A Newbie Guide to Cannabis


A Newbie Guide to Cannabis

by Gene Wilburn

On October 16, 2018, Canada will legalize marijuana, or cannabis, as it’s more often called these days. Buying and using cannabis will be legal, but each province is creating its own plan and policy for selling it.

In Ontario there’s been a flip-flop in how it will be sold: the previous Liberal government had decided to sell it through an official provincial sales operation, similar to the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). The new Conservative government scrapped those plans and says it will allow licensed vendors to sell cannabis directly. Already the Shoppers Drug Mart chain has been granted a license to sell.

Whatever else you might expect, expect some initial chaos across the country as the law takes effect. There will be confusion, but there will also be some elation, and those of us who have used cannabis for years will bask in the warm glow of vindication.

As an experienced user of medical cannabis I would like to make an anecdotal contribution to the education of new users, or to those who maybe tried marijuana in the 60s and 70s but haven’t touched it since.

Cannabis is a drug

Above all else, cannabis is a drug and if you’re the clean-body/clean-mind type, you probably don’t want to use it. If Tai-Chi , yoga, meditation, or doing crossword puzzles gets you off, then be content with it. Although I doubt you’ll be tempted to try it anyway, the circumstance might arise and if you are tempted, here are some tips to bear in mind.

  1. There are two main types of drug in cannabis: THC and CBD. The one that gets you high is THC and on legal cannabis it’s clearly marked as to strength. Back in the 60s it’s estimated that the THC levels of most marijuana was around 7-15%. Today’s strains range all the way up to 30% or so for the high-THC products. CBD, on the other hand, does very little to get you high, but many users report that it helps with body pains such as arthritis and works as a ‘feel better’ drug for those who don’t want to get high.
  2. Because it’s a drug, cannabis will affect your body/brain mechanisms, resulting in a high or a balm, depending on the type. In some people, especially beginners, this can kick off a reaction of paranoia or a knot in the stomach that can be hard to shake off. If you have access to any kind of tranquillizer, it’s a prudent idea to have one nearby if you start feeling very uncomfortable. Any panic reaction tends to lessen as your body becomes more accustomed to usage.
  3. If you feel you’ve had too much substance, try not to panic. It will pass. If you’re trying cannabis for the first time, it’s good to have an experienced user around to reassure you that you’re okay. Listen to music you like, and you’ll eventually go into a deep, relaxing sleep, waking refreshed. However, if you have such a bad panic reaction you can’t handle it, call an ambulance and the hospital will give you a sedative to calm you down.
  4. If you find you like cannabis and use it often, your body will develop a tolerance for the drug and you may require more hits or a higher THC percentage. That’s normal. However, do realize that you can become addicted to the substance. No, not like hard drugs like opioids or even alcohol, but you can get psychologically addicted to cannabis. There’s not a lot of research that’s yet been done on long-term cannabis use so moderation is advised.
  5. It goes without saying, don’t get high and drive. It’s not known how much cannabis you need to constitute a hazard on the road, but it’s better not to take chances. As with alcohol, it’s best to have a dedicated driver if you’re at a social event, or to call a taxi to go home or to the theatre.

Forms of intake

Back in the day, about the only form cannabis came in were marijuana cigarettes, usually called joints, or spliffs, or doobies, whatever the local jargon dubbed them (“reefers” way back in the 20s and 30s). Today’s choices are very different.1

