Thursday, May 3, 2018

Tao Lin's Trip

Life seemed bleak to Tao, ‘as it had in evolving ways since I was thirteen or fourteen. I was chronically not fascinated by existence, which, though often amusing and poignant, did not feel wonderful or profound but tedious and uncomfortable and troubling. Life did seem mysterious, but increasingly only in a blunt, cheap, slightly deadpan, somehow un-intriguing manner. As I aged, I seemed to become less curious about why I was here, where I came from, and what would happen when I died.’

One learns more about Tao’s ‘way in the world’, in bits and pieces, as his story moves on and he reflects back on his early years. He suffered from asthma, he seemed frail and pigeon-chested, his eyes weren’t all that great and his teeth came in badly. Ultimately he seems to come to the conclusion that he, and millions of others were victims of pollution:

‘When, at the age of eighteen, Tao left for New York City, the city of him probably contained parts per million or billion of glyphosate – which had been in vaccines since probably the late seventies because vaccines contained soy, sucrose, and various proteins from non-organic sources and because some viruses, like measles, shingles, and flu were grown on gelatin derived from pigs and cows fed genetically modified food containing up to 400 parts per million of the 18-atom compound, which Tao would eventually think of as ‘the bleakest drug”- plus hundreds of thousands of other synthetic compounds, making him malfunction socially, physically, cognitively, psychologically, and emotionally in obvious, subtle, subconscious, layered and unpredictable ways.’

‘Tao used to think of his body as a small, swamp-like thing, where anything could be tossed without concern because it’d disappear into the overall stew. Encouraged by corporations and government organizations and media that parroted those sources, which said there were ‘safe’ levels of compounds that had been introduced decades earlier into biological systems that had evolved without them for billions of years, he felt he could throw things into the pile of his body and they would dissolve, or something. Now he viewed his body as an enormous city in which each molecule of BPA, PVC, PCB and CFC, of ethyl-mercury and phthalate and polyethylene and antidepressant, flame retardant and surfactant and artificial sweetener, neonicotinoid and organophosphate, was a non-functioning, havoc-causing member of society- that would not be absorbed into the murky bog of him and be forgotten but would have a concrete effect on the molecular city of him during his life-span as itself and multiple metabolites. There was no ‘safe’ level . . .”

This is the point of view Tao Lin narrates coming to in his book. It all began with a nagging sense that taking all sorts of prescription type drugs to self- medicate his depression- like Adderall, Xanax, amphetamines of various sorts, heroin and caffeine, weren’t doing him much good. Not that Tao Lin was ‘dumping’ these substances willy-nilly into his body. He carefully measured his doses according to his own body weight, calculating the resulting effects and after-effects. He never seemed to have any big supply of whatever he decided he wanted- it might take him days to do so at any rate- but just enough on hand without, never-the-less, ever having to go without.

Previously, Tao Lin hardly ever took psychedelic drugs or smoked much marijuana, at least not with any enthusiasm. He remained skeptical about the praises often heaped upon these substances. But now, with his late attempts to ‘recover’ from his previous ‘addictions- beginning with  eating a more healthy diet- he started to take an interest in them, especially, as before, as functioning units in his detailed, microcosmic observations of himself. . . every fleeting event, thought, feeling or idea being near religiously recorded on his various electronic devises and more or less broadcast to the world: his rather unique ‘genre’, the fractal items of which  are eventually gathered into books, with, perhaps, the more than simply useful help of his editors and publishers.

Maybe nobody in America is quite as depressed as Tao Lin, at least not anybody writing about it every day almost to the point of intolerable banality. But most people- petit-bourgeoisie in a state of social-economic and political decline- see how it could be, spent some time or many times feeling just like Tao Lin . So Tao Lin has an audience, if only because they might sense: ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

Tao Lin makes some good points about ‘recovery’. Results don’t come very well from principled, heroic, one-time resolutions. Well, he did try that on one occasion- during a trip on psilocybin- deleting  his internet presence, smashing his computer, hastening like a maniac to desert the city to live in nature but quickly realized that changes would have to be made ‘one step at a time.’

“I would leave society” he writes, “ its drugs and language and ideas and habits and opinions and websites –incrementally, as a gradual and evolving process. I would use psychedelics, books, my history, my mind, and my body to continue learning and the mystery and less of culture and its hierarchies, so that I wouldn’t sink, like in quicksand but without a directional struggle, back into the life I’d once wanted- and had felt, surprisingly and gratefully, empowered to leave”.

“In the fractal model of recovery that I began developing for personal use in 2013 and continue to ponder and use on myself, change becomes a kind of practice. A graph of fractal recovery from drugs and other problems is somewhat unpredictable in the short-term but stable and directional in the long-term. In fractal recovery, change happens to some degree in waves. Failure is expected and can be viewed partly as resonances of past failures, as unavoidable and useful and even enjoyable. Other strengths of the fractal model of behavior modification includes that it has no rules so is optimized for creative involvement, that its main inspiration is nature (the longest surviving known system) and that it allows one to avoid ideology (rules coming from other humans) and so retain individuality even while making and earnest attempt at recovery. . .”

Tao Lin was as careful about his doses of mind-altering drugs as he was with his under-the-counter use of prescription anti-depressants. When he did ‘take the plunge’ into the unknown he became unhinged, experienced ‘pink elephant effects’, feeling that he had ‘been informed’ but subsequently with no accurate memory of what that information had been and left struggling with whatever paranoid reaction set in when the high began to wear off. Perhaps he gained a more  macrocosmic view of the universe but, whatever, he continues to view that experience in the usual, essentially microcosmic Tao Lin fashion.

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