Talking to the universe with cannabinoids (how to use the force)

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

Have you ever bet something on a ball of paper going into a waste basket? Then when it doesn’t go in, made it best of three? Whether consciously or not, we all ask questions – rhetorical and specific – of whom? Who are we speaking to when we ask if a certain person likes us, or whether this too shall end? God? Ourselves? No-one? And sometimes we might notice little things, like a certain thing or person being in a particular place, something someone says on TV, or just a weird coincidence. Could those be the answers to our questions, or at least clues?

Cannabis-BrainImage: Waking Times

Am I off my nut on weed? No, but cannabis does open the mind. It’s a medically proven fact: A cannabinoid is one of a class of diverse chemical compounds that acts on cannabinoid receptors in cells that alter neurotransmitter release in the brain. It was more imaginatively summed up in a recent Lifehacker post:

Essentially, cannabinoids’ effect on our brains is to keep our neurons firing, magnifying our thoughts and perception and keeping us fixed on them (until another thought takes us on a different tangent). That’s why when you’re high, it’s really not a good time to drive, study for a test, or play sports that require coordination, like tennis or baseball. Like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, cannabinoids also affect the levels of dopamine in our brain, often resulting in a sense of relaxation and euphoria.”

It’s a subjective thing, but for me it means that I can think much more deeply about things, and for longer, not just when I’m high, but as a regular user of cannabinoids. My own atheism is explained on this blog, most recently in my quasi-religious posts about quantum physics and lucidity. Together with the personal statement on my Typewriter page, these are the means by which I reconcile religion with science. Smoking weed has been helpful in allowing me to consolidate things in my mind, and take on a more spiritual view of life, the universe and everything. Living alone helps too.

So very often, I’ll sit and read, write, question and learn, for many hours. And sometimes, I’ll stare out of the window from my desk, or make a nest on the sofa and listen to some music, and I’ll think aloud (yes, I talk to myself. I live alone). My IQ and my knowledge will only get me so far, and I’m hungry for more, so I ask questions of my heart and my head. I balance my own needs with those of others, but I can’t help but follow a dream, however unscientific that may seem. And if I dream, if I put my mind out there, sometimes I get an answer.

Religious people might call it a message from God, but I believe the universe talks back. I believe there is something out there, and the best term I can think of, is it’s a force (not unlike that in Star Wars), which can be used. I’ve not started practising Voodoo yet, but it’s one of many belief systems based ultimately in spirituality. But I’m no more a spiritualist than I am a Christian: I’m an atheist and I believe in forces greater than us in the universe, which is perfect common sense really.

At an existential level, the universe (The Force, “God”…) can give us huge signs as a wake up call, whether individually or collectively. My personal non-religious epiphany came when I was quite literally in the gutter: Drunk and on the streets, with no-one and nothing. Many agencies conspired to get me better, including a great deal of work on my part, but it was something which made me reflect on things I didn’t understand. It’s obvious to me now, that if I’d been more attentive of the warnings in the first 42 years of my life, I might have avoided a breakdown. But with hindsight, I’m grateful it happened.

Nowadays I’m a writer. I’ve only had the courage to call myself that for almost two years, since I built a portfolio and a track record. But I’ve been writing full-time now for nearly four years, mainly fiction. My stories are imaginative, but I like to think that they’re plausible (they’re researched thoroughly), certainly in the sci-fi genre (where much of the research is scientific). A good story needs to be affecting but believable. As writers, we can’t rely too much on chance, even though wildly coincidental things do happen in the real world.

As someone who’s been accused of relying on coincidence in the past, Paul Auster no less, set out to demonstrate how strange coincidences happen in real life, by asking National Public Radio’s Weekend All Things Considered listeners to submit their own stories. And lots of people had tales to tell, with over 4000 submissions to Auster’s request. My personal favourite was this one, from Linda Elegant in Portland, Oregon:

The Chicken

As I was walking down Station Street early one Sunday morning, I saw a chicken a few yards ahead of me. I was walking faster than the chicken, so I gradually caught up. By the time we approached Eighteenth Avenue, I was close behind. The chicken turned south on Eighteenth. At the fourth house along, it turned in at the walk, hopped up the front steps, and rapped sharply on the metal storm door with its beak. After a moment, the door opened and the chicken went in.

Weird things really do happen, and not just in America. And not many in my fiction writing, but those odd signs and coincidences are there in my real life, like they are in everyone’s, but often unseen or dismissed.

