Narrow Passage

I. Hornet’s Nest Dysphoria

“The first thing to depart in mental illness is the familiar. And what takes its place is bad news because not only can you not understand it, you also cannot communicate it to other people. The madman experiences something, but what it is or where it comes from he does not know.” – Philip K. Dick, Valis

It feels dangerous to talk about it out loud. So I take to writing it down.

The illusions of grandeur started when I was 19 or 20 years old. It was a three or four year period living in this particular hellscape. The internal world I traversed at that time was one of psychic torture swinging into bouts of ecstatic overload. It was volatile. Apocalyptic. Paranoia wove its way through my mind ceaselessly. I forever thought friends were inviting me out as a joke. Even a funeral I went to, beforehand, I had thoughts of not going because I kept thinking it was a ploy to out me as a scourge unfit for family and friendship. I had enough presence of mind to talk myself down from these thoughts, but it was difficult.

I remember hearing voices telling me I was a prophet, the reincarnation of Buddha, the second coming of Christ. I had thoughts telling me I was sent here by God to unveil secrets to those around me. Prophecies. Everything was a sign pointing me closer and closer. To what though? I don’t know. Enlightenment? Transcendence? Fulfillment of divine purpose? It must have been a click in my brain. A jolt in my being. A freak show of ego and narcissism. Chemistry out of whack and firing haywire. There were any number of rationalizations for it, but the fact of the matter was clear. This is happening. I don’t have any small doubt it is a major reason for me being a writer. I wanted to hammer those thoughts into submission. I wanted to mold them into stories more sane and relatable. Transform the language and find new words. I wanted to channel those thoughts into something less cultish. Less religious.

I also did not in the least want to walk that path into schizophrenia. Mental hospitals. Dissociative disorders. Strapped in institutions. Drugged into zombification.

I was haunted by fear. Outlandish visions. I had nightmares of being gang raped and beaten pretty regularly. I wondered if I was tortured in another life for a practice of witchcraft. I recall smoking weed with friends, and feeling the need to stop, because it felt as though I was inside everyone’s heads, hearing all their thoughts. I had no idea what to make of my experience, this unreality, this alternative world, that worked its way into my thinking, but I dealt with it on my own.

There were nights I sat in my room unsure how I made it through another day. I felt like I had zero control, like I was being pushed through life by an external force co-opting my inner will. I gave thanks and praises to whatever it was keeping me safe and harboring me through the chaos. Many times I considered taking off into the quiet life of monkhood. A monastery. A mountain. Somewhere cloistered and sacred. Practice daily ritual and meditation. I don’t recall talking about this with anyone until years later. Even then, I’ve kept very quiet about it. It certainly showed up in some of my writing, albeit thinly masked and self-ridiculed. I’m 31 now. It’s been about a decade. I feel like it’s been long enough to revisit these thoughts in earnest, because they don’t leave. They’re still in my memories. Much quieter now. Almost an absurdist abstraction. A surrealist spat at a distance. I’ve dealt with it in ways that I knew how. It’s different of course in the present. Back then, I felt forever on the brink of losing complete and total touch with reality. Like my head was exploding with archetypal upheaval.

It’s ironic in a way too. Don’t the teachings of Christ make such suggestions? At least the Nag Hammadi Texts? The kingdom of heaven is within. Christ is in each one of us. We don’t need the middleman of the priest to know our connection to the universe or god. In all probability, we don’t want the priest to corrupt our natural encounter with feminine.

At the time, I was also reading about shamans, so this archetypal energy was presenting itself simultaneously. But the modern American culture makes as much space for shamans in society as it does for prophets. So that didn’t seem like a much better path to tread. Michel Foucault wrote about the village idiot. The person where madness found a dwelling. Mircea Eliade relegated the shaman to a madman suffering schizophrenic delusions.

Given what was arising in me and what roles are acceptable to fulfill in modern society, I suffered a lot of confusion. At the same time this was happening, I felt more and more a part of me that is a woman. I remember a dream I had in which my mom and aunts and the women ancestors sat around me in a ceremonial circle as I heaved and cried and screamed, “I don’t want this! Why me!” “It is part of your gift,” they said calmly. “You must accept it or it will eat you alive.” The idea of being transgender or non-binary was barely on the periphery of my understanding, but even then, I have often felt like and continue to feel like both a man and a woman. Not one or the other, but an interweaving of both. This is part of the reason why Willow has become a chosen pen name.

I ate mushrooms for the first time when all this was happening. To be honest, I believe it helped me ground, get real, filter and integrate these thoughts.

During one journey in particular, I traveled back thousands of years. I lived in the trees and wore a loincloth. I overlooked the forest village in which we lived. It was paradisiacal. As I returned to the present day, I experienced the fall from grace and entered a period of profound sadness. How could civilization develop in such a way? So much violence toward one another and toward the earth. Violence that is both explicit and unconscious. But that trip, deep into the terrain of psyche, helped me understand the nature of those reoccurring grandiose illusions. We are complex beings. We are more than just our present life. We have memories encoded in our DNA. Our genes carry the weight of millennia. I don’t need to give my whole identity over to one particular upheaval of thought patterning.

There was another voice that said over and over again, “You are gay. You are gay. You are gay.” It was frustrating. It was clear that women turned me on. My sexual fantasies indicated as such. Men, not so much, but I was and continue to be open. Experimental. So sure, I’m gay. I feel an emotional, romantic connection with men. Not all men. A heartfelt brotherhood. But as teenagers, our touching one another was always aggressive and competitive, expressed through sports and wrestling around. There was less hugging. Little to no softer intimacy. This is something I craved much more than sexual attraction. There was this phrase “butt buddies.” It indicated that two friends were attached at the hip and vaguely implied that they were fucking one another. It was used as a derogative. A point of joking and making fun of people. Closeness with men was clearly discouraged.

I grew up in a place that was progressive and open, but still people were steeped in tradition. Homophobia existed in subtle ways. It wasn’t so much a hatred for the LGBTQ community, but more so a fear of it. “You’re gay” was a way to say, “you’re dumb.” When it came to sexuality, it seemed as though you could be either straight or gay but no in between. There were no degrees along the spectrum. Only a strong binary. Gay or straight. Man or woman. In the closet or out. Strict, defined boundaries. As someone who identifies as queer, this didn’t appear on my radar when I was younger. It was almost too complex. My whole experience was too complex for me to get a grip on.

Most of my younger days were spent in a hazy darkness. The space needed to find clearness of thinking and expression of an inner world didn’t really exist. I remember being relatively miserable. I had a few friends I could relate to on these matters, but I don’t think we had the language or concepts to describe what was happening to us. We most definitely searched though.

I understand consciousness forever ebbs and flows, changing like a chameleon depending on the context of society and individual state of mind, but still, it’s important to name the delusion.

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flash bang thirteen

i.

a collective dream with porous edges fading into the surrounding city.
when we see it snuggled within the multifaceted dimensions of reality,
there is so much more at stake
simply down the street.

ii.

especially on new years. what a random day. what’s it connected to? well intentioned partying. people need that. rhythmical celebration. resolution. it can take on the form of community when it is not all dressed up and soaked through. it seems empty, but it’s not quite like that. not quite vapid. it won’t entirely disappear. i believe it has a lot to offer people and society. but its transformational ability seems quite like the ouroboros. the snake biting its own tail. round and round it goes, reinventing itself yet still maintaining the same form.

the snake who peels through layers is still a snake.

iii.

“where’s the after party?”
“which one? there’s so many!”
“the party is in the elevator. right now!”
*small chatter*
*sensuous hugs*
“it’s 4am.”
“i want to go home & feed my cat first.”
*sensuous hugs*
“the sun will be up in 3 hours.”
“honey, i love you.”

iv.

she appeared at the beginning of the party.
no one saw her. but they felt her presence.
she swept through the crowd
a hard, shadowed edge
bright as the sun. & warm like ambrosia.

it wasn’t the sun’s glow that lit her up.
she was not the moon.

she appeared dripping with what the witches call profanity:
full of sustenance, ravenous, & yet
she possessed a particular stillness that draws out the depths of sound.
like a mountain,
outside the temple,
the whisper of leaves,
the cackle of coyotes,
the wind upon precipices,
visible & meaningful, fresh.

she spoke in a weird tongue. but not weird in the strange sense.
weird in the way her language licked movement into the future.

although some chanced to see her, many never had such fortune.

v.

everyone danced, grooved, strutted, sexed up the atmosphere. wheeled around. costumes and fancy dress to the nines. glitter. tights. lights. the bass hit deep, knees bent animate, hips punched quick, the rhythm, the night, a swirl of psychedelic symposium. an upheaval of platitudinal seduction, gushing, not so much from a deep-seated wildness, but rather an urge to love the world into fantastic nonexistence.

it’s a fun scene, but it’s an exhausted scene. the burning healing aesthetic-expression-of-spirituality scene. it’s a necessary stepping stone for some, a home for others, i’m sure it has saved many lives. and yes, it’s true- it’s abundant with people who want to explore further, who want to know deeper, who want to love freely without abandon or shame. it’s a scene that is a vehicle for nonconventional ways of relating & being. it’s true, it’s a global phenomenon and has surely impacted millions, and it’s clear people will continue to cultivate it as one might see to family. but despite the penchant for flow arts, it is a scene that lacks movement. its pitfall is hedonism. it gets lost there, and it floats, almost too comfortably, in a paradisiacal bliss, a cuddle puddle dripping tenderness into the enchanted hours of the dark night.

vi.

mama matrix most mysterious,
the lust for idealism is potently choking.
ancestors honored & blessed.

vii.

“it’s a derivative of a derivative.”
“what about the offshoots?”
“what if everyone ate ecstasy and the doors were locked for six hours
and we had to get real with one another!”
“a social experiment?”
“and afterwards, everyone hopped on a bus and went to feed the homeless.”
“a socialist burn?”

viii.

she appears like a vision at the end of the evening. when everyone else is blasted and spilling a smashy smash of semblance, she is refined and elegant. she is kept together. she isn’t at the same party as everyone else. maybe she is staying at the hotel, sipping a hard drink at the bar before heading off to her room. or maybe she waltzed in with an irresistible charm, spontaneously called from afar. her chariot, the deep cold of the night, collectively arriving, carried lovely from the sea by a murder of ravens guided by moon and stars.

ix.

they woke up sweaty. a boutique hotel the dead of winter. they fell back asleep. adjusting. cuddling. two husbands and a wife. she in the middle, turning one side to the other with the frequency of a full moon. sleepless, dreaming. the three lavishing the sunrise. each one, the other, a lover. resting.

a man like a hobbit asleep on the floor. he snores like a chimney.

x.

have you ever gone to bed and awoken in another dream?

xi.

a woman sits at a diner’s table staring into the distances.

her eyes blank, gazing, she cries lonely without a tear. a thought flits across her face, seen in the catch of her eyes, her cheek muscles pulsing faintly. she is not alone. she snaps into her body and looks at her husband. she beckons with her lips, perched, cooing, purring moist like a cliff overrun with waterfall. enticing him with her eyelashes, batting at a distance, dancing gently in the air, wings light as feathers. love, love me. love you.

he’s engrossed in his phone.
he mumbles something to her without looking up.
she laughs without a sound.

she coolly recoils into her own blank stare, looking at the space ahead, nowhere, a fantasy too far away, it flickers & wisps like a cloudy dream, a morning fog, she almost grasps it, a reality so intricately webbed, so convincingly cradled, so fragilely lost.

the waitress sets a cup of coffee under her nose.
she smiles thank you. isn’t this happy, a tiny excitement.
she sips like a bird, the steam wafting hot.

a thought again flits across her face and she smiles, looks to her husband and beckons, lips pursed, so unforgivably supple, he feels a light pout, the fragrance of a kiss, and he moves closer, unconsciously, still glued to his phone.

she purrs, and snaps her neck quickly, any more sharply and it may have hurt. her eyes zip focus. another thought, her husband moves an inch closer.

they know this game well.
she stalks him like a wild animal.
why? she doesn’t need him.
she wants him.
closer.
her desire isn’t licentious.
it’s an indefatigable aspect of being human.

and the heat of her look touches him, but only nibbles the periphery of his being. as she massages with patience, he begins slowly to put down the device. he looks at her and she smiles, slowly drawing him closer like a mama spider wrapping up a bit of nourishment & death.

xii.

sometimes it’s fireworks. sometimes it’s guns.