My Friend Tried Shrooms

This past weekend, my friend tried mushrooms for the first time.  It had been on her list of things to try for a while because she was intrigued by reports like this:

Lots of people have advice about how to try shrooms: You should do them in nature–like a national park, but “safe ” nature; you should do them with other, like-minded friends who can babysit you; you should have enough time to get to the nature, trip and come down so that you can drive home. So, like 18 consecutive hours maybe. On top of this, Reddit notes that: you’ll want to be near a toilet, and a source of water;  bring paints or an instrument or a notebook to play or paint or write; bring some food for when you are coming down…

This is a lot of  organizing for someone like my friend, plus, she’s not really in the ‘shroom loop: she only had a little baggie of the fungus given to her many months ago, not really enough to share with all the like-minded friends she might find.

On Saturday afternoon, my friend had her apartment to herself. She was feeling a bit lackluster in her writing, and possibly just in life, and she had quite a bit of housecleaning to do–which she was actually deigning to do since the writing was going so unspectacularly. In the midst of this, she had an epiphany.  She thought “I feel safe in my apartment, it has a toilet and water, and food in the fridge, and I can see trees out the window which is kind of like nature. I will do the ‘shrooms here, now. It might make folding laundry more fun, or maybe I will have amazing thoughts and write them down, or draw pictures. Maybe it will make the same feel different!

She commenced reading advice on how to imbibe the mushrooms… eat them plain and bitter-tasting; bake them into brownies; eat them with dark chocolate; chop them up small and boil them and make a tea. She chopped them up small, and boiled them per instructions, and added some hot chocolate mix, which she thought was pretty clever. She also ate the last mushy mushroom grounds at the bottom of the mug, which according to the internet, was optional.

Then she waited to feel different. She researched a little more: It could take between ten minutes and an hour to feel the effects, said people on the internet. She remembered that music was also advised. She’d been meaning to figure out how to transfer music between computers, so she did this now, hurriedly, figuring it might be more difficult after the ‘shrooms kicked in.  She did some dishes, she finished folding all the laundry and made the bed. She went to the toilet and while she was there and watched a specific tree she liked outside the window.  It was swaying in the breeze. Was the tree more captivating than usual? She wasn’t sure. Did she feel different than usual? She wasn’t sure. She was a little tired, but she had started out a little tired. It wasn’t unpleasant. She sat on the expanse of freshly-made bed, sat cross-legged and rocked back-and-forth and in circles…It made feel pleasantly tipsy. More so than rocking in circles without a drug? Maayyybe?

After a while she went outside to see if what was missing was the nature. It was nice out, but also sunny and a bit too warm and she hadn’t slathered herself in sunscreen, so she went back inside. She didn’t feel like painting, or writing…but she thought she might feel a less anxious about that than usual. Or not. It wasn’t like she didn’t have occasional sober moments of un-anxiety, right? Whatever. She was happy with her made bed. She was happy with the music. So she lay there and listened to the music and rocked back and forth and thought about nothing she could remember later, she maybe took a little nap.

A couple hours later, she had the coming-down-munchies…or maybe it was dinner time, so she got up and looked in the fridge and ate something.  And then she felt a burst of creativity… or maybe not, but she opened the computer and wrote something anyway. Was her concentration better than usual? Possibly? She worked until it was time to go to sleep.

The day of magic mushrooms was over.

 

Eclipse, August 21, 2017

August 21, 2017

5:40 AM
I open my eyes and squint at my glow watch in the dark. 5:40 am. No Paul in the bed. I make my way downstairs to where he sits on the couch with his laptop.
“Are you and Mom ready?”
“No. Getting ready was supposed to happen after you wake us up when there’s a plan.”
“There’s a plan.”
“I’ll wake her up. Where are we going?”
“Kentucky.”

Our original plan, to depart the previous day for Columbia, Mo, was thwarted when the weather forecast shifted to mostly cloudy.
“And they’re saying maybe a thunderstorm” said cousin Jan on the phone, morose.

Carbondale, IL was also mostly cloudy. For a while Benton, KY, a mere two hours away from my mom’s house in Terre Haute, was a contender, until it also succumbed to a forecast of partly cloudy.
“So where, exactly?” I ask, as we assemble food–egg salad sandwiches, bottles of water and cookies–for the car.
“Hopkinsville. It should be mostly sunny, and the Waze says it’s a three-hour drive.”

Yes, we are chasing the eclipse.

8:30 AM
There were concerns that the traffic would be impenetrable, that the gas stations might run out of gas, but except for a stretch of single lane traffic near some bridges under repair, the traffic flows, plus, we realize midway there, Hopkinsville is on Central time, so instead of arriving after nine, we’re in town by 8:30.