Through learning and practising, I am able to dream lucidly. Essentially, when I’m asleep, I’m aware of being in a dream, and I can interact with whatever that contains. My dreams are still surreal, but I’ve learned how to recognise when I’m actually in them.

Dreams, or the dream scape, are visions of the universe, much of which we don’t understand yet. One day, perhaps we will. For now, dreams are a representation, some of which we understand. That’s what surreal is: Not quite real, but comprehensible. Only with further thought and learning do those things become easier to accept. As Ted Arroway said to Ellie, near the end of Carl Sagan’s Contact, “We thought this might make things easier for you.”

Much has been written (by others) of dream meanings and interpretations. As far as I’m concerned, that’s as subjective as the dreams themselves, and people’s personal interpretations are therefore what they make of their own dreams. But I also believe that three people live within each of us: the person we think we are, the person others think we are, and who we really are. I treat my own dreams as a combination of the three.

There are no great messages or revelations in my dreams, but they fuel my active mind. Others may recommend keeping a dream diary. All of my thoughts (both wakeful and dreamed, as the two become virtually indistinguishable sometimes in lucidity) are in notebooks, my short stories, my novels, and on this blog. This is my universe as I see it. If I can get all of that, just by keeping an open mind and dreaming, it gives you an idea of how much is out there. Again, none of my dreams contain neon signs, but now that I look back over four years of writing, I can see that I’ve been somehow guided.

Dead people do exist in the dream scape, but they’re not always the cast of a nightmare. I’ve written before of how quantum physics allows ghosts to exist, and I wrote a story – Cardboard sky – about exactly that. People in dreams are real people, alive or dead, who are able to be there: The living who imagine and dream, and the dead who now live in a different physical form. Dreams are our way to meet them, out in the universe, where they now live. Lucidity in dreaming took me months to achieve, but it’s ultimately easiest to get there (eventually) by repeating, before sleep:

“Tonight I will receive and remember the messages of the dream world.”

Look out for synchronicity, those strange little coincidences. A call from someone you were thinking of; suddenly seeing something which suggests a third way, when we’d already considered two competing ones; a book falling open, a snippet of information, a number popping up. These are coincidences, but we know that those are common outside the realms of fiction. They seem more common than they actually are, because coincidences are more memorable than anything less subtle. It’s the way of the force, to guide us gently. So conversely, when things are a bit shit, that’s because we didn’t notice the more subtle signs. I’m living proof of this. Now I’ve learned to not live blindly thrashing around, but with a greater awareness of all around me. I opened my eyes and my mind.

There are those who believe that physical health can be improved with spiritual healing. Not being a practitioner of anything particularly physically strenuous, I’m not qualified to have an opinion. But what I do know, is that my mental well-being has improved over the last four years. Now with a permanent base, I feel secure enough to question my mind, rather than fear it. My depression and anxiety are chronic, and I have medication to help, but my questioning and exploring mind keeps the dark dog to heel most of the time.

By questioning and examining even the small things, I can play devil’s advocate with myself. If I have any kind of internal or external conflict, I’ll always try to understand my opposer’s point of view, so that I might better understand it. I much prefer debate to argument, because the latter always breaks down by definition, never leading to a solution. If you try to see things from another perspective (how others see you), that viewpoint becomes easier to understand. And it can be applied to bad things happening too, and how those could just be one of many subtle signs from the universe. To use an example:

Some unspecified time ago (many, in fact), I was involved in a relationship. For whatever reason, that partnership ended. In one particular case, I was very deeply affected. Essentially, I’d lost a life, and I was trying to hang on to it. I treasured a particular bracelet: Just a cheap, leather strap, but it had an emotional connection. So when that bracelet was stolen, I was distraught. I’d lost my one and only link to a person who’d been a part of my life. I was upset, and I was angry, at whomever had taken it from me. But then I realised there was no point. With that last connection gone, so was she. And the thief was the one who’d facilitated that. That was a whole different way to look at it. And just like my breakdown, as time went on, I realised it was for the best. And like my breakdown, it was of my own making. But unlike that, it’s as though I had a guide. Some would say, a guardian angel. From an atheist point of view, given the science behind my own atheism, angels do exist. Like the ancient gods and aliens of theorists, angels in religious texts are one scribe’s interpretation of a witness statement, or of their own vision. So mine are of my own dreams and imaginings.

Problems and delays can often be overcome if you think differently. Where there are two obvious but conflicting routes, there is often a third, less obvious one. If you’re stuck somewhere, use the time to think. As I myself once said: “Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit: how do you get out? You could stop imagining. Or you could use your imagination.” If I’m ever delayed by trains, unable to leave a train station, I’ll find somewhere to sit and write.

