Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Okay, Here's an Answer I Gave Someone

Here's an answer I gave someone who asked what I felt the impact of ayahuasca tourism has been, and when it started, in Iquitos, Peru. It's not impossible that I've had a couple of glasses of wine with ginger ale right now and when I wrote this, so if the spelling is off in places, tough luck. HA!

I'm here and noticed your thread. I'm just under the gun with story deadlines and so have not responded yet. But I mean to.
I can tell you that in 1984 there were 2 very major and successful tour outfits in Iquitos, neither of which offered ayahuasca, as well as Carlos Grande, Moises Torres Vienna and a few other good jungle guides.
By 1990, Paul Wright and Peter Jensen, who had the two most successful outfits, came to me to say "thank you" because they claimed that my stories on ayahuasca had added more than 10 percent volume to their tour groups. And by 1993, when Shoemaker came and began his current tour of duty, they both claimed that their groups had gone up by 20 percent.
And once that ball started rolling, there was no stopping it.
The biggest single mark was Alan Shoemaker starting the Shamanism Conference, but there were other marks: The National Geo article on Blue Morpho, a couple of movies, and so forth.
And most of it has been a mixed blessing. There might be 30 places out on the road from Iquitos to Nauta, each of which has cut down primary jungle to make a lodge type place for gringos. That's tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of trees cut down, thousands of bands of monkeys displaced in the name of saving the rainforest. And each of those require probably thousands of more trees next year.
The first big time operator out there that I know of was Don Francisco Montes. He is from a great line of Shipibo healers and was basically kicked out of Pucallpa in about 1993 and sent to live in Iquitos by his family, who bought him a 20 hectare spread. He organized himself, took his work seriously and I love the guy. He is terrific. And his place, Sachamama, is certainly the most beautiful place anywhere. I think Alan S, was the first to get him a grant of $500 from a woman who was a client of his. And that money was the seed money for the Sachamama plant identification work. Francisco has earned his stripes in the years since.
During the last 4 years we have seen an unprecedented number of newbies come to Iquitos with a few bucks, fall for a curandero, and build them a place on the road to Nauta. Most of those places will disappear because of the costs. But they will have killed wildlife, stunted vegetation and done a host of harms in the name of good. The one constant in the third world is that all of the bad men have never done near the harm of those who meant well,. That's just life, and it stinks but that's the way it is. Bringing curanderos out of their river villages hurts those villages. Bringing gringos in large numbers into those villages hurts those villages. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Better to just get healed and walk away.
HA! This from one of the people who accidently promulgated the whole thing. But I saw early on, in 1987-1988 that my teacher Julio Llerena's (Jerena) only true apprentice, Salis Navarro, when hired by Peter Jensen's outfit to give ayahuasca to gringos once a week let it go to his head and was subsequently killed by a Matses man, my friend Antonio, after he seduced one of Antonio's wives while Antionio was out hunting. The alarm bells went off that I was doing something wrong. I knew it was important to write about ayahuasca, to bring or help bring it to the world, but I also knew I would have to hide the people I worked with better, so that they would be protected, from themselves and others.
So what's with aya tourism? Well, it's brought enough gringos to Iquitos to keep several gringos making money in gringo restaurants. It's brought enough money to take a dozen legit curanderos off the rivers where they worked and bring them into the city to work with gringos, or into lodges to work with foreigners to the detriment of their own people. It's brought enough money to cut down thousands of hectares of primary forest in the name of making aya retreats that are aimed at making gringos money and to share the knowledge. It's brought enough money to have at least two dozen people who never even drank ayahuasca three years ago into the realm of being "curanderos" because they've learned a few songs and have sycophantic acolytes. And it's brought enough seekers to have obscured the value of the true ayahuasca experience, what with the rules, regulations, and so forth that many of the curanderos now put forth.
So, end result? Do gooders should stay the heck out because they spawn other do gooders. Evil men are identifiable and therefore not much of a threat.
There are, seriously, many many good people out there working their hearts to the n'th degree. To denigrate them would be wrong. They're doing good, important work. But there are also people who do not understand the culture, people who mean well, but who do not have the experience with the culture to know where and how to encourage legit growth, and therefore are unwittingly encouraging non-legit growth.
Which is which I am not going to get into. But there is certainly a part of me that is sorry for having unwittingly encouraged it all. Iquitos and the northwest Amazon was fine the way it was. It didn't need help. And all the help we've meant to bring has not been a real help at all, I don't think.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tonight on Coast to Coast AM...

I was just told that tonight, Saturday, August 28, Coast to Coast AM radio is going to be playing an old interview I did with Art Bell. I did it about 12 years ago, when I was leaving my post as editor-in-chief of High Times magazine, and heading down to the jungle to begin taking people out to the deep green. I think we discussed the failure of the War on Drugs, the Amazon and so forth. If I remember, it was a pretty good show--or seemed it at the time. According to the coasttocoastam.com website it's gonna start at 6 PM, but of course that depends on when your local station runs the coast to coast show.
So spread the word for old time's sake. And then, if there is a call in section at the end or something, call in and tell them to plug my new book!!!!!
The timing is kind of odd because just three days ago I wrote them asking for a new interview regarding the jungle and ayahuasca and my book and while I have not heard back, well, here's this. And I would not have known about it if one of Fort Worth's activists, a woman I talk with on certain political issues, hadn't written to ask if I were the same Peter Gorman as the Peter Gorman coming up on the Art Bell replay.

Friday, August 27, 2010

All I Can Figure is You're All Astounded....

