Banter M Issue 49

In this issue of Banter M: 

Journey Back to the Amazon - Ben Cohen writes about the complex emotions he is feeling before his upcoming trip to the Amazon in Peru to take part in 3 Huachuma ceremonies, a sacred plant medicine known for its extreme effects on human consciousness. 

Don't Get Happy - In 2004, Bob Cesca was on top of the world. He had a successful cartoon show on VH1 and the promise of a new season. However, he got complacent and it all disappeared leaving him to rebuild his career from scratch. In a stark warning to Democrats, Bob reminds them that getting happy about their prospects in 2016 could lead to a similar disaster. 

My Biological Clock is Ticking and I am Scared - At 36, New York City resident Jamie Frevele wants to have a baby, but is having the biggest problems finding someone to have one with. 

Journey Back to the Amazon

by Ben Cohen

Early next week, I am heading back to the Amazon in Peru to take part in the second of my plant medicine journeys. Last year, I traveled to the jungle city of Pucallpa to take part in 4 Ayahuasca ceremonies over the space of 10 days -- a life altering experience I am still trying to come to terms with. This year, I am going back to do Huachuma (more commonly known as San Pedro) -- a sacred cactus medicine from the Andes that has profound effects on human consciousness, and will take part in 3 ceremonies over 7 days. 

To the uninitiated, this sounds New Agey and potentially dangerous -- a fad that lost souls unable to cope with Western life turn to in desperate need of "meaning". And perhaps there is some truth to this -- at least on my part. However, for those familiar with visionary plant medicines (a term often used in indigenous cultures), they are no fad and require great deal of emotional and physical discipline to work with. My initiation into the world of Ayahuasca last year was without a doubt the most terrifying, profound, and ultimately beneficial experience of my entire life, and it has taken me many months to incorporate what happened to me into my daily existence. It has been extremely difficult trying to integrate a completely different world view and my newly 'awakened' senses into a culture so far removed from the jungles of Peru that it may as well be a different planet, but I feel I have made much progress and am far happier and settled in myself than I have ever been. 

I have long struggled with the mechanics of Western society -- the obsession with work, financial success, competition and status. This did not come in the form of depression, but rather an ever present sensation that life should not be this way. Religion and spirituality offered little to me as my skeptical mind instinctively rejected anything that could not be experienced, touched or tested. But still, a nagging feeling persisted that something was not right -- that human life should not be relegated to a cog in an industrial capitalist society, and our lack of connection with our natural environment was leading us down a terrible path. 

A Shaman preparing Huachuma

A Shaman preparing Huachuma


It wasn't until I read about the psychedelic experience and the ritual use of plant based hallucinogens in non-industrialized societies that the missing piece of the jigsaw finally came to light. The stories of astonishing, mystical experiences that could be replicated and experienced by anyone and the rapidly expanding scientific literature that showed the enormous potential of substances like psilocybin, Ayahuasca and LSD for psychological and physical disorders convinced me that this might be exactly what I had been looking for. Coming from a decidedly anti-drugs family and having no experience with mind altering substances, it was rather a strange feeling to be inexplicably drawn to something I would have derided and shunned only 5 or 6 years ago. The large body of scientific evidence convinced me that there was virtually no physical risk in taking psychedelic compounds (particularly non-synthesized ones), so I decided to take the plunge.  

And after my first truly mystical and enormously beneficial experience with psilocybin, I knew that I had found the missing link. The powerful feeling of interconnectedness with all living things, the near magical settling of anxieties and the deep feeling of reverence I felt for the natural world is something all human beings should experience, and having first hand knowledge of it, I felt like I had entered a different, vastly more complex plain of reality. And of course I wanted to know more about this new realm of existence -- much more. 

My trip to the jungle in Peru was not what I expected -- it was a frighteningly powerful experience that blasted me into realms of reality that were truly terrifying and alien. Ayahuasca tore me apart both physically and mentally, and I was deconstructed over 10 days in ways words can never convey. Whether my experience was real or imagined is of little interest to me given there is no way I could ever know the difference. Just as reading my screen as I type these words seems real, so too was my journey into a hyper reality of terrifying vision, spirit, and ultimately a deep healing process. Ayahuasca taught me many, many things about myself and the Earth over those 10 days, lessons I could not understand at the time, but have slowly seeped in over the months afterwards. I feel I am calmer, kinder, and physically healthier than at any time in my life -- a truly profound and immensely rewarding feeling that will always remain with me.