  1. Cigarettes, or joints, are still around and happen to be highly portable. You inhale from a joint just as you would from a tobacco cigarette. This is called “taking, or having, a toke.” This is the traditional form of marijuana and is still in widespread use. It’s also the harshest introduction to cannabis because you’ll likely end up choking and coughing a fair bit. Joints are convenient, but there are pleasanter options.
  2. Bongs. I’ve never used a bong but the principle they work on is to filter hot cannabis smoke through water to cool it off before inhaling. They’re still around, but most users are moving to vapes.
  3. Vapourizers, or vapes. A vapourizer is a device in which you load your ground cannabis flowers. Its  heating chamber heats the cannabis just to the point before it starts burning (as in a joint) and releases the active components of the drug as a vapour that you inhale. This is much easier on the throat and lungs than the harsh additional tars and smoke you get from a joint. Vapes come in desktop versions (best for sharing) and portable versions. As with any other device in this age, you can look up online reviews for user ratings.
  4. Tinctures, or drops. Tinctures, also called cannabis drops, are one of the nicest ways to consume cannabis. They come with a calibrated dropper so you can measure exactly how much cannabis you’ll ingest. You swallow your dosage instead of inhaling it. The downside of tinctures is that they take some time to release the THC and/or CBD into your system — up to an hour or two. If you try a tincture, experiment by starting with small amounts, e.g., 0.25ml. If you’re okay with that, you can try 0.5ml or more. But be careful with the timing because the effects can creep up on you like too many margaritas. Don’t take more if you’re not feeling anything. Just wait it out.
  5. Edibles. Edibles are one to be extra careful with. Unlike tinctures, or drops, you don’t usually know how much cannabis you’re ingesting. They come in the form of candies, cookies, brownies, and just about anything that can be baked. Some folks like to make ‘cannabis butter’ to add to things they’re cooking or eating. There are instructions on how to do this on the web, but the watchword is caution. Like tinctures, edibles don’t act fast. Take small portions and wait at least two hours before deciding it isn’t working or isn’t strong enough. Most people who get into difficulty from an extra large dose of cannabis get it from edibles.


There are a few accessories that you might want to add to your kit if you become a regular user.

  1. Cigarette paper. To roll a joint you need cigarette papers to hold the cannabis. These are easy to find in shops or online.
  2. Lighter. If you’re new to cannabis and are a non-smoker, in the form of tobacco, you’ll need matches or a cigarette lighter to light and/or re-light your joints. You can pick up a small lighter at any convenience store.
  3. Roach clip. As a joint nears the end, it’s useful to have some kind of clip to hold the last of the joint (called a “roach” because it’s usually dark brown and looks like a cockroach) so you don’t burn your fingers. An alligator clip works fine.
  4. Ashtray. Again, if you’re a non-smoker, you may not own one. It’s a cheap and worthwhile investment.
  5. Cigarette roller. It takes a couple of tries to figure out how to roll joints in a rolling machine, but it makes the nicest joints you could wish for. They’re inexpensive.
  6. Cleaning fluid and cotton swabs. If you purchase a vape, you need to clean it regularly because the resins in cannabis will begin to coat and plug the filters inside the mechanisms. Head shops sell special cleaning fluids, but you can do just as well to pick up a bottle of 99% Isopropyl Alcohol and some Q-tips from a drugstore and daub the Q-tips in alcohol to clean out the cannabis chamber and the mouthpiece, mesh filters, and tubes. Regular cleaning is required.


There are a few courtesies to be observed:

  1. Odours. To some users cannabis smells wonderful, but some people dislike the smell and may even be allergic to it. The strongest odours come from smoking joints. As a courtesy, never light up a joint in anyone’s home without making certain they’re okay with it. Try to smoke your joint outdoors if you can, rather than have it fill your house or apartment with heavy, resinous smells. The same holds for automobiles. Vapes make far less odour but there is some and it’s distinct. Again, use common courtesy. Don’t inflict your odours on someone who might object to them.
  2. Obey the law. Don’t smoke where it’s not allowed. Not only may it not be appreciated, but you could be fined.
  3. Don’t imbibe and drive. This is just common sense. After some experience, you may begin to know your limit, but cannabis can lead you to think more optimistically about your driving skills than is warranted. Be careful.
  4. Avoid smoking up in front of children. I shouldn’t even have to mention this, but respect everyone’s sensitivity to having their children exposed to cannabis smoke. Some parents would rather not have you even mention it in front of their kids. Be a good citizen and friend.

Cannabis is not a panacea

Some of us, and I’ll admit I’m one, used to say in the 60s that, “hey, a panacea is a panacea” referring to marijuana. It was a joke that had some truth in it, but also some falsehood.

Medical cannabis, according to the anecdotal evidence of its users, can help with a number of medical problems. It is said to help with the nausea you get from chemotherapy. It helps some people sleep at night. It helps many with arthritis pains. It helps restore appetite for some. It helps me with my depression.

The thing to remember is that all these claims are anecdotal. There’s not been much research into cannabis because it was a banned substance for so long. Research is at its beginnings, and some of the claims of users may be corroborated and some may be debunked.

For body aches in particular, the high-CBD, low-THC mixtures are the best way to start. These will not give you the typical ‘high’ of cannabis and are therefore easy to assimilate.

Speaking anecdotally, I find I need a relatively high THC content for my depression. As they often say in geek forums, YMMV, meaning “your mileage may vary.” Depression is tricky to treat and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another.

