In our very first edition of 'Banter M', The Daily Banter's all new digital magazine, Ben Cohen discusses his terrifying, yet spiritual experiences on magic mushrooms and Ayahuasca, Chez Pazienza writes about losing his best friend, Bob Cesca explains why living on a tropical island is harder than you think, and Jamie Frevele discusses her struggle to be a modern feminist.
In this issue of Banter M:
Why Psychedelics Change Everything- Ben Cohen discusses his terrifying, yet spiritual experiences on magic mushrooms and Ayahuasca, and how psychedelics could save the planet.
The Rise and Fall of Eden- Chez Pazienza on losing his best friend.
Why It's Impossible to Be a Feminist in the Age of Outrage- Jamie Frevele discusses her struggle to be a modern feminist.
Paradise Can Go F*ck itself- Bob Cesca explains why living on a tropical island is harder than you think.
Why Psychedelics Change Everything
by Ben Cohen
Over the last few months, I have experimented with two of the most powerful psychedelics known to man. I took a large dose of magic mushrooms with friends, then spent time in Peru drinking Ayahuasca in the Amazon rainforest.
I can honestly say that my experiences on psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and Ayahuasca were the most profound, most terrifying, and most enlightening experiences of my life. It has taken me some time to collect my thoughts and process what has happened to me over the past few months, and I am writing about it with the knowledge that I will be subjecting myself to disparagement from those who dismiss the psychedelic experience. Regardless, I believe what I was shown under the influence of these plant substances is too important to not discuss, and I intend to articulate what could well be, in my opinion, the best way to not only cure us from a vast array of diseases, but to rescue humanity from its spectacular free fall into environmental apocalypse.
Strong words, but with good reason as I shall attempt to explain.
As a teenager, I steadfastly refused to smoke marijuana or cigarettes, and never took any type of mind altering substance. Growing up in England, I did however consume vast quantities of alcohol believing the damage was minimal compared to the drugs some of my other friends took. I looked down on weed smokers and believed people doing acid or other mind altering substances were losers. How I reconciled this while routinely vomiting from excessive alcohol consumption, getting into drunken fights, and having numerous run ins with the law, is now beyond me. I now look at this mindset as a disease - a deliberate cultural infection spread by a power system that does not want people exploring their own consciousness or communing with our natural environment. Sanctioned drugs, like alcohol and caffeine assist our economic system by either numbing our minds to the pain of existence, or keeping us alert to work harder and longer. Psychedelics generally have the opposite effect - they expand our minds and put us into states of extreme peace and relaxation. More than that they allow us to connect with our natural environment, which is, as I found out, not too impressed with our behavior.
The Journey Begins
People have long believed that psychedelics put humans in direct contact with the spirit world, specifically mother nature and plant spirits that are here to guide and heal us. If you had talked to me this a couple of years ago I would have laughed and dismissed it out of hand. From my limited reading on psychedelics, I knew that you could hallucinate on these compounds, and that put me off them entirely. The thought of seeing things that were not real was not my idea of a good time, and I couldn’t for the life of me think why anyone would want to do them. It was only after reading a story about Near Death Experiences (NDEs) that made me take a second look at psychedelics, as my mechanistic understanding of the universe was challenged in quite a profound way. There appears to be an increasing body of evidence that suggests human consciousness can exist, at least for several minutes, after the body has technically died. Dr Sam Parnia, the world’s leading authority on resuscitation techniques, noticed this phenomenon after bringing thousands of people ‘back from the dead’ in Southampton Hospital in the UK. Around 40% of those brought back to life claimed that they were aware after dying, and some could relay incredibly specific details about what was happening to them. The advancements in the science of resuscitation have only occurred due to a precise understanding of what is happening to the body when it dies, so Dr Parnia began to study the NDE phenomenon given its incompatibility with modern, materialist science. The results of the study done in 15 hospitals worldwide were extremely interesting and pointed to the real possibility of intelligent awareness after death. One case in particular was 'validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac arrest' leading Dr Parnia to conclude:
"This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating. In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat. This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events."
I have always prided myself on being extremely skeptical, and have a very low tolerance for pseudo-scientific nonsense. But the reports I read on NDEs made me pause and reconsider my strongly held materialist beliefs. I would not say that the phenomenon made me “believe” in an afterlife, or that consciousness exists outside of the body, but it certainly opened my mind to the possibility of it.
My research into NDEs took me in the completely unexpected direction of psychedelics - a subject I had never given any legitimacy. Some of the reports coming back from those who had used psychedelics like psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine (DMT) were truly astonishing, and in many ways echoed that of near death experiences. They spoke of parallel worlds, the natural intelligence of the earth, and incredibly personal visions. These profound mystical experiences were life changing, and I couldn’t find any serious evidence that they were harmful in any way. After reading more about it, it began to dawn on me that I had basically been lied to for decades - not only were there virtually no serious side effects, they were in fact serious medical benefits to using them.