Over time, the feelings associated with my Ayahuasca have certainly faded somewhat -- my Western trained mind has roared back in an attempt to translate the experience into something comprehensible to a person raised in an urban environment and taught to deny the existence the immaterial world. But the power of the medicine is strong -- so strong that I am half convinced it has achieved some form of symbiosis with my body. And I have known that I needed to go back to the Amazon again to learn more, to reconnect with the mysteries of the Earth. 

Huachuma is not Ayahuasca, but from what I understand it can be equally as challenging, but in a more subtle way. Ayahuasca is regarded as the "masochist's medicine" -- a hard hitting and deeply cleansing experience that literally makes you vomit out your traumas. Huachuma is apparently like getting hit with a feather -- although as one person put it "a very, very heavy and slow feather" that helps you get past emotional traumas, heal you physically,  and connect you to the true nature and magic of the Earth. It is known as a "master teacher" and a profound experience that helps you understand your place in the natural world -- a feeling I am familiar with, but need to remind myself of having been back in Western society for so long.  

I am going to a safe place with a highly respected healer with decades of experience with the medicine. While there is little scientific literature on the healing properties of Huachuma given it is regarded as a dangerous drug in the West (with no scientific grounding whatsoever), it has been used for thousands of years in Shamanic healing practices with astonishing anecdotal evidence of its efficacy. I am of course a little nervous about my expedition knowing I will be emotionally and physically challenged in a way I am not familiar with, but my gut tells me I need to go back. I am getting married later this year to a wonderful person, and hope to start a family some time in the near future -- commitments I take very seriously. While I have made much progress with Ayahuasca, there are elements of my psyche and I know need work, particularly given I am about to be responsible for a family and not just myself. It is work that the plant medicines are uniquely suited for,  and I am willing to submit to them for whatever it is they have to teach me about myself. 

We have no real rites of passage in our society other than ones that have been corrupted by consumerism, so I am seeking a genuine one to prepare me for the next phase in my life. These challenging rites of passage are an essential part of indigenous cultures all around the world, and crucial in fostering ecological harmony between human, animal and plant life. While this is an alien concept in the West, I am also determined to make it less so and share my experiences publicly. This has already led to ridicule and condemnation by people close to me, but it is a small price to pay for what is ultimately a reconnection with something far, far more powerful than any opinion, law or culture. 

I'll see you on the other side. 

Next: Don't get Happy - by Bob Cesca


Don't Get Happy 

by Bob Cesca

There's a mantra I've carried with me throughout my career, first in radio, then publishing and even in the time I produced animated cartoons. The mantra is simple and efficient: Don't get happy.

I learned this rule when I was a 21-year-old intern for the former Don & Mike Show, a nationally syndicated radio show based in Washington, DC (it continues on as the Mike O'Meara Show podcast today). By way of background, I grew up listening to Don Geronimo and Mike O'Meara when they hosted the "Morning Zoo" show on WAVA in DC. Don and Mike are two reasons why I do what I do today -- especially my podcast with fellow Banter writer, Chez Pazienza. But when I lucked my way into actually working for the Don & Mike Show, I quickly learned the value of not getting too comfortable in my post, as comfort -- happiness -- often breeds complacency, complacency breeds laziness, and laziness makes for a shitty fucking show.

So, don't get happy. DGH.

This isn't to suggest we're not allowed to be personally satisfied by life and its intermittent success stories, but it's always best to enjoy those moments of success, then to gird one's loins for the inevitable downside of the curve. Life and work is so often about balance, and if we lean too far into the realm of grinning complacency, human nature has a tendency toward weakness of will, which can often spell disaster.

