My son is one. He lives for lobbing our books off their shelves and then standing on them, ripping them, open-mouthed kissing them or hoofing them down the stairs. It doesn’t look like a healthy relationship.
Now I’m a lot more familiar with partner’s beaten, licked book collection. He owns a Jeremy Clarkson novel. I know what you’re thinking, ‘just leave him’. No. It was a gift. And people make mistakes. Also we’re not as organised as we were before we spawned. Sometimes these days, we run out of toilet roll.
I spotted he has Aldous Huxley’s ‘Doors of Perception’. The same week I learned off the radio that The Doors named themselves after that book. That felt Fortean so I read it. It’s a brief and beautiful study of mescaline and its effects.
We’re trained to think of drugs as a form of escapism. The standard line is that drug users lives are all shocking and drug use is akin to at best idiocy, and at worst, masochism. It’s easy to forget that we might use drugs to enhance our lives, to explore our whole minds and try to live our lives to their full. You can have too much of a good thing. But it still might be a good thing.
I remember in a sex education class at school the teacher asked us simply “what are some reasons people have sex?” A keen room of teenage hands went up. “Peer pressure?”, “to get pregnant?”, “you don’t want him to leave you?” and “rape?” The teacher had to stop us and say “and the main reason, for most people, most of the time is that it feels amazing. It’s really lovely and fun.” And I remember thinking “Oh, right. Oh. Yeah of course.”
We’re weird about the drugs we fear and the ones we don’t. I imagine a future when we look back at our coffee consumption now, baffled. The second most addictive drug to cocaine. It increases our heart rate and our anxiety. And they’ll say ‘were there any signs that society was becoming dependent on mass? That is was our non-fiction ‘soma’?’ They’ll look and see that we set up our towns and cities and stations so we never had to walk more than ten paces between coffee shops. ‘Did they not think that was a thing of note?’ Nah. The cost of it. The care for the craft of it. The special names, the constant reinventions for all the different seasons, the frills and the pomp of it. We’re so immersed in this insanity that it’s passing us by.
Well, it is delicious.
Whereas drugs which enhance our perception of nature, emotion and art? Those which heighten our humanity? Terrifying. Is this a glaring flaw in our culture? Hallucinogenic drugs mightn’t be a route to escaping, but one to really embracing what it is to live. I wonder if that makes it even more frightening. Not just because of the sheer horror of reality. But because the extremes of living bring us as close as we can get to death?
It’s been fascinating to see my baby for the first year of his life live in exactly this state. Genuine wonder and awe at everything. That’s what we’re called back to in wanting to reopen our minds and alter our perceptions afresh with drugs.
Last week I was driving back to London from Scotland with my baby in the back. Whipping down the A1 at 80mph. Suspicious of the quiet I glimpsed behind me to see him, having escaped the confines of his car seat, standing bolt upright. Not strapped in at all. Grinning.
I nearly puked on my heart. I shouted “FUCK” and reached my left arm back and grabbed his leg and pinned him down. He giggled and wriggled so I screamed at him from the pit of my marrow. He howled, shocked and aghast and we both sobbed, shouted and panicked until I could pull over.
I know why I raged and lost it, because I thought we might die. Or worse, just him. But it’s the first time I’ve shown my real fury and fear to my baby and I watched it hurt him. I worry that I’ve confused and smashed his fledging feelings. Because after all, what was he doing other than discovering the world? Pushing the limits of his abilities and understanding. Embracing what it is to live. Exactly like he’s meant to be. With all the inclinations I’d been admiring in Huxley and the other mescaline adventurers in that book.
I got an idea that maybe that’s precisely why we lose the unbridled, open wonderment of youth. It’s incompatible with fear and fury. And fear and fury in their best and most necessary forms are there to protect us from danger and death. I remember reading in Sophie’s World about the rabbit in the Universe and how we’re born on the tip of it’s fur, looking out at everything and then through life we slip further and further down. We get safer, warmer and more comfortable but we see less and less and less.
I wish there was some sort of beautiful padded harness so me and my baby could stay dangling at the precarious wide-open viewing tip of the fur. But only, and I mean ONLY, if we always stayed strapped in.