Giggles and munchies

When you get high on cannabis and have no  unpleasant reaction to it, the main thing you feel is a kind of spacey euphoria. Time will slow down. Music will sound wonderful. You’ll likely also get the “munchies” — that is, you’ll get hungry. Food will taste ambrosial. Any food. Including potato chips. Even gummy bears. And you’ll laugh and giggle a lot. You may have interesting mental insights (and may also want to jot some of them down). This can be a lot of fun — hence the recreational in “recreational drugs.” If you’re a regular user, the munchies can also make you fat, take it from me.

Have a good trip

In summary, cannabis, like alcohol, is a mixed bag. Be careful, courteous, and polite when using it. Use it in comforting circumstances, such as your own familiar surroundings or some place where you feel relaxed. Don’t exaggerate its effectiveness — cannabis zealots are very tiring — but certainly enjoy its effects.

One last thing to remember: cannabis does not give you a hangover. That in itself gives it an edge over alcohol as a recreational drug. If you need a clear head in the morning, it’s a better choice than alcohol.

As we used to say in the 60s: “Have a good trip!”

1When I first mentioned to my family doctor that I was taking medical cannabis he asked me “Where do you get it?” I answered, “From Tilray, in Nanaimo, BC.” “What is the delivery mechanism?” he asked. “Courier,” I answered. He laughed and laughed and then said, “I mean how do you take the cannabis into your system?”

Reprising the Sixties

Reprising the Sixties

By Gene Wilburn

I dropped some acid a few days ago and took my first LSD trip since my early twenties. This was primarily an experiment in treating my clinical depression — there have been some studies recently indicating that some depression patients have experienced relief from their depression after taking small doses of LSD or psilocybin (magic mushrooms). A few reported that they no longer had any depression at all.

To be honest, though, there was a secondary reason: a curiosity to see what an acid trip would be like as a senior sailing through his seventies. So when I was offered some not-too-strong, and clean (i.e., already tested by someone I trust), blotter acid, I decided to accept what fate had put before me and see if I could reprise the 60s.

I started early in the day because I knew from experience that an acid trip lasts a long time and I didn’t want to be tripping in the wee hours after midnight. That was my first concession to age. I wanted to retire close to my normal bedtime, which is midnight.

My second concession to age was to have some tranquillizers handy in case I needed to take some of the edge off the trip, knowing I don’t have the stamina of a twenty-something any longer.

Because of the clinical aspect of the trip — seeing if it would help my depression, I decided to keep notes and write out freeform thoughts while tripping, to see if this might result in any interesting information or insights. To this end I parked my Macbook Air on my lap, kicked back my half of the reclining love seat, and let the blotter paper dissolve on my tongue as long as possible before swallowing the sodden leftovers.

It didn’t take long to feel the acid coming on but I won’t try to describe the feelings other than it was pleasant (if you like this sort of thing) and even more intense than I remembered. It was more a mental trip than a visual one and I’ll share bits of it from my journal — selected passages and lightly edited for clarity.

Trip Advisory and Journey. 17 Sep 2017 Sun 10:00a. TV Nook, Planet Earth

Do I have any expectations? There are some academic curiosities, like, will this trip help with my depression? There have been some clinical studies indicating that controlled amounts of hallucinogens, either in the form of LSD or Psylocibin (magic mushrooms) to be effective. I’ve heard it both ways.

So, in part, this is a science experiment. Also, it’s a need. I feel a need to probe deeper into things, to get under the surface and then to look at both the surface and what’s underneath with new appreciation. I won’t say understanding, because that implies a cognitive bias I don’t know that I could earn. I’m not a wise man. I’m a curious man.

So, how do I spend the part of my day here when I have my initial rushes, all on my own. Well, I planned it that way because I’m always most comfortable being alone. Weird, when I like others so much. But, as they used to say back in the day, “he’s comfortable in his own skin.” I no longer have a need to be more than I am. I no longer have the need to project a persona on the world I greet. I’m done with most of that. One key aspect of my public persona though is that I keep it clean. I’m old school and not a little marm’ish at times but I’m not comfortable saying “fuck” in public and even have to force myself into a “shit” unless the humour demands it.

