"Ataraxia"



“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

-William Blake


“A man's mind, stretched by new ideas, never returns to it's original dimensions.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes


“I have always known that one day I would make this journey, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.”

-Ralph Steadman


For the new Greeners of 2008


Some people find a voice at college. I found a voice, a mouth with which to speak it, fingers to type it, a heart to fuel it, and a soul to empower it. In short, Evergreen saved my life. Now, when I say Evergreen, I’m not exactly referring to the college I attend, it is rather a shorthand for the coagulation of that college with the sundry influences that accompany it – culture, music, drugs, love, sex, and first-hand accounts with both Evil & Integrity. The birth pangs of adulthood.

The entire time I was at Evergreen, I kept tabs on where I would have been, had I gone to a “real” school, that is, a normal school. Evergreen is so immersed in itself that it’s beyond weird - it’s fantasy, with symptoms of both dreams and nightmares.

It was a Friday, the last of the quarter. My last quarter. Approximately three hours after the completion of my final collegiate essay – having rounded up plenty of chocolate, vitamin C, and art supplies – Foggy Fingers and I swallowed two sugar cubes of LSD. We were joined about 45 minutes later by Ryan Hickman, who made the four hour trip from Coupeville to join us on our psychedelic adventure. When he got out of his car, I ran to him, hugged him, and introduced him to Foggy, with the first rising effects of the drug already manifesting in the form of a wide grin and the sensation that my blood had been replaced by a more silky substance.

Hickman quickly took his dose, and by the time he got to the grinny, silky stage, Foggy and I were rolling around on the cold cement of his basement, laughing uncontrollably for no reason in particular. I began climbing the furniture and emptying my pockets of the ubiquitous clutter that weighed me down – cell phone, wallet, keys, etc.

Once the giggles subsided, we eased into a calmer, more refined high…the kind of high that is always depicted in the movies with animation for some reason.

Things started to get stripped away. Out cares of tomorrow and yesterday, our stresses and worries, our perception of time, our large motor skills all receded until eventually we were down to our bare essentials – a mind and a staggering intake of stimuli. We decided to do some painting.

I composed one painting on my white, Jordan basketball shorts, and another on canvas, which I named “Ataraxia,” after one of my favorite words in the English language.

“What does ‘Ataraxia’ mean?” asked Foggy.

“Freedom from anxiety or stress.” I replied.

Woooah…” he said, staring at it, enjoying the name, hallucinating, and appreciating the effort I’d put into it.

Hickman - who obviously wasn’t tripping nearly as hard as Foggy and I – spent most of his time asking us questions and eating all my yellows. What are yellows, you ask? Yellows are my name for “Rescue Remedy Pastilles,” strange little homeopathic meds given to me earlier that week by an Evergreen physician, who’d advised me not to experiment with marijuana – and certainly not with psychedelics – given my chemical imbalance and so forth.

How can I explain the indigence, the miserable plight of having both Panic Disorder and hypochondria? The two are frequently confused and often used interchangeably, but there is a vast difference between suddenly panicking for no reason, and believing that every day will be your last, whether or not you’re actively engaged in a state of panic. To say the least, I was not well. Some endorse the “live every day as if it’s your last” mantra as an effective means of seizing the day and leading a fruitful life. However, to be forced, chemically, into taking those words literally is a curse provoking a maniacal, depraved existence, with nothing approaching an optimistic outlook.

So fuck it, I thought. I’ve never been much for doctor’s orders, and I’d grown to suspect that my yellows were nothing more than a placebo. I took one anyway when things went sour, but spit it out when it occurred to me that I was performing CPR on a corpse.

Sometime around the third hour, things started getting ugly. It started when Ryan went upstairs and Foggy remained in the basement. There was no synergy; a sudden sense of detachment, no brotherhood - and to make matters worse, the sun had finally gone down and it was getting darker and colder by the second.

I desperately needed to see the sun, but with no chance of that, I began to lose touch with reality and before I knew it, I was holding on by a thin strand. Could this be the dreaded “bad trip” I wondered, the mugger who would surely stick me if I kept walking down dark alleys? The one I knew would eventually find me if I kept chasing these tumultuous highs? But before anyone could answer my silent query, it was clear I had gotten myself into a filthy mess.

Foggy sat down, grabbed my hand and smiled, his face completely covered in paint. He looked ridiculous and beautiful at the same time. He looked more beautiful than I’d ever seen him look before. He took his fingers and drew an invisible line from my eyes to his and back. “This is where it all started.” he said. I nodded and smiled. When two people share a psychedelic experience, part of it lasts forever, and I knew my relationship with Andrew Olsen would never be the same. I would have Foggy Fingers living in my head Forever. Should we cross paths when we’re old and grey, we’ll be young and wild again.

But for the moment, I was manic and shitty.

I felt a great hunger for the comfort of a woman, and there was nothing sexual about it. I knew that a delicate feminine touch and the inimitable maternal warmth would put me back where I needed to be. But it was just me and the guys, so I grabbed their hands and held on tight.