This shocking revelation did not just come from user forums on obscure websites, but from serious scientific studies in places like Johns Hopkins and Imperial College London that had done extensive studies on psilocybin. The results from these studies were truly breathtaking, and represent a seismic shift in the ways in which depression, anxiety, PTSD and a litany of stress related disorders could be treated. Participants in the studies, who came from a variety of backgrounds, reported their experiences to be amongst the 'most meaningful’ in their lives, and found them to be profoundly mystical. The Johns Hopkins study concluded that psilocybin had the potential to make dramatic, positive personality changes with a single session. “There may be applications for this we can’t even imagine at this point,” said study leader Roland R. Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins.
With growing evidence about the extraordinary medical benefits of marijuana and scientist finally being able to study psychedelics, the hysteria of the War on Drugs finally appears to be calming down. The shift in the cultural zeitgeist has been noticeable, with feature length pieces appearing in places like the New Yorker and theNew York Times, and more and more people began to speak about them openly. UFC commentator and well known comedian Joe Rogan often discusses the use of psychedelics on his podcast, and as a regular listener I began to gain more confidence that these substances weren’t just for hippies trying to escape modern life, but were tools for humans to connect with nature and heal them in profound ways.
The more I read, the more I could not ignore the reports of what happened to people on DMT, Ayahuasca, and pscilosybin. Were all these people imagining these experiences? Having dismissed anyone who had had a religious experience, I felt confident it was simply a trick of the mind and could be explained by rational science. However, the knowledge that I could have one of these experiences on demand, without spending years meditating or going to church, gnawed away at me. After some months I decided I had to see for myself. I knew that Ayahuasca was the most serious of all the psychedelics, so wanted to start out with something a little easier given I had virtually no experience with mind altering substances whatsoever. I tried a low dose of mushrooms with friends, but did not experience much other than laughing a lot and seeing some interesting patterns as I nodded off to sleep. So a couple of months later, we got hold of a significant amount (7 grams) and switched our phones off for the night in order to do the 'heroic dose' as famed psychonaut Terence McKenna used to say.
The Trip Begins
Mushrooms were to me, an extraordinarily blissful experience where my perception of time, space and reality were challenged in ways I did not think possible. As the effects started to come on, the room became alive as objects not only looked incredibly sharp and detailed, but brightly colored and pulsating with energy.
It began to feel like I was in an ultra high definition Salvador Dali painting, and I could not figure out how my brain was constructing this new reality. Was I creating this new, HD reality, or was it always there and my brain incapable of perceiving it without the aid of the mushroom? It is easy to dismiss as a hallucination if you haven’t done mushrooms, but if you have, the question is not stupid by any means.
My two friends and I sat for hours in what seemed to be an egoless state of hyper awareness where we comforted each other, listened to each other, and reconnected as human beings in a way I was unfamiliar with. My body flooded with a deep sense of empathy and connection to not only my friends who were with me, but to everyone I knew. I could see why people behaved as they did - their fears and anxieties manifesting themselves through excessive consumption, career ambition, or emotionless sex. I understood that much of what we see in today's society is a product of fear - corporations buying each other to get bigger and bigger, rich people disconnecting from society by walling themselves off in giant mansions, and mindless environmental destruction to satiate our insane consumption habits. I saw these patterns as being completely divorced from the extreme connectivity I was feeling towards our natural environment, and knew then that my long held suspicions that something was terribly wrong with our society was right.
As the night wore on, the effects got stronger and I went to lie down to ‘go into’ the increasingly strong visuals that existed when I closed my eyes. As I settled down, it began to feel like I was being transported into a mystical forest with magical elves who darted in a out of the trees laughing and singing while comforting me (a well known phenomenon as I would find out later). A healing energy pulsated through my stressed out body, and what seemed to be some sort of 'natural intelligence' began communing with me, assuring me that everything would be ok. I can only describe it as being profoundly spiritual, and profoundly healing. Having never considered the idea of any super natural intelligence, it was completely unexpected I found myself slightly shaken that I had lived so long without knowing anything about it.
I awoke the next day feeling an intense happiness, completely at ease with the world and incredibly grateful that I was alive. As I walked to the store to pick up food, I became intoxicated by the sweet smelling flowers on the sidewalk, marveled at the beauty of the trees, and gazed in wonder at the sheer blueness of the sky. Nature took on a completely different meaning, and I felt connected to my natural environment like never before.
For weeks, I felt an amazing sense of calm and peace, like my brain had been reset and all the gunk cleared out. I was thinking more clearly, more creatively, and more compassionately than ever before, and my body seemed devoid of all stress. I found myself able to sit quietly without worrying about work or thinking about tasks I had to complete - a feeling I had not experienced in years.