Ah, that’s my starting point of life: humour. Maybe I got some of this from my dear mom because, lord, we used to laugh at things when I was growing up. She was a dear woman. Not an intellectual, but very deep, and wise as far as her wisdom could take her. And as genuine as the earth itself. There was no deception in that woman. She was sheer honesty. It caused her her own depression. I’m certain of that now. I couldn’t have been easy to raise such a big family in such a changing, active, confusing world. She and Urs [my step-dad] were both country people by nature and never adapted totally to “city” life, which could be but a small town anywhere else.

So today, this appointed day that is random, naturally enough, is the day for tripping. I’ll never catch all my thoughts as they stream by, but when I’m writing I can lure some of the more interesting ones. I gotta say, I’m enjoying this trip. It feels like a homecoming.

On Photography

Once I get going, I blend with the machine [camera body] and the optics [lenses] and let my analytical mind mix with my creative mind to see what they can relate to the rest of the world as an image. This is the best part of photography. The pure visual exploring combined with technology. Art and science meeting, and creating their own kind of magic. Not as magical as painting or drawing, I’m afraid, but my talent doesn’t lie in those areas so I can’t draw on that side of me. Photography, though, resonates.

The other “new” camera is a Sony RX100 Model IV, replacing my honourable and battle-tried Model II. It’s a camera for exploring a different side of things. Low light things, and city things, and patterns, reflections, textures, and shadows I notice around the house. It’s better suited to that than the DSLR, which intrudes more into the immediate experience of the image. DSLRs are at their best for nature, sports, portraits, closeups, nearly everything really, but they’re not as intimate. They can be, but you have to be cautious when you bring them to the party or they dominate in ways native to their design. Better a smaller, lighter, more tactful, camera, at times. And that’s where the Sony comes in. It’s not inconspicuous, but it’s a small intrusion into reality that can yield precious insights and glimpses of this whatever-it-is that is us, and the universe, and everything, to put it into Douglas Adams terminology. It’s hard to go wrong with Adams.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

[Douglas Adams] is one of those zany people I wish I had known, if only from a distance. I suspect he could have had a big influence on me if I’d met him earlier than I did. But I did, like many Canadians, meet him on the radio. The CBC, just before or just after the news, I can’t recall. Probably before, because the radio alarm was set to come on radio prior to the news, to give us a chance to try to come to before hearing the worst. There was that little banjo piece — that was lost in the TV series and the movies. Oh they kept it in as an artifact from the radio series, but on radio that banjo sent out a message of its own. Come here, children, and I’ll tell you a tale. It’s a little strange, as you know only too well. Because it’s you I’m aiming it to. You know, and you respond. How could you not? It was like the Pied Piper from Space.

So in amongst all your colleagues and friends you reverted to “normal” and talked about normal things and news, but in the background of your mind, that little banjo tune lingered, reminding you that “normal” was a point of view, like any other, and really, who could say what is reality?

Then, occasionally, you’d bump into someone besides your lovely Marion, who got it in one, who also got it. Also got Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the same way you did. That the two of you weren’t alone. There were others.

With its extraordinary subsequent success, it’s hard to remember how personal it felt, at the beginning. How it was known to only a few. Well, those who listen to CBC anyway, and that alone put you into the right mix of minds. The CBC couldn’t be the BBC, obviously, because there can only be one BBC (which it has to forever live up to), but I digress. Suffice it to say that the CBC was cultural, sensitive, and sly. They knew who was listening, and they made the most of it at a time when wags could connect at a conversational level. Not at all like today’s Facebooking and friending and openness. There was a shy, sly reserve, and a pride in Canada that peeked out through everything they did, at one point in the 60s and 70s.

Politics and Bosses

None of this [the specialness of the CBC] has survived the Barbarians at the Gates, of course who never saw the shy, sly side of it at all. It was just a fucking spreadsheet to them. This brings in advertisers, will have more the same, thank you. Bosses everywhere. But a few of those early bosses also had a sense of humour and community, a sense now lost among the Trumpians of the world, may they have joy of their 3%. Or is it 1%? I can’t keep these political divisions straight.

No, I was never wired well for politics. I get into my hates and my loathings, the same as anyone who gives a fuck about the world and its people and embraces the earth mother: how shall I take care of all my precious children? All of them. The little ones whose homes are of the forest or the oceans. As Malvina said, so poignantly, “What have they done to the rain?”

