Part 1: Writing High
I’m at work right now and I’m high.
On a highness scale of 0-10, I’m somewhere between 3.5 and 4.0; having five minutes ago smoked three hits of medium-high grade cannabis mixed with run-of-the-mill black hash.*
* Hybrid sativa-dominant, indoor White Widow; and “bubble melt” indica hashish
Actually, it’s the second time I’ve been high this morning. The clock says: 10:45, Friday. The first session took place around 8:30 a.m. At this point in the game, given my age and duration of use, I’m a maintenance stoner – in it for the long haul. Thus, I’m not talking about hourly three-foot bong hits of pharma-grade shit. Getting super baked is unproductive; being generally buzzed is comfortable. Being not-high is a different subject, but we’ll get to that eventually.
Right now, I’m high.
Most likely because I’m a long-term stoner, I’m inclined to create a comprehensive scale of highness and get in there, crawl inside, root around; in some ways, take it to an unnecessary extreme. You can’t estimate the size of a crowd when you’re standing in the middle of it; but you can get a thorough understanding of how crowds behave. Both types of information are useful and their applications introduce a pleasing range of contingencies.
While I don’t absolutely have to be high at work, it sure makes everything smoother. The job here at Acme Industries entails a certain amount of dispassionate resignation toward stupidity. And as a Chemical Recreationist* at heart, the less I care about shit going on around me, the better. My goal is to remain within the tropics of the scale; never dip below 2.5; try not to get higher than 7.5 or so, except on special occasions. The zones established above (Negligible, Habitable, Perishable) should be self-explanatory.
* PC term for drug user and abuser
The perfect work high is in the 4.0-5.0 range, but I usually don’t get above 5.5 unless I have the office to myself; so, Saturdays and holidays. It depends. Acme Industries is off-the-charts weird; I suppose that’s why I’m still here. Every now and then, I over-toke on a mid-afternoon walkabout and roll in over 6.0, reeking of skunky blueberry-something, which is funny if it isn’t happening to you.
Anyway, contrary to reason, I prefer to spend a lot of my free time at or below zero on the buzzed scale – in the Negligible Zone. Here’s my logic: There’s no point in getting high to do my laundry; it’s a waste of expensive product. Domestic chores involve a visceral type of boredom as a means to an end. I’m into that. Playing guitar, you can’t build calluses without practicing. Laundry and housecleaning are like practicing scales. You’re building a useful type of muscle memory that will come in handy.
Look, I have pain. You have pain. Everybody’s got some fuckin’ problem they treat with something – that’s universal. When I first started smoking pot, I wasn’t treating any real pain; physical, psychological or otherwise. Today, I’ve got bursitis in my hip from sitting so much, and carpel tunnel in one hand from typing and playing guitar. Cannabis doesn’t eliminate as much as it softens pain – makes me forget about it for the time being. The fact is: I get shit done. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t keep me around. Whether the good people at Acme HQ are aware of my drug use is uncertain. Probably. But it doesn’t matter. We’re not dealing with nuclear launch codes over here.
Dope is obviously highly illegal in this country, and likewise, difficult to acquire and prohibitively expensive. Score one for: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The moral and ethical dilemmas of universal drug use notwithstanding, there are reasons these substances are available, and there’s also a reason that eventually these substances find me. Or, I should clarify: I make myself readily available and my beacon is visible from the International Space Station. The keys to scoring dope in this town are: persistence, patience, and punctuality. When the call finally comes, you drop everything and beeline* for the ATM.
* I realize I’m using ‘beeline’ as an intransitive verb here.
Back in the days when Greasy Roy was trapped in the revolving door of employment, constantly cycling through gigs, I showed up as high as possible for each and every job interview; like, 6.0 and up. And I did this for what I thought was a very cunning reason: If they gave me the job after an interview in which I was (unbeknownst to them) super fuckin’ high, then I could work there, no problem. It set a standard or precedent. It meant I could show up high the first day and stay high for the duration of my employment, and nobody would be the wiser.
You’d be surprised how many jobs I got while unconscionably stoned; although, obviously, none required me to pee in a cup.*
* Fun, fancy tidbit: I worked at this one joint where everybody on the floor knew I was super fuckin’ high all the time. In fact, if I was being a bit puckish or crabby, one of the managers would grab me and say, “Dude, go outside and get high.”
My current nine-plus-year gig at Acme Industries is both my first full-time paid writing position, and the longest I’ve ever worked for one company. Landing the gig was a frothy combination of not giving a fuck – at all – and off-kilter charm, street savvy, and modest credentials to back-up a boozy confidence in all things chemical recreation and Greasy Roy.
There wasn’t so much an interview as a meeting-ish type of arrangement. They asked some questions, offered a hand-shake deal, and that was it. You’re hired!
And Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – I was super fuckin’ high – 7.9 or more. In fact, I was so high I almost forgot to show up.
When I first came here many years ago, I had a rooftop apartment on the south side of town. And I partied like it was 1999 every other night – it was 2008, of course. Somebody said “Ketamine” and…next thing I knew the sun was up and we kept chooglin’ into the morning. At 11:45 a.m. a notification sounded on my phone and I remembered the appointment. I hopped on my bike, frantically pedaled across town, got lost, eventually found Acme HQ, all sweaty, stinky, and fuckin’ whacked-out from a binge – it was 12:10 by now, I was late – and tucked into the bathroom of the café in the lobby of the building to fire up a one-hitter before entering the company’s HQ.
The whole time I was laughing to myself, thinking, “There’s no way in hell I get this job unless they can’t find ANYBODY ELSE.”