If you pay attention to things around you, it will inevitably lead to further discovery. Something you see while you’re out and about in the world, something on TV, in a book, or in a newspaper: Look it up and learn more about it. This works especially well for me when I’m adding to my film collection. If I like a film’s direction, production, camera work, costumes, or whatever, I’ll make a note of the crew credits and look up more of that person’s work. If I watch a documentary, I’ll often look into a subject further, inevitably leading me into a day-long Wikipedia session. And from all that learning, sometimes a question will pop up in conversation that I’m able to give a qualified answer to. It’s nice to be informed. Another recent personal example, from nature:

One of the many avian visitors to the flat roof outside my studio, is a wagtail. The window in front of my desk looks out on the flat roof, so I see the little chap quite a lot. So I decided to learn more about him. He wasn’t pissing me off, but I wanted to know more, and as well as wagtails’ characteristics and taxonomy, I looked into their spiritual meanings (because I was writing):

“Seeing a Wagtail is a reminder to stay cheerful. It is a healthy practice to make ourselves feel light and happy. Being cheerful and gregarious to others will earn us the same treatment which in turn makes our lives happy and worth living.”

I live a life of discovery and exploration, not of conflict and blinkered belief. Whether you’re awake or dreaming, smoking weed or not, the universe is out there.

My books are available on Amazon.

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A book, a ninja and some smoking joints

THE WRITER’S LIFE

CyrusSongFrontCoverPreview.do
Cyrus Song (the novel): due early 2018

My recent depressive episode ended as unexpectedly as it had started, such is the nature of those things. It was a relatively short one, lasting barely a week. As usual, my coping mechanism has been writing. Smoking weed and having a dear friend along for the ride helped too (thanks).

I despair of the world around me at the moment; The wider world, not my personal planet. While I can talk and write about the former, hoping to make some sense of it, sometimes it’s easier to escape to the latter. And so it’s been this week.

Encouraged by a test reader (my own, personal ninja), I’ve committed myself to Cyrus Song, the novel. This was originally planned for publication after Infana Kolonia, my sci-fi epic, but such is the scale of that book that it’s a long way off. So Cyrus Song (the book) is scheduled for release sometime early next year. The original short story which spawned the new book is in The Perpetuity of Memory, along with the sequel, The Cyrus Choir. For the financially challenged, original versions of both stories are still on this blog. The third in that series of shorts, The Babel Fish, will be online this weekend. Meanwhile, I’m adapting them to become chapters in the novel. Here’s a synopsis:

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk…

Simon Fry is convinced that the answer to life, the universe and everything, is in the earth itself. Specifically, he believes that if he could talk with the animals, he’d find the answers. Or at least, the questions which need to be asked for the answer to make any kind of sense. Doctor Hannah Jones, a veterinary surgeon, has a quantum computer, running a program called The Babel Fish: Like its fictitious namesake, the Babel Fish can translate any language to and from any other. Elsewhere, Mr Fry considers what might be possible if historical scientists were able to make use of all that would be new to them in the 21st century. Having watched Jurassic Park, he is fairly sure he can make this a reality. So begins one man’s quest to find answers to questions he doesn’t know yet.

Cyrus Song is the story of Mr Fry’s voyage to find answers and love in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s pretty obvious that it’s in part a tribute to Douglas Adams and the first stories have been praised as such. Like all fiction, there’s a part of the writer in it and it was during conversations with my test reader this week that I finalised the overall plot in my mind. If I’d been talking to a different reader, the book might have taken an alternative route, but others were unavailable and wrapped up in personal affairs. It was handy to have my Ninja one as she provides a personal as well as a creative kick, and that’s what I needed this week. Every writer should have a personal ninja, especially one who humours one when one has been on the weed. Cyrus Song has its own Facebook page, where it’ll post updates on itself.

I’m churning out more short stories for publication online and elsewhere, some of which will end up in my second anthology, due out later next year. With my short stories now tending toward the longer end of the spectrum, there will be fewer, more in-depth stories in the second volume, provisionally entitled Reflections of Tomorrow. By happy coincidence, it looks like there’ll be 17 stories in the next collection: There are 25 in The Perpetuity of Memory, so that’s 42 in total, which is nice.

It took me three years to write and publish my first three books and it will be a similar timescale before these next three are out. If I manage it, I’ll have six books to my name, when (or if) I turn 50.

Just so long as I can make it to 49, then I’ll have reached the same age as Douglas.