Back in 2004, I was more or less on top of the world. I had a successful cartoon show on a relatively well-known basic cable network, VH1, and a third season of the show seemed inevitable. I was also told by my agent at the time that having a show on the air meant I could do whatever I wanted. I took the advice to mean it'd be easy to close a deal on my next show. What my agent failed to tell me is that Hollywood doesn't go around handing out shows to anyone with an existing show -- that I'd actually have to come up with some good ideas and pitch them first. 

And even though I had a slate of new pitches lined up, I got happy. I waited around too long and ended up burning through the money I made on the second season of my show and I simply ran out of time and cash. The next show never transpired, even to this day. Life's missed opportunities. I try not to dwell too often, but it's impossible to not consider what could've been.

Yeah, so, what the fuck does this have to do with politics? Naturally, in politics as with life, DGH.

A couple weeks ago, I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher and, at one point, I nearly stood up in my living room and cheered when Maher loudly scolded Rob Reiner for suggesting that Hillary Clinton will easily defeat Donald Trump in November. Maher told Reiner to shut the fuck up because (pointing to the audience) "they won't fucking vote!"

Maher's anger reflected something I've been saying for years. Liberal Democrats are notoriously complacent. When it feels like our candidate might win, we check out. After all, they're a shoo-in, right? We get too fucking happy. Most recently, I think we all remember what happened in the Michigan primary when Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary in a shocking defeat that almost literally no one forecasted. One of the reasons it happened was due to Hillary voters either staying home or voting against Donald Trump in the open primary. They were too happy about Hillary's prospects and they got burned as a result.

Today, we're looking at polls that show lice and root canals are more popular than the GOP nominee. We're looking at polls showing how unpopular Trump is with women and minorities. Even Nate Silver is scolding pundits and observers alike for overreacting to polls showing a much tighter race than predicted.

No, no, no, no, no. 

I like Nate Silver. A lot. has resided in an pinned tab on my Chrome browser since January. But goddammit, Nate, shoosh!  Frankly, I want Democrats to believe Trump has a shot at easily winning in November. 

Why? First, because he honestly does. Anyone who believes Trump will be blown out by Hillary -- or Bernie, for that matter -- possesses an enviable faith in the rationality of the American voter. It's a completely undeserved degree of latitude for people who twice elected George W. Bush, not to mention the nearly 50 million voters who thought Sarah Palin was an acceptable heir to the Oval Office. 

Secondly, I want Dems to turn out in such phenomenal numbers as to completely destroy and embarrass the GOP, 1) for nominating a bewigged circus clown, and 2) for spending decades lowering the bar of our discourse enough to facilitate said bewigged circus clown to become the GOP nominee.

I can't emphasize that last thing enough. I want voters to be amped up to a level of panic over the idea of President Trump so as to annihilate him at the polls. Zero red on the electoral map. A blow-out that'd make LBJ return from the dead to bitch about how Hillary broke his 1964 record. I want the victory to be so decisive as to make Trump's stumpy dick fully retract into his lumpy orange gizzard. I want Trump to be so utterly stunned and humiliated by the results of the election that he disappears from public view for a while. I want his overzealous disciples to cry big, sloppy, hyperventilating tears whenever they see the word "winning." 

We should all want this. Even Republicans, who need an inciting incident to force them to reevaluate the hellscape their party has become. I want conservatives to be so badly defeated they're violently snapped from their Fox News torpor and back to reality, even if it's just for a few weeks. 

The stakes are more than just policy based. This is about more than the climate, or voting rights or reproductive rights. It's about more than transgender bathrooms or fracking or the Supreme Court. This is about who we are as a nation. Are we a flawed yet dignified people who take seriously world and domestic affairs? Or are we half nuts -- represented by a Twitter troll with the world's shittiest combover and who openly mocks disabled journalists? This is about policy, yes, but it's also about loudly rejecting Donald Trump and rebuilding our national brand after the blistering damage he's wrought simply by running.

The secret? Get angry. Get fired up and ready to go. Work this election like it's the republic's last. And most importantly, don't wait for Hillary or anyone else to motivate you. The potential for a torturous and indescribably disastrous Trump presidency should be motivation enough. The hunger for the GOP to be shamed off the national stage ought to compel anyone with functioning gray matter to do their part to make it happen.