Handmade signs advertising $20 and $30 parking in people’s yards dot the road into town, but as early birds, we get a free parking spot on the curb just a couple blocks from downtown. There are just the beginnings of a crowd. Pedestrians emerging from hotels around town, others arriving by car and marveling at their parking luck. A line of people gathers at the 6th Street Café, which I assume is a breakfast spot. According to news reports, 25,000 people are coming for the eclipse, and the town has been celebrating through the weekend,with live music, food trucks and eclipse swag. But these festivities ended on Sunday, so although we see many eclipse-themed T-shirts, we see none for sale. The trucks with ice-cream, tacos and the like are not yet open, although the lemonade truck is doing brisk business already.

With the temperature rising, we wonder what we might do for the four hours until the celestial moment. The public library looks like a good prospect—especially since I have write a pitch that will be due soon after our return. (As Paul likes to say of our freelance life, “it isn’t a vacation if there’s not a deadline at the end of it.”) But approaching the front door, we see a sign saying the library is closed for the day.

I wander behind the building, and see a small valley with trees that looks cool and shady. It’s a trail that is part of the the town’s greenway. My mother and I take the path,  which turns out to follow a slightly stagnant creek, and emerge at the end into a park that boasts some play equipment, a picnic area with three tables and a view to the street and a Sherwin-Williams Paints. It seems less-discovered than some other places, and there’s  a place to sit, so we decide to settle in.

11:00 AM
We’re sitting at a picnic table under a shelter. Next to me, my mom reads a book. Across from us, Paul plays on his new ipad. On the table, some potato chips and egg salad sandwiches, and, fluttering in the light breeze in a way that is slightly concerning, our cardboard solar glasses. I’ve got my laptop open, with hopes that the right words for my pitch will magically flow from my fingers, but I’m distracted, not unpleasantly, by the world of here and now.

The tables around us are occupied by a Spanish speaking family who I judge to be from Spain. Have they come all this way for the eclipse? Behind us is a very talkative teen. Non-stop talkative. He’s talking about how he purchased the biggest snow cone from one of the trucks. I can’t help but turn a sneak a look. It is large and every color of the rainbow. The pineapple section is sweeter than he’d expected, he notes, striking up a conversation with a couple perched on a cement barrier nearby. We had offered to share our table with the couple when they arrived, but they’d declined, perhaps wanting to avoid conversation. If that’s the case, their strategy has backfired. Where are they from, the teen asks. Indiana? He’s from Louisville, but he lived for a few years in Indiana. It was a fine place, in terms of the buildings, but over-strict laws. In elementary school his parents had spanked him—not abusive, he wants them to know, just the kind of discipline that was normal in Kentucky. But at school he’d told his teachers, who flipped out and started a year of oversight with a social worker before life could go back to normal, he said. The couple nods politely at this disclosure, and makes an excuse to relocate to a bench across the park.

A lone man comes and asks if it’s okay to sit at our table. We say of course. He is the first Asian man I’ve seen in the town beside my husband. I wonder if it’s coincidence that he would choose to sit next to my husband.

We debate our plans for the next couple hours. Should we stay in the park for the big moment, which is scheduled for 1:23pm? I lean toward this, liking the idea of viewing the event in a leisurely manner from the grassy field. Paul is of the opinion that we should make our way to the car before the eclipse, so that the moment after the moment of totality we can beat the rush to the highway back home. We leave it undecided.

11:55 AM
This is the official start time of the eclipse, and everyone looks through their glasses at the sun—a glowing sphere that through an E15 filter looks like a glowing moon. The change in shape is not yet apparent. The moment of totality is almost 90 minutes away. Glasses come down, but the chatter gets louder and more animated. The Spaniards talking in Spanish, the talkative teen reciting every European and Slavic country where his various relatives are from.

12:10 AM
“It’s there in the upper left corner!” someone says.

I step out from under the roof, and look up through my glasses into the sky. It’s black. Black. Through the glasses, I can’t see anything but the sun. I finally get my head turned in the right direction, And there it is,—a bright sphere with an circular corner obscured. Exactly what you would think one spherical object moving in front of another would look like.

We finalize our plan. Paul decrees we shall stay at the park until 12:45, and then spend the last 40 minutes of the event near the car. And if it gets too hot, we can get in and turn on the air-conditioning.

12:20 PM
Paul sees a bug crawling on his bag. It is pale, has pincers and is the size of a small ant.

“Scorpion!” he cries. He shakes it off his bag and announces that the time to retreat to the car has been moved to now.