I can’t believe we’re still facing the same bullshit as always. But there, as Marion often cautions me, I must tread carefully, because history tells this story over and over and it never ends well for the likes of us. And yet we dream. Oh, don’t we dream. We are the dreamers, those who dream of equality and “my soul acknowledges your soul” and we’re all part of this, each of us, in some way, and the worst is we know it, and so do they. They just don’t care. They’re in it for the ride, the high, all that money, fame, and fortune can bring. And, glimpsing this world, who wouldn’t be tempted, at least, by a quick glance at least, at the golden ring.

One ring to find us and into darkness bind us. That becomes the way to privilege, to be admired and be seen to be admired. It’s the easy way. Can we condemn those who have succumbed to its fantasies?

Not that we feel the slam of hard reality. Well, there’s that too, but in addition to that, there’s the optimism. Whence does it spring? Nothing pleases us more than its genuine expression in nature, in the way of flowers. That’s not the way the scientists see it, is it darling, but that’s an aside and quite aside from the totality of reality.

I need to take a pee break.

Guitar and the Blues

On the way back [from the bathroom], I saw my guitar and when my guitar truly beckons, I must needs answer her. I went through some of my favourite finger picking tunes — including the one that Rick Fielding taught me from the work of Doc and Merle Watson, “South Wind.” In that way I am humanly linked back to their work and absolutely love it.

Then I broke into folk song. And wouldn’t you know it, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” — that throbbing, achingly beautiful set of lyrics by Sandy Denny, that only she could ever truly know, but we all do too now that she taught us the melody and the exquisite chording. And you sing it, and I sing it, and we all sing it together because that’s how the magic works, you know?

But then to break into all that mushy stuff, in came the blues. Me I’m not a blues player. Let no one in their every-loving right minds ever associate me in any way with a real blues player. But. As soon as my hand forms that E chord followed by that E7 and some twangy bits, rolling over to A7, then barrelhousing into that mighty B7 and, look out everyone, it’s coming home to E! It’s the blues, the real thing, the real thing you can’t fake and you can’t shake because each and every one of youse started life in Africa, at the new dawning. Some folk prefer not to remember. Some even deny it could be true, but you know, baby, down deep, don’t’cha babe, that at the very bottom there is, and always has been, the blues. It’s at the heart of you.

And even those who live in the glitter, and look down on those who live in the gutter, you feel it too, don’t ya babe? At the very deepest bottom. There’s. just. the. blues.

I just blinked up for a moment. Yes, there’s me the writer on an acid trip jotting down things that catch my fancy, but the blues don’t catch your fancy. They catch you by the balls. And they say, hey baby, get real. But you also know that reality is too far. You could never make it that far. So what the blues do, they bring in that reality, and they show it up close. And you scream and you yell and you sing from the bottom of your soul, baby, because underneath it all, we all sing the blues.

And now I make the conscious decision to allow the blues to drift into the background, yet again, and become softer in memory than it was in reality because human kind cannot bear too much reality. Who said that? Eliot? Sounds like the kind of thing that if he didn’t say it, he should have. But when you bear reality and then meet bare reality, you have the starting point, not the stopping point. And that’s part of what the blues is all about too.

On Tripping as a Senior

You know, for adventurous seniors, a good acid trip near the end of your life is pretty insightful. It’ll leave you no verbally wiser than before but you’ve ‘seen’ and others who have ‘seen’ have ‘seen’ your ‘scene’ and you have ‘seen’ theirs and the ‘scene’ where we’re all together in is a really pretty sight to be … well … ‘seen.’ Are you digging this scene? Maybe not.

But as I was saying, for adventurous seniors who are willing to tread the edge even in their dotage, we’re weaving together a story. Who knows who has what part in it? And we’re all the heroes (heroines? — excuse the age gap) of our own narratives. We have to be. And we have to shine for others to see as well. Beacons of hope. Lighthouses in the dark. For our children’s children’s children’s children to still see and with the same clarity we sometimes see, as we explore reality.

It’s not a trip to be feared, though it may be tripper than you expected — but didn’t you kind of hope that would happen anyway? — and you will harvest much grace time while it glows upon you and within you. I’m not religious so it’s hard for me to explain it in different words, but it’s something akin to holiness, the most, perhaps, that you can ever expect to experience in one brief lifetime. But we gather our lights, and our stories, and our words, and our musics, and we keep pouring them back into the universe as if we expect she could hear. And in that gathering mess of metaphoric electricity, if she doesn’t exist, and she doesn’t hear, you’ll make her exist, you’ll make her hear. All her children. From all time, now and past. A pageant of life perhaps unlike any other life that has existed, or will ever exist. Into this empty void, we sing our songs of hope.

