Post-Museum Trippy Lessons on Drugs

art by Will Goodan

I like museums. Monkey and I have been visiting them since he was very small. When he was around 5-years old, we brought sketch pads and colored pencils and, together, we would roam around local museums until one of us found a piece of something or other that we particularly liked and then we both would sit down and attempt to sketch it out. These days, we leave our paper and pencils behind, but we still like to go to the museums and check out what’s going on. Together, we’ve seen lots of good stuff.

Recently, Monkey’s middle school art club took the students on a field trip, which I had to cut short as he was double-booked and had a conflict.

“I never even got to see the special installation,” he complained as he climbed into the car.

I didn’t know anything about the “special installation,” but I promised him that we would see before it left the museum.

Last Sunday was our last chance to see the show before it left town.

So I inadvertently took my 11-year old to see “Psychedelic Art: Hallucinogens and their Impact on the Art of the 1960s.”

I could hardly have been less prepared.

Space Chase (2006)

For those who might not know, “Psychedelic Art” refers to any kind of visual artwork inspired by psychedelic experiences induced by drugs such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin (i.e: “magic mushrooms”). Inspired by the 1960s counterculture, psychedelic visual arts were a counterpart to psychedelic rock music. Concert posters, album covers, light-shows, underground newspapers and more reflected not only the kaleidoscopically swirling patterns of LSD hallucinations, but also revolutionary political, social and spiritual sentiments inspired by insights derived from these psychedelic states of consciousness.

In the museum, little laminated placards set next to each piece of art explained what inspired the artist and the materials used to create it.

“Look,” announced Monkey pointing to one multimedia collage. “That one has red pills set into it. And little leaves.”

I said little, wondering if, in fact, I should have been saying more.

“What’s that smell?” Monkey asked, sniffing the air.

Somebody had clearly smoked a doobie or two before coming to the museum. It seemed obvious that the scent was coming from the dude standing behind us. I glanced at him as he looked dreamily at the canvas that listed the materials as acrylic paint and hemp.

“Ohhhh,” said Monkey as he read the information card. “Those leaves must be dried out marijuana. ‘Hemp’ is another name for marijuana.”

And weed and blunt and spliff and reefer, I thought to myself, smelling the pot that lingered in the air around the dude’s coat. And ganga and cannabis and a million other synonyms that you don’t need to know about yet.

art by Stella

On the way home it happened.

It always happens in the car.

Monkey always asks the big questions in the car.

“Mom,” Monkey asked. “Everyone says drugs are really bad for you. That you should never do them. But the art people created while they were on drugs was really interesting.”

I braced the wheel, white-knuckled.

“What am I supposed to do with that?” he asked.

I explained to Monkey that the drugs of the 1960s were much weaker than today’s drugs. Since he had recently seen about two minutes of a disturbing episode of Intervention where a man was smoking crystal methamphetamine followed by an OxyContin chaser, I made a point of telling him that neither of those drugs even existed in the 1960s: that in the 1960s, drugs were kind of “home-grown” and meant to mellow people out, while today’s drugs have been designed in laboratories to get people hooked.

I know this is not 100% accurate. LSD was manufactured and (initially) distributed not for profit, but because those who made it truly believed that the psychedelic experience could do good for humanity, that it expanded the mind and could bring understanding and love.

I did not tell this to Monkey.

I did tell him that the art/music/drug experiments of the 1960s went along with the whole counterculture movement that was going on at the time. We discussed the Vietnam War and the Hippie movement. I explained that the people who chose to use the drugs were attempting to enter a kind of mystical world to explore a new kind of art, and – in many cases, they were successful as the drugs helped them to see a different dimension, a world where space was filled with multi-colored geometric shapes and surreal images.

I told him that while some people had good experiences with these drugs, drugs could be dangerous as well. I told him that some people who used hallucinogenic drugs had “bad trips” and that things that were bothering them became exacerbated and all they could do was wait for the drug to wear off – and that sometimes that took up to 8 hours.

Monet's Waterlilies

“I can’t deny that psychedelic art is interesting,” I stressed, “but to me it’s more culturally interesting than artistically interesting. I’d rather look at a great Monet. There is a lot more going on in a Monet than in, say, that random piece of plexiglass we saw on the floor. You know, the one with the piece of wood coming out of it?”

Monkey was quiet. “So just because a few artists made cool art while on drugs doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use drugs.”

“I’d go along with that,” I said breathing again.

I’m not sure I said the right things.

What do you say to your 6th grader when he or she asks about drugs?

20 responses to “Post-Museum Trippy Lessons on Drugs

  1. Ugh. Good question. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened yet. You handled it well. I probably would have said something very similar.