We make our way back along Main Street. On our right, we pass various government buildings and churches, their parking lots full of cars, their lawns full of people with chairs, blankets and canopies. It’s like a pre-football tailgate. Across the street, in a residential yard, we hear the gulp of a speaker being plugged in, and then, loud enough to provide party for the whole block, Rick James’ “Mary Jane,” begins to play.

12:40 PM
We’re back at the car. The sun in the sky looks almost, but not quite, like a crescent moon. The proportion and arc of line aren’t quite right. It’s more like if a Pac Man had a curvy mouth instead of straight angles.

We cross the street to the county clerks office.  Paul and mom sit on a bench in the sun, while I, always deferring to my paleness, retreat under the awning into the shade

1:00 PM
Although there are no shadows, the sun feels less bright. I can join my family on the bench. There’s a faint cool breeze. I look up through my glasses: The sun is a quarter full. It now definitely looks like the moon –but like a moon in a children’s book, its corners a little more acute and C-shaped than the moon we see in the sky.

Small clusters of people walk past away from the main crowd. Maybe they’ve had our same idea of avoiding the crowds, or maybe they are locals who have realized that the sky is visible from anywhere in town.

A tall lanky man arrives crosses the intersection toward the crowd.

“Oh yeah,” says Paul, “I’d forgotten that Kentucky is an open carry state.”

For a moment I look in the guy’s hand for a beer then realize that Paul is referring to the large handgun nestled in the holster on the man’s hip. He’s wearing dark jeans and an oxford cloth shirt. No uniform. No jacket. It’s jarring to see the gun on a civilian walking toward a large crowd of people.

A group of teenagers approach, carrying the inflatable air loungers. They set up on the brick walkway next to us, lying back and gazing upward in a way I’m too paranoid to do. There’ve been enough rumors of fake glasses and news stories about waking up partially blind that I limit myself to quick glances, even through my glasses. I wish I had their seeming peace of mind and lack of worry about the future.

1:20 PM
The breeze kicks up and the sky darkens, like before a summer storm. The streetlights start to come up, activated by the false dusk. Above us, the sun is a sliver in the sky.

1:23 PM
In the distance and the nearness, whoops and screams. I let myself watch the whole transition as the light becomes a line, then a shorter line and then a dot. And then—nothing. I remove my glasses and look up. A circle with a white fiery ring around it.

Around us, the world is not as dark as I’d expected, partly because the streetlights and the large LED screen blinking through the windows of a bar across the street. The horizon is purplish. I take more glances at the orb in the sky. I’m not sure how long its been. I put my glasses back on and wait until on the opposite side of the sphere a spot of light appears, then a line. The sun is coming back. The world around us seems a different color than it was before. Pinker? But not pinker. Yellower maybe. Warmer.

1:26 PM
“Ready to go?” asks Paul.
I am taking notes, trying to make a memory.
“Seems like you could do that in the car”

That’s what I do, trying to get the details down before they are gone.

1:39 PM
In the car, we’ve already turned north onto the Pennyrile Parkway out of Hopkinsville. In a few hours, I will read the Facebook statuses of drivers trapped in the bottleneck and Paul will be vindicated. For now, the traffic is slow but moving, we’re headed home. I crane my neck to look out the sunroof. The sun is a 1/8th crescent. Removing my glasses to look out the car window, the world looks normal, like any other day when a thin cloud passes in front of the sun.

Daily Lenses, Daily Life

I guess I’m posting to this blog, like, once a month now? I started to post earlier this week, but then the post got longer and more involved and I realized it was an essay. So now I have this essay I’m working on. That will take a few weeks, and then maybe I’ll submit it to some literary journals, just ’cause that’s what you should do if you write a real essay that isn’t a blog post. It always take a few weeks to find the right journal, and then they  have a turn-around time of 4-6 months. If none of them want it, I’ll post here after all. You can look for it roughly around Christmas. The potential essay is  about toilets. And poop. Poop in toilets. Not baby poop in diapers or dog poop on sidewalks. Specifically adult human poop in toilets. I’m just telling you this so you can recognize the post when you see it and know I worked on it extra hard with the thought that it might be an essay.

The un-posted toilet-poop story  was inspired by an incident in my daily life. In lieu of that, here’s something else inspired by daily life:  In my daily life, 80% of my news is provided by Facebook friends who share new stories and thus pretty much shape my world view. Several of them have shared versions of this story about a woman who reported for cataract surgery, only to have the doctors discover 27 contact lenses stuck in her eye.