All I can figure is you're all astounded into silence by my recent spate of blogs. I mean, nobody is answering except my friend G, who posted the same thing five times. Which means he was having a great night on apple cider or the trembling set in....and given that he's a freaking surgeon, let's just hope it was a great night. There was one post, from someone who didn't read my book, who wanted to know who Papa Viejo and the women of Loreto were. Papa Viejo was an old Matses headman and warrior--he fought the Peruvian military as recently as 1970 or so--who has a great scene in my book. He never became my friend for real but he certainly influenced me and his daughter Irene and some of his sons did become my friends--though Irene still looks at me like she looks at a tapir on a trap spike: Good lunch, nothing more. The women of Loreto are the women who are charapitas, women born in the area of Iquitos, Peru. Generally 2-3-4 generations from genuine indigenous life, they still have deep indigenous genetic roots--like my wife/ex-wife Chepa--with so many of their behaviors, including a secret language, a sort of a jungle Pig Latin that only the women are taught, an indigenous part of their day to day lives.
So what is it? Bored to death? What do you want me to do, come over to your houses and shake you up? Want me to write in big letters? Want me to add pictures to this perfectly clean blog? Want me to tell more Madeleina stories? I would tell you more Sierra and Alexa stories but I have not seen either one of them since May 31, and that's driving me crazy. I will see them in about 10-12 days, if all goes well, and then I will have new stories for sure. But for now? What I've got to write about is what I've got. And you guys got to go with that. If it's ayahuasca, let it be. Learn something even if you never use the stuff.
If it's cooking, go with that too, even if all you ever eat is chips. People will be impressed if you rattle off my simple but elegant recipes.
Madeleina just walked through he room saying, "Father, you're number one...!!!" as if I didn't notice that she was taking another handful of the best green grapes in the world with her after I told her no more grapes till after swordfish dinner...
And Marco came in last night and this morning my wallet was $13 lighter. Not that he can possibly imagine that a semi-broke dad actually knows how much money is in his wallet till next payday....HAHAHAHA!
And now I'm going out to do some painting on my new porch fence. It was painted three times or so while it was just in 2x4 form, but now that it's been cut and placed, it needs a couple of coats more to look right.
As for you? I don't know. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I'm putting you all to sleep. Or maybe I'm just stunning you into silence with wonderful takes on daily occurrences.....either way, unless somebody starts talking I'm gonna assume you all died and then light candles for ya.
Or I'll just forgive your silence, figure you're still paying attention--QUIZ TOMORROW AND GOD HELP YOU IF YOU FAIL!!!--and keep wriiting. Love to everybody. Hug a tree or insolent teen today. Hint: Trees don't curse back. But they do have insidious ants.
Peace out....or Please, out...or Peas, mashed...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Dominating the Spirits

Someone wrote me to ask if dominating the spirits, as I’ve written about, is more important than simply trusting the plant spirits. This is what I wrote back.
In terms of domination rather than trust, I think the trust comes from the domination. When we think of the spirit of ayahuasca, we need to think of where she comes from, where her roots are. That's the Amazon. And in that world--where men are concerned--traditionally outsiders are considered bad and unwanted--at least since the Spanish brutalization of so much of that region. Therefore, when an outsider comes on a camp of indigenous, there is no greeting. Instead there is a wild confrontation with a show of arms and loud voices and threats. This is true even these days in places where there are still some old warriors living. And it's true in some mestizo villages as well: I recently had a shotgun blast nearly take my head off as I walked the perimeter of some land I own just out on the Nauta road at kilometer 14. The fellow was alone and I was with three other people and we had a shotgun and so he fired from the brush, unexpectedly, before we even saw him. He didn't want to kill us, just frighten us away because we were, to him, such a threatening and potentially dangerous group.
Now, if you can see the spirit of ayahuasca, and the spirits that are there to help you specifically--whether for short term healing or even if they are your lifelong guardians--in the light of that sort of militant posturing, then I think the domination idea is clearer than our view of domination. In other words, you will be challenged by some of those spirits, just as if you walked into an indigenous antigua's camp. You will be asked in the most frightening manner what your business is. And if you run, that indigenous antigua will chase you and take everything you have. But if you stand square, like Moises taught me with Papa Viejo, then you will earn respect, and with it, a measure of trust. But you have to earn it. And that standing tall in front of someone who is threatening, and capable, of killing you, is the domination I'm talking about. It's not that you beat the spirit into submission, you dominate by being equal. You dominate by controlling your fear or by not having fear. You dominate by not allowing yourself to be dominated.
It's the same with many of the women in Loreto, by the way. You need to dominate them by showing them you are not intimidated by their looks, actions, the way they want to brush you off. And if you do, then you have dominated them, you have captured them (conquistar is the word they use to explain it). That's another story, of course, but a reminder that the theme of domination runs through all aspects of the culture of the region, including the spirit world there.
Now, I don't think that this comes into play very often early on in one's relationship with ayahuasca and the other spirits. I think mostly that they are pretty gentle with people. But relationships change and demands get made and the bar is set higher and higher the deeper one goes. At least that's my experience.
Now, as to your journal entry suggesting that what needs dominating isn't so much the spirits, perhaps, but our fear, well, that's on the money. But our fear has to be dominated in front of those spirits when they challenge us. And while they won't steal everything we have if we lose the challenge like Papa Viejo would have, they certainly are not going to give up what they have to share with us unless we've proved ourselves worthy and capable via that domination.
Make any sense?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday Near Noon...Everything's Moving, Everything's Still

