Sagan was in his mid-thirties at that time. He continued to use cannabis for the rest of his life. I can remember another early visual experience with cannabis, in which I viewed a candle flame and discovered in the heart of the flame, standing with magnificent indifference, the black-hatted and -cloaked Spanish gentleman who appears on the label of the Sandeman sherry bottle. Looking at fires when high, by the way, especially through one of those prism kaleidoscopes which image their surroundings, is an extraordinarily moving and beautiful experience. I want to explain that at no time did I think these things really were out there. I knew there was no Volkswagen on the ceiling and there was no Sandeman salamander man in the flame. I don t feel any contradiction in these experiences.
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There s a part of me making, creating the perceptions which in everyday life would be bizarre there s another part of me which is a kind of observer. About half of the pleasure comes from the observer-part appreciating the work of the creator-part. I smile, or sometimes even laugh out loud at the pictures on the insides of my eyelids. In this sense, I suppose cannabis is psychotomimetic, but I find none of the panic or terror that accompanies some psychoses. The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before.
The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights I don t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate. For example, I have spent some time high looking at the work of the Belgian surrealist Yves Tanguey. Some years later, I emerged from a long swim in the Caribbean and sank exhausted onto a beach formed from the erosion of a nearby coral reef.
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In idly examining the arcuate pastel-colored coral fragments which made up the beach, I saw before me a vast Tanguey painting. Perhaps Tanguey visited such a beach in his childhood. When I m high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David.
The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands.
The stewardess comes in and says, Welcome to Holland. Holland?