#80: The acid DMs
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Every month or two, I get an acid DM. “I don’t know you,” they’ll often start, or “you don’t know me,” and then they’ll start writing. Mostly they tell me about their acid trips, but sometimes about other aspects of their lives, like whether they’ve felt lonely lately, or lost. They’ve found me via Google, they write, when they searched “bad acid trip” and read my essay. They want to thank me. Usually they’re still a little high. Their messages come from all over the world—India, Sweden, Brazil, Texas—and all of them share an urgent quality, as if written in a single breath, the insights coming clear and fast.
I wrote “How My Bad Acid Trip Taught Me Everything and Nothing” in 2019 about a bad trip I’d had in 2013. I wasn’t necessarily writing to a drug-imbibing audience; the essay is about how being high on a drug isn’t so different from being high on an emotion. In both cases, the return to sobriety fools us into thinking we’ll know better next time, but rarely does such clarity follow us into our next trip. We simply move from one intoxication to the next. I guess it makes sense that people in the throes of a bad trip might find the piece via SEO, but I’m still surprised when I hear from them, the inkinesss of their trip still detectable in the margins of their messages. They have no idea who I am or what I’m like, but in this one particular way we’re the same. They’re grateful for this tether, and I am too.
What I love most about acid DMs is how seldom they actually concern me. They often read like an emotional exorcism. “To avoid dragging this out forever,” one guy wrote, “I guess the point is that your ideas about the human condition (comparison of high states to emotional states, what knowing or seeing the truth is, and whether or not it’s transferable between states), they make me think first of how I find completely different versions of myself from week to week…” This message went on and on, as if he’d forgotten I was there. “Anyway, look, you’ll probably never read this,” he concluded, “and you certainly don’t have to respond to it, but I’m writing this for my own clarity and to say thank you.”
In terms of prevalence in my inbox, acid DMs are second only to breakup DMs (thanks to another SEO winner: “should I break up with my boyfriend?”), and they’re satisfying in a few specific ways. It’s nice to be reminded that messy and interesting people are on the other side of my writing, and that they’re having formative experiences that resonate with mine. It’s appealing especially to reach someone in the midst of a bad trip, a role typically reserved for a close friend. These people have never read my writing, probably never will again. We’re two ships passing in the night, briefly understanding each other then moving on to live and die in separate spheres of existence. The less obvious reason I love these DMs is because every time I receive one, I’m reminded of what the acid trip actually taught me, which is that we don’t tend to bring along the wisdom of our past selves as reliably as we think we do. An ironic reconciliation.
I thought of the acid DMs when I sat down to write this essay, my last of 2021. I wanted to reflect on everything I’d written this year and privately hoped I might stumble upon some grand unifying theory re: what I’d learned. But as I looked through the 45 essays, I noticed how much I’d written that I’d already forgotten, and how many ideas I’d probably end up relearning at some point in the future, if not growing to disagree with them entirely. This is one of the more humiliating aspects of writing, at least for me—the fact that I’m constantly relitigating the same ideas from new angles, coming to slightly different conclusions. If I were more cynical I might say that means it’s pointless. Instead, I’m pretty sure it’s the point.
To review: In January I wrote about the futility of diagnosing my feelings and the need for community. In February I wrote about falling in love with my boyfriend and the difference between being nice and being kind. In March I wrote about sex in hindsight and the greatest drug in the world: anticipation. In April I moved out of my quarantine apartment and wrote about decorating my new one. In May I wrote about the limits of coping mechanisms and the promise of side effects. In June I wrote about the slow death of Instagram and my own ambition. In August I wrote about the slow death of my cat, inconsistency as a rule, and the illegibility of my depression. In September I wrote about envy, greed, and self-surveillance. In October I wrote about vibes and what it means to feel “like yourself.” This month I wrote about the art of commitment and constraint.
Maybe there were a few themes: systemic perspectives on personal problems; temporary insanity; divesting from capitalist understandings of progress and growth. But constraint seems like the most fitting place to land, because if I do have a grand unified theory about Maybe Baby, it’s that deadlines work. Having to write an essay every week, even when I’m feeling down or lost or wildly useless, has shown me that I’m almost always more capable than I think I am. The joke, of course, is that I never remember this, and spend at least several hours every week distressed that this time I can’t finish it—that this time I’m actually fucked. When I eventually do finish, I’m shocked. Filled with enough relief to propel me through the weekend so I can start it all over again. The good news is: I think I finally understand the creative process. The bad news is: It’s exactly what I’ve described.
Have you ever thought about the fact that, when we tell ourselves “it’s okay to be sad,” we are trying to make ourselves feel better? It’s a funny paradox: the intended effect of the phrase in subtle conflict with the idea therein. I feel similarly about reassuring myself that my own discomfort during the writing process is an integral part of it, because—by its own word—the notion brings little comfort. In that way, writing Maybe Baby has been a lesson in accepting the unstickiness of wisdom, and the necessity of learning the same lessons over and over until, after a while, you’re slightly different than you were before, even if you forget why.
Acid DMs serve a similar purpose. I smile whenever they show up in my inbox, long and rambling and tender. They’re the perfect reminder, unsolicited, of that familiar cycle from fallibility to resilience and back again.
Thank you so much for reading this year
I’ll be taking December off from writing and podcasting, which means this newsletter is my last free one of the year. Paying subscribers: You still have next week’s advice column, two more podcasts (one pop culture roundup, one advice episode), and all my Friday recommendations emails, which I’ll be continuing through the rest of the year. But for most of you, this is goodbye!! (Until January.) I plan to spend December considering what I do and don’t want to change about this newsletter, updating my website, reconsidering decisions I made during last year’s December break, etc. I also plan to rest.
Despite my complaints about the Groundhog’s Day of writer’s block, this continues to be the best job I’ve ever had, and your support has made it possible. Thank you for every thoughtful email, message, and DM, for all the time you spend reading my newsletters, sending them to your friends, telling me what they made you think of, teaching me things I didn’t know before. I’m grateful for every last one of you (even the troll of my feedback form—paying subs know). Sending you the warmest regards on Earth. I hope your holiday is exactly what you need it to be.
P.s. If you’d like to gift someone a subscription to Maybe Baby, you can do so here! I’d recommend choosing a starting date in January.
This month a portion of subscriber proceeds will be redistributed to Labor Notes, “a media and organizing project that has been the voice of union activists who want to put the movement back in the labor movement since 1979.”