03 December 2011

Mr Tambourine Man

I don't know exactly when I first started to use LSD - in reality, I started first with mescaline, and I do remember that.  My fellow graduate student Barry, who lived, with his wife and their two (I think) children, in the breathtakingly beautiful suburb of Lanikai - invited me to his house one evening in March and I took mescaline there.

Did he give it to me?  I don't think so.  I think he only tolerated my using it there.

Within - what? days? a couple of weeks at the most - I was taking LSD regularly.

I do not know what to say about LSD, even now.  It is a very dangerous drug.  Some have died as a result of its use - many by suicide.  It is often cited as a recreational drug.  I suppose that depends on how you define 'recreation.'

For me, it was not recreation.  It was desperation.  Although I could not have expressed it in this way at the time, the fact is that the natural world had failed me.  I was trying to break out.

"Mr Tambourine Man" is an apt title for this post.  Dylan's song became my literal theme song.  I messed about, very badly, with the guitar, and that was my favourite song.  The chorus:
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle-jangle morning I'll come following you.
is where I was at.

I took LSD several times a week.  By this time I had a motorcycle for transport.  My favourite way of taking 'acid' was to take the drug and drive over to that same Lanikai suburb, to spend the night sitting on the beach, waiting for the sun to rise.  I was 'not sleepy' and there was definitely 'no place I [was] going to.'

I was still an enrolled graduate student, and must have done some work.  I managed to turn two (I now recall, though in an earlier post I said 'one') of those four 'incomplete' grades to passing marks - the other two became F's.  I was, nevertheless, really only drifting.  I took LSD often and went to campus, attending lectures - well, small seminars, really, as I was now officially a PhD candidate.  My fellows knew what was up with me.  I made no attempt to conceal it.  Indeed, I was deeply touched when, in early 1970, I told my dearest friend Greg Trifonovitch that I had become a Christian, he exclaimed - somewhat paradoxically :-) - "What?!  That's impossible!!  My adult Sunday School class has been praying for you for two years!"  May God bless you, Greg and Bev, for that, and for all that you have done for Susan and me over the many years since then.

During these two or three months, from sometime in March until the end of May, 1969, I went through a kind of pantheist view of life.  If I had remained there, I suppose I might have become a conventional 'hippie' - but I found that I could not, somehow, accept pantheism.  I had brooded on the oneness of reality, those dawns at Lanikai.  I recall very clearly the night that I knew that I would be dishonest if I accepted pantheism.

I had taken LSD and stayed, for a change, in my apartment in Young Street.  During the course of the 'trip' I began exclaiming - not out loud, for Mrs. Bell's sake :-) - "I Am!"  I had not got that from the Bible.  I knew nothing of the Bible.  I had got it from Heinlein's great - and poisonous - novel "Stranger in a Strange Land."

I knew I was failing in my academic career.  I remember saying to myself that I was the cosmos - I was all - and that both succeeding and failing were my - I should say 'My' - choice.  I was free to embrace both.

And yet... in my deepest being I knew that there was a fundamental problem: I preferred to succeed and not to fail.  In theory, I ought to have been able to embrace both alternatives.  In reality, I knew that I was not willing to do so.  Pantheism failed me.

It must, nonetheless, have seemed to my teachers and supervisors - I was still working for PALI on Yapese - that I was not yet a total loss.  It was at their instigation that I was employed during the summer of 1969.  I was sent to Yap to manage the Yapese language side of training Peace Corps Volunteers on-site.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating post, John. While we are a few years apart in age, a lot of our experiences align. I didn't drop as often as you, but I think I did for the same reason. I wanted to experience the numinous. In a way, I did, and became a "mystic."

I vividly recall one trip with a friend (I never dropped alone) in which, at night, high on top of a building on our campus, I said - "but what about the Holy Ghost? Everyone forgets about the Holy Ghost!"

Best to you,
Frank from C2C

John Thayer Jensen said...

In the days when I used LSD, I had never heard of the Holy Ghost :-)