changing perceptions

I was recently reading a pair of articles (here and here– Premium access may be required) by Larry Smith on Salon.Com concerning his friends experiences with Ecstasy over the years. In it, he refers to the fact that his first experiences and those of his friends with the drug and its corresponding release of seratonin in the brain were warm, embracing, ecstatic experiences. Then, as time went on, both the intensity and quality of those experiences slowly began to degrade. Now he and his group of Ecstasy using friends have an uncertain relationship with the drug; some still sniff after that elusive “good high” while others seem ambivalent about the drug and still others are concerned about whether or not MDMA has damaged the chemistry of their brains.

While reading the articles, I was struck by the sense that this progression of interaction between this group of people and MDMA was natural and inevitable. I’ve never taken Ecstasy, but I have been intoxicated on alcohol, high on marajuana, and even in indulged in the occasional use of nitrous oxide. I think these substances had a much larger appeal for me when I was 20 years old than now, as I approach 35. When I was in my early 20s, an intoxicating high was part of the social experience. It was warm. It felt good. It was intense. It was new. Now that I am an older and (hopefully) wiser man, the experience of intoxication now seems to merely alter who I am rather than enhance my experience. Much of the excitement is gone, and given a choice, I mostly prefer to experience reality in a non-intoxicated state.

Ultimately, I think this is because our perceptions of reality change over time and our ingestion of substances that alter that perception must also change. As darkndeviant recently pointed out, our brains change their wiring in response to stimuli. So I cannot help but think that drugs constitute on form of stimulus that causes our human “wetware” to change.Some people find that they like “better perception through chemistry” and become (psychologically, if not physically) dependent; others find they ultimately like life better without mind altering substances and go without.

I remember taking a course in Asian religion and learning that one phisophical approach to life is that it is seasonal. I cannot remember the exact names of the stages of growth, but the last stage was all about turning perception inward to consider matters of spirituality and philosophy in order to achieve some kind of enlightenment. This seems so very true to me now… not because I’ve achieved enlightenment, but because I’ve lived long enough to see the general shape of where the arc of my life has taken me.

of weddings and happily ever after

Weddings and what immediately follows have been on my mind during the last 24 hours.

I had my first extensive dream about getting married last night. It did not feel particularly bad because I almost watched it unfold as a detached observer. I dreamt that I was back in the state of my birth, preparing to get married in the church where I grew up. At first, the tuxes didn’t arrive. Then, they didn’t fit. Then, we somehow made them fit and it was ok. Then, I realized that we had somehow forgotten to have a rehearsal. Then, there was some mayhem regarding where to sleep the night before my wedding… though it appeared that I eventually bunked down in some imaginary wing of my Aunt’s house (for reasons not clear to me). I don’t think Fiancee S., her bridesmaids, or any of the environs where I actually will be married figured heavily into this dream. I’m not sure why.

A likely guess is that I’ve been having trouble settling on a set of groomsmen. I asked two cousins (my Aunt’s sons) to be groomsmen. One said yes, gladly. The other is experiencing health problems that limit his ability to travel for an unknown period of time into the future. My Aunt has told me that I may want to choose someone else if some deadline must be met soon. I’ve arranged for an “understudy” who has agreed to fill that slot, if need be. I was thinking last night that it might be time to make a decision about this. All of this thought about groomsmen likely focused my unconscious mind on aspects of my wedding related to home and family.

The “what comes after” part relates to a segment of this new MTV show I saw over the weekend: Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica. For those not following the celebrity weddings this season, the union of Nick Lachey (Justin Timberlake wannabe from boy band 98 Degrees) and Jessica Simpson (Britney Spears wannabe) has been very big in the wedding magazines and tabloid press. Think of it as a teen pop culture publicists match made in heaven: the boy band prince and the pop princess enjoying a chaste, beautiful courtship ending in a fairytale wedding with her first sex on their wedding night.

Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica picks up on the story after the wedding hoopla has died down. It just goes to show that even with all the teen pop star money in the world, there are still some problems. Like what, you ask? Well, she’s a slob and he’s cheap. She’s a slob, you say? Yes. It seems that she’s had either her mother or a hotel maid cleaning up after her since she got a recording contract at 14 years old. He’s been much more independent and doing his own laundry since grade school. He’s also cheap: a maid is an extravagance, he says, as is hiring a professional moving crew to move stuff out of his bachelor condo into their new, shared domicile. Given all the moving of stuff that Fiancee S. and I have been doing these last months, it was actually kind of nice to see somebody famous call up his brother, rent a U-Haul, and move stuff.

I can’t say that this is all riveting stuff, however. Mostly, I see it as a story of a young couple who haven’t really learned to communicate with someone they live with yet. For instance, when Nick expects Jessica to do laundry and she obviously doesn’t, he doesn’t seem to be interested in providing much help to show her how. As beautiful as they both are to look at, I don’t think this sort of thing will hold anyone’s interest for very long.

the dog days of summer

Many wonderful words could be used to describe the apartment I share with Fiancee S. Unfortunately, the words “cool and comfortable on a hot day” are not among them. Let me explain.

We live on the top floor of a building with apartments that all branch off of an elaborate central atrium (with tropical-type houseplants like dracaenae.) That atrium tends to warm up a lot on hot days, and the heat rises to hover just outside the entry to our apartment. At the same time, there is no central heating or air conditioning in the building and “in-window” air conditioners are forbidden (because the windows are not designed for them).

Consequently, our method of cooling the apartment generally consists of opening windows and running electric fans (I don’t want to spend $800+ for a portable “in room” air conditioner.) I would be very happy with this solution under other circumstances, but, our building is located about 30-40 yards from an Interstate and within 3 miles of a major international airport. Opening the windows is NOISY, even on lazy Saturday afternoons when highway traffic is low. Let’s not even MENTION the possibility of having a bedroom window open when attempting to sleep at night.

So, as the summer wanes, I find myself longing for the cooler days of autumn and the ability to close up windows. I look forward to the relative silence of autumn, winter, and spring. I’m tired of hot, noisy days and nights. I want some peace.

(For those of you who wonder why we stay at this particular location: the place does have some excellent attributes — good layout, big kitchen, large size, washer and dryer hook-ups, excellent location — and I was able to rent it during the rental housing crunch of 2000, where any apartment was safe harbor. That said, Fiancee S. and I will probably be moving to a quieter neighborhood as soon as time and finances permit.)

feeling the gestalt

One thing that is somewhat surprising to me about living with a girlfriend for the first time after living alone for about four years is how much we affect each other emotionally. It can affect how much or how well we sleep, how we each generally look on the world we share, and how much time we spend dealing with issues. Perhaps it is becuase this is the first time I’ve lived with a girlfriend, but, it all feels new and different. Though occasionally aggravating, it is ultimately wonderful.

I find myself trying to recall what my last experience living with someone was like for comparison. On many levels, it was thoroughly awful. I was living with a guy who I will refer to as “the Anti-Dr. Geek” (or ADG). Watchers of Star Trek and students of physics will recall that there is such a thing as “anti-matter” that violently produces energy when it collides with ordinary matter. Well, the ADG ultimately elicited the same response in me; if we’d lived together much longer, I would have grabbed an axe and attempted my best Jack Nicholson imitation from The Shining. I could go over a catalog of incidents that led to the complete dysfunction of our relationship as housemates, but suffice to say… it began with a 10 minute lecture during my third month with the ADG on the proper method for closing the window blinds and only went down hill from there.

Beyond all that though, housemates for me have often been people who you can nearly always ignore on some level. Perhaps it was because they were nearly all bachelor males (there was a house that had some women in it), but, emotional empathy between us often remained low. I did have one housemate, J., who I lived with during the early and mid-1990’s that became a very good friend. He proved to be the exception rather than the rule, however. It was generally more just a collection of people just sharing space and a series of utility bills rather than anything more meaningful.

