Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I immediately began to fret over expenses to fund my mission. I resolved that if need be, I would sell my trusty Toyota, which had stuck by me on long desolate highways through the Midwest and among the sea of combustion that is rush hour Los Angeles. I could live rent free with local friends until May, when the trip was scheduled. Now it was March. That left me with two or so months to secure a passport and $3000 dollars. One way or another, I would end up having to beg for help from my mother and father. Again.
As I began to write these words, I knew that I would have to show them to my parents as proof that I have invested myself into this project and committed myself to it. Much rode on these very words. If my parents were impressed, they may sponsor me. If they perceived these words to be anything less than exemplary and displaying of potential and talent, I may be anchored to the lower forty-eight for who knows how many more years, and this prologue would be nothing more than practice.
I knew that I would have culture shock upon arrival in Thailand, but now, safely in Seattle where I could live rent free and keep writing and acting, without anything written in stone and no commitment to the Thailand trip yet, I fantasized about staying there. I wanted to stay in Thailand before I even got there, learning the language, the culture, the people. I had yet to research the exchange rate and find out just how far I could make a dollar stretch, but perhaps I could eek by on the $300 a month that I got from my parents as a sort of allowance for me to help fund my journey of self discovery that I seemed doomed to be stuck in for the duration of my prolonged adolescence.
I thought about my mother's recent trip to Bangkok on business, and how when she returned she reported that it was polluted, dirty, and stiflingly hot. Almost unbearably so. My mother, who had taught me to love travel, had barely one good thing to say about a country that had held my fascination for many years. She returned unexcited, eager to get home, and lacking in the overall wanderlust that she had passed on to me.
Then I thought about my great cousin Russel, who years ago practically disowned himself from our relatives in Texas to move to China, where he fell in love with the place, learned the language and married a local woman. I never knew the whole story, but for some reason this adventurer and black sheep seemed to have given up, divorced his wife, and moved back to Austin to work in the family business with his moderately racist father who would go into speeches at the dinner table about Russel and his 'ching cha chow chop suey' wife. What had driven Russel to reverse his course in life in such a drastic manner, after becoming so intimate with a culture, language, and woman of the far East?
I thought, if Russel can become another man, I can do the same. I was monolingual, and it made me nearly seethe with jealousy when I heard another North American speaking in foreign tongue. I had been left out of far to many conversations between acquaintances who were bilingual to go the rest of my life only conveying myself to other human beings in the nounal based categories that were English.
"I'm going to Amsterdam for awhile to view some of the last remaining legal mushroom farms. The government's shutting them down." It was John, and he was referring to psychedelic mushroom farms, of course.
"Okay John, I'm going to do some research and see if I can't come up with the cash."
And with that, we hung up.
I hated to think about it, but John seemed to be a remnant of a dying era. He was a friend or acquaintance to some of the greatest psychedelic pioneers of the sixties. Leary, Owsley, Garcia, Watts. Either he was a master weaver of tall tails or he had dined on the fruits of the gods with most of the superstars of hippie mythology, and, in an anomaly of the given formula, lived to tell about it.
And now John himself was dying. He had diabetes, which was a new revelation for him when we spoke. He complained about numerous health issues, but that did not put a damper on his energy over the phone. He could go on and on.
"I just don't know what happened, I started craving sugar, drinking chocolate milk by the half gallon and COKE! I hadn't drank a coke for twenty years, but all of a sudden I had to have it." He was describing the process most diabetics go through of having their blood sugar go haywire and thus experience bouts of carb cravings. I didn't bother to ask about his heart and cardiovascular health. He had been overweight since he gave up cigarettes, and when I implored him to walk more he complained about his feet hurting. It is truly a vicious cycle, the process of getting out of shape and becoming so unfit that one can not exercise to get back in shape without severe discomfort.
Amazingly he had put all his faith in doctors. When I ran off my list of advice, which I had gleaned from many years of my unorthodox interest in medicine and distrust of medical physicians, he stopped me short.
"I am not going to make any dietary changes until I talk to the dietician next week at the V.A. hospital."
Amazing how someone that has lived as such a rebel was so lacking in a rebellious mindset towards Western medicine, which I viewed as faulty and profit over truth driven to no end. What doctor in their right mind would recommend anything but a high fat, low or no carb diet for a diabetic? They were instructing him to watch his carbs and his fat intake. What was his body supposed to run on for a fuel source? Nutrasweet and caffeine? But alas my advice was falling on deaf ears, all because I was not endowed with the magical M.D. before my last name that allowed me the powers of all knowing wisdom regarding health.
"At least drink black coffee." I said, citing ample evidence that coffee combats diabetes. But he shut me down again. I resolved to email him links supporting my assertions, though I had lost faith in Johns capacity for critical thought regarding the matter.
I knew that this could be one of my last opportunities to join a living legend in the psychedelic community on one of his fabled Thailand tours, which encompassed a full immersion in not only the mycological aspects of the country but also the culture as well. He had been traveling Thailand for two decades, leading perhaps a hundred people there over the years as a guide and shaman. He was well connected and knew many locals and officials in the country. This was indeed the opportunity of a lifetime. I was excited.
People, places and things are not nouns. They are nouning. They are slow verbs. Their molecular morphology is so imperceptible to humans that we are given the impression that they are fixed, permanent. All the fortification technology in the world has never produced a castle that didn't crumble.
The philospher David Bohm spoke of this, and I think it is very relevant to voyaging. And of course we have the famed Heraclitus quote:
"Everything is in a state of flux."
Humans can plague themselves with their innate need to feel permanence. We are afraid of that which we do not know, and routine is something we know. We are afraid of the dark, because we cannot see, we do not know what lurks in the shadows. But these fears are most often unfounded, and they teeter towards neurosis and paranoias.