I don’t know if all this is going to make sense to me later, but I almost feel, mentally, like I did when I discovered the Unix operating system. What a digital threshold where the stars awaited. But will they [the stars] still want us when we get there? Will we still want them? Or is it just yesterday’s garbage in the bin to be picked up by someone — I don’t want to think about them really because what if they turned out to be real people, just like you, or me. No, you’ll find no refuge among the garbage or the flowers unless you bring it with you. Thanks for that, Leonard.

Sometimes trips to the washroom, at my advancing age, feel like an odyssey and, to be truthful, not all my sailors make it safely to shore. Remember this too, if you’re an aging hippie and want to do another LSD for the memories. It’s hard on the system. I just took a tranquillizer and I’m only two hours into my trip? Needed a little coddling, to be sure. Not so cocky? No, I wouldn’t say that! I’m just getting old is all. But if you’re tripping alone, have your backup plans at the ready. For me all it takes, usually, is a bit of tranq. I don’t use it often so when I do need it, it comes to the rescue. Don’t abuse your meds. Be a good boy or girl, and take your damned pills just like everyone else your age. Just remember what Big Nurse said to you in hospital as you were coming out of your first heart attack: “Lipitor for life, Baby!” I can still see her wonderful Jamaican smile and bless her, she was totally joyous. So just remember that, old timers.

Netflix Break

Now, I need a break from writing. I’m about to visit Netflix and I’ll be damned if I have any idea what I’m about to watch. I’ll potter around for a bit and get back to you.

Back to the narrative. I watched the remainder of an episode I was watching of season two of 24. I had a vague memory that this is the season in which my favourite 24 cast member, Chole O’Brian, makes her appearance into the series, but a fact check via Wikipedia quickly leads me to believe she started in season three. Which is all beside the point. I got entranced with watching how the directors and writers and photographers worked their magic on the show creating little tensions amid huge tensions, and small, delicate trusts when there is a lot of mistrust going around, and everything that pulls on maternal instincts, paternal instincts, a sense of the bad guys winning, the good guys in desperate states. What totally brilliant cliff hangers, with usually at least four stories dangling. Who could not want to see what happened next? The show lost its brilliance after the third or fourth season, depending on how generous you are, but it was something in its prime.

On Aging

And that [“something in its prime”], when all is said and done, is about the best you could say of any of us oldsters at this time — they were something in their prime — but some of us refuse to throw off the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. We’re still kickin. Just ain’t no one to hear. It’s all lost in a digital wash that never makes you feel quite clean.

Okay, another concession to old age. I took another half-tranq. That’s one and a half. I’ve never ever gone beyond two, and that’s when I was having a nervous system meltdown — something that sometimes happened to me in my younger days. I’d get the shakes out of nowhere and chatter my teeth and Marion would sooth me back into “normal.” I quite like normal, normally, but it’s kinda tiresome as a long-time gig. You end up playing the same old favourites to the same old fans and what do you do for you? I think this haunted Joni Mitchell. Dylan never gave a shit — he just was wherever he was — and thank god for that, at least.

No, I’m starting to come off my peaks now and just enjoying the cruise. It’s quite nice once you take a little off the edge off it. The edge was better when you were younger. Taking things a bit more deliberately now is not bad advice for an old geezer or gal who wants to go tripping again. The body tires more quickly. But the magic. Um, um. The magic is still there, baby! If you’re strong, let it take you for a ride. If you have doubts, give them their due. Tripping when you’re into your seventies is not unheard of, but let’s assume it’s not common. Yet. Unless we experience some kind of renaissance amongst oldsters, not trying to be hip like youngsters, just being hip elders. We are rickety, for sure, and hips are a sore point, but we still rock.

But that’s just it. Everybody rocks. We just forget. We get too serious, too ‘normal’ and we spent fortunes trying to keep up with ‘normality’. But let me tell you once and for all, ‘normal’ is a myth. You already know that, but how much have you already invested in the myth? Ain’t karma a bitch?

The Intellectual Life

As my trip begins levelling out, I’m finding the literary side of me coming into play and I think of so many great books of fact and fiction that have played an enormous role in making us who we are, who I am.