As the weeks wore on though, I began to think that the experience had been imagined, and that my brain had played a trick on me. Although I distinctly remember feeling that the experience was far, far too real to be fake, the actually feeling had dissolved somewhat and my rational mind took over. However, my curiosity about psychedelics had reached new heights, and I found myself reading up on them on virtually a nightly basis. I listened to hours of Terence McKenna lectures and Joe Rogan podcasts, read everything I could and spoke to everyone I knew who had had experience with psychedelics. I knew that I would never be satisfied until I had done Ayahuasca - the supposed mother of all psychedelics and a revered 'teacher plant' that had the ability to heal like no other.
So, I booked a trip to a reputable retreat near Pulcallpa, Peru, not knowing that I was about to embark on the most terrifying, physically and emotionally demanding spiritual journey of my life.
(This will be continued in next week's edition of Banter M)
The Rise and Fall of Eden
by Chez Pazienza
"Tonight I Say Goodbye To Everyone Who Loves Me"
It was the kind of thing that happens only in movies, or so I thought. Sound tunneled. Time slowed. The typical chaos of the day faded into the background and disappeared. All that existed at that moment was the image unfolding on the small TV screen in front of me. I had strolled into work just a few minutes previously, trying to shake off the last remnants of the hangover I woke up with after a night spent celebrating a friend's birthday. We'd gone to a strip club in a large group, most of us caravanning directly from work, and drank at least enough to decide that it was a good idea to pose for a few pictures with any willing dancer we could find. It's the kind of thing you do when you're in your early-to-mid 20s and have a good amount of disposable cash because someone at a top-20-market television station was foolish enough to give you a job putting news on the air.
By around midnight, though, I chose to take my leave, hesitantly walking up and offering my hand to the person who'd been my best friend since high school -- the guy I hadn't spoken to all night or for days previously, the chill between us having become a solid and tangible thing over the past few months -- and telling him simply, "Hey, let's talk tomorrow." He gave me a smile and nodded. It made me feel like things would be okay.
Now, tomorrow was here -- and I was watching his car being pulled out of a canal as we covered the story on our noon news.
Let's go back to the beginning.
Javier and I became friends in the way I became friends with a lot of people in high school: by bonding over shared cynicism. Once it clicked between us, we were basically Hawkeye and Trapper, finishing each other's sentences and building wisecrack upon wisecrack -- endlessly entertaining ourselves by way of a running commentary on the inanity of the world around us -- until the two of us turned ourselves into a kind of smart-ass Voltron. We were inseparable throughout school. We had so many inside jokes that he signed my senior yearbook by writing three full pages of nothing but random one-liners recognizable to almost no one but him and me. We stayed in close contact through college, given that both of us had decided not to leave town the way we probably should have. I drafted him to be the sidekick for my radio show at the University of Miami, even though he didn't actually go to U.M., simply because I knew he was the best person to play off of me. We played in a band together briefly. When I started working at a TV station as a producer and moved up the ranks, I got him a job. He didn't know a damn thing about doing TV, but he was incredibly smart and a quick-learner -- and that was really all it took.
I loved Javier like a brother. There were days, in fact, when we'd be goofing off and I'd wonder to myself how the hell I was lucky enough to have this kid come into my life. How often do you find a friend who truly is your other half -- somebody who seems to be making a new memory with you every five minutes? There was a time when I would've defended him to the death because there was nothing more important than our friendship - when I couldn't have imagined screwing him over.
That time, however, eventually became just another one of those memories between the two of us.
On a balmy Miami night in the fall of 1994, a couple of girls -- friends of Javier's -- came by my place and shared ecstasy with us for the first time. It was a group of maybe six people, including Javier and myself, who decided they wanted in on it. I'd heard a lot about what it felt like to roll from various people here and there, but no third-hand description adequately captured the wave after wave of intense bliss that washed over me as the drug took hold for the first time. It wasn't so much that it got you high as it took you to a place. It was a euphoric utopia you never wanted to leave, one where everything was glorious and all your friends were right there beside you and nothing could ever possibly be wrong and you weren't afraid to tell the whole world that you loved it. I had never felt better in my life and not a single one of us wanted to stop feeling that way. Which is probably why we seemed, as a group, to make a conscious decision to turn every weekend from that point forward into a party, to turn my home into a private playground, to return to that place over and over and over again. The Garden of Eden we'd found would quickly become the most important thing in almost all of our lives.
As months passed, we invited more people in, creating an evolving tribe of both close friends and devout sensualists, even taking the chance of bringing in outsiders who we understood at any moment could blow our secret all to hell at work. We rarely left my home when we did ecstasy, choosing instead to light candles, create soundtracks for our shared experience and vanish for entire nights -- entire weekends -- at a time. From Monday through Friday, Javier and my fiancée, as well a couple of others and myself, were all professional newspeople as far as anybody could tell. But when the sun went down on Friday evening, we were something no one could've imagined. We broke down barriers, shed our insecurities and fears, talked endlessly and held onto each other both figuratively and literally, and occasionally allowed our feelings to manifest in expected ways between the men and women of the group, although everyone was respectful and no one crossed any lines that weren't aching to be crossed. The anticipation for our weekends became practically feral and while no one was physically addicted to the MDMA we were putting into our systems for days at a time, we were absolutely hooked psychologically. Who wouldn't be with a feeling like that?