Since reading this, I’ve been half haunted by the idea that maybe I have a contact lens stuck in my eye. Not 27 lenses, but maybe one. My contacts are so thin and soft I can’t really see them in my eye except when I pull one with a finger and it makes a little wrinkle on my eye. I always wear my right contact lens, but only occasionally wear the left one, because the prescription is very light, and because I need my short-sighted left eye to compensate for me not having reading glasses.

When I wake up in the morning, I close my right eye and  and look around through my left, trying to determine if the world looks sufficiently blurry and sometimes, I gotta say, it’s not that blurry. This morning I circled my finger around the entire white part of my left eyeball, to see if there were any tell-tale wrinkles. Either I imagined it, or top layer of my eyeball (what’s it called?) can also wrinkle, very slightly, which is freaky.

I don’t think I have a contact lens stuck in my left eye.

But I might.

 

 

The Hollywood “No”

Last week, I went to a presentation where a speaker mentioned  that rejection imprints more deeply in the female brain than the male brain. I thought this was pretty interesting, so looked online for details but failed to find any article to corroborating this, although I don’t disbelieve her. In any case, it got me thinking about rejection.

Generally I don’t need to  consciously think about rejection because it has become such an integral a part of my life.  I have a kind of “unaware awareness” of it that is constant, but not always identifiable as an irritant. It’s like after you get used to a heavy purse, a funky hip joint, or the fact that Trump is president. After awhile, you kind of forget about it until you watch a news clip, try the wrong yoga pose, or finally clean out your purse and realize you’ve been carrying THREE full water bottles it it. It takes moments of increased or decreased pain intensity to remind you that “oh yeah, that pain has been there.” 

Currently, I have a short story out to a few literary journals. Last week I received the first “thanks, but no thanks” from one of them. We can assume that perhaps someone else is actually reading my story and rejecting it right now, as I write this.

This is actually my favorite type of rejection — a direct rejection, in writing.  

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he talks about how for a long time, he collected all of his rejection notes on a nail, until the nail got too full, and he had to replace it with a long spike.  When I first read that I found it inspiring to think of rejection letters are kind of a badge of honor — evidence that you have been to battle and survived.  I’ve not done anything so romantic as hammer a spike into my landlord’s wall, and with changing times my rejections are often delivered via email… so instead I keep an excel spreadsheet with my rejections. I also enter my occasional acceptances, and then I color code them so I can see what the proportion looks like. 

The spreadsheet has been helpful in another way — it helps me see rejection more like men are trained to see it — as a numbers game.  I can see patterns — that for every ten or twelve submissions to journals, I’ll get one acceptance. I will never forget congratulating a friend for having an essay published in The Atlantic. It was an honorable mention for a writing contest they held. She told me she had submitted it sixty times. It was rejected fifty-odd times before it placed in a prestigious contest.

What is missing from my spreadsheet however, are the less obvious rejections — the “Hollywood” rejections. This is probably because when I started the spreadsheet, I didn’t have the skills and experience to recognize them.

But then a couple of years ago, I bought Stephanie Palmer’s Good In a Room and found a really excellent breakdown of rejection, Hollywood-style.  By the time I read it I had been around long enough that I was starting to “get it,” but by no means was it a natural transition for me. Coming from the straight-forward Midwest, learning to decipher a “Hollywood no” was kind of like an Asberger’s kid having to look at flashcards of faces to decipher different emotions.  When I first got to Los Angeles, I sent a script an agent’s assistant.  She told me she “liked it, but didn’t love it,” and I thought, “Awesome. She liked it!”

Yeah…no. 

Recently, talking to a friend who is newer to the writing game, I found myself trying to break it to her that the super-complimentary email she’d received from one contact about a script, and the other friend who just hadn’t gotten back to her yet were in fact…rejections.  The conversation didn’t go super well. Maybe I should have just shared the section of the book I am about to share here.  Or… maybe, I should have just kept my mouth shut.  This, too is the Hollywood way: Time is the greatest teacher, let it deliver the unpleasant news. You don’t need to. 

But, to save you a couple years of figuring things out, I will herein share from Good in a Room*:

“No” Is Silence Over Time

Chris Kelly, a writer for Real Time with Bill Maher wrote this in a recent article (crediting Merill Markoe):

“In Hollywood, ‘no’ is silence over time. The way you find out you’re not getting the job, that they passed, that they didn’t respond to the material, that they’re going a different direction, is silence. It’s the call you don’t get.” (via Huffington Post)

Other forms of “silence over time”:

  • If you can’t get an in-person meeting at all.
  • If your emails don’t get returned in one week.
  • If your calls don’t get returned in two weeks.
  • If your script has been passed along (to a star, director, or producer), and you haven’t heard back in a month.

If you pitch to a decision-maker and they want to be in business with you, they will get in touch as soon as possible. If you haven’t heard back, the answer (almost always) is “No.”