Most of all, don't get happy.

Next: My Biological Clock is Ticking and I am Scared by Jamie Frevele


My Biological Clock is Ticking and I am Scared

by Jamie Frevele

A recent post in The Guardian tried to put the concept of a woman's biological clock to rest, saying that we women should stop worrying so much about an outdated idea that we're expected to have babies in order to keep us from pursuing careers. I read most of it because as a woman with a body, I am concerned about my ability to conceive a child as I blow out more and more birthday candles. (I'm actually kidding about that because I'm at the point where no one lights anywhere near the amount of candles equal to the years I've been on this planet because that's way too damn many.) While I appreciate being told that an old-fashioned idea that women are built to carry children and therefore must is not the case, I, um, still want to have children. Not because someone told me I should. Not because my family is pressuring me. Not because hot pregnant celebrities are pressuring me. Because I have always loved the idea that I can bear and raise children. I'm a creative type. I can create a whole entire person. That is an amazing idea for me.

Maybe this doesn't sound like something a modern woman would say, let alone a feminist living in New York City. But while my sisters shirk tradition and lead childless lives by choice -- which is fine because the world population is eight billion now and I think we can say "We did it!" -- I still hold on to the fantasy of being a mother. I have not been able to imagine a life without this scenario in it, but I am having the biggest problems finding someone to do this with me.

And no, this has nothing to do with men. It has nothing to do with politics, moral values, or science. I am merely a woman who wants to have kids and make a family of her own. This is a very hard thing to be at 36, working in media, and living in New York City where the men are generally afraid to call a woman their girlfriend, let alone their wife, let alone the mother of their children.

Shit, most of these guys are still not ready to stop being children themselves. (Which is why I don't date on Long Island anymore because soooooo many of those man-babies insist on getting married to women willing to be their mothers. And I'm not having that shit at all.) Adulthood is scary. Parenthood is scary. Shoot, sometimes I seriously wondered if I was equipped to adopt a dog, whom I didn't even have to set an example or send to college. But deep down, I know I'm a mother. I adore children and love giving them my attention so I can hear their pure, honest brains conjure up the craziest, most original ideas. If there is one thing we should all give babies credit for it that they really, truly are not hacks.

According to the article, I'm supposed to feel put upon by taking on the majority of the responsibility for fertility and child raising. That's hilarious considering I can't even get pregnant without someone else's sperm getting involved. Of course this isn't on me! But this is why I'm panicking -- this is on us, and I cannot find the other half of that us. They're all too freaked out by the idea of having kids that they can't even bring themselves to call me their girlfriend lest I start getting ideas about tending to my shriveling insides.

I'm not saying that parenthood shouldn't scare people; I think it's terrifying. Whoever becomes the father of my children should be scared too, and if he isn't, I'm going to wonder about the functionality of his central nervous system. But right now, I'm really talking about getting pregnant. At this point, I would love to think that I could just hit up a sperm bank, get myself knocked up, and start my family by myself. Single women are doing this and thriving, forming new, chosen families along the way and "having it all." I really want a partner. I want my kids to have a father, a daddy. I want them to see that it's possible to form a great, equal team. Yes, Virginia -- some liberal women actually want to have a husband and a couple of kids. It's not about tradition. It's not about feminism or anti-feminism. It sure as hell isn't about what other people think, let alone the patriarchy or politicians. I want to have a fucking family. I love my family and I want to add to it. And I think I'd make a great wife and a great mom. But I am scared to death that I won't get to have it, and I'm pissed off that people are going to try to tell me not to worry about it.

I'm worried. Very worried. But it is my problem and my problem alone.

(Note: Banter Editor Ben Cohen sent me this note about my worrying that I thought readers might enjoy: "I have many friends going through a similar dilemma. Not that it's my place to offer advice, but it seems to me that worrying about it only makes it worse (quite literally as guys get frightened by women who want children immediately!). So the best thing to do is to stop worrying about it. As a great philosopher (whom I can't remember) said, "Worry is preposterous, as it presumes we know something". Just remember, we really don't know much about anything. We're just monkeys with thermonuclear weapons." )