At one point, we couldn't track down our dealer to pick up our usual supply and we all descended into a confused frenzy. What the fuck did normal people do on the weekends?
Still, for a while, everything was perfect. Our Eden remained a garden without sin. But like the biblical Eden, all it took to tear it asunder was a little temptation.
"I Will Make You Hurt"
It was early January of 1995 when Javier decided to bring someone new into our world. She was relatively fresh to the newsroom and while I didn't know too much about her, it was difficult to miss her striking appearance and any interaction with her gave a pretty good idea of her sharp mind. Javier was the kind of guy who could fall in love with a tree if it promised to wrap its branches around him and not let go. While I had grown into somebody who wanted to conquer the earth and make it his amusement park, Javier had become someone in constant search of safety and simplicity. He hadn't moved out from his parents' home yet. He had recently been let down hard by another girl at work, although they remained friends. He longed for stability and feared, as his younger brother once told us, that every woman who liked him was the last person who ever would. He was a smart, funny, great-looking guy -- but he was scared and sad. Despite all that was revealed while we were under the spell of the drugs, I couldn't see it at the time, being far too wrapped up in my own desires. In fact, to me it looked like my best friend was merely lacking in ambition, a belief which had become a source of occasional contention at work between the two of us, given that for a time I was his direct supervisor.
There I was: protecting our weekend ritual, running interference from my position of authority and yet still trying to maintain order. Maybe that was the dynamic that would end up dooming me.
The girl fit in with us perfectly. She had a ferocious wit and wielded amusingly acidic judgment in a way that captivated and entertained our group almost immediately. We welcomed her and, privately, were thrilled Javier had found somebody he really seemed to hit it off with. As we continued to count out our lives in weekends, everything remained peaceful. Like the rest of us, the new girl succumbed to the narcotic bliss of rolling and found that she didn't want to spend her time away from work doing anything else. She was well-liked by her superiors and she compartmentalized easily, an ability that even early on I found both admirable and disconcerting, and maybe more than any of us you got the impression she wouldn't allow herself to be dragged down by her extracurricular activities. If that did start to happen, you also got the impression she'd be able to talk her way out of it without much trouble. Maybe it was that -- her unflappable coolness -- that began drawing my attention more and more. It was, even for someone who'd gotten used to not exactly being grounded, intoxicating.
I was supposed to get married soon. I loved my fiancée. We were a terrific couple, having been through plenty of turmoil caused mostly by my selfishness but finally settling into a place of stability in terms of what we wanted. She would readily admit that I was an asshole, but in her eyes I was her asshole and I couldn't argue with that. As for Javier, what started off as a couple of real dates between him and the girl had cooled -- there's that word again -- into a largely one-sided crush. And yet she was still there, every weekend. With him. With us. He tried to get close to her a few times, but she seemed to be moving away from him and closer to others within the group. She'd become good friends with my fiancée and I couldn't deny that she and I shared a kinship when it came to how we looked at the world and what we wanted from it. At first Javier became quietly possessive, giving off passive-aggressive warnings that we needed to respect his supposed role in her life through hazy eyes and a drug-induced smile. But she believed he had no role in her life other than as a friend. For the first time, there was tension. There was drama. There was trouble in paradise. And we couldn't have that. Because we had decided long ago that the paradise we'd found needed to be protected at all costs -- even if it meant banishing someone from it.
I couldn't pretend I was oblivious. The girl and I were getting closer. She was beautiful and clever and undeniably sexy. Even bathed in a chemical wash there was something more than the usual intimacy we'd all felt for each other there. So that was the question, the one that began plaguing me and wouldn't let go: I was attracted to her, so was I cunningly pushing my best friend out of the picture to gain access to the person he longed for or was there really an issue with him that was threatening our utopia? Maybe it was me who first decided to simply stop inviting him for our weekends -- years later I still wouldn't be able to tell you for sure -- but I knew that everyone else was onboard, some because they felt Javier had become a patch of turbulence in our otherwise blue skies and most because they didn't want to risk being deprived of those blue skies themselves. Javier would call on occasion, usually drunk and sullen on early Sunday mornings, and other times he'd come by and park outside and just sit there for a while -- the exiled refusing to let us forget him. We claimed we needed to stick together as a group and hold onto what we had, but how much of that was simply my influence? It was my home. My environment. Our paradise was really my paradise.