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  2. I think you handled it very well. Last time I did LSD was 36 years ago and will never do it again. Most trips were entertaining and “really deep” — getting umbilicized with the force and creation and that stuff, but if a person is suffering from depression, trauma or grief it can be very dangerous and suicidal. For the little ones up to 9 years old I say, “Drugs make you drunk. Some people like to feel that way. They can also make you sick and unhappy and some people steal to get money and if they catch you, you go to jail. None of that is very nice it it?” Older than 10 better be up front and truthful and accurate. An honest discussion on what they do to health and family life can be easily internalized. Miami is crack city. At 6 years old, they know drugs mean death and crime and sickness and homelessness and prostitution which affects all of them whether a part of it or not.

    The artwork? Hey, really neat colors and stuff. Then show a Raphael, Rembrandt or a Norman Rockwell and let him decide which art is better.

    Clean and sober 9 years March 2.

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    • Carl, Monkey and I have had lots of discussions about generic drug use. I’ve helped him study his materials from school, and he has practiced how he might handle uncomfortable situations where someone might “pressure” him to use drugs. In my experience, that’s never been the way drugs have been presented. No one puts a gun to your head and says, “Hey, I’ve got this awesome sticky bud. Smoke it or I’ll shoot you.” I was just relieved he didn’t ask me about my own experiences with drugs.

      I don’t really want to go there. Ever.

      But I was happy to have a discussion about the art (as you said, “really neat colors and stuff”), the politics of the decade, and move along, move along. I’m not unwilling to have more discussion in the future, and I’m always open for Monkey, but I have a tendency to go too far. And it seemed he was really asking about the art.

      I don’t know if I missed an opportunity.

      Congrats on the clean and sober. I’ll see you on March 2 to cyber-pat you on the back!😉

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  3. Monkey didn’t get the truth. One of the things that begins to separate us from our children is our lack of honesty. I am not sitting in judgement, I’ve had these conversations (x5) and didn’t handle any of them half as well. You done good!

    However, by going to this exhibition you opened that can of worms and actually by 6th grade they are getting a little curious. I’m not suggesting you sit down and roll one with Monkey. I will say that kids unless given truth find out they’ve been misled, and underestimated. This can lead to mistrust and eventually misunderstood.

    Once you get over the initial shock that your sweet sweet child has asked, you should absolutely revisit the discussion. Give them the truth in small doses but make sure its offered in the spirit of education and concern. Eventually he will do what he is going to do. Education, trust and understanding will be be there showing the love when it is needed most.

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    • But Heather, what is the truth? I happen to believe that cigarettes and alcohol (which are legal) are just as addictive and more dangerous than the illegal stuff. I hate (and have a low tolerance for) drunk adults.

      Monkey and I have had those discussions. But I’m not of the mind that all drug use is bad. And I don’t want to go there with the boy.

      So tell me your truth. You’ve done it 5X!

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  4. Honestly, all 5 of my of my kids know I tried pot, shrooms etc…in college we talked really openly about the effect it had on me, which half the time was really not too much. We talked about how they aren’t as “cool” as they seem. The loss of control, certain situations you can find yourself in. I just took the “romance” out of it, ya know? Not that I’m being flip about it, just real. Drugs were stupid to me. Sure, I tried ‘um but they really achieved no great purpose, for me anyway. But we also talk about addiction and the loss life too. I’m just really open with my kids, I don’t know, maybe that’s good,maybe that’s bad, I just find when I make a huge deal about something it makes them want to try it more. Both boys have experimented with stuff in college but I’ve been lucky so far none of them have tried it in HS. You did good. When THEY ask the questions give them the most honest answer you are able to give.

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    • I would expect some experimentation in college. I just wasn’t ready for the conversation to take place on a Sunday afternoon, post brunch, after a visit to the art museum. I wonder how the art teacher handled this with the students! Now that I think about it, I’m actually kinda glad he missed the exhibit, so I see it with him and have the car conversation.

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  5. I am with Mary on this. I think if you trust your kids to do the right thing you have an honest conversation with them. I tried and liked everything. My daughter (soon to be 14) has just started this conversation with me and I have in small doses (no pun intended) begun to tell her the truth. Getting drunk and/or high are the same thing to me. I am not sure why its ok (not legal but accepted) for a teenager to get smashed but not ok for them to smoke a fattie. The potential consequences are the same and perhaps on some ways worse with alcohol.

    I may be in the monoirty but I am much more concerned about my kid and their friends driving or smoking cigarettes than getting high.

    Lastly, I do not think I wil be falling for the following:

    I am just holding it for my friend,
    Bianca (do they still make this?)is just for my bad breath
    Visine — I am really allergic to the dog!!!

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    • I am 100% with you about getting drunk/getting high being one and the same. People make some pretty bad decisions when they are in an altered state. And, like you, I am more concerned about kids nicking cigarettes and developing a habit and/or getting drunk and hopping into cars with intoxicated, teenage drivers because I have seen the long-term effects these decisions can have on people’s lives.

      And, for the record, currently, my l’il dude does not appear to be very interested in any of this stuff. He is an absolute rule follower, unlike his baaaaad mommy.