For me everything starts at one point: Charles Darwin. One can never find the real beginnings of most things but this was the age of the beginnings of science. Now, I’ll admit that I’m partial to 19th Century England and rather lived there vicariously through the literatures of the time, and the eye witness accounts of observers like Engels. My poetic heroes were the Romantics, and in more sober clothing, Tennyson. Tennyson may have been the last great English poet in the sense of having an unsurpassed ear for the language. Others come close. Emily Dickinson always comes to mind, but her entire manner was subdued and uniquely American. Not to mention the Brownings. And of course the outlandishly large characters in Dickens, who himself had an extraordinary ear for the language. And then came the moderns, whom I also love. Virginia Woolf. Agatha Christie. T.S. Eliot. And on the American side, T.S. Eliot (he was both), the uncanny ear of Wallace Stevens, and the exotic, often erotic, playfulness of e.e. cummings.

But, it all comes back to Darwin, and his adventure aboard her Majesty’s surveillance ship, The Beagle. New mappings to be made, better naval maps than those previously made from journeys before them. And on board, more as a gentleman’s companion to ship’s captain Fitzroy, and the ship’s real naturalist. Darwin was coming into his own as knowledge was building about geology in particular. How was it that fossilized sea shells could be found in the high alps? Surely Noah’s flood couldn’t have accounted for all that. Now old venerable Bishop Usher had calculated the earth to be some six thousand years and spare change old, based on the genealogy of the Hebrews that Christians at the time held to be chronologically accurate.

But, there were these surveys the land surveyor — extraordinary fellow really — named William Smith was drawing, with help from his contacts from the local regions, the miners who knew every inch of the earth around them. There were these stratigraphic layers of rock that seemed piled one on top of the other in a long chain of descent. How long, exactly, was that descent? And what were those curious, even monstrous, skeletons and impressions of creatures you and I couldn’t imagine even in nightmares. What the deuce were they? And how old was this old world really? Things were looking a bit bleak for the Hebrew genealogical history of the earth.

That there were creatures that preceded us, that seemed not to have emanated from some Eden in the Middle East but from a distant past unfathomable.

This is why Darwin, for me, is always the real starting point. Oh my yes, and praise be to Newton, and all the others who discovered light and colour and force and gravity — all good stuff — but nothing as momentous as realizing that the earth was old. Really old.

And as much as poets and essayists and courtiers were magnificent in their own ways, they paled in comparison to the new question nagging the sciences: how old is all this anyway? It’s not a question that can be dodged or whisked away under the religious carpet. It kept demanding an answer.

Then other things happened nearly simultaneously. The industrial revolution started in England’s north and the factories took hold. The peasants were thrown off the land. The old feudal system was gone. Kaput. People were hungry, starved for food and would do anything they could to keep family going, even submitting to work as coal miners, builders, hired labour in the textile mills. Capitalism was being invented. It had a stranglehold on the population, and to this day, still does, though when I look at you in your tailored business suit and perfect tie, who would guess you’re still just a hired hand.

And I suppose this is where it all gets political too, with the Marxist jobbies who were just pointing out the obvious. If the people revolted, the system could not run. Marx thought it was the inevitable outcome of Capitalism, that it would be overturned in a revolution. He failed to understand how clever the Capitalists would be. They invited you in: if you played ball the right way, you just might get a grab at the brass ring.

The ring is brass now, debased.

Trip’s End

And so on, and now my good wife is home beside me and we’ve settled into being comfortable in our love seat, occasionally rubbing each other’s backs as Marion applies herself to her genealogical DNA studies and I pursue my Geminian whims committing occasional damage to the English language in the form of bad puns and insouciant observations. It’s encouraging to know there are bands of others roaming around doing the same. We literally roam the Internet looking for quirks and premises that need smacking, as well as those that need a good laughing at. Or with.

I’m coming down from on high now and am experiencing nothing worse than unbelievably potent pot. It’s very calming.

And this is where, I’m afraid, this narrative must come to a close. There are certainly more observations to be made, but they can wait. “I do not fear the time,” sang Sandy, so true. Nor do I Sandy. Nor do I.


Of Melancholy I Sing

Of Melancholy I Sing

By Gene Wilburn

“No man amongst us so sound, of so good a constitution, that hath not some impediment of body or mind” ~ Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621

“Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced… . It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.” ~ J.K. Rowling

Depression is one of the least understood mental afflictions. In my own struggle with clinical depression I’ve met people who don’t know why I can’t just “snap out of it.” They confuse it with the mild version of “being depressed” that everyone experiences from time to time, that a good walk or game of squash can cure. Clinical depression, which I’ll refer to simply to as “depression,” is a different beast altogether. It’s a serious illness of the brain.

