PARTY ANXIETY

On finding the courage to rejoin the circle of dancers

Me and my friend Chris at our fave psychedelic rave in Detroit—feels like a lifetime ago tbh

A friend calls late one night, drunk, to report that New York City is partying again. “Micheeeeelle, I juzz to a housse party and it wuz keeeewt,” he slurs. “What was the vibe?” I ask. “Was everyone doing drugs and making out?” “No, it wuzz more... chill,” he says. “Everyone wuzz holding space a-and checking in, like, ‘Are you OK? Am I OK? Is this party… OK??’” Hmmm, I said, picturing the wild bacchanals that supposedly await us at the end of this pandemic. Everyone has been anticipating the party scene to roar back as we get vaxxed, thaw from isolation, and enter this great spring awakening. So... where are all the orgies? 

America is creaking into motion as we emerge from our quarantine hovels, blinking in the daylight, searching for the past selves we left tucked away, next to the club looks we stopped wearing. After craving the company of sweaty strangers for so long, the unexpected twist is that now that the pandemic is seemingly ending, many don’t feel ready to dive back into the social fray just yet. We are hesitant to leave the safety of our quarantine cocoons, the coziness of intimate social circles, the predictability of self-imposed routines.

Me hosting a virtual weed brunch on Zoom—the party only lasted an hour, and I was so socially drained I could barely speak after

Anxious thoughts helicopter our brains as we picture ourselves floundering in the chaotic and often cruel realms of social pecking orders, cooler-than-thou flexing, small talk with annoying strangers, romantic rejections. How awkward is it going to be when you bump into the friends you shed last year? What if those icy schisms remain even after social distancing ends? Fuck, let’s not even talk about guestlist—it’s been so long since we’ve played clout games, navigating the new social order feels overwhelming. 

Yet there is a sense that after that needle pokes your skin, you have no choice but to hurtle into this new dimension. The vaccine is a psychedelic experience: a drug shoots through your body and changes your reality in an instant. The warped black hole of lockdown, where time and space was distended into a disorienting echo chamber, suddenly opens into a portal—and you step into a new world filled with social possibilities. This transition is disorienting, as if separate timelines in the multiverse are converging: the optimistic future chafing against our gruesome past. We survived, thank god, the pandemic is almost over. But trauma keeps boiling over the surface of normalcy without warning, and emerging back into the world feels like a process to be performed gingerly—protecting your sanity like an egg that could crack at any moment. 

Gian forever <3

Recently I attended my first virtual funeral—a livestreamed ceremony for my dear friend Gian, a renegade publisher who ruled New York’s avant-garde literary scene. I set up an altar in my living room, sobbing over my laptop as the panoptic gazes of an invisible audience bore down over the casket. I took screenshots and scrolled through all the remembrances from mutual friends on Twitter, then shut my laptop and grabbed my suitcase. A black SUV chartered by Roc Nation was waiting outside my apartment to whisk me to the airport, so I could jet to Silicon Valley for a tour of Jay Z’s weed factory. I was still crying as I walked through the gate, head bowed, shoulders heavy, forcing myself to shuffle through this portal into a trippy future where Silicon Valley overlords hawk celebrity weed brands and $50 joints.  Grief still hangs heavy like a cold grey bog, yet there is no choice but to keep moving.  

A few days later I’m back in LA, accidentally at my first party in over a year (not counting a couple outdoor raves over the summer). I’ve taken two buses across town to meet up with De, a weed kingpin I met during my work trip who was hired by Jay Z to be the brand’s cultural ambassador. De ran in the West Coast’s underground cannabis scene for over two decades, and we vibed even before he told me that he smokes an ungodly seven grams of weed a day, or regaled me with stoner history on the triangle bags of weed that legendary New York dealer Branson used to sling.

De (left) at his smoke shop in LA

I knew I couldn’t write the story until we got stoned together, so I linked back up with him on his home turf, which is how I ended up on a block in West Pico with the most Black-owned businesses in LA. De says he wants to bring me to an art opening, then drops me off at the party like a dad leaving his kid on the first day of school. Before I have time to register that I’ll be alone, he’s already vanishing. “Have fun,” he grins, walking off into the sunset back to his family-run smoke shop. 

So now I am stoned, leaning against a wall in the corner watching a guy in cowboy boots dance on a podium as a DJ plays Jersey club music from the balcony. Strangers keep shooting me curious smiles, and I’m grinning uncontrollably despite not knowing anyone in the room. Then a drop dead gorgeous girl slinks in and I feel this carnal heat rising from my skin like a rash. Damn, remember what desire feels like? Raw nerves screaming please touch me—it’s pretty hot actually.

Flying Lotus at a weed festival on 4/20—I am obsessed with this pagan DJ deck

Being out again means celebrating 4/20 at a socially-distanced music festival with Flying Lotus sponsored by a weed brand, where drunk strangers embrace you like an old friend on the dancefloor, awkwardly telling you how awkward they feel.

It means wandering into the green room and not being afraid to share a blunt with the rappers who just performed. “This is my first show back,” crows Duckwrth when he takes the stage, voice choking in awe. “Us too!” shouts my +1. “All of us, right?”Duckwrth replies, turning to look at his band, and everyone nods, teary-eyed.

It means dancing next to the speaker stacks and subsuming yourself to the strobe lights in this familiar ritual, shaking off all the demon mites clinging to your energetic fields, the dull ache of grief lifting like an evaporating mist.

It means pulling yourself out of the darkness and joining the circle of dancers again. 

I went on a walk with a new friend the other night, and as we loop around Echo Park, we talk about this collective anxiety over social re-entry—how instead of slutty ragers, we’re encountering muted gatherings hesitant trepidation. As we wander through the darkened trees, the downtown skyline twinkles in the distance. “Right now, it’s like we’re wading into a pool, clutching to the edges for dear life,” my friend says, her arms grasping the air as if pushing through a muddy swamp.

“By summer,” she promises, “We’ll be swimming.” 


CALI SOBER CLUB

  • Cali sober is back in the news thanks to pop kween Demi Lovato, who released a friggin song about it recently!! So I woke up at 6am and hopped on an NBC morning show to talk about sobriety as a spectrum rather than a binary.

  • I hopped on a podcast with Sam Hillmer, who runs a DIY spot called H0l0 in Brooklyn, to talk about the art of designing weed and psychedelic party spaces. Sam’s pod is called ‘Place of Assembly’ and it’s super sick! It’s all about the role of physical space in creative communities, is co-hosted by Melissa Auf Der Maur, and has featured everyone from Chengdu ravers to Slovakia art curators. Place of Assembly is on it’s second season and I highly recommend it.

  • Next month, I’m going to be relaunching Club Sober Discord meet-ups for party people interested in exploring sobriety as a practice / praxis. These informal chats have been super inspiring and helpful for developing new tactics and frameworks for my sober-ish journey, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with ya’ll! If you’d like to join us, smash that subscribe button and you’ll get a link to our Discord channel.

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