Hallucination Celebration

Photo by James Orr

Hallucination. Veil upon reality offering delivery to the great subjective. A symptom of sensory unfastening; a collaborator with the genus of illusion, delusion, lunacy, fantasy and phantasm. The hallucinatory, as per current definition, faces an implicit condemnation both for perceived lack of truth and for dearth of tangible use to society.[1] Like a misunderstood teen, the value of this shimmering gift is often lost in pragmatist-capitalist agenda.

But the walls between the real and the imaginary, the shared and the private, sanity and madness is less robust than They would have us believe. I like to think that it’s possible to follow in the footsteps of Casper the Friendly Ghost and spend a lifetime slipping across those apparent divides.

The womb is the beginning of a temporal game in which the rational disposition of time and space undulates and rolls over. In this place of solitude and intrinsic belonging many suns rise, swirl, dance and set upon deep membrane sky. Once emerged into the world, dreams and games take root in the exploding, kaleidoscopic external.

As a child far off landscapes are evoked by my favourite cousin. I’m particularly susceptible to the oneiric and the occult. We make everything malleable. She’s a snarling big cat with a sweet side and I’m a non-specific cub. Later, inside the sewers beneath a vast, burning city we hold our breath and play dead as mutant crocodiles weave between us.

As I work my way through primary school I notice something disturbing is starting to happen with my tools. The mystical, throbbing quality once held by Lego, Mighty Max, and Playmobil is ebbing away. Polly Pocket’s little face is just frozen plastic. I’ve seen her perish before – she’s been involved in countless battles – but this time I have to watch her die for real. Over the summer holidays my cousin moves to San Diego, I imagine her with a TV accent and suntan. The planet gets bigger and I identify that the town I’ve lived in for my whole life is a bit naff, located at the banal middle between wilderness and metropolis. I realise that at some point my parents made the conscious choice to live here, it baffles me more than the changes happening across my body.

I don’t remember exactly when horror films became important, but over the course of about a year my friends and I emerge as connoisseurs of terror. We toy with black magic and satanic levitation rituals. In the middle of the night, in a tent, ghost stories and mania conspire and we all swear we saw a farmer with a scythe walk across the lawn. Mum’s divorce-guilt takes the shape of a holiday to Disney World. A holographic ghoul holds onto my chair at the Haunted Mansion and I can’t stop screaming. A friend tries MDMA prematurely and her boyfriend becomes a monster with black eyes and small pointed teeth. When he opens his mouth bats fly out.

The first time I see a penis I’m overwhelmed by the pubic hair, it evokes a densely populated forest. I’m unable to shake the dark canopy of trees from my mind and, frustrated that I wouldn’t touch it, the boy started a rumour at school that I was crap at blowjobs. Which is ok because it means that I don’t come into contact with another freaky, shrub-lined penis for a long time. Mum gets The Matrix and The Truman Show on DVD and existentialism reigns supreme in our household. Are we all just hallucinating reality? Enamoured by film, I geta part-time job at the local cinema, the blazing Pepsi-hotdog foyer contrasts violently with the inky, flickering auditoriums. Provincial escapism lies in the hands of Jason Statham, Lindsay Lohan, Vin Diesel.  

A colleague imports a hallucinogenic root from South America and learns the complex chemical process to create the psychedelic drug DMT. He takes a strong dose and I watch as his body warps and arcs into a gentle drift onto the sofa. Afterwards he explains that, in that moment during the trip, his entire body was lost. He became a wave. In Kerala with my first boyfriend a couple of years later, I’m given the best weed of my life by the coolest guy I ever met. On the beach a child runs towards me for eternity with arms outstretched. For dinner that evening – shit-faced – my boyfriend and I order a whole fish to share and the perfection of the serrated orange garnish is astounding.

Sometimes, during sex, I forget about my own body and the body of the person I’m with. It’s a stronger kind of solitude, slipping into a liminal space, where patterns, landscapes and people are evoked and float around in a sort of waking dream. I speak with a friend about it expecting she might encounter something similar, but it’s alien to her and we wonder if sleep-deprivation might be the cause.

I visit my cousin in San Diego, we go out clubbing, get drunk and argue about something huge and small. A family history of schizophrenia and suicide causes me intermittent fear: paranoia rears up, perhaps warranted. I give the builders across the street the finger, they pretend they don’t see me now but I’m sure I noticed them staring at me moments before when had I made a nudity mistake with the curtains open.

One morning recently, following the difficult period when Grandad was moved into a respite centre, Grandma awoke to a small, white cloud floating outside the bedroom window. Carefully and silently, the cloud announced her husband’s death. Grandma is a beautiful, faraway woman; she seems always to have observed a slender connection with the real and an inconsistent bearing to the sensorial. But her interaction with the cloud was tangible – it was a psychic forewarning, a dutiful vision. In the gentle presence of the apparition she found a calm she hadn’t felt in weeks. The soft, light sensation remained with her as the cloud faded, the telephone rang and a nurse echoed the news.

[1] The Oxford English Dictionary defines the hallucinatory as ‘The mental condition of being deceived or mistaken, or of entertaining unfounded notions’.

‘Hallucination Celebration’ was published in SYRUP II: Borders in October 2017. Stocked at The ICA / Somerset House Bookshop / Housmans Bookshop / Banner Reapeater / The Feminist Library. Or order a copy here.