It was first written about extensively by Robert Burton in Anatomy of Melancholy in the 17th Century. His term, melancholy, included, among other things, what today we’d call clinical depression, and although his immensely popular book was more of a literary than a scientific masterpiece, he based his observations on real cases. Depression isn’t a modern disease.

Several specialists have pointed out that the problem with depression is that it’s invisible, and because it’s invisible, it’s easily dismissed. If those of us with depression wore a cast on our heads, like a leg or arm cast, it would likely be given more credence.

I was first diagnosed with depression shortly after 9/11 when I couldn’t shake from my mind the ghastly images of the twin towers collapsing. I was also in a difficult work situation where I was caught in the throes of a corporate takeover in which my Internet implementation team was dismantled and all our extensive project work was scrapped, not wanted by the new masters. After my severance package I retired, and within the first year of retirement had a heart attack. That was followed by two separate stent procedures, which didn’t take, followed by double-bypass heart surgery. By this time I fell into a state of depression so severe I didn’t want to get out of bed.

One of the most terrible things about depression is that it can shut down your interest in everything that formerly gave you joy, such as music, socializing, reading, even television. It can shut down your interest in life itself. Some people who experience depression become suicidal, which is why it’s important to keep an eye on family members or friends who you suspect may be depressed.

Chemical Imbalance in the Brain

Today we know more about the anatomy of depression because it’s been studied by specialists with scanning equipment, comparing depressed brains with “normal” brains. The studies indicate that the depressed brain is indeed different, with a different chemistry from a normal brain because it can’t balance its chemistry properly. This understanding has led to the development of antidepressant drugs that try to address these imbalances, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and similar drugs.

There are several variations on a theme with antidepressants because different formulae work better for some people than others. The challenge is finding the one that works for you. It’s not easy to go the course if you’ve had poor luck with the ones you’ve tried and hate the side effects, which can include heavy sweating or being left in a fuzzy state of mind. I don’t remember all the ones I tried, but they have included Celexa, Cipralex, Zoloft, Abilify, Seroquel, and my current combo, Effexor XR and Trintellix.

The problem with antidepressants is that you have to give them several weeks to see if they help, and if they don’t you often have to come off them slowly and carefully in order to prevent an even deeper dive of depression. Another problem is that some of them work for awhile, then, for unknown reasons, no longer work. Matching the right drugs with the right patient is hard work, unless, as sometimes happens, you luck out with the first one you try. Again, if you’re lucky, a period of antidepressants may fix you up to the point where you no longer need the meds.

“We never really beat depression…we just..come to terms with it” ~ Bowdry

I’ve been living with chronic depression for over ten years and have reached a fairly stable state where I’m not entirely depression free but am no longer plummeting the depths, lying in bed incapacitated. After years of altering my dosages and fine tuning them, I accept that, in my case, depression will probably never leave, but that if the drugs keep me level, that’s about as good as it’s going to get, and I just work around it the best I can. And smile in public.


Depression is fairly common among the aged for any number of reasons. Retirement can trigger depression for many who have devoted their lives to their careers and face a void when it’s over because they haven’t developed any outside interests. Death is a trigger — the deaths of friends and family members becomes more frequent as you age. Death of a spouse can bring about depression caused by loneliness. Aging to the point of not being physically active can be a trigger as well. Financial worries can trigger it, as can major diseases such as heart and cancer. And it appears that some of us are simply unlucky in the genes we inherited, for depression can run in families.

For yourself, and others you care about, watch for the signs of depression and don’t attempt to self treat it. Get medical assistance if at all possible. The goal is to try to get back to a state where life is sweet, if imperfect. Or at least bearable, if not always sweet. And if you know someone who’s depressed, be gentle and supporting, and don’t regale that person with pep talks. If you tell a person to buck up, and they can’t, it only deepens their depression.

And should you suspect you’re undergoing depression, hang in there, and be gentle on yourself. Keep up your exercise if you possibly can, and try to eat healthy food. Seek help. Depression can be, if not cured, then at least lessened enough for you to be able to return to the land of the living. And bear in mind that you’re not alone. If you have access to Facebook, you can join MyDepressionTeam which can put you in touch with others nearby who share the affliction, as well as provide information on dealing with depression.

I leave the final word to Susan Sontag:

“Depression is melancholy minus its charms” ~ Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor