Traveling High & Tripping Hard by Joseph Davida

Traveling High & Tripping Hard is a memoir by Joseph Davida (pseudonym) that navigates the author’s drug experiences, world travels and familial relationships. Largely covering the end of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Davida’s trips are set against a rapidly changing world, highlighting a shifting divide between personal aspiration and a fracturing global community. It begins with the author accidentally consuming a dose of PCP aged 8 and being (understandably) confronted by a well of paranoia. This sets in motion a  narrative laced with  threads of conspiracy and the pondering of good and evil forces.

The ‘charting’ of geographical and mental trips is a well-established trope in drug writing (Lindsey Banco has done some interesting work on twentieth century literature dealing with this relationship). Amongst a haze of cannabis smoke and psychedelics, Davida’s travels are underscored by a seeker mentality, mediated by strange synchronicities and a conspiratorial outlook on the world that was first introduced through his PCP experiences. His sense of place, whether he is in Central America, Asia, Europe, or his home in the United States, acts as a guide towards the truths he is searching, creating a thrust and pull between where he feels he ought to be and where he is going.

Throughout the book there are underlying allusions to madness and his own special place within a global conspiratorial whole. However, these fears are never fully realised. Arguably, this stops the book from falling into a kind of solipsism, but it still feels like Davida could have taken this grander narrative slightly further. Asked in a recent interview about new writing projects, Davida said that Traveling High, ‘pretty much details the things that were going on in my head when I was essentially on vacation, the new book will be a lot darker, and will go a lot deeper. Mental illness, betrayals, drugs, death.’ One wonders whether some of this darker material was culled from this book in its edit, and whether it would have actually enriched the text in just this manner.

Ultimately, the text is an interesting exploration of how an individual can feel both disassociated and central to the unfolding of history, particularly in light of a difficult psychedelic experience. For instance, when 9/11 occurs, ‘All I knew was that two planes had just crashed into buildings a few blocks from my home, and I was supposed to be catching a flight to Cairo within an hour, I ran over to a pay phone and tried to call my girlfriend and mother in New York, but all of the lines were either busy or down’ (130). In one sense this experience reinforces his conspiratorial fear about the world falling apart, yet it also disassociates his place within it, making him feel literally ‘disconnected’. In other words, the global narrative affirms his private view of history’s path, while simultaneously ripping away his agency within it.

Davida is at his emotive best when dealing with empathy and connection, particularly those that concern people and creatures that are seemingly most alien to himself, such as one passage describing his relationship with an elephant he realizes is chained. Indeed, it is in these more illustrative passages where the book really finds its tripping stride. As his travels and mind begin to settle and gravitate towards homeliness, he concludes quite karmically:

For every action there is a reaction; and for every terrible act that could be committed, there would also be a responding act of beauty and grace […] What mattered was the way in which we chose to live. Because in the end all of us will need to take responsibility not only for our own lives, but for the lives of us all. (213)

While neither ground-breaking nor nearly tense enough (aside from an excellent and humorous paranoid mushroom trip near the beginning), Traveling High & Tripping Hard is an eminently readable book. For anyone who has smoked the conspiracies or travelled those moments in our recent past, Davida certainly invokes a credible nostalgia for the trips of those recent times and ages.

Robert Dickins

Robert Dickins is a historian, writer and editor. He is the founder of the Psychedelic Press, co-director of the Psychedelic Museum, and is currently undertaking his PhD at Queen Mary, University of London. His research interests focus on the history and literature of psychedelic substances, and the role of writing in spiritual and magical traditions during the 19th century. He is also the author of the novel 'Erin', and has occasionally be known to perform a poem or two.

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