At the height of the drug's effect one night, I ran my hands over the girl, closed my eyes and felt as if I had disappeared into her. Later that same night, she pulled me into the dark and kissed me. The next day she told me she was falling in love with me. It didn't matter who was to blame anymore, not to me -- the end result was going to be the same. I was going to devastate my best friend. I was going to devastate my fiancée. I was going to do whatever it took to satiate my own stupid ego and bring to fruition the belief that I was falling in love with her. We found a way to spend the day in bed together not long after that.
Our garden was in flames. What remained of our group knew no other way to cope with the pain and chaos than to do more drugs. And that's what it was now: doing drugs. There wasn't any euphoria to be found anymore so much as there was a temporary salve for all that anguish. My fiancée was crushed at the very real possibility I was cheating and yet didn't want to admit publicly to the shame she felt and the humiliation that I'd heaped upon her so she continued to move forward with our plans. I had no idea what to do so I did too. We had a wedding. I was hoping for a miracle: that I would see my wife-to-be in her dress and suddenly be knocked to my senses and everything would be okay for us, this person who I had cared for so much for so long. I wanted to make it work. But then there she was and there was my arrogance and that voice in my head telling me that we were doomed lovers and the forbidden passion of it all and the downward spiral I told myself I couldn't pull out of.
At the reception, Javier led me into a quiet room and, with tears beginning to pool, asked me if I had slept with the girl he loved. I looked him right in the eye and told him, "No." I lied to my best friend. And he knew I was lying.
"How Much Difference Does It Make?"
Now I was watching his car being pulled out of a canal as we covered the story on our noon news.
It had been two full months since the wedding and everyone seemed to have settled into the worst situation possible. I still saw the girl, despite the fact that I was now married. The weekends still happened for the most part, now with an even smaller group -- the girl wasn't invited and Javier simply didn't bother asking anymore -- but now they had more the feeling of a somber wake than a celebration. Javier and I rarely spoke, but the previous night I had extended a hand and offered to at least try to repair what I had recklessly damaged. None of that would be possible, I knew, without breaking things off with the girl but I figured, in keeping with the unshakable belief that I could somehow juggle 10 balls at once without dropping any of them, that I'd tackle that crisis when I came to it. But then there was this: the sound tunneling and time slowing and the image of the car with water rushing out of the windows as it was dragged up onto the banks of a canal in Opa-Locka, far away from where I had left Javier the night before.
For some reason no one seemed to notice what was going on and for a moment, after shaking myself free of the TV, that gave me hope. I thought that if I'm surrounded by people who work with Javier and no one seems to be breaking down crying, that can't actually be his car that's on our news. I got up out of my seat and moved like a stunned animal -- time still not returning to normal speed -- to our news desk. I asked for details on the car in the canal. I explained why I wanted the information and our assignment desk person seemed to go ice cold. Javier hadn't come in to work yet and he wasn't answering his pager. Within seconds people began gathering around the desk as the possibility spread throughout the newsroom that the body of a beloved coworker was, at that very moment, on our air inside a water-logged car. Our assignment editor told our reporter on the scene to get close to the car and get the license plate number. When she told him police wouldn't let them near it, he shouted into the two-way, "Just do it!" explaining what was going on. Aside from the chatter of radios, the desk was absolutely silent.
She read the number back through tears. We ran it through AutoTrack. I already knew what the result would be. One by one people seemed to quietly peel away from the desk, like petals falling off a flower.
Javier's grief-stricken family understandably wanted answers. They were answers none of us could provide. Even though I was one of the first people to leave the club the previous night, no one was with him when he drove far off course -- nowhere near the club and nowhere near his home -- and into a canal at the end of a pitch-black residential street. I made the pilgrimage to that canal, stood on its banks and looked down at the gaping hole in the film of grotesque algae on the water's surface. There it was -- the blackness that had swallowed my friend. Whether it would turn out to be both literal and metaphorical I hadn't even begun to contemplate yet, but either way I understood my role in everything that had led up to that point.
Eventually, my wife would learn every sordid detail of what I'd done. She'd finally explode in a violent rage that I every bit deserved. The girl and I would break it off. We would all be so far from Eden that it'd barely even be a memory.
"Asleep in the Sand with the Ocean Washing Over"
My best friend died at the age of 25. He was never able to marry and never able to have children or to be there for the parents that had loved him and cared for him since he was a child himself. He was a good person who wanted the simplest things in life and yet before he could get them he was gone. There's no greater tragedy imaginable.
It's been almost 20 years exactly. For a long time I continued to question what happened to him. I told myself it was a mystery that could never be solved. Looking back on it now, I think I did that to protect myself -- to lie to myself. But I don't deserve to be able to do that. It never should've been this way to begin with: me surviving that era after all I'd done and him gone forever. The very least I deserve is the torment of knowing that the answer to the question, "Why was he on that street that night?" might very well be, "Because he wanted to be," even if that decision wasn't a decision so much as an act of blind, youthful emotion. The very least I deserve is to live with the knowledge that the answer to the question, "What left him heartbroken in the time leading up to his death?" was partially, "His best friend turning his back on him."