      But Jeff, here’s the piece I don’t understand: So you’ve told dear daughter that you “tried and liked everything”; doesn’t that give her free reign to try everything, too? I have students who claim to have become addicted after one experience with certain drugs. So if you caught beloved daughter “experimenting,” how do you discipline that action when she comes back with the: “You said you tried it and liked it? Why can’t I see how it is for myself?” Do you have a big talk about discretion? Or about the consequences of doing things that are illegal? How does it go?

      As to your last items:

      “I am just holding it for my friend”: Ppossession will still get you arrested.
      No more Binaca, but they make those lovely skinny Listerine slips that work really well and fit in purses and pockets without any bulge.
      Ain’t got no dog, but hubby has plenty of eye drops around. Will go take inventory right now.😉

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  6. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to tell my kids when they ask about drugs. Right now, they both think drugs are bad, and can really hurt you. However, we have not really had any discussions on the matter. And what happens if/when they legalize pot? I guess at that point, I’m going to have to view it as the same as smoking a cigarette.

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  7. I’m sure I speak from way more experience than I should be able to, but I think you handled the conversation very well. Some people are horrified that you don’t just condemn everything. Others will think you’re a bad parent if you don’t let them experiment for themselves and blah, blah, blah.

    In the meantime, alcohol is the only legal substance and I think it’s way more destructive than pot.

    Kids need truth to be revealed in layers. That’s why I think you handled it perfectly. The official mom and dad position needs to be “don’t do it, but we’re here for you if you ever get in trouble and love is unconditional.” Then you have a family friend or uncle or something to play the good cop and get close for information and to keep tabs on the kids, just a confidant to keep you in the secret loop.

    Great post and one that’s making me think way more than normal.

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    • Thanks Clay. I think a lot of Gen Xers can speak way more from experience, and our experiences weren’t always bad, so it’s difficult to condemn. Feels hypocritical. I have never been known to withhold information from my l’il dude. In fact, I was once accused of giving Boy too much information because, at age 4, he could correctly name all the human “private parts” (instead of calling breasts “boobies,” vaginas, “puh-pees” and penises “whizzers”).😉

      On Sunday, I felt like I would go as long as he was asking questions, but I was glad he stopped because – frankly – I haven’t thought much about HOW to reveal the layers.

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  9. Alison Saunders

    Personally – I have always told my boys not to take drugs because if I find out it won’t be the drugs that kill them it will be me. They seem to have accepted that so far, and both of them are much more interested in getting fit and looking good than being a part of the drug scene, and long may that last! They are in 11th and 7th grade.

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  10. Great post. Can’t help you much with the parenting, or the kid, but you might be interested in what Lewis Black has to say about drugs in his essays…I think the stories are scattered around Me of Little Faith and Nothing Sacred but I find his attitude very refreshing. He’s very honest about his own experiences (he is of the LSD generation) but he doesn’t use that as a catchall excuse or say that it’s something you have to do to find enlightenment. Then again, he’s a drinker, though at least he admits as much and would agree that all these substances…I guess he’s just sort of a ‘contemporary source’ for the art if you want one!

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  11. Renee, very, very good blog. I found the ‘call-and-response’ that followed very interesting, as well. How much do we tell our kids? When? How do we keep them safe?

    I have always been the kind of parent who wings-it (I call it using my intuition). But Honesty and Openness with my 13.5 y.o. (also named “Monkey”) has been my road…within limits. I have tried with all topics to be open just to point of ‘too-much’. Kids still need to be able to organize and concretise the information they are receiving.

    I have NOT given specific, personal, anecdotal information on many topics (including drugs). But she comes home from school/camp knowing A LOT. And I have been able to create an atmosphere where she knows it is completely safe for her to ask anything and I will do my best to answer.

    And it is a luxury to be able to ‘decide’ what info a child is given, how much and how personally related it is. Because when there is an instance when these topics come crashing into a child’s life(in a concrete and personal way)…we just have to deal with helping them organize and understand the information as best we can…but laying down a pattern of honesty/openness ahead of time will ensure the road is a bit smoother.

    And, I will ‘rehearse’ with her…because it’s not gonna be some degenerate-appearing-crack-pusher that first suggests she ‘just try’ something…it’s gonna be a most trusted best friend, or the boy she really likes and wants to impress, etc.

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  12. My kids know they can’t try them even if they want to. They are competitive fencers and have to sign a waiver before competitions that they can be randomly tested.
    I suspect this will keep them clean thru. high school!
    PS
    I think you did a great job with Monkey.

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  13. I don’t know that there is an easy answer to that question. I think you did right by being honest about the drugs and their history. In the end all we can do is do the best we know how and leave the lines of communication open. My daughter asked me about drugs recently and my conversation was about like your’s explaining how they came about, grew in popularity and morphed into what we have today. I gave my little warnings and used examples and hoped that she understood. I explained if she had questions we could discuss them anytime. I, like you wondered whether I had said enough or too much. In the end you do your best and hope for the best.

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