Traveling is a remedy, a surrendering of one's control impulse. And I was on the cusp of disembarking on my latest venture. Exploring options, I reached for my cell phone.
"Hey Gabe, how you doin'?"
It was the calm before the storm, the one chance to get a few words in without having to interrupt him, talk over him, or almost scream.
He goes by the name of Mushroom John.
"Fine thanks, I just got back from LA, and I have a few questions for you." I was always right down to business over the phone, my ambition difficult to cloak in a shroud of small talk.
I was on the freeway, driving through South Seattle to a friends house. Previously I had been in Hollywood pursuing my dreams as an actor. Exasperated with the abundance of superficiality in that field, I was searching for any way to discover my voice in writing. On the trip up, behind the wheel and fueled by caffeine, I had dreamed of numerous subjects, ideas, and genres to write in. Fiction. Screenplays. Nonfiction. Travelogues, and memoirs. Too many potential avenues there. I had been hopping around the English language for over a decade now, avidly, fancying myself a poet, author and philosopher, but nothing workable had come to fruition. It was time for a class project, but did I really need to go back to school to take classes? Could I not just give myself an assignment in the school of life?
What I needed was direction, an assignment, a way of channeling my creativity. Without something to work on specifically, I could start a thousand stories and never finish one of them. Which is why I was on the phone with John.
"Say, you planning a trip to Thailand anytime soon?" I inquired. I had heard him speak of these trips for years, always wanting to join him on his guided journeys. He is like a modern day shaman, leading groups on jaunts throughout Southeast Asia picking psychedelic and non psychedelic mushrooms and exploring consciousness as well as Thai culture and geography.
"Yeah, I'm trying to get one together for May."
Then he just went on and on. My technique for dealing with his ranting was to interrupt him with questions when he got off topic or to redirect his rambling in a direction that interested me more. Along the way I learned that he was suffering from diabetes, he had been falsely accused of pedophilia by a rival psychedelic guru, and his website had been hijacked by another mushroom related dot com in a move for check mate in the battle for online psychedelic data domination. Was there any good news? Aren't hippies supposed to be happy?
"Let me tell you," enthusiastically back on the subject of Thailand now, "if you go on this trip, we can stay after the scheduled itinerary and I will take you to some places I haven't taken people to for years. Did you know that we will get to go to the royal gardens? Not many people get to explore that part of the palace. I'm very well connected with the caretaker of the gardens and many wonderful mushroom specimens grow there. I'm allowed the privilege of taking spore prints of them." I had mentioned my aspirations to be a writer, and my interest in using him and his mushroom tours as the launching subject of a travelogue that I wanted to write. His ego seemed to get a jolt at the thought of him being the subject of a quasi biographical book, or at least part of a book, and he was speaking as if I had already given him the $2100 he charged for his guidance, plus airfare , lodging, and many of the meals.
I hung up the phone, finally, after saying goodbye to him numerous times only to have him go off into another tangent.
Could it be done? A host of logistical considerations crept into my mind along with the doubt that inevitably accompanied them. My passport got lost years ago. What if I couldn't get a new one in time for the trip? What if I got sick? And did I have it in me, the wherewithal to embark on such a fantastic voyage? And more importantly, could I survive a month in a very foreign third world sweltering climate of a country with Mushroom John talking my ear off at every interval, mostly about mushrooms, a subject that has never fascinated but always amazed me?
Why do we travel? What compels a restless soul to succumb to their wanderlust?
Certainly traveling is not a behavior unique to humans in the natural world. Many species travel, some farther than others. Some range across continents, (birds), while some never leave the spec of ground upon which they were born.
But humans seem to be the only species that embraces nomadism by choice, without relying on environmental or reproductive pressures to induce forced migration.
I will argue that the reasons an animal will travel to a new geography to escape weather patterns and find food are instincts not far removed from the casual desire to mobilize oneself demonstrated by humans. Both provide nourishment, the first: sustinence, and the other of experiences. Experiences of myriad contrasts and sensations are food for the mind. New experiences are like fresh spring grass on the tundra, feasted on by grazing buffalo, after the snow melts away following a hard winter. As much as humans need stability in life, they need new experiences to break the routine. To stay young. Otherwise, we might get caught in a prolonged ice age.
My case is a peculiar one. I have led such an unstable and chaotic life that newness, chaos, the unknown...these have become my predictability, order, and knowns. Traveling gives me structure. When I am feeling idle, I fade back into the vastness of my mind. After just a short period of routine, I become a disheveled mess, depressed, confused, and anxious. Travel brings me back, grounds me, shakes my by my shoulders and says, "Back to reality!"
I always travel. When I am sitting, my mind wanders. When I am in a city, I walk across that city or hop mass transit. If I am in the country, I hike. I never go truly idle, though I begin to feel a dull pain when I feel like I am approaching anything near stillness. A typical conversation with someone less prone to suffer from my blessed affliciton will go like this:
Them: "Gabriel, why don't you just learn how to meditate?"
Me: "Because I'd rather go for a swim in the ocean or hike through the woods barefoot."
My argument is that primitives had no need for meditation because their daily lives were spent in the "zone". There's a Chinese adage that goes, "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water." Basically, as I read it, there is no such thing as enlightenment. We are almost there already, but apparently we need to foist heavy buckets of water onto our backs to cement the deal.
The grass is not so much just greener, but it's different, and different is new and green grass is newer than not so green grass. The grass is greener, it's just that it is devoured soon upon arrival by those that feel hunger, thus it is imminent that the grass will again be greener somewhere else. Time for more spring, more experiences, an endless summer. The waves on this beach have died down dude. Let's go to the next one for some killer waves. Bon voyage.