After a messy bit of deliberation, I was convinced that we should all go out into the night, that the cold air would do me good. The town I’d grown familiar with over the years seemed strange and threatening, but eventually I settled in, led by the hand through the wet streets of the East side.

I was starting to calm down, and I even recognized that we were in front of the elementary school when Foggy, holding me by the arm, turned to me and said, “Riley! This is our graduation! The cacophony of madness was silenced and I regained a great deal of my sanity at that moment. “My God,” I said, “I’ve been trying to explain to people all month why I’m not walking at graduation, and that’s exactly it!”

It was one of the most poignant and resonant moments of my life, and it quite nearly made me weep out of sheer giddiness. From time to time, one is blessed enough to see the genius in a piece of art or music, or the mind of a lover. But for a few seconds, I was able to see the genius in life itself, the airtight irony and inevitable harmony of God’s plan for me.

It was at that moment that I fought off my demons and broke into a speech of sorts. With my tongue and my mind on the same page for the first time all night, I must have equaled in two minutes my word count from the previous two hours of the trip. The writer in me had been looking for a story, a moral of sorts, something to bring back with me upon my gradual descent to reality.

I knew it would be no small comfort to have a piece of proof that somewhere beyond the ostensible madness of the acid freak lies a great deal of clarity. The writer in me is always looking for a story. (In fact, I later suspected that this distraction could have been directly responsible for the onslaught of bad vibes. The ubiquitous narrator in my mind refused to let go, even when the rest of my normal thought process, perception, and the general quotidian mode of operation had long since checked out.) I had found a tangible, real-life psychedelic memento. And it had “Evergreen” written all over it; a fitting piece of punctuation bringing to a close three profound years of violent metamorphosis. Having found it, I was free to spend the remaining hours of the trip in genuine amazement of each passing second.

It starts with inhibitions, or the lack of them. From there, we can forget things; things like fear and desire and possessions and money and time and remember only that we are here and we are together. It is only then that we ever really achieve freedom, which we can see is less about flag-waving and fireworks and more about accepting the gift that has been given to us anonymously by some god or force. Religious and spiritual dogma aside, whatever this force is, it obviously cares a great deal about us to have created the rules of physics and causality, only to break them and give us life.

Ataraxia…” I said softly to Foggy.

Ataraxia…” he echoed, as Charles Mingus played us slowly, slowly to sleep.

Our trip was supposed to be a celebration of the weight that had been lifted off my shoulders at the end of another quarter, rather than a celebration of my collegiate graduation. I was seeking beauty and awareness more that relevance or closure. But the drug had a funny way of giving me exactly what I needed. Kind of like Evergreen that way – I ordered a cheeseburger and they made me the greatest steak I’d ever tasted.

Evergreen, to me, seems largely comprised of two kinds of kids: 1) The type who came into this world as a child of the counter-culture, perhaps the son or daughter of original flower-children – the type of kid who knows from the start that Evergreen is the only place for them, and 2) The exact inverse; the type that comes from a conservative home, likely religious, and ended up here as an act of rebellion, or as an independent decision despite fervent warnings from older well-wishers who’d heard all the stories about “what goes on” here.

As for myself, well, I’m part of neither group. I got here completely by accident. At one point during my sophomore year I told my father that if I tried to empty my savings and run away to Bangladesh, the plane would surely crash. I’ve never thought much about fate, but if it’s done anything, it’s put me here. Thusly, I could never sympathize with the disappointed Geoducks. Stifled throughout High School, they came here having been promised a wonderful and amazing place which, for them, doesn’t exist yet. Me? Well, I didn’t come here in search of anything, except maybe some cheap pot and a Bachelor’s degree. So for me, Evergreen always was wonderful and amazing. The anarchists, the hippies, the libertarian freaks and geeks – the utopia they’re waiting for is still waiting its turn, so many of them go four years or more without realizing that this is as close as they’re likely to ever get.

When the bureaucracy and waning freedom of this place disappoints you, remember that we as Greeners have more in common than in difference. Remember that you could be waking up on a beer-stained ping-pong table next to a strange, Abercrombie & Fitch-clad ho with the clap. Remember that you could be trapped in a community whose members are not yet universally convinced that George W. Bush is Evil, that marijuana should be decriminalized, that literature and art are of greater significance to our minds than a pep rally, video games, or a wet t-shirt contest.

This is not meant to be a celebration or endorsement of psychedelic drugs. If anything, it’s an urgent reminder to live life in ways that are meaningful and true to your soul as an individual. It is an ode to the fading convictions of our fine institution – pillars that were stronger when I got here than they are now. It’s an urgent reminder of the things we’re supposed to stand for.

An alternative school calls for an alternative graduation. It doesn’t get much more alternative than a twisted acid celebration through the sopping midnight streets of Olympia, covered in paint, raving about the Gonzo voice in my head. I prefer it by far to a sober afternoon in cap & gown. Call me crazy. Or, just call me a Greener.

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