The politics of feeling good

THE WRITER’S LIFE

marijuana

Thought provoking quotes about medical marijuana from Potbotics.com

By unfortunate coincidence, my work and real lives clashed again this week, even though I’ve got all my internal personalities working well together. The unfortunate thing was that a very dear friend of mine has been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative illness. By coincidence, I was writing some articles for a client about cannabis.

As well as writing about marijuana, I smoke it: I’m a recreational user, and I use cannabis to deal with my anxiety. My friend confided that she also uses the drug to help with her condition. For me, the answer to the cannabis “problem” is one of legality: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

The subjects I write about for clients are varied and interesting. The pay is poor but the satisfaction is in learning through research and putting that knowledge into an entertaining and informative piece. Because the articles were written for a paying client, I do not retain copyright but I can publish excerpts.

In the course of my research into all things weed, I naturally had to familiarise myself with some history, to place the law into a certain context within an article which was very much pro-consumption. What I found out was quite shocking and I had to tone down the language of a US politician to make my piece suitable for the intended audience:

..Cannabis was outlawed with the introduction of The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Some of the reasons given by Harry J. Anslinger (Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics) for the banning of cannabis, speak volumes about some of the ignorance and attitudes of the time:

Anslinger believed that cannabis was an ethnic minority problem and described non-whites and “entertainers” as diseases infecting the white population. Their “Satanic” music resulted from marijuana use, which caused insanity, criminality and death. Cannabis was “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”, he said. He further stated that smoking cannabis made ethnic minorities “think they’re as good as white men.”

Despite Aslinger’s naive and narrow-minded views, in less enlightened times, his bill was passed and the recreational use of marijuana became illegal. At the time, cannabis was prescribed by doctors for pain relief, and was an accepted part of American life. Although cannabis was the common name for the drug at the time, the Spanish word – marijuana – was used in the name of the act to further encourage racist sympathies…

It took a lot of editing to remove words which were offensive, even to me, whilst still making it a legible section. Then I continued:

…Thankfully, attitudes have changed. Medicinal and recreational use of cannabis is legal in certain states and being debated in others. Medical research and progressive politics have combined to realise the benefits of cannabis, both socially and economically. Regulation and taxation are made possible with legalization…

The article (and the writer) is not pro-legalisation (I used the American in the article itself, as it’s for a US client) just because of the benefits of decriminalisation (not getting locked up). The pro-legalisation argument is for cannabis to be regulated, taxed and sold for recreational and medicinal use. I went on:

…[Users] will experience a range of feelings, sensations and personal benefits, including a general feeling of wellbeing, hightened awareness, uplifting and cerebral thoughts. Recreational cannabis is therefore unsurprisingly referred to as a “mind expanding drug”.

For some people, marijuana is an occupational drug. Many people working in the creative arts cite recreational cannabis use as an aid to their craft. Writers and artists especially take advantage of the creative effects of the drug…

I then researched the two main types of cannabis which are cultivated for recreational and medicinal use: Indica and Sativa.

…Indica dominant marijuana strains provide a very relaxing and strong body high that is helpful in treating general anxiety, body pain and sleeping disorders. Indica is most commonly smoked by medical marijuana patients in the late evening or even just before bed. Sativa dominant marijuana strains provide an uplifting, energetic and cerebral high that is best suited for daytime smoking…

…In summary, Indica effects and benefits are relief from body pain, headaches and migraines; muscle relaxation, relieving spasms and reducing seizures; and relief from anxiety and stress.

Sativa effects and benefits include feelings of well-being and of being at ease; uplifting and cerebral thoughts; stimulation and increased energy; increased focus and creativity; and relief from depression.

Cannabis (marijuana) has many beneficial effects for the casual and medicinal user. Sativa and Indica effects are different and can be combined for the most effective tailored benefits…

At my recent (successful) tribunal appeal to prove that I was entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I mentioned to the residing judge that I smoke weed. She nodded. As a poker player, I’m pretty good at reading people and I’d bet on her nod not being a despairing one, nor one of resignation. Rather, it was a nod of understanding. I shouldn’t be surprised nor judgemental if the judge herself liked a bit of a toke on the reefer.

I’ve completed dozens of freelance assignments over the last couple of weeks and submitted my invoices for payment from the clients. All were interesting, even when they were about things which would normally hold no interest for me. Writing about a cause which is close to me though was the most satisfying. Because as a writer, I can get points across effectively and in an engaging manner. I may prompt debate but that’s part of my job.

