Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sympathy for the Demon

by Daddy X

My personal demons turned out to be mostly intoxicants. To indulge them responsibly, I  knew one had to venture with respect, caution and consideration, treating drugs and alcohol as you would friends. Making trade-offs with demons, if you will. Taking advantage of working with a colleague rather than battling an adversary.

I understood (to a limited extent) the dangers of certain behavior. During my formative years, the 50’s had been a blissfully ignorant decade when it came to drugs (as well as earlier, evidenced by the likes of  “Reefer Madness” back in the thirties). All hell broke loose after 1960 when many truths, falsehoods and half-truths made their way into popular culture.  Somewhere between naive, accepting, ignorance and Draconian scare tactics lay reality. I found that ‘real’ was a moving target, always morphing, always changing its effects on our perception. We needed quick reactions, staying agile on our feet.

At one end of the spectrum were the junkies and speed-freaks, usually a tougher crowd, though a hard addiction didn’t necessarily mean a bad or ignorant person. After all, the goal of getting high isn’t to writhe in anguish on a motel floor. It’s to have fun. I’d even say that back then, VERY few people who indulged in heroin or amphetamines ever let it get the best of them. Most of us were what the heavies called “weekenders”. We held jobs. We had families.

At the other end of the spectrum, marijuana and natural psychedelics like mescaline and psilocybin enabled us to go inward and discover revelations about ourselves and about the world around us. Obvious things that—funny?—we’d never noticed before! We learned to use our expanded vision.

(Now, LSD lies somewhere in an area of its own. Though acid has great potential in the right hands, it proves too unpredictable without a trusted and experienced guide. Not a drug for someone of fragile emotional constitution. They might experience a brain turn that could prove traumatic. Ditto for whatever ‘boutique’ drugs have made a debut more recently. I don’t have that experience.)

On Monday, Sacchi mentioned Coleridge as an artist who used opium. Who’s to say that any of his work would have ever been imagined without the drug? Same goes for all the arts, from Edgar Allen Poe to William Burroughs to the poignant comedy of Lenny Bruce and the paintings of Basquiat. to the entire jazz scene, which was rife with heroin in the 50’s and 60’s. Would any of that art have been created without views from varied perspectives? From pre-Columbian times to Carlos Castaneda, Native Americans have used such substances to explore alternative planes of consciousness.

Below, a west Mexican stone sculpture I bought and sold some years back, a shaman transforming into a coatimundi.

It shows how closely animist belief systems were woven with their surroundings. A concept like this would require quite a dose to conjure up!

Not that this post is intended to advocate for drugs. I am a realist. Many people lose perspective, and, in plenty of cases lose their lives to mistakes and misconceptions regarding the nature of various substances. Some of my closest friends have been compromised. A few od’d. An old arm-fuck buddy from back east recently had his own liver transplant. I worked a tough bar through the 80’s during the crack epidemic. I saw the worst of the results. Young girls would arrive on the scene at sixteen or seventeen, and age thirty years within six months, selling their scrawny asses behind the bowling alley.

The demons need to be recognized and understood.

Most of my blogmates know of my liver transplant in 2004. Yes, it was precipitated by cancer as the typical result of Hep C, contracted by sharing needles. That and the ensuing year of Interferon/Ribavirin treatment were a singular brand of hell. Momma would come home from work, take one look at my sorry self and say: “Have you smoked any pot today?” I’d mumble something in the negative, my wits and recall stranded in pain and misery… She’d fix a pipe… I’d feel better!

Eleven years ago, deteriorating with cancer, I knew I’d already been granted a wondrous and varied life. If I had kacked back then, I would still have had more unique experience than most people on earth. That’s the way I felt at the time, and the sentiment hasn’t changed in the years since. Drugs still play an important part of my life in the form of medicine. Some of which is now legal in California.

Back in the day, my saving graces were friends. Friends became my measure of when I was getting too close to an edge. “Daddy,” they’d say, “aren’t you taking a lot of (fill in the blank) lately? Think you might want to cool it a day or two?” I may not have been receptive in the moment, but I would remember the exchange. Soon, I’d try and not be such an asshole.

I guess you could say I was in the ‘functional’ category when it came to my demons. I always worked. Seldom lost a day’s pay because of indulgence. I mean it’s not like it didn’t happen, but over forty years of employment you could probably count total days off due to ‘ralph’ on two hands.

I did wind up paying for all that fun, though. Evidence the liver transplant.

Alcohol and drugs formed a common thread throughout my travels with creative people. People who found insight as a result of their ability to view life on multiple levels. Things appear different on weed than booze. Different again with Mescalito as your lens.

And I didn’t kack. Not yet. I went on to two new careers (One of them writing erotica)  since the operation.  (Next step … selling erotica) I’ve had a triple bypass. A little heart attack.  But my tea-totaling friends and people I meet who haven’t done a damn thing but work then stagnate at home? They’ve also had their share of heart attacks, cancers and deaths.

And Momma and I continue to have fun. It’s a covenant we share with demons.


  1. Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" poem was never finished, and he's reported to have said it was because it came to him in an opium dream, but he was rudely awakened and could never get back to find out what came next. The fact of being unfinished may actually be part of its charm, though.

    Thinking along the lines of intoxicants as demons promoting creativity, I'm reminded of the Omar Khayyam stanza (roughly, from memory):
    "And much as wine has played the Infidel,
    And robbed me of my cloak of honor, well,
    I wonder often what the vintner buys
    One half so precious as the stuff he sells."

    1. I smoked opium once and was super-jealous of the girl with me who seemed to find it inspiring and started writing frantically in a notebook. I wanted to have some sort of vision or Coleridge-esque effect, but instead I just felt... rubbery. And uncomfortable because I'd read about the Opium War and knew what the drug had done to my Chinese ancestors. A supposedly fun thing I never did again.

  2. Yeah, I know what it's like to have found the answer to the origins of the universe only to forget it all when I come down. :>)

    No matter what culture, the human desire/need to alter consciousness seems to be a common thread.

  3. Alcohol and me have a long, loving relationship. I was about 6 when the uncles started putting a shot of vodka into my coke or juice, winking at Mom, telling her, "She'll sleep all the way home." And I did. But before I passed out, I'd feel really good. So good, that I couldn't wait for that feeling again! By about 12, I'd sit with Mom and her sisters while they "did" special drinks nights, ie, grasshoppers (tasted like Fannie May Chocolate mints), or Harvey Wallbangers. They'd let me have a sip or two, until they all got loopy, then they'd make me my own drink. Kahlua was discovered when an uncle told us he'd found a great new thing, and made us milkshakes out of Kahlua, vodka and ice cream. One or 2 of those, and my 14-year-old self fell off the bar stool in his basement.

    Flash forward to now. I drink on weekends only. I have a couple of beers (I stay away from hard liquor by choice--making a deal with my demons, as you said. No shots, EVER.) Sometimes I pass out from the exhaustion of the week after just a couple of brews. But I rarely drink much more than that, and by Monday, the workweek is too long and tiring to have any chance to relax.

    That's what drinking is to me today: not a way to get wasted, but a way to relax. I'm much too hyper most of the time, and working such long hours makes things worse. I won't allow even 1 cigarette, since I haven't smoked since I first got pregnant, over 28 years ago. But one smoke and I'd be addicted again. And we're way too poor to be able to afford anything else, presuming we could even find it anymore. Funny how dealer "friends" disappear once you're no longer buying.

    But I wrote many of my books while drinking wine late at night, when everyone else was finally asleep. Stomach acid issues made me give up frequent glasses of red wine, and for that I'm totally bummed. The relationship between drinking and creative writing is a delicate balance. Drink just enough for the creativity to flow, but not enough for it to be hampered by the buzz. I have no ambition to be one of those authors who is "discovered" after they die from their addictions at a young age (does almost 60 still count as young?)

    1. I was brought up Jewish. We got wine on the holidays from a very early age. (Of course, it was that awful sweet stuff, but still.

      But I saw what alcohol did to my mom. And sometimes I worry I have the same genetic predisposition.

  4. You sure started young, although I can also remember being allowed a sip of beer or stealing sips from hi-balls at family get-togethers. Nobody watched kids in those days. So kids, being kids took advantageWe usually were left to our own devices. I did embarrass my parents one time. I must have been five or so, finding almost-empty drinks all night. I went into a laughing jag according to the stories.

    But it sounds like you made a good compromise with the devil. Alcoholism runs deep with writers.

  5. Oh, and I didn't mention in the text- That Colima stone piece is about 2000 years old.

    1. It's a very cool piece! Thank you for sharing the picture!

    2. Thanks Annabeth. Yes, that's one of the pieces I wish I could have back. Very powerful figure. About 8" tall, but huge in impact. As we say, 'small *only* in size.'

      The guy who bought it told me he'd spent years saving up for a little Henry Moore bronze. When he saw this piece he said that now he didn't need the Moore.

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    4. If you take a second look at the pre-Columbia shaman, you'll notice a flattening on the knees, upper arms and face. The figure can also be positioned with its face down, a familiar memory if you've eaten Peyote. "Praying to O'Roark" occurs in lots of cultures

  6. Yeah, intoxicants can definitely fill the role of demons. What a double edged sword!

    Great post, Daddy.

  7. I was reminded of those great writers of the past who indulged in drugs and booze and produced stuff we're still reading and raving about today. I'm not giving a list, y'all know who they are. You had a marvelous life, Daddy, and if the payment is a little steep, at least you can say, "I lived!"


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