I miss him every day of my life. No matter how or why it happened, it doesn't change the fact that he's gone and that I never got to tell him I'm sorry. I never got to the chance to maybe make everything I had done wrong right again. And he never got to see that I'd carry the loss of him with me until the day I die.
Names within this piece have been changed.
Paradise Can Go F*ck Itself
by Bob Cesca
Whenever the topic of living in Hawaii comes up in discussion with my friends on the mainland, I invariably find myself quoting George Clooney's opening monologue from the Alexander Payne film, The Descendants.
“My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawai’i, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation — we’re all just out here drinking mai-tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they nuts? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up, our heart attacks and cancers less fatal, our grief less devastating? Hell, I haven’t been on a surfboard in fifteen years… Paradise? Paradise can go fuck itself.”
Admittedly, it's not easy to be convincing with what I'm about to write, especially to anyone who's endured the Winter of 2015 in Boston, but at this point in my life and having spent four-and-a-half years of my life in Hawaii, I'm beginning to lean toward that final line. "Paradise can go fuck itself." Now, sure, it's a little more extreme than how I'd say it in my own words. The nicer, more appropriate way to phrase it might be: "I'm kind of over the Hawaii thing."
There are certain aspects of living in Hawaii that I'll always cherish. The beaches, the fragrances, the sunsets, the mostly-year-round mild weather, the fresh tropical fruits and veggies, store-bought fish that earlier in the day was swimming in the cool waters of the Pacific -- when my wife and I inevitably move back to the mainland, these are the things I'm going to badly miss. But at this stage in my life, there are downsides that weigh more than the well-known upsides, and they're pulling me back to civilization with greater force every day.
I should also preface by saying that I never in a million years expected I'd live in Hawaii. It was nothing short of a miracle that circumstances almost hypnotically pulled me here. I've previous compared moving here to the ending of The Shawshank Redemption -- escaping a dreary marriage and a soul-crushing recession, and ultimately landing in paradise. And, yes, the Pacific was bluer than I had ever dreamed. For the rest of my life, I will always be satisfied and grateful that fate brought me here.
But it's time to go.
It's difficult to tell whether I'm reaching for things to be dissatisfied with in order to mentally and emotionally prepare to leave. It's crossed my mind. Maybe I'm getting pissed at Hawaii so I can make a clean break -- sort of what we do when a relationship goes sour. We're not right together and I've met someone else. And by the way, you snore and have terrible taste in music. And you can't cook. Maybe I'm trying to break up with Hawaii. Who knows? I'd like think I'm a little more honest with myself than that, though. Perhaps leaving has merely amplified things about Hawaii that've nagged me all along.
Once thing's certain: my wife and I are feeling the draw of our families on the mainland as they, and we, get older. Whenever someone asks me why we're making plans to move back, my stock answer is this: It's time to be responsible adults again.
Our parents aren't getting any younger, and after four years of only sporadic and too-short visits, it's time to get back to within reasonable travel distance (not to mention the fact that our parents still haven't quite figured out the time difference). It's time to participate in family activities again. Living 15 hours and $1,200 per round-trip airline ticket away from the east coast isn't very conducive to being involved.
So, today, just about everything is pissing me off about Hawaii (minus the aforementioned natural splendor). That said, I'd like to believe that these are all things that'd piss off anyone who's spent more than a vacation-length chunk of time here. Where do I begin?
The Time Zone.
The fact that I cover politics for a living makes the time zone especially challenging. When I roll out of bed in the morning, there's already been six hours of daytime events happening in the news. I'm asleep for anything that happens from 5 a.m. through Noon or 1 p.m. on the east coast. That's not good. I've managed to dance around the problem and compensate for the lag, but my luck is beginning to expire and, at this stage, the idea of being within an hour or two of east coast time, as opposed to six hours behind, seems like a fantastic luxury. And, holy shit, being able to do my weekly appearance on The Stephanie Miller Show during the mid-morning hours as opposed to waking up at 4:30 a.m. for my 5:30 a.m. slot (8:30 a.m. Los Angeles time) will be amazing.
At this point, my wife and I are strongly considering New Mexico as our destination. My mother-in-law lives there, and believe it or not, I fell in love with Albuquerque after watching Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. (Coming to The Daily Banter in 2017: "Why I Hate New Mexico!") Not only is it a five hour flight to the east coast, but I'll be able to do day-trips to Los Angeles. It's kind of the perfect geographic location for easy access to both coasts. Compared with two back-to-back six hour flights to get to Dulles Airport in Washington, it just about perfect. As of this writing, the cheapest flight to D.C. is $1,200 and 15-hours. The cheapest flight from Albuquerque to D.C. is $400 and five hours. After all of our flights to and from Hawaii, five hours seems like 10 minutes. Brief corollary. We both love taking road trips. But here, on the Big Island, we can only really travel in a big circle. When we move back, we plan to drive in every direction possible.
The Cost of Living.
Gasoline is about a dollar more per gallon than on the mainland. Food is 30 percent more expensive. A half-gallon of organic milk is $7.99. I'll routinely walk out of Safeway with fixings for that night's dinner with a $120 receipt in my pocket. Comparatively, when we visited New Mexico last year, we bought groceries for a Thanksgiving meal for five for $80. We felt like Soviet nationals in the 1980s visiting America and marveling at the blue jeans. What a country! I'm not exaggerating when I describe it as culture shock, seeing the prices on the mainland as compared to Hawaii.
If you're planning a trip to Hawaii, the best time of year to visit is Winter. It's wonderful here between November and March. Cool and breezy, but warm enough for the beach. It's exactly how you'd imagine Hawaii weather to be. If you're interested in dying of heat prostration, visit Hawaii in June, July, August or September. The sun at this latitude is brutal, especially during the Summer. What makes it so much worse is that electricity is three-times more expensive here than on the mainland because Hawaii's powerplants are fueled by diesel that's shipped across the Pacific (smart!). I could write a series of articles about why they're not fully harnessing solar and wind power here, but there it is. Consequently, no one uses air conditioning unless they can afford a $600-per-month electric bill. In fact, it's only May/June, and I'm sitting here at my desk sweating as I write this. It'll get worse later in the Summer when I sweat literally all damn day. Fuck paradise, give me AC!
Anything made of metal rusts here. Worse, in the relatively short time I've lived on Oahu and the Big Island, the climate has destroyed three desktop computers (I'm writing this on my fourth). Towels get moldy, power cables dry-rot, books begin to lose all properties of a solid. We lived in one extra-humid part of the Big Island where our towels wouldn't dry from the previous morning's shower. When we leave here, it'll be a miracle if 70 percent of our stuff manages to survive.
There are flying insects everywhere, sure. I get it. But here, during the Summer, there's a species of gnat or fruit fly that can somehow squeeze through our window screens. As a result, we spend our Summer nights watching television, sweating and covered with tiny flying insects. So, yeah, four months of the year is like a bizarre endurance competition between my wife and I to see who can remain sane in the face of the sweltering heat and those goddamn bugs. Oh, and the cockroaches. No matter how clean you might keep your house, you will have cockroaches. Not just the little ones, but some that are the size of a Buick. Other roaches fly aimlessly around the house, smacking into your face when you least expect it. Tell me again how lucky I am to live here.
The False Perceptions.
And finally, I'll be relieved to never again have to explain to people that I haven't checked out of society and given up. I completely understand the perception, though, especially after a friend or coworker has spent the afternoon shoveling snow then sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway. But I haven't been in the ocean in almost a year. I work six days a week, 12 hours or more per day. There's always the option of going to the beach, but unless we plan way in advance it never happens. Bottom line: while some people do, indeed, move here in order to check out, that's certainly not the case with us. After four years, I'll be happy when the day comes that I no longer have to explain that I work for a living... in Hawaii.
I suppose it's true that the grass is always greener. When I first moved here I swore I'd never take it for granted, and I don't think I have. But I've definitely outgrown it. Perhaps if we didn't have any family or any pressing mainland work commitments, and if we enjoyed significant personal wealth enough to have central air conditioning and adequate pest control, we might never leave. We're not wealthy, and we work, and we have families. It's time to go.
As I wrote in the first installment of this series: Hawaii makes you work for it. And maybe I'm tired of working for it. To me, right now, normalcy sounds like paradise.
Why It's Impossible to Be a Feminist in the Age of Outrage
by Jamie Frevele
If any of you read the piece in the Washington Post about feminist writers leaving the internet in droves because of the constant harassment, then you might be wondering what the heck I'm still doing here. But you also might be two kinds of people: you could either be one of those "men's rights" morons who like to target and attack feminists anonymously with threats of violence -- or you could be one of my fellow feminists. And I'm ready to write something that isn't going to make any of you happy, but guess what? The bigger and broader the audience, the better!
Let's talk about trolls first, the woman-hating kind. I'm not naive. I know they will never die. As long as the internet exists to cloak these pathetic, insecure, bored-shitless fuckers in anonymity, they will survive like cockroaches forever and ever. That doesn't mean that we have to like them and that their appalling behavior should go unregulated. The women in the WP piece are not exaggerating about the harassment they are subjected to on a daily basis. Lindy West's recent appearance on This American Life, which addressed the horrific shit she had to deal with online, got a lot of necessary attention, but why was it treated as something so out of the ordinary, as if this kind of behavior suddenly became noteworthy?
GamerGate isn't discussed a lot at The Daily Banter, but it's real and it's fucking awful. Don't go by the recent Law & Order: SVU episode for what it's about, even though that show is hardly a documentary anyway. But what it does, in addition to inundating women in the gaming and geek community with threats of doxxing, swatting, and physical and sexual violence, it gaslights these women. Apparently, they're just making it all up. That comes after the mansplaining, of course.
But GamerGate is just the sect that has been making the news. This kind of behavior shows up everywhere on the internet and it is completely unavoidable where a feminist might be writing. God forbid we express an opinion about not wanting to be treated like a sexual object or wanting equal pay and a right to run our own bodies, but go even further than that and call out someone for saying something awful? "Here come the PC police!" "Get back on the stripper pole where you belong!" "No one wants to fuck you!" "I will fuck you up the ass until you beg me to stop!" "Kill yourself!" And we're supposed to see that and say, "Eh, just another day at the office!"
Maybe it is all anonymous. Maybe it's nothing but empty threats. Maybe we should all just ignore it and stop letting it bother us. But there is nothing "normal" about threats like that. Don't give me "boys being boys" -- moderate the fuck out of that noise. Some of us do have a thick skin, but we also have vulnerable moments. This isn't about trigger warnings (which I'll get to later), it's about being decent humans. It's about maintaining an atmosphere. Social media needs to step up its game when dealing with trolls who cross the line, and no, free speech does not apply under a private company. If Twitter decides that your nasty comments are nasty, Twitter can block you. If Jezebel wants to keep a productive conversation going, they can delete your sexist comments. This is their house.
So there. Things bother me and I have a right to say so. If I feel uneasy about how cops treat people, I want to say so. If I think there needs to be better roles for women in movies and TV, I want to say so. Feminists don't say these things because we hate men. We don't want to "intrude on territory" because it's not as if men all lifted their legs on Hollywood Boulevard and pissed all over it and now it's theirs. We're people. We want to tell stories too. What's wrong with being given a chance to do that? We're half the goddamn population and you want to fuck us so bad (and we want to fuck you too!), why not treat us like we're more than just a blowup doll?
But when I do write my awesome feminist article, the one outlining my feelings with carefully chosen words and delicately constructed sentences, is it going to pass muster with the other feminists?
Here is the other spot where I run into trouble. I never realized that there were issues with my feminism until I entered the feminist blogosphere. I was part of the launch of The Mary Sue, a feminist geek site. When I was first hired for that job, I thought it was perfect -- I'm a woman, I'm a geek, I have opinions, and I can write. Turns out my opinions were often, ahem, "problematic." I wasn't considering women of color. I wasn't considering non-cisgendered women. I wasn't considering where the male gaze or white privilege fit in. I talked about rape wrong. I wasn't considering offensive stereotypes that I had no idea where offensive. Suddenly, I was everyone's out-of-touch Aunt Jamie even though I'd thought this whole time that I was a gallant warrior on the very same mission. (Emphasis on the "gal," yuk yuk yuk.)
No, instead I got femsplained. And here we go again -- even if I write something defending feminism and equal rights, I was doing it wrong, or at least I wasn't doing it to the sisterhood's satisfaction. When Jonathan Chait's piece about political correctness came out, there was an immediate backlash by the feminist and liberal blogosphere. He was "tone deaf," an "out-of-touch white guy." But actually, I agreed with a lot of what he had to say. Whenever the Bantermen mock a new, stupidasspiecebySalon, I agree with them. And when I wrote about how a young (albeit talented) comedian at the beginning of her career isn't qualified to host The Daily Show and that I disagreed with affirmative action, I was really concerned about the reaction I would get.
I tend to believe that a lot of this "outrage" comes from page-hit culture, which might be a thing that I just pulled out of my ass, but web sites need page hits to stay alive and that means writing things for the sake of writing them, irrelevant and empty as they might be sometimes. Hence manufactured outrage -- finding a thinkpiece, finding something slightly disagreeable about said thinkpiece, and then rethinkpiecing into oblivion while calling the original author misguided, "problematic."
What's even worse is that my feminism is questioned or even disqualified because it looks, to my detractors, like I'm trying to be a "fake feminist" who's totally down with hangin' with dudes, always DTF, dressing sexy, and being told I'm pretty/funny/cool while saying that I believe in being treated equally, etc. so I don't get called "shrill" or "crazy." (I will now direct the objecting sisterhood to the concept of "fake geek girls" so they can see what I'm talking about.)
I'm either a killjoy in the eyes of the trolls or a "fake feminist" among the feminists. I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't. This is why I've preferred to stick to comedy all these years. For one thing, any idiot can write a thinkpiece. Comedy is a lot more challenging and takes a lot more talent, and if I can write a good piece of satire, I'll do that any day of the week. (Like this and this.) For another, opinions are a lot easier to swallow if they're hidden within jokes, like pills in applesauce. Everyone loves funny stuff and I like writing it, so that's what I stick to doing, especially when there's -- gasp -- a position to take.
But I'm really sick of being told I'm not a good enough woman by either side of the internet. If you don't like me, don't make me bother with you. Or you can all bite me and I hope you chip your teeth.