put the audience anywhere, the lights anywhere, the actors anywhere. You can have as much or as little set as you like. Meanwhile, in addition to the performances going on inside the black box theater that is my mind, there are a dozen or so projections — movies in black and white, color, technicolor, sepia. There are lasers and lightning flashes of black light. There’s music and sound and… what I think of as a wonderful kind of chaos.

But there’s also a stairway — attached to the theater’s back wall. The stairs lead up to a platform up in the rafters just beneath the black box’s roof. On the platform, there’s an office. Go in the door and you’ll see there’s a closet in the back of the office. In the closet (open the door), there’s a filing cabinet. Open the top drawer and you’ll find a memory, glowing white hot: my molestation. It was always like I stood in the black box theater’s doorway, down on the ground, but I was always keenly aware of that light burning up in the corner, unseen but not unknown.

Between therapy, the mood stabilizer and the cannabis, I was finally able to confront my demon — the fact that I was molested. It happened as I stood, late one Friday night, in the bathroom, gazing at myself in the bathroom mirror. “You know what happened, right?” I said to myself, “You know what that man did to you.” I nodded. And then I broke down and sobbed on that bathroom floor for hours, crying not so much for me as for that 14 year old boy who felt so alone and isolated from the world.

That first confession was brutal. But, damn if it didn’t set me free.

Confession isn’t easy. It’s hard. Harder still to confess your deepest, darkest “shouldn’t have’s” to yourself: “I shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine… shouldn’t have said that… shouldn’t have betrayed that confidence or violated that trust”. But, also — shouldn’t have taken the blame. Unfortunately, part of getting mentally healthy is doing a lot of heavy lifting. There’s no easy route to it — but there’s a route. That’s key. There IS a route and we all deserve to be on it.

Use it like a mantra: “the truth WILL set you free”. And being free is the first step to being happy. Living a lie and living happily are mutually exclusive propositions.

Go on — look yourself in the eyes. Tell yourself the truth the way you know it is. In the end, you will thank yourself.

In Cannabis Veritas

In vino veritas is how the original goes: in wine there is truth. Actually, the original original goes in libris veritas: in books there is truth. Books has it right. Wine… not so much. Oh, the occasional drunk may spew out how they really feel about you or the world in that instant, but the truth is, they’re not “in touch” with themselves. They can’t be with all that alcohol in them. I’m kind of a “control group” on the topic. I used to drink. To excess (if I’m honest with myself). I used to think I was just getting “truthful” by cracking the next bottle. My personal experience says “in vino veritas” is bullshit.

I stopped drinking four years ago, just after I started taking a mood stabilizer to help moderate the deep, dark depression I was in. The personal depression I’d been working on for ten years got subsumed inside the national depression that began when Donald Trump stole election 2016. After coming within literal inches of offing myself, I took the plunge into mood stabilizers (having feared that plunge as much as my depression). Fortunately for me, I leveled almost immediately at the minimum dose. Bullseye. Lamotrigine — at the minimum dose — kept my darkness at bay; it could no longer “get at” me. The bad news: the lamotrigine gave all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that just ruined the whole experience.

I became like Alex in A Clockwork Orange —

When “dosed”, the violent criminal suddenly couldn’t abide violence — to his own peril. In my case, this lover-of-all-things-alcohol suddenly couldn’t abide the taste of alcohol. Well, the aftertaste. Even a great, structured red wine, its tannins as supple as its fruit was dense suddenly became… grapefruit skin. Just… unbearable.

Good thing my one remaining vice was cannabis. And good thing I lived in California where cannabis is legal. Because in cannabis veritas.

I’ve told my story here about how I morphed from a guy who didn’t really care much about cannabis (sure, it should be completely legal!) into a guy who loudly and shamelessly advocates for the stuff because it’s become such an important part of my quotidian life. Yeah, yeah, yeah — it’s not everyone’s answer (thank goodness we got THAT out of the way). But, for those who cannabis can help? There are myriad ways it can help you. Myriad ways it can improve the quality of your life. I truly use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end.

In addition to being depressed, it turns out I’m bi-polar. My darkness is matched by hypomania. Thoughts don’t just fly around inside my head, they explode into life constantly. I don’t mind that. My only problem is it’s distracting. They’re all squirrels and I’m just a dog. I can chase one or two; I can’t chase them all. Cannabis — sativas during the day time — slows the mania down. My brain is like a black box theater — think of a shoebox, painted black inside, turned upside down. It’s a simple black space inside which anything can happen. At any one time, a dozen or so things are being projected onto the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Some are in technicolor, some black-and-white. A few are even in sepia. Music plays. All kinds. And there are smells and sounds and did I mention the comedians sprinkled through the crowd? Those guys kill.

A sativa like Durban Poison acts like a scrim. It falls gently — quieting most of the projections and noise — allowing me to focus on just one or two. And suddenly — another benefit of the cannabis — I can see or hear or smell or taste whatever I’m focusing on with remarkable clarity. Food really does taste better on weed. Smells are more distinct. Music deeper and more soulful. Or fun. Things “seem” funnier, in part, because you’re appreciating them from a deeper place. It really is funnier than you realized — and the fact that you just realized how much funnier it is? THAT’S effin’ hilarious!

I wrote “straight” most of my professional life. I know what that is. Having written with cannabis in my system now for a half dozen years, I can honestly say — I’m better on cannabis. Maybe that’s because I enjoy writing more on cannabis. Cannabis makes writing easier — because the thoughts come easier. I feel more in tune with where the thoughts are coming from.

As I wrote about in Blunt Truths, the series about cannabis prohibition I wrote for Weedmaps News (back when that was a “thing”), marijuana played a big part in the invention of jazz. When the mostly Black musicians gathering in New Orleans in the first decade of the 20th century tried to get at the music inside their heads, they didn’t turn to alcohol to help get at it. Alcohol dulls. Opioids? Are you kidding? They dull creativity worse than alcohol. Marijuana, on the other hand, takes your creativity in hand and lets it soar.

Louis Armstrong, like the rest of the amazing musicians around him, were imaging what classical European music would sound like if you larded it with African music. What if you filled in all those spaces European music left with more music? What if the musician was allowed to improvise and build on what the music’s composer wrote? What if you tried using diminished keys and odd beat structures?

As I wrote in Blunt Truths, the worst thing Harry Anslinger ever did was invent the whole “Reefer Madness” myth that cannabis is the “Assassin of Youth”. He didn’t care about “marihuana” (his spelling) when he first became America’s first Commissioner of the now defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics because, at the time, only Mexicans and Black people used it. It wasn’t until marijuana headed up the Mississippi along with the musicians heading north — and suddenly white people were smoking it. White people using something black and brown people used? That was wholly unacceptable to raging racist Harry Anslinger.

It’s a stone cold fact: the reason marijuana was made illegal is racism. Racism, racism and more racism. Not for two seconds did anyone legislating to illegalize cannabis EVER ask “But, is it bad for you?” Anslinger succeeded in making marijuana illegal (actually, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 makes not paying the hefty tax on the sale and purchase of marijuana illegal) over the objections of the American Medical Association.

We have lived in Harry Anslinger’s shadow all this time, thinking marijuana was something that it isn’t.

Yes, I write with loads and loads of cannabis in me. I do everything with loads of cannabis in me. Tennis, for instance. The same Durban Poison that delivers a smooth, focused “high” (ask my wife — I’m never ever “high”; I’m either focused or asleep) that makes writing a pleasure also takes my tennis game up a few notches. With a hit or two of DP in me, the ball slows down. I listen better to my own inner coaching. I spot the ball better off my opponent’s racket and — with everything slowed down inside my head — go through the step-by-step needed to successfully put the ball back across the net where and how I want it.

As my working ends and my evening begins, I turn again to cannabis. I’m not interested in being insensate. But — again — a hybrid like GG4 or Dutch Treat mitigates the cacophony. The feeling of mild euphoria that settles over you — it doesn’t disconnect you from the world, instead, it fuses you to everything.

As we speak, various members of my immediate and extended family are all either turned on to the benefits of cannabis already or becoming aware of them. My mom uses CBD oil to deal with an arthritic knee. CBD was her last stop before opioids. The CBD works great — and she feels better overall and sleeps better too.

If we see a product from the point of view of its benefits versus its detriments, cannabis (in all its various forms) is sliced bread. Why the hell wouldn’t you want it (if you want bread)?

This morning, I tried, for the first time, a sativa called The Fork. Where Durban Poison delivers a stead flow of very even-feeling focus, The Fork delivered strong free-associative thought. My mind went plenty of places — and burrowed into each of those places. This blog post popped into my mind.

And then onto the page.

I’ve written stuff on alcohol and cocaine that, as I was madly typing it, I was sure was genius. When I went back to look at it afterwards, it wasn’t even good typing.

Hey, for all I know, what The Fork inspired in me was pure crap. You’ll be the judge. But (and you’ll have to trust me on this) the typing’s sheer genius.

Each & Every One Of Us Is Making It Up As We Go Along — Every Day; Why Not Own It?

I’ve told this story here before. Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within inches of bullshitting myself to death.

That’s how I thought of it not long afterward — after driving straight to my doctor’s office and pretty much demanding that he write me a prescription for the mood stabilizer I had researched and thought would be my shot at salvation. See, darkness and depression rob you of perspective. I’d lost so much perspective that I believed insurance money would eventually assuage the deep psychic pain I’d cause my family.

That there, friends, is some serious-assed bullshit. That’s why this blog is called what it’s called. I got very lucky with my mood stabilizer. I leveled at the lowest dose within 36 hours and stopped wanting to hurt myself. With the darkness now held at bay — and aware of how close bullshit came to killing me, I began to realize how my bullshit (and most of it was mine but some was the culture’s) had built up in my life like plaque in a vein.

Even though killing myself was off the table, bullshit still outweighed every other component of my waking life. Most of my bullshit was either incidental bullshit or tolerable bullshit — the stuff we do to get through a day. But some was capable of metastasizing. That’s the stuff I turned my focus on.

As I said, depression (very much like bullshit) robs you of perspective. Perspective by the same token is like kryptonite to bullshit — and depression. Regaining perspective put a whole new set of lenses in my hands. Being able now to pull the camera back as far as I could, that was liberating! The first thing I saw with absolute clarity — dealing with my own bullshit was going to be a full time gig. Like it or not, I was going to have to let everyone else’s bullshit go.

The second thing I saw — again, with absolute clarity — the only way to fully negate bullshit’s impact was brutal honesty (to myself about myself within myself). Think of it as confession except you’re the church, the confession booth and the priest. You know where all your bodies are buried — FFS, YOU’RE THE ONE WHO BURIED THEM.

The third thing I saw — clearest of all: I had the power, within me, to overcome virtually every last bit of bullshit’s hold on me. All I had to do was want it. And be willing to work at it every single day.

We live in dark times. Dark forces are actively working to create a permanent state of darkness. That’s not hyperbole unfortunately.

Human beings thinking innovatively is a very recent phenomenon. For thousands of years, human armies fought pretty much the exact same way with very little improvement in technology. Even gunpowder didn’t really change the close-at-hand, colliding walls of humans battlefield strategy that persisted through World War I.

In his excellent book Sapiens, Juval Harrari points out how it really wasn’t until the industrial age that humans even imagined that tomorrow could be better than today. Up until technology became an instrument of commerce, it was generally understood that human beings were living in the fading afterglow of a long ago golden age. No one aspired to be anything other than what they were born as. What was the point?

And then humans realized — slowly — that that way of thinking was wrong. It wasn’t based on anything other than false perception and groupthink. Groupthink that went on for thousands of years.

Think of a subject like marijuana — and how our whole way of thinking of it was colored not by the truth, but by one man’s racist intent. We made up laws to punish people for reasons the people crafting the laws knew wasn’t true. That’s all very deliberate — and every last bit of it is bullshit.

In places like California and Oregon and Colorado, we consciously decided to stop thinking one way and start thinking a different way.

The Rule Of Law isn’t just under assault in America, it needs an armed guard to piss in the middle of the night. The Republican Party — especially Mitch McConnell — stopped playing by any such “rules” years ago in pursuit of a project determined to install permanent minority rule. Meanwhile the Democrats have made themselves prisoners of the Rule Of Law.

That’s the fatal flaw at the Rule Of Law’s heart — those who follow it will always be prisoners of those bent on perverting it. Yes, we can prosecute rule-breakers, but when the people charged with creating and enforcing the rules are the ones most intent on breaking them — not much good can come of it.

In my daily life — wanting to get healthy — I cut bullshit from my diet as much as I can. I feel better for it — for real. I walk around most of the time in a perpetual state of bliss. It ain’t the limotrigine, the therapy or the THC doing that — it’s the minimalization of bullshit in my daily diet.

The same way we can set ourselves up for failure, we can set ourselves up for success. It’s all a matter of how you look at it. But you do have to look at it.