In the other part of my job, as a fiction writer, I can use my writing to raise awareness of many things. With my friend I mentioned at the top in mind, I’m working on a short story. My stories have helped a family dealing with the loss of a pet; a friend’s daughter coping with growing up; and a teenage friend who self-harmed. I’m hoping I can help a friend who’s just been diagnosed with MS:

“…The curious thing was, it was the diagnosis which hastened the condition. It had lain dormant, without troubling me. Then as soon as I heard its name, it made itself known. What a cunt.

I wouldn’t be had. I decided to wager with the thing. All my life had been one long gamble anyway, most of it working out for the best. So I bet my life with the thing.

I bet this thing that I wouldn’t beat it on my own: That confused it. I was betting that my opponent would win. But I continued: I bet, that although I knew it could win, I would put up such a long fight that it would lose. Because I would fight for so long, through times of medical research, personal resolve and those around me, that I would live to see the day when a treatment was found.

At first, the thing taunted me. But gradually, as I learned to live with it, it was as though I were growing all over my own parasite. It was far from its kin but I had my team around me. The bet couldn’t be annulled, because I’d told the thing that I couldn’t beat it alone.

That was a pretty big bet: I was playing the long game. I’m still playing my opponent, so I may yet win the wager…”

(To be continued)

Even though writing doesn’t pay much, the rewards are far greater than financial. And the pain of depression and anxiety is made bearable by writing and by smoking weed for my recreation and occupation.

The politics of feeling good are simple: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

A narrative sample of blood

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Fineartamerica

My illness is a repulsive condition, in that people move away, scared. It’s both a personal and public thing, like my writing. Depression and alcoholism are hard to understand, respectively for the sufferer and those around them. It’s difficult to articulate for many and even though I have the means, I find it tough. Yet I write a blog, about writing, depression and the hangover from alcoholism.

I still drink. I smoke weed. But the drug which keeps life at bay, is writing: Like words from a syringe.

When writers write a story, they inhabit it: We have to be there, imagining everything around us, so that we know where everything and everyone is. I have read manuscripts which are brilliant, but for one thing. For example, if a character stands up in the narrative, it sort of jars the reader when that character was already standing.

Dialogue can be a minefield: Sometimes a character will need to speak for a long time, so they do so in paragraphs. For the writer, it’s a simple matter of opening each new paragraph with quote marks and only closing them at the end of the speech. Unless the character does anything besides speaking, in which case the quote needs to end, the character acts through narrative, then continues to speak. There are many pitfalls.

We as writers don’t need to go into minute detail but a few words of direction are needed here and there. We inhabit our worlds as directors on set with characters. Like life, it’s a balancing act.

As writing and life have become one and the same for me, so they meld more and help me understand what’s going on in my head. All of the examples above of how a writer directs all around them is how my particular mental illness deals with the world around me.

Writing is what makes my life tolerable. I don’t think of my studio as a flat where I live, or an office where I work. It’s an office where I live. As a flat, it’s a bit shit: A small living room and an even smaller kitchen, with a toilet and shower room in the communal hallway. As an office, it’s the best ever: Comfy furniture, big TV, DVDs, music, en-suite kitchen. There’s an off-suite toilet, like in any place of work and this one comes with a shower room. It’s a matter of perception.

The only thing lacking in this office is somewhere to sleep. I sleep on the floor and that’s why it’s called The Studio: where I work and live, which are both the same. It’s a coping mechanism; It tells me that what I’m doing with my life is worthwhile, because for as long as I’m writing, I’m in control and I’m creating things for others to enjoy, or be repulsed by (depending on the genre I’m working in).

The gig economy is keeping me busy and amused, at least with bids. Current projects in discussion are writing a biography for a fictional romance author; travelogues for a website in the vein of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so effectively tourist guides to fictional planets; and an open letter to alcohol for a blog. It’s competitive out there but I don’t want to undersell myself. I may bid low on the odd job which looks like fun, but it’s another balancing act. In the case of the letter to alcohol, I’ve bid as low as I’m allowed. It’s something I can add value to. I may get beaten on price but it should be pretty clear to the vendor that I have the credentials and the experience.

I really don’t know what to do with my latest story, “Echo Beach”: I’m my own harshest critic but even I’m finding it difficult to find fault with this one. So now I need to decide whether to just publish it for the exposure, or sell it. It’s a nice problem to have.

Now that I’m able to live the life of the writer, by inhabiting it, life is easier to deal with. But it’s because I’m one step removed.

Like an addiction, it’s a life sentence.