Unless They Pay You, The Answer Is “No”

That’s the title of John August’s Scriptnotes Episode 71. John’s screenwriter co-host, Craig Mazin, elaborates:

“Unless there’s money, the answer is no. Isn’t that terrible? And it’s so unfortunate because there’s thousands and thousands — so many wonderful, creative ways for people to say no to you. And so many of them sound like yes, which is horrifying really to contemplate, but it’s human nature. Nobody really likes saying no to somebody. Nobody wants to be mean. No one wants to see that look reflected back to them.” If you’re not getting any money, the answer is probably “No.”

“No” Often Starts With A Compliment

When people in Hollywood say “No,” the medicine is typically accompanied by a spoonful of sugar. Examples include:

  • “This has a lot of potential…”
  • “This is a great piece of writing…”
  • “I love the main characters…”
  • “This is hilarious…”
  • “We love it…”

If you’re getting compliments like this, they can be true, but don’t take them at face value. Most of the time, all of these compliments translate to: “You seem like a nice person and I don’t see any reason to offend you….”

“No” Usually Ends With An Excuse

After the compliment you get the excuse:

  • “… but isn’t the right fit for us.”
  • “… but we are overbudget.”
  • “… but it would be too expensive.”
  • “… but we have another project that is too similar.”

If you’re hearing reasons like these, don’t take them at face value. Most of the time, all of the reasons translate to: “…but this isn’t good enough (yet).”

“No” = Compliment + Excuse

Most of the time when you’re getting compliments on your writing followed by an excuse about why you’re not getting any money, the actual compliments and excuses are not the truth. The truth is that they are saying: “You seem like a nice person and I don’t see any reason to offend you, but this isn’t good enough (yet).”

This is a hard thing to hear because we want to believe that the compliment is real because that’s something to feel good about. We want to believe that the excuse is real because it lets us save face. The thing to understand is that if your work was good enough, you’d at least get a “Maybe.”

This last one, by the way, is my favorite, because I love that it’s an equation: Compliment+Excuse=No. 

* When this book first came out, I paid so embarrassingly much more than its current list price on Amazon, that I feel pretty justified in quoting it liberally here. (Everything from the book is in blue font.)  

 

Some other random articles about rejection.

10 Surprising Facts About Rejection

Get Rejected More, You’re Not Doing it Enough

The List is Long but Not Insurmountable

This past Memorial Day, I did not feel like BBQ’ing. Instead I was struck with the idea that I should tackle a task that has been on my To-Do list for nigh on five years: transferring a dozen VHS tapes to a digital format so that the tapes could be discarded.

This entailed purchasing a converter box and accompanying software, borrowing a PC computer (the software doesn’t work on a Mac) and a working VCR.  There was a false start about three years ago when the VCR only played with a time-code window that couldn’t be turned off without the remote, which we did not have… The computer returned to its owner and I lost momentum… for about three more years. But the power of list is strong, and a vaguely guilty sense of obligation can push when passion does not, so for the last week I have returned to the cause.

 

The recording process entailed watching much of the content on the tapes — which ranged from boring-to-watch, to embarrassing to emotional. My mom looks like my sister. My brother has more hair. My father was alive. But everyone was also so… them. So exactly the people I know that it kind of stabs you in the heart.

I, too, sound the same and look like a younger version of myself, which is… I don’t know. I think without any evidence to the contrary, one can begin to think that one has progressed from some mild stupidity in youth to wisdom–but the person I see on screen doesn’t seem to be in need of any great advice that I might now possess…

One tape is a “video portrait” I did for my first ever video class.  I interviewed a friend for the portrait. In the interview, he says “I have lists for everything–you can ask me my favorite songs, movies, television shows, friends–anything. I probably have a list for it.” This was true — he was (and remains) someone who has always amazed me with his ability to categorize and rank his preferences for all sorts of things.

I, on other hand, do not have those kinds of lists.  I’ve taken part in a dozen writing workshops where we are asked to introduce ourselves and mention out favorite books or writers. Despite having experience that has taught me this will be the first question, I often come up blank.  I despair as password authentication questions trend away from the factual: “What is your mother’s maiden name,” toward the subjective: Who was your favorite teacher?” I don’t have a favorite song or a list of favorite songs…

I do, however, have a list of things that at some point I thought would be good to do and have become part of mental To-Do List that keeps turning up in my brain like that pair of florescent sunglasses you bought at a gas station a decade ago on the way to the beach and now keeps reappearing under the car seat.

I don’t know how many items are on to-do list, or which items are at the top.  But today, the list is one item shorter. Small victory.