Everything is moving. Everything is still. My brain is exploding. It's a great day to be alive.
Well, I turned down the offer to publish my book with a real publisher. I just wrote a note declining the offer. And you know what? I sort of hated doing that. I mean, it would be cool to be officially published. Like the first time I saw my work in Omni magazine or in the Spanish GEO. Just thrilling.
I didn't turn it down because of the money--though if the offer had been $25,000 I might have accepted it. I turned it down because I would have had to stop anything that's going on. That means the newly released hard cover, still waiting for its first sale (only on lulu.com as yet, under Ayahuasca in My Blood--25 Years of Medicine Dreaming) would be shut down. It means the Kindle edition that Johan is near finishing couldn't go up. It means the soft cover, which has hit over 60 sales this month with a week to go, would be shut down. And while 60 doesn't seem like many, and isn't, it's double what it was last month, the second month it's been out. And I think it will double again next month. Or hope.
But Skunk magazine, the Canadian magazine I write my Drug War Follies for is coming out with an excerpt and a review in a couple of months. And MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, is due to review it in their year end issue. And Lynn and I have begun playing with the audio version and hope to have that out in a few weeks. And there are some radio shows that have asked me to talk about it. And a few bookstores have bought some books wholesale to stock.
I really don't want to stop that, even if it's not a juggernaut at the moment. To pull it off the market now and have to wait till next fall to have released, well, to be honest, that would be about as fun as being told, just at the last second: "Don't finish yet..." or some other thing. Pardon the graphic.
So that's that. I don't think he'll come back with a $25,000 offer. I don't even think he will come back with an offer to let me continue what I'm doing, to try to build steam so that when he publishes next fall there will already be interest in it. I think it's just a done deal.
Which is not the only thing on my mind. On my mind is the last section of front porch fence, the largish story I finished last night just about the time my newspaper went to press--well, that's when the rewrite was finished and so I've got one very upset boss to deal with at tomorrow's meeting. Problem was it's a complex story and I didn't have much time for it and so while I did a host of interviews--more than most people would do for a cover story--there wasn't a lot of time to let it all gel. And that is vital to good journalism. Not if you are writing about someone putting up a new pasture fence, but if you are trying to explain new policing tactics and what they might mean to minority communities and to civil rights issues of even majorities, well, that takes a bit of time to settle. And the pace I've been on, doing a good sized (1600 word) story and a small story (400) words for each of the last few weeks, as well as working on a couple of the cover stories I've got coming up, as well as responding to book readers with questions....well, it is just too hectic to have the luxury of having things settle.
The alternative is that I turned in a draft and let my boss tell me what was wrong. That helped me focus down on things and allowed me to write a pretty damned good rewrite. But it pissed her off I'm sure to be wondering if we were going to have anything printable/readable 30 minutes before the press run started. And anyone in the business knows: You really can't stall the presses. Once they are set to go, they go, whether you've got those pages filled or not.
And another thing I've been thinking about is how super cool Madeleina is. She is just fantastic and I hope i tell her that every day. Know what she did yesterday? I had gone food shopping after I turned in the draft, then picked her up from school on the way home. She helped with putting away the groceries and I started dinner. Good dinner. Fresh albacore tuna steaks sauteed in olive oil and garlic, to which I added diced onions and tomatoes, then fresh diced ginger, plenty of it, and then a small jar of capers with juice. Man oh man that got about 12 levels of taste buds going. And I served it with sweet fresh corn on the cob and simple steamed broccoli. Oh, lala! Voila! I'm laughing because I just had a couple of bites of the left overs a few minutes ago and can still taste my mouth going in circles!
So she put away the groceries and I started chopping, and while i was sauteing I got this morning's coffee ready--I like to just wake up and hit the on button, rather than start with cleaning out the pot--and then we ate. Marco was over and we watched Diehard 3, a pretty cool flick after a couple of Jim Beams, and then I went to bed.
And this morning I got up, turned on the coffee, brushed my teeth and went to pour that first cup--the thick first couple of ounces when it just starts to brew, and then realized that I had to open a new box of sweet and low that i'd bought yesterday.
And when I got it out of the cupboard, guess what? Madeleina hadn't just put it away, but she'd opened the box and cut open the silver foil packet inside for me.
It may not seem like much but I was overwhelmed at the gesture. My little girl, with no prompting, thought of me and what I would be doing this morning and knew that package would have to be opened and so she got it done. That was very very thoughtful.
I know. I'm easily moved. But if every one of us could think that way and do something like that for someone else once every day, we'd probably have half the world's problems solved in a month.
I'm glad she's my kid and hope your kids do something little but magical for you today too.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sorry, but One More About Ayahuasca

Someone who recently read my book, someone I don't know, wrote this morning to ask about whether ayahuasca has a selfish side. It came in reference to a moment in the book when ayahuasca asks me to bring her "fresh meat", which scared the hell out of me. So I wrote this answer, and I don't think it will ruin the book for anyone since it's not that kind of book.

Dear X: Now, your question: It is hard to say, prior to understanding fully, some of the things that go on with ayahuasca. When I first saw the Man with the Hat, for instance, he was the size of the entire universe, and so it was frightening beyond words when he said I should follow him. Later, it turned out he was sent to help me--and has helped me ever since.
So the fresh meat: Does that mean she wants me to come after I've done a dieta for days so that I will be fresh meat, rather than some old white guy? Maybe.
Has my having been instrumental in making ayahuasca known and subsequently making her a destination for thousands and thousand of people gotten her ego piqued? Does she now think she's a little more important than she is and so wants "fresh meat" to work with in the way of more guests, not just from me but from others and from those who will seek her out because of things like my book? Possibly. I do believe that all spirits/life forces have will, intent, desires. So who is to say she, like the rest of us, doesn't have a bit of an ego that can get out of hand sometimes?
That is something I've been trying to figure out for nearly two years. And during that time I've only drunk a few times because of my fear of approaching her. There is a part of me that knows--and if you want you can chalk this all up to my own insane ego--that there was a reason I wound up writing the first cover story in a national magazine about ayahuasca. I wasn't chosen but I was in the right place/right time. I think my relationship with her spirit is a bit different than a lot of other peoples' because of that. I think she has made demands on me--some of which I didn't write about because they might frighten people--that she has probably not made on many people. One was once when she announced that she and the spirits would need my body, that they wanted to feel the tactile sensations humans felt. So I sent the family away, told her I'd go along with it only if those spirits didn't do anything to hurt me or the person with me, my friend Lynn. And then we drank and for several hours hundreds of different spirits moved through me for a few minutes each. They wanted to touch water, leaves, smell flowers, sing, scratch skin.....and they had to be told "no" pretty freaking forcefully when one of them wanted to cut my fingers with a knife to see how it felt to bleed. If anyone had seen me that night other than Lynn I am sure I would have been put in a looney bin. That was a frightening experience, but one I was glad to let her have because of what she has given me. And at the end of it I was led to sit under that throbbing, fantastic corona I describe in the book. I thought my body would burst from the energy that corona had.
So there are some things left out of the book, some things that will go into another book if I ever gather enough good material. Why were they left out? Because I don't have enough understanding of what happened yet. The crush of going into that black magic space, in the center of everything, I've only tasted it. What will it be like to experience that crush of myself within the gears of the machine that runs the universe? I don't know so I didn't want to discuss it much.
I am gathering up my courage. I am remembering that there is a reason this spirit and I came together, and it wasn't just by accident. If Moises hadn't said the word, if Alfonso wasn't home that day, I likely would never have tried it. But I will need a lot of courage to jump into that fire fully. It's a frightening place because it's deeper each time, more demanding each time. And yet I suppose, if I gather up my courage, it will be more rewarding as well. The spirits are as deep and dense and wonderful as our spirits are and the chance to plumb the depth of one as sturdy as ayahuasca is a rare one.
When I do will I discover her to be selfish? I don't think so. I think this is just another test, and that it is a test for both her and I. We are somehow intertwined--and she may well be intertwined with thousands of others--and that story needs to play out, needs to come out on another side. And the other side won't just be being a curandero. It will be something else. I think Julio did it. Some other curanderos have done it. But not many. I think it would mean the same thing as it meant for those spirits to inhabit my human body for a few minutes: It might mean, and I think it certainly would entail, me inhabiting her spirit for a few minutes. And that, while a wonderful thought, is also an overwhelmingly frightening one.
Anyway, if I ever find out if ayahuasca is selfish, I'll let you know.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday Morning, Bucolic Joshua, Texas

Saturday morning here in bucolic Joshua, Texas. Madeleina is on the couch behind me, watching Saturday morning shows and cartoons in here, my office, because the damned remote for the living room television isn't changing any channels anymore, despite having new lithium batteries. We're headed out to the chicken coop in a little while, to continue the work Madeleina and my friend Mike did, which is to put string across the high posts around the coop as a sort of string-roof that might keep the big, beautiful, chicken-eating red tailed hawks away. We're gonna try to make it a sort of spider web, so that even if a hawk gets in, he/she will have a tough time getting out. When Mike made it he used kite string. We're going with twine. And then we're gonna do what he did, which is put silver foil strips on the string to help confuse the birds. The hawks, I mean, as the chickens are already plenty confused without any help from us.
And then I'm gonna finish the second section of front porch fencing--jeez that job has been going on forever! and get that in place, leaving just one smallish section. Hopefully it will all be done tomorrow so that I can paint it this week after I do a good Chloroxing of the porch floor.
And then I'll put a story I'm working on to bed on Monday. And then I can start working on the cover stories I've lined up. Sweet!
This morning Chepa called from her boyfriend's in Indiana. She's missing being home, missing Madeleina, Marco, Italo, Sara and Taylor Rain. Well, down here we're missing Chepa's laughter but we're also missing Sierra and Alexa. I'm glad they're getting so much time with their dad, but at the same time, how much time is too much time? What about us? Specifically, what about me? I miss the heck out of those little girls. I miss them messing up the house, pulling dozens of books from the bookshelves to give me to read to them; I miss them asking "And what about the donuts, Mr. P Garman? Don't forget the donuts!"; and I miss them jumping on the trampoline, being afraid of goatguy and having me carry the both of them to the chicken coop to keep him away from them. I miss their laughter and how they play with Madeleina. I miss 'em a lot.
The trade off is that when Chepa and the girls are here I lose time with Madeleina when she's at Chepa's.
The lesson? If you can avoid it, don't do anything to help break your family into pieces, because, like Humpty-Dumpty, even if you can later make the best of it, it will never be whole again.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Book Offer

So the hard cover copy is actually available and a friend wrote about it and then I responded with this. Either I believe I really have a pretty good book or I am very very full of mierde, as we would say in Spanish. But you know what I'm saying. So here goes.

Dear X: IF you are so inclined and don't mind ripping your friends off, the hardcover edition of Ayahuasca in My Blood--25 Years of Medicine Dreaming is now available from Lulu.com at the outlandish price of $45.
If anyone wants to know what absolute strangers think of it, go to amazon.com and look at the reader's reviews. There are seven of them and they're surprisingly good. Better than that: One reviewer calls it the "best book I've ever read, on any subject", which is pretty high praise. One reader wrote on the forums.ayahuasca.com page (under the section on "Books") that "Peter Gorman runs through superlatives like cheap shoes," echoing Mickey Spillane to explain me.
I do think this book is great. Otherwise I wouldn't have spent 25 years thinking about it and then writing it.
So everybody should get one, tell 20 friends (assuming they like it) and then buy 10 copies to get their Christmas shopping done in August. How's that? Get it done! Have it finished! Who wants that nagging list coming up. Just buy lots of copies of my book, either through Powell's Books, Amazon.com, Lulu.com, BarnesandNoble.com or the 12 bookstores in England, France and the US that are now carrying it.
How's that for pushy?
It's really a good read, I think/hope. Anyone who buys it and thinks they were ripped off (worth less than $2 an hour for reading time) will be reimbursed by me, author, personally.
Peter G
PS: If you thought 6 hours of reading were great and worth $4 an hour, and then the other 6 hours were worthless, you will only get a $1 refund because I average out your ecstasy with your agony. But I will trust you all to tell me how it broke down.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What Do You Guys/Gals Think?

Good evening, everybody. Hope you're having a great meal or great time or great something. Here at the Gormans, Madeleina has been feeding animals, including the four hens and the two goats, goatguy and little goatguy, a new brown goat with a sprinkling of white powder on his nose, which I said looks like sloppy cocaine and Madeleina said, "Well, then why don't we call him Snorts?" and that's a name that might stick.
Marco is out running laps on the grass and he'll be in for the chicken dinner with boiled potatoes (parboiled in water, then finished in a bit of good chicken stock, some chicken juice from the chicken I'm making, some onion and garlic and a bit of basil. Relly good potatoes). Plus a cucumber/red onion sliver salad in garlic oil and good white vinegar, broccoli and cauliflower florets (have not figured how I should finish them) because the kids said they would not eat any more zuccini/yellow squash in olive oil with a touch of garlic and diced tomatoes with good parmesan cheese. And then spinach in garlic and balsamic, a staple for me.
Plus the roast chicken, simply cut in half, roasted on top of celery stalks, brushed with fresh garlic in olive oil, fresh cracked black pepper and salt on both sides, and then given a light touch of fresh achiote that I brought back from the jungle for a nice yellow color/flavor/crispness to the skin. So that's that.
What I really want is a freaking half gallon of good rocky road ice cream but I'll make do with spinach and broccoli. Damnit! Who the hell let God be in charge of people's diets? I mean, I really just want chocolate and ice cream all day. I love veggies and I love chicken and fish and I love majas, the big fatty rodent from the amazon, but if I could love weight with ice cream I probably wouldn't object to that kind of diet. So god, if you're listening, how bout rearranging a few cells in the human body for all of us, okay? I mean, we apparently love fries, onion rings, soda, ice cream, cake and chips. So can't you adjust a bit and make those weight loss items instead of killing foods????? Not a big deal for anyone who made the whole universe now, is it?
I'm having a glass of pretty cheap but pretty good champagne, Cooks.
Today I got a letter from a guy who expressed interest in publishing my book. He hadn't read it but he has now. He thinks it's powerful, fantastic, great, etc. Yes, I hope so, but thank you.
Now he publishes books on how to make movies. He's just starting a new label on spiritual books. He wants my book to be one of his first. I'm flattered.
BUTTTTT......the bottom line is that I would have to take my book out of circulation on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com and Powellsbooks.com and Lulu.com and not let the several bookstores who just started carrying it have any more until he published it next Fall. And then I'd get a decent cut--10% of sales revenues, about $1.00 a book, and 20% of foreign rights.
So I'm flattered to bits, but I'm thinking: I've paid for editors, I've paid my illustrator. I've paid for the Escher print on the cover and I'm about $5,000 in the hole after selling $5000 worth of books. But I am selling. Little by little. I've sold 45 books in August after selling 31 in July and 17 in June. I've got reviews coming out in the next few months, including in Shaman's Drum and MAPS. I've got a bunch of radio interviews coming out. And I think that everybody who reads the book tells their friends to buy it. Maybe I'm wrong but I'm thinking the circles are slowly getting larger and larger.
Am I kidding myself? Should I just take the $1,000 he's offering up front and hope for residual sales starting a year from now? Or do I believe in you and the universe that those who found the book a help in some sort of way, or those who found the book a good adventure, or a good whatever, will make the next month's sales double from 45 to 90 in half a month, and then up to 300 in October?
Maybe I'm deluded. I'm thinking it's a good book, a sort of astounding book. I know I write well. But I think this is something important for people. But I don't know. Maybe it's just my freaking ego. I'm thinking that if I keep selling it to you guys and your friends, that something good will happen. Like sell 5000 copies in a few months. And I'm thinking that if I let this guy, who would like the book, have it, I'll sell 5000 copies but only make 15% of what I currently take as the publisher. (And I'm giving away a lot of copies to book stores and reviewers so that number is misleading).
So what do I do? I'm being offered $1,000 and the promise of future sales against what I think is a small but growing audience. Am I nuts? Maybe there is no audience.
That's what I'm asking feedback on.
Thanks for your help on this.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

More Jungle Stuff

Well, Madeleina's back, I've got some parakeets singing in the background, Chepa is off to wherever to pick up Sierra and Alexa and spend some time with her boyfriend; Italo and Sara and Taylor Rain and Marco were over for dinner several times this week, both my trucks are suddenly suffering--which means I'm about to suffer--and I'm on about 18 deadlines for my local alternative weekly newspaper. So life is perfect--or perfectly insane--again, and I'm close to feeling right at home.
So I'm feeling I should be talking about the goings on at the Gorman's, but at the same time I'm sort of in a discussion on that board I occasionally post to and the discussion deals with the health of the people of Peru/the Amazon. One poster talked about the vibrant health of the people of the jungle; another, a well known and very articulate author named Steve Beyer, who has a book out called Singing to the Plants--that you all ought to buy after you've bought a second copy of my book (Ayahuasca in My Blood-25 Years of Medicine Dreaming, available from all internet sources and now a few bookstores too!)--questioned the claim of vibrant health among jungle people. He sites stats of average longevity, infant deaths, deaths of mothers giving childbirth and so forth and discussed the need for external medical help and its value.
Well, I couldn't help but wade in, and so this is what I weighed in with:

And just to throw the monkey wrench into everything, if do gooders would never have brought tee-shirts to the people of the jungle, they would still pick at each other and eliminate all lice, prevent insect bite infections and so forth. My family still does it, as does my team in Peru. They just sit one behind the other, pretty naked when no other gringos but me are around, and clean each other like monkeys, head to toe.
Sweating into those tee-shirts all day after you've gotten those insect bites is where the infections come from as a rule, I think. And not having anyone clean them when they start to infect finishes the job.
Now, can we get the natives naked again?
But there are a lot of doctors on trips out there who are passing out antibiotics that they are not administering dose by dose. And if you know people from the jungle, if you tell them to take 2 or 4 a day for 10 days and then disappear, well, those people will take the first day's medicine, then save the rest, putting a crimp in their immune systems. While it might make the doctor feel he's done something good and worthwhile, in fact he/she's just wreaked havoc with the health of a person or several people.
So while I like to help, I always have to keep in mind the honest adage that more harm has been done in the Third World by people with good intentions than all the harm done by evil men.
So there is a very very fine line here on what is permanent help (education); temporary help (addressing immediate needs) and what is a genuine hindrance (teaching people to wear tee-shirts all day because they should be embarrassed by their bodies, offering up medicines you will not be there to administer, handing out miracle drugs like aspirin which undermines the longer term but more permanently effective cures of the local curandero, rendering locals dependent on outsiders).
Hope you two don't mind the butt-inski in me...

To which Steve responded that yes, help had to be given in the correct way or it would do more harm than good. He then pushed on the "vibrant health of jungle people" question and so I was sort of compelled to answer. And this is what I wrote:

Well, to me it always seems they are all in vibrant health. They are just so strong, so agile, so quick. But I recognize a lot of my friends die there by the time they are 50. Some, like Julio, have lived till they were in their 90s, but most of my friends get a snake bite or something equally disastrous and are quickly gone long before that. Which I think is just a law of the jungle: Be strong enough to hunt or die.
I never thought much about the baby deaths. I know we in the West use them as a barometer of overall health to some degree, but in the Amazon, or at least deep in the Amazon, women often give the number of children they've had in two numbers: 21 and 12 for instance, or 16 and 9. That means they gave birth to 21 and 12 are still alive. Or gave birth to 16 with 9 still living. For us that is a large death ratio; for the harsh jungle I think it's simple attrition and it would be wrong to come in and supply medical care that would keep all of those 21 babies alive. That's too much fishing or hunting, that's too many people; those numbers represent too great a strain on the jungle.
Not that I like those babies suffering. I don't. But the real jungle is harsh and not for every baby to come into and survive.
I guess I don't see the life span as an issue. I think people are in great health out there until something happens and when it does, it's a disaster and they're gone.
The malaria that affects the brain swept through a huge swath of the Upper Yavari about 12 years ago and took dozens of babies and old people and people who were ill. Here that would be horrible. There it was a necessary culling process. And I know that sounds heartless and someone might ask "Well, would you want your family to lose some members because of something like that?" and the answer would of course be "no." But things are not perceived the same way out there. Out there a person who cannot hunt or fish or tend a chacra--field of yucca or plantain or whatnot--is a burden on the rest of the community and while the community is sad to see them go, there is also a sense of relief. A baby born deformed will often be strangled at birth with his/her umbilical cord. That sounds so heartless but it's not. In the Matses antigua, old ways, tradition, that dead baby would be put into a freshly made clay container--the container looked like a sort of oversized, round-ended football--and that container would be placed in a fire tended by his mother--with frequent visits by the father--for three days. At the end of that time the container would be opened and the mother and father would consume the ashes of their baby, so that the baby's spirit could come out again, be born again, this time without deformity, so that it could survive the jungle.
And I suspect that many of the babies in the "21 and 12" types of equations, even among mestizos, were often killed by infanticide, though it's not something the parents would talk about. Too many female babies, for instance--a standard in the entire Loreto region--might make for a sort of paradise for men in Iquitos and Requena, but are a disaster in the deep jungle. Who is going to hunt or fish for them when they grow up? Who will do the male parts of the living?
I know that sounds terribly chauvinistic, but it is a different world out there in the deep jungle. And I know there is less and less deep jungle but still, someone has to hunt, someone has to fish, someone has to burn the chacras, someone has to collect the food and wash the clothes and out there those jobs are pretty well defined as male or female. So female babies are often killed at birth. And never, in my little direct experience with it, in any but a respectful way that urges the baby's spirit to return in the future.
Given that, I think that those who survive have a sort of vibrant health. Yes, they get fungal infections a plenty. Yes, if family does not pick at insect bites daily, and clean the hair daily of peojos there will be lice. But in my experience most people get tended to. I know I do, even from my team. My ex, from Iquitos but just 3 generations removed from tribal life, still goes through all the kids' hair daily, and mine about once every two or three days, to check for lice eggs. And that's here in the States.
So I'm in a quandary about medical help. Yes, in villages that get too large--more than 50 people--something of a septic toilet would be invaluable. But in my experience, among people who know how to live in the jungle, the toilet is a deep hole in the ground that is shared, but constantly fed with plantain ash and sidra--jungle grapefruit--to kill bacteria. And the shack built around it is always built of saplings that prevent flies from entering. That is not the case at all in Iquitos or in many of the towns Steve mentions on the Tamishiyacu, or in Genaro Herrera. But those places are hardly jungle anymore and so jungle rules don't apply. Those people are generally not having 21 babies and too many females isn't an issue. Those females are going to go off to Iquitos or Lima and study and try to find jobs when they grow up is probably more the current day thinking, so they're not a liability. And for them, yes, medicines brought in from the outside can be a positive. Too, many of those people no longer know or have access to the full spectrum of jungle remedies and so need external medicines.
And those people are not in the same health at all as people in deeper jungle, I don't think.
It's early. Forgive me for rambling a bit. It's a subject that is often on my mind, particularly when i'm asked for medicines by jungle folk. I really prefer not to give them, but then hate to see suffering, so sometimes do.
How's that for muddying the whole issue?

And there you have it. Gorman's take on the issue of vibrant health, how to keep jungle toilets bacteria free and fresh, and the question of infanticide.
HA! And you thought you were going to get a cute little story about the new goat guy, didn't you? Or the fact that the hens are laying eggs the flavor of which I don't like, but which will change, I'm told, once they get used to eating what we feed them here--lots of fruits and veggies and rice and garlic and such. Well, no. I brought you to jungle illness instead.
And with all this writing this morning I'm already pooped.
Time for more coffee. Ah, coffee....the elixir of something...
Good morning, everybody!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Couple of Things About Sapo

