I can’t say I ever knew him.
It wasn’t even all that long ago that I heard his name, or knew anything about him.
Probably what first set me on the trail was in the notes for a Facebook event for some guy’s birthday party I got invited to by a mutual acquaintance, there was something about “what to bring to the party” that mentioned “unless you’ve got any designer stuff like the 2C-T’s” and, being the information sponge and eternally curious soul I am, I started down the rabbit hole. Searching for 2C-T found me 2C (psychedelics) and 2C-T-7 — and from there, a name:
Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin.
Just skimming through the Wikipedia article — this was a few years ago when I was still living with the Girl-Child and company — my thought was, “this is a brilliant mind. Holy shit!” Diving into a subject as I do, with blinders on and a disregard for “important” things like eating or excretion, I looked at more and more about the guy, and kept my eyes open for a copy of PiHKAL –which turned up at my local used bookstore in excellent condition not long after I started watching for it. I’ve yet to read very far through the first half; I’ve been horrible at doing much of any reading in the last handful of years, with no stability, and often my sole focus on survival. I do know that it, along with its “continuation” keep a special spot on my bookshelves (when I have bookshelves to hol books, that is, instead of being stuck with everything I own in storage) right at the top, just before the rest of the tomes dealing with pleasure in life: erotic fiction, non-fiction on topics of sexuality, feminism, gender, and sex worker rights activism.
Unconnected with any of my research into Mr. Shulgin, I had picked up a collection of short stories collected from NERVE magazine. The first piece in the book was “Slippy for President” by Steve Almond — and I remember being struck by a clear recognition of myself in the single phrase, “a pathetic little ball of inhibitions.” That was what the narrator was called by a friend offering MDMA… which I recognized from having looked into this Shulgin fellow — and of course, it mentions him by name. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to find myself with access to a ‘babysitter’ and an opportunity “to recognize the sadness of something without that heavy, blue feeling. It’s more like a math problem, something you examine, hope to figure out.” Because I’ve had so much sadness, and so much of that heavy, blue feeling, and for so long… that just a little break would be so very welcome.
At one point, when I was reading to The Rabbit from Shulgin’s Wikipedia article, I noticed mention of a campaign to raise finds to help cover medical costs associated with care for his foot. I went looking further, and was shocked — then shocked that I would be shocked by something so obvious — to discover that he and his wife were still in the Berkeley area. After sending along what little I could, wishing it were more (but I always wish I could give more when I’m helping someone else) I realized that there might be some chance to meet this incredible being, to express my gratitude for all the many gifts that he has left for humanity — so many of which are still not nearly as widely available as they could be if it weren’t for the “War On (some classes of people who use some) Drugs” being fought so tirelessly.
On June, 2, 2014, Sasha, as he was known to those who called him friend, passed away. I hadn’t realized just how much I could care about someone I’d never even met until I broke down in tears at the news. And again as I’m typing this, I’m overwhelmed with emotion, tears beginning to fall as I think about all the good that he has done, all the beauty and wonder and joy that sprang from his research and work and life. If nothing else, I know I will attend his memorial service — wherever he’s flying now, I’m sure he’s happy. Not gone, just moved higher. Onward.
“Our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us, and there are chemicals that can catalyze its availability.” –Alexander Shulgin