The gig pays well, provides a host of benefits both seen and unseen, and the people are nice. However, my favorite part of the job is the fact that there’s nothing to write more often than not. My assignments are completed months in advance of their deadlines, and sometimes it’s a year from the time I’ve written something until it gets published or used in some fashion. Production volumes don’t matter at this company. As somewhat of a rarefied specialist, I’m paid to be here more than I’m paid to write. The fact that I can write seems to be sufficient in these parts. Meanwhile, they don’t give a fuck what I’m doing to kill eight hours in a workday, and freelance writing is no exception.
Throughout my life I’ve done a considerable amount of freelance writing on a wide range of topics in a broad variety of writing styles – often under a pseudonym, c.g. Greasy Roy, or as a ghostwriter.
My freelance career became profitable about five years ago when I started a blog with the purpose of forming a media company. Since then, the writing jobs have fallen out of the sky as often as I’ve stumbled across ‘em. But as a writer and editor with Acme Industries, I’m focused exclusively on language acquisition. The company also owns a chain of schools that use in-house materials to form the curriculum.
While the majority of this hemisphere’s education system is rote memorization combined with exhaustive testing, the ‘universal’ standardized tests like the hypothetical TEABAG (Test of English in Acrimonious Bondage and Geomancy)* require a certain amount of critical thinking. So a lot of what we (I) do is geared toward helping students memorize vocabulary words n’ shit; but we also utilize certain aspects of the other hemisphere’s model of learning.
*Clearly, this is made up.
In any case, Acme Industries requires an infinite trickle of new material, but more importantly, good, original material written by a native speaker, preferably Caucasian and from North America. That’s where I come in.
About a third of my job is writing model tests (aka practice tests) for a modest range of standardized exams, some of which are endemic to this hemisphere and/or country. There are countless official versions of previous tests floating around. Some of them have been leaked; others have been willfully distributed by the main testing agencies (WTF® and Scumridge are the Big Two in standardized testing).
In the Test Preparation section of your local bookstore you’ll see model test books by major companies like Earle’s, Dongsmen, McChomp-Gully, etc. They’re all based on official exams and in many ways, completely interchangeable. The only difference between any two books will be the font and the explication sections.
Every test is broken down into sections; so for instance, the hypothetical TEABAG has seven parts covering the four modes of language: Speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
Each section targets a certain set of skills. My job is to replicate the test while maintaining its original integrity. Some of the tasks like sentence completion and short conversations are pretty easy to manage; you simply swap out a few words here and there, move and change a few of the wrong answers. The reading passages and short talks require a considerable amount of creativity, especially when graphics are involved. On the surface, I’m one step above a portrait artist down on the boardwalk.
So here’s an example of a TEABAG passage (edit for freelance). You’ll see the original text paired against the recycled version, with the changes underlined in boldface.
Clearly, there isn’t much to it, and this example shows the absolute bare minimum of what I can get away with. Most passages need significantly more revision.
However, I’ve done two important things right out of the box. First, I’ve moved the passage from one spot to another – notice it was 164-167, now it’s 172-175 – that’s key.
Second, I’ve sufficiently modified the first two lines of the passage – the company name and slogan. This is all the testing agencies require of model testing based on their content; it just can’t be verbatim or exact; you gotta mix it up. Now, what you don’t see are the questions, which are considerably dissimilar once I’ve changed them around, and in some cases, replaced them with different question types, all of which repeat them selves. It’s a cycle. But you get the idea. And again, this is the bare minimum, and I wouldn’t have taken such a flyer on it if the client didn’t say: “Look, just do the bare minimum – I need this now.”
This particular client is only interested in the reading and listening portions of the test, which consists of 200 questions. The reading questions are paired passages; for instance, an invoice and an email. Those fuckers can be a real pain in the ass. At the same time, I see the same types of passages over and over and over – just like the questions. That’s where the real tedium kicks in. In the last eight years I’ve done 30-some-odd complete TEABAG model tests for Acme Industries (including the speaking and writing), and 40+ reading and listening-only tests for independent freelance clients. Needless to say, but it still resonates with me, I’m sick to fuckin’ death of TEABAG.
Of course, bear in mind this work is in addition to all the other stuff I may or may not be writing on a daily basis.
It’s a kind of tediously creative brainwork that requires running on what I call a “low-ball”, as opposed to the famous “high-ball” (whiskey and water), which was mother’s milk to my father. This means I’ve been operating in a near-constant state of 3.5-4.0 – it’s inadvisable to venture up into the Sixes and Sevens. In order to achieve the low-ball, I’ve had to adjust my dosage and mixture. More hash, less weed. Hash produces a significantly milder but more sustained buzz.
Fortunately, the only deadline pressure comes from freelance clients and I can fuck off whenever I want; since it’s not my main source of income. And I can do most freelance gigs in my sleep – as long as I’m high. However, if you’re going to freelance, you can’t really blow people off if you want to continue working.
At the same time, I’ve unceremoniously dumped clients because they weren’t worth the effort; or I hated the material and didn’t want to do it – high or not-high. With my current work, if I’m high, I can tear through a section in a couple of hours. Not-high, we’re talking days of pecking at it. For both types of test, I’m also on the hook for graphics*; more so in my regular gig with Acme. When I’ve got 50 graphics that need to be wrangled, that’s when I can come in around 5.8 and get lost in the work.
* LS; AT: Long Story; Another Time
Writing high – actual writing, not the above freelance revision bullshit – is like opening a new tube of toothpaste and slowly squeezing out every last dollop of paste. Writing high expedites the flow of words, which, as the preceding simile suggests, is a finite process. Being high is great for getting shit out of my head and on to the page. Likewise, I don’t spend a lot of time focused on editing while high until the final drafts of a piece, which is when I’m assuming all writers say to themselves, “Fuck, this is it.”
At 5.3 to 7.4 on the Scale of Highness the ideas flow freely – until they don’t. The source runs dry or I get bored, whichever comes first. Boredom says to me, “You can’t be afraid to walk away from anything in this life and writing is no different.”
But mostly, I just run dry.
In retrospect, I set myself up for this whole being high vs. not-high dilemma. My cunning plan backfired and I realized that I needed to be high to be productive. That puts a bit of pressure on you, all things considered. First of all, what happens if the supplies of local weed dry up? What then? Even if you’ve got some “rainy day” supply stashed away, it’s only good for so long.
Sure enough, the droughts happened and I found myself in deep shit. But I did what every resourceful drug-abusing junkie does: I got creative. I remained persistent. I didn’t give up.
Writing high has drawbacks, although what I consider “faults” may not be obvious – yet.
First, pot is unlawful and felonious to acquire, possess, and/or use.
Second, being and writing high for any extended amount of time requires maintenance; you get high and stay high. This presents a series of logistical concerns, particularly if you’re smoking it. Smoke = fire.
Third, once you have the taste for writing high, you’re hooked. Now you have the anxiety of possibly having to write not-high for indefinite periods. Any good stoner freelance writer almost certainly lives in a place where cannabis is legal, tolerated, or flat-out against the law; and yet, we somehow manage to find it.
Otherwise, there are no drawbacks to writing high as far as the actual writing process is concerned.* It doesn’t make me stupid or sentimental or spaced out. It sets me straight.
* Shit goes wrong occasionally; computers crash and chairs lounge.
One of the best compliments I can hear as a writer is: “I want some of whatever [he] is smoking.” While it implies a certain amount of suspicion – it’s a back-handed compliment: “This cat is fuckin’ high” – the real meaning to me is that I’ve written something so far out of this individual’s imagination that their only response is to suggest something they couldn’t reasonably suspect is true: That I am fuckin’ high and they probably don’t want some of what I’m smoking. But being high doesn’t dictate the content of my thoughts; it merely sorts, arranges, and distributes them in a peculiar way.
We could have a history lesson and review (revisit, rehash, recycle) all the great writers who’ve blazed this trail (path, track, road) before me, and I don’t have the bald-faced audacity to suggest I belong in their company; but I insist that I’ve learned a tremendous amount of knowledge both practical and otherwise from the fuckin’ junkies of literature, music, and art: The dudes and chicks who inspired us to write our own stories in the first place were as high if not higher than I’ll ever be. Take Hunter S. Thompson, for example. You think I’m fuckin’ high? Christ.
To write high (sometimes) is to have access to a theater where you once saw your favorite performer. The joint is empty and you are free to roam. You walk up on the stage and look out at the empty seats and say, “I’m standing right where my hero stood that night.” And ultimately, it’s a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the presence of greatness. How you process every experience is your art.
There is no difference between eating food and being nourished on a biological level, and taking drugs and being fortified on spiritual level. If you think there is, you’re wrong. This is an Easter egg challenge to Deep Readers: Explain to me in 100 words why the ingestion of a foreign substance is wrong. Not bad or illegal; wrong. [Please post your replies in the comments section.]
Here’s how I see it, and the beginning is going to come off trite, but listen: Writers write. Whatever they have to do in order to write, they’re going to do; or they’re not writers. Every single one of us has our methods and I’m not making excuses in order to thwart any perceived moral or ethical prejudice you may hold against me. In fact, I don’t give a fuck about that. I don’t know how other writers work because I’ve never sat in a room with a writer and watched ‘em write. My knowledge of their process(es) is limited to what they tell us.
Moreover, I can write not-high – which will be demonstrated later in the program. It’s just that: (A) I hate it; and (B) would rather not do it if I didn’t have to; and (C) see no reason why I should do it if I don’t have to. Nevertheless, I have been excited about writing not-high for the purpose of experiment and amusement. That’s all this is to me: entertainment. I approach physical exercise much in the same manner, i.e. the act of working out for the sake of working out. Replace “Write not-high” with “Do an hour on the treadmill”.
There are times when my body says, “Hey, let’s break a sweat today. Maybe lift some weights?” And we do.
As I listen to my body, I listen to my conscious thoughts, because, obviously you’re always trying to tell yourself something. If I sit down to write about a certain topic and I have the slightest reluctance to jump in, I move to another topic…and repeat, until my mind decides what we will talk about today. Negativity is an internal struggle and if I have to fight a piece of writing in order to get it down and out, I will. But again, I don’t want to if I don’t have to. And any kind of conflict within my writing process only breeds negativity in my conscious news feed. There’s enough negative shit in life.
Some of the common knowledge surrounding stoners, potheads, and chemical recreationists in general is that “we” are shiftless, lazy, and dull. I won’t dismiss the Loser Trifecta wholesale only because being high squashes a certain amount of ambition to seek more recognition for my work. There’s a lot of “Meh, why bother?” inherent in the stoner experience. However, lazy writers don’t pump out – where are we right now? – 1,675 words in two hours. Unmotivated writers don’t do it simply for their entertainment, with no care of compensation. And do I seem dull to you?
Even though I got the Acme gig super fuckin’ high, in bigger picture it is not supported in the Perishable Zone, and I’ve only ever been at work above 7.0 on one occasion. A friend visited from overseas and hooked me up with a few cannabis edible treats from the medical marijuana dispensary where he lives.
He warned me: “Start slow, buddy. No more than half a treat. This shit is hella potent – way stronger than what you’re used to. Take it easy.”
Although he’s been a good friend for 15 years, he’s only familiar with the modest, cautious and careful side of my personality. Even though we were neighbors during the height of my professional drug-abusing career, he never really saw what was going on inside my crib. Anyway, he said start slow with half a treat and I heard, “Eat a whole treat, wait 15 minutes, eat another.”
Ninety minutes later I was at 8.5 and saying my internal prayers it wasn’t going any higher. Ten hours later, with the help of a liter of red wine, I was able to get down into the Threes.
Anything over 8.0 and the world comes alive. Everything is electric and the next dimension is wide open. I see the vibrations of the molecules that compose the desk. People have auras and their voices are detached from their bodies. Time is dilated, stretched out and snapped back into place. Sounds produce colors; touch can result in ecstasy. Distances become fractals. It’s not an ideal place to be if you’ve got a menial job to do. The mere concept of employment is shattered.
And by the way, the average psychedelic experience* (LSD, mushrooms, mescaline) starts off in the upper Fives and can max out at 9.9999999.
* Some might argue there is no such thing as an “average psychedelic experience”. I might suggest a Google search for “micro-dosing” and get with the program.
Opiates (heroin, Oxycontin, etc.) zip me right into a comfy 8.5, where boundaries between consciousness and space are blurred beyond recognition. Overdoses don’t count. And those who venture into ∞ territory are generally referred to as schizophrenics.
Smoking pot can enhance my concentration but it can also flood my imagination with a simultaneous wash of ideas. I have to be careful to note these ‘high’ ideas for later reference and get back on track. Multi-task writing only works if I’m dealing with paid shit that I don’t care about. In those cases, I have two, sometimes three files open at once, and I bounce back and forth whenever I feel a twinge of boredom.
With personal stuff, it’s the opposite. I don’t allow myself to move from this page until I’ve said what I wanted to say. The only times I’m permitted to jump off are when I need to look something up, for instance, the proper usage of the infinity symbol (∞); or when urgent business calls. Sometimes shit comes in and I gotta do it now.
Alcohol cannot be excluded from the discussion but I no longer do a lot of writing on the sauce anymore. I used to drink and write, but now I prefer to write, then drink. I choose not to write while drinking because it’s inefficient. With pot and opiates, there’s less loss of motor coordination; and obviously, drinking leads to eventual impairment. However, I’ve had some great ideas while drinking – like this one, for example. The idea of Writing High Vs. Not-High came to me when I was up in the Eights after a long night of boozing and…whatnot.
Reading under the influence of alcohol is far more satisfying than writing. Because booze has sentimental and nostalgic properties, I’m often reduced to tears when reading my favorite writers, many times for no reason at all.
All that said, I can be productive up to about 5.5 on the booze scale, and then I’ve gotta fuck off. Sometimes I’ll write down a keyword or phrase and come back to it in the morning. Sometimes I look at it and shake my head: “What?”
When it comes to making music and playing an instrument, I can stretch the booze buzz up to 7.0 and still be competent. After that I’ll get sloppy and make a shitload of mistakes. Bear in mind it takes me a full liter of red wine on an empty stomach to get up in the Sevens. [FYI: One bottle of wine = 750ml; 1000ml of wine = 8 beers]
By the way, I got high about an hour ago. Came back in at 4.9-ish, which is a little hotter than I want – as a pain manager. The problem with getting this high at this point of the day is I’m going to have to push it on the 2:30 and 4:30 sessions. Otherwise, I’ll be down in the Lazy Threes.*
* The Lazy Threes happen in one of two ways. First, I don’t get high enough later in the day, resulting in a 3.0-3.5 buzz that just doesn’t pack any gumption. The second way, I’m coming down from a decent 5.5 and for whatever reason, plateau around 3.3. There’s a dead zone in the Threes where I say fuck it and open World of Solitaire and fuck off for the rest of the day. That never happens in Four, Five, Six, et al.
It’s 1:41 now, so I’ve got about another 30 minutes until the next dosage. And again, getting high is a self-prescribed course of medication. This is personal pain management, mood regulator, and motivational program, all rolled into one.
Don’t call the doctor, baby. He’s already here.
I’ve tried writing on cocaine. The only things I want to do on cocaine are: Drink, smoke, talk, drink more and take more cocaine until it’s time to smoke as much weed as possible, or maybe even a bit of heroin, if I have it. Coke does nothing for me creatively, and I’ve never performed live music under its influence. While I recognize the enhancements of the stimulant itself, c.g. as a confidence booster; every time I’ve tried to write on coke it’s been a train wreck. To be honest, cocaine is almost my least favorite substance in chemical recreation. The few times I’ve done meth have been more pleasant rides.
Speaking of meth, it’s been over a decade since I’ve messed around with that garbage. However, I will say: It’s very compatible with writing and creative thought. Maybe too compatible, if you know what I mean. At the time of my last dalliance circa 2006, I was 100% devoted to music. So I got high and played guitar for 10 hours straight; then I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom and back and again; then I played guitar for another 8 hours or so.
Twenty-four hours, a 12-pack of beer, and two packs of Marlboro Reds later, I crashed. I woke up the next-next morning to discover that I’d ripped the cuticles away from the nail bed on three of my four left fingertips (as a result of bending guitar strings and over-playing). If you’ve never experienced that pain, I recommend you don’t.
Meanwhile, the last meth gambit forced me to the sidelines both musically and chemical recreationally-speaking. I couldn’t play guitar for almost a week as my fingernails healed. Meanwhile, meth is physically and mentally exhausting. It took me three or four days to feel human again. Fortunately, like a good chemical recreationist, I was on a stay-cation* from work; therefore, the experience had zero bearing on my professional life.
* Stay-at-home vacation
In fact, I had planned the whole thing well in advance. I literally said to myself, “I’m gonna take a week off and just go fuckin’ interstellar.” On a social level, nobody missed me.
Throughout the mid 2000s, I took frequent, similar stay-cations from work, school, and life. They turned out to be the most productive and satisfying vacations I’d even taken – way better than slogging down to Vegas or L.A. for the weekend. Fuck that. I could stay home and travel light years away. With that kind of dedication to the process, I put a fair amount of planning and preparation into the “trip”: I went shopping and stocked up on everything from sedatives to cannabis edibles to groceries to cigarettes to toilet paper. The idea was to never leave the house.
With everything I wanted at my disposal: drugs, sex, food, booze, musical instruments, recording equipment, computers, food, Internet access, etc., there was no reason to leave. Sex was never an issue; if you can’t get laid in a major city, maybe you shouldn’t be having sex. Of course, sex and drugs frequently go together like peanut butter and jelly. Meanwhile, I also had a backyard with a garden I spent years constructing and maintaining. Gardening is super fun while high; it’s one of my three favorite things to do.
Anyway, rounding up a variety of substances was easy. I had a kit in my freezer called Greasy Roy’s Medicine Bag – which didn’t occur to me at the time is vaguely similar to H.S. Thompson’s drug collection – and this was stuff I almost always had on-hand, stay-cation and/or otherwise.
Sometimes I’d invite people to hang out and I’d share everything except heroin. The coke was actually for guests; I wouldn’t touch it. Girls love coke. But heroin was my thing and I didn’t want anybody to know about it for two reasons: (1) I just didn’t want anybody to know I was using it; and (2) the last thing I wanted was a bunch of professional junkies hanging around my crib, shooting up in the bathroom and spraying blood-diarrhea all over the shower stall. That’s how you wind up becoming a junkie yourself; when that shit becomes normal or par for the course. Using heroin was a very warm secret experience that I didn’t want to spoil by introducing other people to the mix. My dealer was the only person who knew I was using and that’s the way I wanted it.
Anyway, 15-20 years ago, I wrote a ton of stuff (literature and music) on a combination of heroin, weed, and booze. Some of it stands the test of time; a lot of it doesn’t. The point herein is that it’s been 10 years since I’ve written on heroin. What I vaguely remember about the experience is always having to set a timer to remind me to stop at certain points and insert paragraph breaks; cuz otherwise it would have been one giant blob of text. And even with that kind of druggy diligence, my paragraphs would still be three or four times longer than this one.
At the same time, I was never truly a “junkie” in the romantic Lou Reed sense of a heroin user. Hmm, OK, how did you pull that off, Greasy Roy?
I’ll tell you in one sentence: I never used needles.
The fact that Kurt Cobain was a fuckin’ needle fiend turned me off opiates for a very long time. Until one night I tried it (smoked*) and I liked it. Despite the history and pop culture of Kurt Cobain being an idiot who couldn’t handle his dope, I COULD. Fuck you, shitty guitar player guy from Washington. I could do fantastic amounts of drugs over a weekend and then not touch anything except weed and booze for six months. And then I could walk away from weed and booze, too; as long as I had nicotine and caffeine.
* Smoking heroin is the most inefficient and ineffective method of intake. It’s child’s play in comparison to snorting or shooting. Eating the shit might even be a better way of ingesting it, I dunno. Snorting heroin is a roll of the dice; depends on its purity – which you never fuckin’ know, so don’t snort it, Roy. Shooting (intravenous) heroin is what hooks most people, not just because it’s efficient, immediate, and extra-terrestrial; but also because there’s the ritual of preparing your fix. Shit, that’s a good one-third of the whole dope experience. Anyway, I’d mix the heroin with pot and smoke it in a bong. To be honest, I only ever got into the 9.5 range on heroin a few times, and spent most of my time in the Eights.
You might notice one very common recreational substance missing from the medicine bag: Ecstasy (XTC) has never been a part of my life. I tried it once and hated it. However, I have tripped on straight-up pharma-grade MDMA twice and it wasn’t bad.* Can’t imagine trying to write on that shit though. XTC is a fruity fuckin’ drug, man. Anything that makes you dig disco music has to be evil.
* The problem is a lot of Ecstasy on the street doesn’t contain (the chemical compound) MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine); but instead contains 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-methylenedioxyethylamphetamine (MDEA), or other amphetamine derivatives. Who the fuck needs that kind of aggravation? Not me.
Above all, I couldn’t work at Acme Industries, let alone a mainstream company, if I wasn’t high all the time.
Moreover, if I actually had to write for eight hours a day without diversions and distractions, I’d rather go back to landscaping or some kind of physical labor. At the end of a personal writing day – writing nothing but my own stuff that I enjoy and get psyched about working on, the “I can’t wait to get out of bed” type of shit – after all that – I’m still gassed. My brain is scorched. I’m just as mentally exhausted if not more so than a regular bullshit day in the office.
And I don’t take any of it for granted.
Part 2: Writing Not-High
I’m at work right now and I’m not-high. I haven’t been high all morning and it’s been…tolerable, I guess.
Writing not-high, while sometimes necessary and rewarding in its own way, becomes a drag for me particularly when dealing with synonyms and word choices. Much of my not-high writing is bone dry; nothing but the facts. It’s also occasionally impulsive, sharp, and inappropriate. Consequently, I often wonder if 30-plus years of dedicated cannabis (ab)use has irrevocably altered my brain chemistry to the point that the reasonable part of my thinking only comes when I’m high. The evidence is greater than circumstantial but remains inconclusive. If you asked me outright I’d probably say yeah, it has changed my brain.
More importantly, writing not-high is almost always a willful decision. My friend recently told me that it’s important for a drug user to know and observe the times when you simply don’t want to be – and probably shouldn’t be high. That’s how you know you don’t have a problem. Or at least, a major problem requiring intervention.
Most people wouldn’t dream of getting high before a job interview, but I just read an article on Vice in which FBI director James Comey was quoted: “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”
I can only assume that for most of you writing not-high is your default mode and find it hard to relate. I know if someone told me they do 95% of their job high on crack, I’d: (A) have a bunch of fuckin’ questions; and (B) probably be profoundly disappointed, both by the person and their history.
At the same time, some of the best bartenders in the world are functional alcoholics who get gradually inebriated as the evening wears on. I’m not saying all of my best ideas have come to me when I’m high, but I’m usually already high when they come.
Writing not-high is predicated on the conditions of responsibility, importance, and context. Thus, for me to write not-high requires a motivation that’s ever-so-slightly more magical than writing high. There is an extra-extra obstacle between myself and the expression and none of the typical imaginative support on the back end. Whether that’s my fault is moot.
On random days such as today I will force myself to arrive at Acme HQ as close to completely sober as possible, and it becomes a challenge – me and my willpower versus the clock. The clock always wins.
These mornings, my residual BAC (blood alcohol content) is close to zero, but I’ve got caffeine and nicotine coursing and pulsing through my system; neither substance should be excluded from the buzz chart.
This puts me somewhere in a clear-headed 1.5 range. If I didn’t have either the caffeine or the nicotine, there would be problems. I probably wouldn’t be able to concentrate until I got a cup of coffee in me. To be honest, I don’t know. That never happens. *
*One matter of note: I’m now using a Swedish form of smokeless tobacco as a surrogate for cigarettes. That’s another Long Story; Another Time.
Though I’m saying any highness under 3.0 exists in the Negligible Zone, it can be a productive time. At 45 minutes into the morning I’ll be running out of shit to do. This is housekeeping: Emails get answered quickly. Headlines get absorbed. As long as the activity doesn’t require any creative thought – paying bills online, for instance – there’s no use or reason for being high. It’s also a great time for editing my own stuff; stuff that was written high. Which is actually what I should be doing right now, but I’m pleased to be making this grand gesture of sacrifice.
Theoretically, I could pop in the bathroom for a quick toke, just a taste, and bump it into the upper Twos, but I’m quite interested in how this is going to play out. I’m curious about my stamina. However, I know when I’m doing freelance, it’s a fuckin’ chore and I hate every minute of it. I’m already finding myself out of things to say, and that’s why I called it the Negligible Zone. Sure, I got some stuff done; but I didn’t have to think about it too much. At my sober best, I could see myself replying at length to an email from my parents, or an old friend; talking about real, material subjects with objectivity and conviction.
In addition to housework and other banalities of life, there are particular sensory experiences I almost prefer to do sober, some of which I’m comfortable talking about. Eating is something I routinely chose to do either completely sober or sloppy drunk. One of my clichés goes: “The food interferes with the drinking – I don’t want anything getting between me and the alcohol.” Conversely, when I’m smashed, I need something to soak up all the excess booze and slow things down a little bit. Anyway, being high rarely cues a binge of the munchies. Eating and pot never really went together well for me.
On yet another hand, I love to cook and entertain guests whenever possible except in the Perishable Zone. Cooking high is a blast.
Perhaps logically, exercising is usually more productive and rewarding if I’m not-high, but every now and then I get baked before a 5km run and it’s cool.
Shopping is unwise while high, but of course, I’m almost always on something by the time I get down to the night market or the big, shiny mall.
Because of my work/family/living arrangements, I frequently spend a week to 10 days completely not-high. I only ever used to get high at home when the kid was a baby. Now that he’s older, home life is a decidedly not-high environment, although my wife and I enjoy a few drinks every now and then. Occasionally, I will have some freelance work that has to be done when I’m home, but otherwise, I don’t do anything except spend 24/7 with my family.* It’s those rare occasions of being under a deadline and forced to write not-high that really sucks the life out of me, and I wonder if I’m not a writer after all.
* This situation is a condition and term of my employment with Acme Industries and a very long story. The TL;DR version is: I work in one country for 50 days and get 10 days off to go home, which is in a different country (but not that far away) where my wife and son reside permanently. So it’s a two-month cycle that repeats itself 6-7 times a year depending on holidays.
Therein is the rub, I reckon. Consider a professional athlete such as the disgraced Lance Armstrong. Would he have won all those races without using steroids? Probably not. Because all the other riders were jacked up on it, too. But take away the ‘roids, Lance Armstrong was still a phenomenal cyclist. Certainly, the dope enhanced a performance that was already in him. And go down the line of disgraced drug abusers in sports; all of those guys were already pretty damn good without PEDs. Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire don’t hit 70 home runs that one glorious year – probably more like 45-50 each.
Again, I have completely disassociated being high versus not-high from any sort of moral or ethical dilemma. You do what you gotta do. The part of writing not-high that really frustrates me is that I know whatever I’m currently writing not-high could be so much better if I were high. Simple as that. Even if it’s just some inconsequential freelance work that I don’t truly care about; I want it to be better. But when I’m not-high, good enough is always good enough. So I slog through and send it off in whatever condition I feel comfortable with. Shrug. That never happens when I’m high.
You’re probably wondering given the implied professional work environment exactly where and how I’m getting high four to five times a day. The twin-tower 18-story building houses a mix of commercial and predominantly residential tenants. The towers are serviced by four elevators, and do not have separate service entrances. Two stairwells (stairways) lead to the roof. The inner stairwell is considered the fire exit and used mainly as a weigh station for trash and recycling. My main smoking area is the fourth-floor landing in the outer stairwell. Both stairwells are deserted except for random construction workers having a smoke, and the woman who collects the trash every day. None of the building’s perpetual tenants take the stairs if they can help it, and that includes the people on the second floor.
Another great thing about the stairwell is the ventilation. There are windows at the mid-point of every landing, most of them always open or slightly ajar. It’s like a wind turbine. I puff out a big cloud of smoke and that shit gets sucked up, up, and away. I’ve had several close encounters over the years, but nobody has ever caught me getting high in situ. Sometimes the fourth floor landing is so breezy that I have to tuck into a corner to give the lighter some calm air.
Meanwhile, I tend to match my stairwell operations with adjacent errands, like a run down to the coffee shop, or a quick jet to the 7-Eleven for a bottle of water. So I’m never sitting or standing in the stairwell for any extended amount of time. Two minutes in one spot is the longest I can recall being in there. Fuckin’ spark up, suck it in, and keep movin’.
My smoking apparatus is a stainless steel pipe contraption that for all intents looks like a spark plug without the ground electrode. It screws apart where the seal would normally adjoin the casing. The pipe was designed to eliminate residual smoke, almost like a vape system. Whereas you might have to cap a one-hitter or bowl to stop the effluent, it’s not necessary with this fucker. When I was a kid we used to have similar pipes we called nipples or zeppelins. They had a rubber cap on the intake stem. Another great thing about these pipes is that you can load them up for multiple sessions. Thus, I can pack it in the morning and be good for most of the day, thereby eliminating the need to have any real quantity in my immediate possession.
Sometimes, like yesterday, I hit the spark plug (“Sparky”) too hard and need a re-load closing in on 4:00 p.m. We were in the doldrums of the workday. There were maybe five people in the office. In my direct line of sight was one girl on her phone for an hour. There was a lady I call The Rat who I could hear pecking away at her keyboard. Otherwise, it was me and the sound of the rain outside and the occasional shuffling of slippers across the tile floor.
These people are awful about lifting their feet off the ground when they walk. I don’t know what it is; I see it everywhere in this country. At any rate, those little things can drive you nuts if you let them. I generally don’t.
Part 2.5: High Again
This section was written while floating around a 4.8 on a typical Wednesday afternoon, but has been considerably edited since then. The day’s buzz was sponsored by the last few nuggets of a batch of pot which was getting a bit stale and I was glad to be finishing it so I could move on to the new batch, which smells fantastic. Meanwhile, I’ve extended the life of the black bubble hash by mixing it with the shake and dust from the buds of the last batch. The adulteration has produced a slightly softer, more pliable resin with additional potency. Hash burns better in the company of family and friends.
Unlike yesterday when I made it through the morning without getting high, days like today I’m high before I leave the house. Rockin’ a solid 4.5 wake n’ bake. Though I was up at the usual time, I stayed in bed watching David Foster Wallace interviews on YouTube for an extra hour, and immediately got high before taking a long, hot, extra steamy shower, which is another deeply satisfying activity enhanced by “the dope”, as my mother would say.
Anyway, some days I wake up and even though my commute is two minutes, it’s an insurmountable challenge to get dressed and shuffle down to the office. The reasons are myriad but above all, it’s the dread of reality; the bane of the 9-to-5 salaryman. And if I’m going to face the day, I’d better be high.
I haven’t run an analysis of my daily written output, but I can reasonably estimate that I’m good for anywhere between 1,000-3,000 words per session. The widely discrepant word count is nearly independent of my highness, and yet tied to my endurance; a lot depends on how much interest I have in the subject. Well, duh.
For argument’s sake, here we are at 304 words, less than 20 minutes into the session. And it should be noted that I write in blocks or “sessions”; three hours is the usual max; anything after that will be garbage. After an hour of non-writing activities and another blast into the Fours and Fives, I’ll be ready to write about something else. Anyway, I see this particular passage going 1,000 words.
It’s not unusual to bang out 3,000 words in a session, but there’s only so much I have to say about this particular angle, and half that number is still too much. Now, if I were to attempt this without the aid of marijuana, I’d still be using caffeine and nicotine, so I wouldn’t ever be at 0.0, which isn’t a bad place to be, but it’s not good for writing. The question is how different would this passage be if I weren’t high? And I think it might not even exist at all. Furthermore, if against the odds it did get written, it would probably lack many of the insights found herein. I dunno. I never think about this stuff not-high.
One thing I pay a lot of attention to is how the words fit together on a page. For instance, [in the original draft of this section] every paragraph of this section [was supposed to] contain 7 lines (in Microsoft Word, 12pt font Times New Roman, normal), between 110 and 120 words, and at least one mention of writing. If a passage looks skimpy, I’ll fill it out. But again, the flow goes this way…we can tweak the infrastructure and syntax later on. However, the point is, this, and many other kinda-sorta of “techniques” were developed while high, and thus, better suited for the purpose. My not-high writing styles were born to do the domestic chores; coming back later and cleaning shit up.
It pleases me to no end when a passage takes me somewhere I wasn’t expecting to go, and that’s the strongest argument (and evidence) I have in support of my habits. Writing high creates surprise. There are a lot of “Holy shit, I never thought of it that way” moments that rarely occur not-high, and the only empirical evidence I can present is: Because I said so. Meanwhile, once I’ve written myself into foreign or uncharted territory, I have a couple of options, and one of them involves looking deeper into the subject. Research is another good “high” activity. I can see the needle in the haystack.
It’s been over an hour and I’ve slipped down a whole zone already; riding a 3.8 right now and I feel a dangerous slide into the Lazy Threes coming on, so that means it’s time to get high again – see what I’m sayin’ about the maintenance angle – an hour ahead of schedule. Ordinarily, I’d be cursing myself for the mismanagement, but I’m chuffed about the new batch and I’ve got money to burn, so to speak.
You might imagine the sense of security that comes from knowing you’re fuckin’ covered for the next month or so – at least you’ll be able to write. You might be familiar with the same sense that comes from knowing your next new batch is only a phone call away.
It seems to me that people are so much more willing than ever to display their ignorance via social media and that bothers me to no end. I realize a lot of it is trolling, and those fuckers get summarily blocked or cut out entirely. Anyway, I’m not terribly inclined to mix it up with people. My father used to say, “Never argue with drunks or morons.” He was a pretty smart dude.
The problem is a lot of the time I desperately want to say (write) something in response to someone’s unsolicited and now public opinion or narrative. But it’s unwise and ultimately futile to discuss politics with people unless they’re at least on the same educational or experiential wavelength. I’m not going to get into a scrap with Ralph the heat supervisor who still lives a nine-iron from the high school we attended 30 fuckin’ years ago. Actually, Ralph wasn’t an attentive student; I believe he’s rockin’ a GED ([Test of] General Education Development) – which for you non-North American readers, means Certificate of High School Equivalency. He didn’t really graduate per se. He took and passed a test that qualified him to change my oil at Jiffy Lube.
Fair enough. Ralph and I can discuss pro football, the job responsibilities of a heat supervisor, and that’s about it. Ralph still drinks beer but I don’t think he’s on the weed anymore. When he has a political opinion, you can count on two things: (1) He’ll be defiantly misinformed; and (2) He’ll remain squarely in the two-dimensional universe, unable to see things with any sort of perspective.
That’s because Ralph has never been anywhere. He’s not planning to go anywhere except maybe Arizona or Florida when it’s time to retire from the heat supervisor gig. Of course we don’t have much to talk about. Or relate to, which is far more important on the spectrum of human dynamics.
Social and political discourse makes me feel guilty for thinking I’m far more intelligent than an overnight constitutional scholar who can’t spell or use proper grammar. Any time you put yourself above another, you run the risk of self-delusion. So I constantly have to remind myself that I’m not smarter than Ralph the heat supervisor; I simply have a different set of experiences and values. Our intrinsic differences may or may not have been shaped by our upbringing, but we’ve been adults now far longer than we were ever kids. We’ve had all this time to figure shit out. Ralph’s OK. He just doesn’t know any better.
It was probably a couple of years ago that I started doing this. One day some guy wrote some incendiary shit (about life in general) on one of the expats forums. It clearly touched a nerve with me, and I was super fuckin’ high when it posted, so I was in the mood to write. I fired off 1,500 words in the space of an hour or so. Just ripped this fuckin’ cunt from seam-to-seam. I knew that it would probably get wiped out by the moderators, but I didn’t care. In fact, I was hoping they would fall over each other like The Three Stooges trying to get it off the board as soon as possible. That image made me laugh; more fuel for the fire. Nothing was left of this guy when I was finished.
But I didn’t post it – the rant. What happened is I felt my buzz fading into the Lazy Threes and I took a break for a toke and some coffee. By the time I came back, I was still pretty fired up about this guy and the issue but I thought, “Nah, that’s just more heartache.” So I saved it on the flash drive and forgot about it. Until a week or so later; same thing, different place.
Ralph the heat supervisor crossed the line on Facebook with some shit and I was ready to pounce. Another 2,000-word diatribe that decimated his argument; and hopefully, his arrogance and pride. Once again, I thought about it and it wasn’t worth the heartache to start a skirmish with this dude for whom I already had less than zero regard.
Well now, I had two “rant-ish” sort of pieces on the flash drive. And so that became my standard practice. I’d still cruise all the usual hotspots but I wouldn’t post any responses – for the better part of year. I’d write out whatever my thoughts or feelings were, click “Save As…” and file it away. Eventually I had to create a folder. There are a bunch of these fuckin’ things. Sometimes, when I’m working on ‘real work,’ I’ll borrow some text from the original (and usually) unrelated rant.
Believe it or not, I have a couple of not-so-shitty ideas. Thus, ranting serves a dual purpose: it gets the bile out of my system, and it occasionally produces some repeatable material.*
* In full disclosure, every so often I will chime in on social media. I always have questions for people. The conversations challenge what I perceive to be my self-awareness; that other people see me differently than how I see myself. When I’m sober, I don’t give a fuck, and also ten times more likely to fly off the handle about shit – which, rest assured, is never violent. When I get pissed off, I’m a busted pipe. I’ll spout my anger and disagreement until the source is shut off, and everything in the pipe has leaked out. Spewed out is more like it.
The thing I like so much about writing in general is the clarity.
I know what I want to say and I’m pretty sure I know how I want to say it. The challenge is obviously in clearing the gap between my head and the screen. And to give you an idea of the type of clear thinking a good buzz will give me, consider the fact that this piece was fashioned from no fewer than 16,000 words produced in 10 different writing sessions, written absolutely out of chronological order, and finally, meticulously chopped up and put together in its ultimate form.
With the exception of the entire Not-High passage, all of the writing and editing (and graphic design) was done high. And I’m going to be high when I finally send it for publication.
Having downed a couple of extra beers after the bottle of red wine last night, I woke up this morning with alcohol still in my system. The buzz is an unpleasant 2.2, and the hangover will be delayed until…right about now. Sometimes, maybe once every two weeks, I stumble beyond the usual one-liter bottle of red wine. It never ends well, but I do it anyway. Feels good at the time; one of my unofficial mottos: If it feels good, do it. Does anyone need to be reminded of the consequences?
Managing a hang over at 8:45 a.m. involves careful consideration. You don’t want to get too high cuz you’re already going to be attracting attention with the liquor breath. First step is to pound (drink, guzzle, shotgun) at least 500ml of water, immediately, in one sitting. Next, brush your teeth, fuckin’ hobo. Brush ‘em like five times. Wash your face. You really should take a shower but you’re already running late. Before you even consider getting high, get all those ticky-tack things accomplished.
My head is swirling and throbbing to a merciless beat. To mitigate the hang over, I’m going to put myself in the mid Fours.
You have yourself a nice day, OK? Yours truly, Greasy Roy.