On a forum on which I occasionally comment, the subject of sapo, the Matses' tree frog medicine came up. And one of the posters noted that they had seen someone take a good dose with little effect. My response is below.
To those who don't know what sapo is, it is a protective "goop" given off by the Phylomedusa bicolor frog which turns out to be about the most bioactive substance ever discovered, with 144 new proteins (and counting) that interact perfectly with the human body in its chemical makeup. Among those dozens are being investigated by pharmaceutical houses for new medicines. The frog, in fact, opened up an entire new avenue of investigation for Western medicine, and by chance, I was the first guy to write about having taken the substance and what it's effects were. My report, made more than 25 years ago, turned out to be, surprisingly, the first account ever--so I've been told--of a human taking an animal product directly into the blood stream for the purpose of medicinal use. I say directly into the blood stream because the administration of sapo is done by burning the epidermis (generally the upper arm but really it can be done anywhere) with a red hot piece of vine, tamishi, then scraping the burned skin to expose the capillarys. The medicine is then applied to those.
Enough background. Here's my response to the question of why one person would get laid flat by the medicine and another might not appear to get much effect:

As a rule, if someone gets little effect from the sapo, it was either due to how that particular frog was collected or what happened with the frog in the previous week.
The Phylomedusa bicolor is a tree frog. It's primary predators are tree snakes. With few exceptions--like the Loro Machaco, most tree snakes are either constrictors or rear-fanged. They approach the frog and then take it into their mouths, holding it in place with their tiny backwards-slanting teeth. In that moment the frog gives off it's protective medicine, the "venom" or "sapo". (You must remember that the word "sapo" means Toad in Spanish, and so the correct word should be "rana", but that the Mayoruna/Matses from whom we originally get the medicine did not, in 1986 when they gave it to me, speak enough Spanish to know the word "rana" and so called all of the amphibians that looked like frogs and toads "sapo.")
The sapo freezes the snake as it goes directly into the mucous membrane of the snake's mouth. The frog then extricates him/herself and escapes. If the frog is a moment late and the snake can get it into it's throat, it is crushed.
Now once that frog has give up it's protection, it takes about a week to accumulate it again. Just like a snake's venom. And if someone collects that frog and extracts its cream-colored "sap", it will look just like good medicine sapo but will have no or little strength. That accounts for many people getting sticks of sapo that are not very strong.
There is also the matter of collecting the frog. When properly collected, the collector never touches the frog. The branch on which the frog sits is cut and that is carried back to wherever the extraction is going to occur. The frog is left on the tree branch while the four little stakes are put in place and the four strings that will tie the frogs' fore and back legs are made. Only when all that is set up is the frog touched, and then very gingerly. That assures that the maximum potent medicine can be extracted. If the frog is touched previously, it will be frightened and give off it's protective "venom" and so while a person can still collect the "goop", it won't have much potency.
And then even if the frog is collected properly, without being disturbed, if the collector pushes to get all of the "sap" from the frog, much of it will have diminished potency. So one end of a stick of sapo might be very powerful while the other end is not. Remember, the material is there for a split-second release that can afford the frog freedom. Anything beyond that initial release is not nearly as powerful.
Which is why four or five people getting medicine from the same stick can have very different responses to the medicine in terms of its potency. If a frog is very well collected and has not given off its 'venom' in the previous week, and if the medicine burn is made with tamishi, the vine of choice for the Mayoruna/Matses, and if the tamishi is a full 1/4 inch in diameter, then four burns will have most humans, regardless of weight, begging for mercy within about 90 seconds.
Two other points, though they are off-discussion here--I think they're interesting--is that cockroaches and waterbugs can devour several sticks of sapo in a single night. And believe me, that's annoying. So don't let them at it.
And secondly, if properly collected, I know of no expiration of power. I've still got sticks from more than 20 years ago that are as potent as brand new material. That I find pretty amazing.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Da Book, Manly Work, Feeling Sorry for Myself

First, good morning. Whew...glad we got that out of the way.
First, the book. Surprisingly, some copies of Ayahuasca in My Blood--25 Years of Amazon Dreaming are being sold. Not 1000, but nearly 100, not counting the people who have bought straight through me. Just a week ago two different book stores, one in the UK and one here in the US, bought 10 and 4 books, respectively. I don't know who they are, but I'm hoping it's an indication that some people are asking for it and then some bookstore owners are looking into it and finding it something they should have on their shelves. Cool.
So go get one from Amazon.com. And if you do, and you happen to find it good--or brilliant or whatever--write me a review on the amazon.com page. I've got six up there now and 5 of them are 5 star reviews. One was a 4 star. I have never met any of those people though one of them posts on the ayahuasca.com forums. The others? I've got no clue whatsoever. So I guess the work is making sense to some people. Now, if I can just get that number to start rolling into the thousands, well, that would make for a good Christmas for a couple of pals who could use a hand these days.
Might not matter to anyone but me, but it's nice to see that in the first month I sold 20 copies; in the second I sold 31 and this month, with the bookstore boost, I'm already up to 35 and we're only on August 8. If that trend would continue, well, that would be swell!
Now, Manly Work: I finally bought the darned new blade for my circular saw and began marking off the lengths of the wood I need to rebuild that front porch fence. Which is what I'm about to do, after I quit stalling with this blog. It's hot and it's gonna be noisy and I'm gonna use hammers and screwdrivers and a crowbar to pull the old sections apart, so that adds up to Manly Work. Ahhhh.....something I only like after it's done.
Now for being the luckiest guy in the world, man can I be a sissy. I've felt lonesome since my old college pal and Marfa cohort left town on Tuesday. So I got high on wine and soda and went to bed early the last three nights. Like 8 o'clock early. That is going to stop. As of now. No more of that nonsense, Gorman. You got a life to live, and that doesn't include being a sorry son of a bitch.
Glad I had that little talk with myself. I needed it.
And thanks for being witness to it.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Madeleina's Almost Home

Well, it's Saturday morning and my Madeleina's almost done with Peru. I'm sure by now she never wants to come home but then that's what makes traveling so fantastic. You just learn and learn and walk around wide-eyed whether you're traveling in Paris or North Africa or hitchhiking across the use or hopping riverboats in the Amazon. Everything new and fresh. Madeleina and others used to ask "why do you keep going back to Peru? Why not elsewhere?" And while I do travel elsewhere, for the big trips--aside from being able to make them work trips that produce at least a little income after they pay for themselves--the reason is that I cannot ever remember going to bed in Peru without having learned something new that day. And while she was with me, after about a month, one evening Madeleina said, "I know what you mean now, dad. Everything is new. You learn so much every day your head feels like it's going to explode!"
That's my baby and she's coming back this Tuesday. I can't wait.
And of course, that meant I had to get over to the lovely woman who sold us our goats originally and who was boarding Goatguy while I was gone. I just hadn't managed to get that done in the 10 or 13 days since I've returned from the Amazon. So this morning I got Marco over here and off we went. And wouldn't you know....well, I could see it coming even if nobody else did, I wound up with a new goat to go along with Goatguy. So now we're up to 4 laying chickens, two parakeets, one cat, one dog and two goats. A far cry from the menagerie we had but still, it's a start and gives me something to do with myself in the afternoons when it's time to feed and spend time with them.
Which is something that's been bothering me. I realized fairly recently that while I'm very sharp and very smart, I sometimes miss things right in front of my face, particularly when it pertains to me. For instance, I can't sleep lying down in Peru. I just wind up sleeping sitting up at a table or desk, a pile of pillows or my knapsack to lean on. I think it's not really apnea but more like sinuses clogged with all the jungle vegetation--or in the mountains, dust--that winds up making me feel like I'm drowning when I lie down. So I don't. So I wind up with legs the size of a house in a couple of weeks, and then, what with collecting sins and pain from people who do the ayahuasca, I wind up with this staph infection. But I'm sure the infection is aided and abetted by insect bites and not helped by my use of baygon directly on my skin as I don't put on long pants. So I was thinking, what about if I bought a pair of loose, lightweight sweatpants and wore those instead of just shorts?
See what I mean? For 25 years I've been getting bitten mercilessly out there in the deep green and never once thought to get a pair of sweatpants to solve the problem.
Not looking out for myself, I guess.
And then today I woke with the realization that just because I'm home does not mean I have to sit in front of the computer from 5 AM till 4 PM daily. I mean, today I worked my butt off on the net collecting information for the next few stories I'm working on. And now I've got 3-4 phone calls to make when I finish this. But then that's it. I will have done all I really can for a Saturday, made good progress on several stories, and I should just get the hell off this thing and go ride my bike or start cutting the slats for the new fence around the porch--I've had the wood for months but have not gotten around to that. But whatever I do, I certainly don't need to just sit at the computer like some idiot.
So I'm gonna try to start looking out for myself a little more than I have been. I think that would be a good thing. I mean, I keep talking about having an endless supply of love to give, so endless that the more you give the more you have to give, but it might be time to freely give some of that to me as well. In a positive sense. Like remembering to shave more than once a week. Or remembering to get a new shirt once in a while. Not often, just sometimes. Or buying sweatpants for the jungle. Little things I'd probably like having done.
Now just for the fun of it, do something nice for yourselves today too, okay? There will probably still be plenty of time to do what you need to do for everybody else.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Luckiest Guy in the World

Well, I hope you all feel like you're the luckiest people int he world and I hope you don't mind that I do as well. I just sit here--wherever I am--sometimes and sort of break out chuckling. Yes, I've got my problems. No, there isn't enough money. No, I'm not getting the sexual attention I want. No, the government isn't going to give me back the land they've taken through eminent domain. No, I have not become enlightened, given up cigarettes or enjoy a day without a couple of whiskeys in it. And no, my stories still won't write themselves.
BUTTTTTT, I still chuckle when I think of the joy I get by living my life. I've got everything. I've got my fantastic kids, a grandbaby, two old Ford Rangers that have nearly 500,000 miles between them but are fully paid for and run real well. I've got a house halfway paid for and a beautiful piece of property. I get to be an investigative reporter for one of the best weekly papers in the country, I got to finish my book, I even got those awards. I get to take people down to the Amazon and give them a glimpse of another way to live, partly through the medicines we use and partly just by slowing them down enough to count the leaves on the trees rather than just seeing the forest. I have gotten to rebuild my own boats on the Amazon, have collected plants and artifacts and that fantastic frog, the Phylomedusa bicolor, with that wonderful medicine. I get to work with the most amazing team several times a year down there, get to get wired up getting a trip ready and then fired up while running it and later breaking it down. I get to meet fantastic people all the time, many of whom stay in touch years later, an indication that they were touched by something on the trips.
When I was younger I was just as lucky. I got to grow up in a great family, got to learn how to eat with beggers and dine with kings, got to play sports into my 50s and will again now that I've been given the green light by my surgeon in Cuzco, Peru. I worked wonderful art galleries, helped build Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, had a roommate in college who taught me how to be cool and smart, had three fantastic teachers in Pablo, the Matses headman, Moises, my jungle survival teacher and Julio, the ayahuasquero. I had Clare love me for years--though I didn't really know how to take it very well, something I have since grown into--and Gail, and Albie and then Chepa. And even though the Chepa marriage didn't finally work, for five-six years I was the happiest married guy on the planet. And now we get along, so even that turned out okay.
And last week I had an old college pal come into town--I hadn't seen her in 40 years--and we took a long drive out to Marfa, Texas, an artist's colony, and just had a freaking blast, talking late into the night for days.
And then the animals that died while I was in Peru have mostly been replaced and once again I hear those birds in their cage in the kitchen having a good time singing and shouting at me. And Boots the wonderdog is still fantastic.
A few minutes ago I got to load the garbage into my truck to haul it to the dump. And when I'm done that I'm driving on to go pay the water bill. And I'm happy about those things too. I guess I'm just saying thanks to the universe. And I guess I've been saying it for a while now. Thanks that the flesh eating infection on my legs has stopped eating flesh. Thanks that today is just such a great day to be alive. And I'm hoping you are feeling just as lucky as me.