Living with Fiancee S. definitely provides some sense of gestalt. The relationship that is us together is defintely part symbiosis, but it is also most certainly something that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is something I told myself I was looking for the next time I lived with someone after moving far away from the ADG. I’m glad I found it.

Frida Kahlo: both sublime and ridiculous

I wish I could say that this entry was going to be a sublime literate statement regarding the subtleties of the work of artist Frida Kahlo. Alas no. This entry is rather a cautionary example of the ridiculousness of capitalism taken to an extreme. I’ll leave it to you decide if Frida would approve.

Last night, Fiancee S. showed me an advertisement for a childrens picture book about Frida Kahlo. Fine and good, I thought, that children should be exposed the lives of different kinds of people including Mexican communist women artists (which must be some kind of important Politically Correct trifecta in certain learned circles). Where things got a little weird was what you could get with the book: a Frida Kahlo children’s doll, complete with unibrow.

With this in mind, I decided to do some searching on the Net to see what this whole Frida Kahlo doll thing was all about. I did it out of curiousity, just so I could share the fact that such a thing existed with others. I found several dolls. Some were very cartoonish children’s dolls, such as this offering from GiftMania.com:


One other doll from Faszination Fashion Doll was much more elegant and realistic:


Things took a decidedly tacky and surrealistic turn from there, however. It seems that dolls and art prints are not enough when it comes to Frida merchandise. No, I discovered that a collection of Frida tchotchkes connot be complete without the “Frida Kahlo Bobble-Head Classic Thong” from CafePress.com:


Closer inspection shows that this fine garment does indeed possess a detailed image of a Frida Kahlo bobble-head doll on the front:


This disturbs me slightly. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because it immediately evokes an image where two earnest young college intellectuals have spent an evening in some kind of hipster hangout, high on the discussion of the oppression of women and the disenfranchised to the smell of clove cigarettes, the taste of cheap beer, and the sounds of Morrissey, Morphine, and old school punk. He is relatively cute and full of socialist fire; she is blonde, fit, tan, and full of the feeling that she must somehow make her parents feel guilty for living in a capitalist suburban wasteland while others are oppressed by multinational corporations to make American consumer goods… such as her running shoes. They both decide that the evening has gone particularly well, and being good post-modernist sexual experimentalists, want to end the evening enjoying some liberated, non-oppressive, and safe casual sex. A destination for the coupling is negotiated, and they set out, moving confidently and quietly to her place. They move to her bedroom (so as not to disturb her equally liberated and oppressed female vegan roomates) where kissing rapidly progresses to the shedding of garments. As our young hero moves down her body to remove her lowrider bellbottom jeans, he pulls them back to reveal a thong with the image of a Mexican communist artist bobble-head with a unibrow on them. He recoils in surprise.

I say: just say no.

time is out of joint

An uneasy pall lay across my perceptions of the cosmos yesterday, for reasons big and small. A most inconsequential annoyance was the Internet; the W32.Blaster worm was wreaking havoc inside Company O. and/or my ISP limiting my ability work from home. Bigger thoughts and feelings for the day were reserved for a memorial service. K., one of fiancee S.’s dear friends from her college years, lost her husband L. very suddenly last week. L. had juvenile diabetes, and had not been a well man for many years. Yet like so many afflicted with long term illness, L. had an abundance of spirit and a dogged determination to embrace life that influenced many of those who came in contact with him. He was 41 years old and is survived by his wife, K., and their small child.

Events of yesterday seem disjoint and disconnected. The smooth, imagined flow of time washed away by the solvent of mortality. I only got to meet L. once since S. and I started seeing each other. I cannot deeply mourn his loss, merely observe and comfort as much as I can others who knew him better. Still, it has put me in a place to consider other, bigger questions. My outlook on life is not that of the crowded, busy marketplace, but rather the serenity of the monastery.