A picture ca. the 1990s from Michelle Tea’s archives.

In conjunction with our special feature on what, where, who, and when is Enlightenment in the Summer 2018 issue of Artforum, writer Michelle Tea contributes her response below.

I ATE THE ENLIGHTENMENT IN A COOKIE. It did nothing. I was twenty-four years old and had spent Christmas morning at the home of an acquaintance, not even much of a friend, not really. A DJ with a shaved head and pierced septum, obsessed with Chinese ghost movies. A jolly person whose home contained oddities – a taxidermy bat; a photo of her own ass, splotched from a heavy spanking, pinned to the refrigerator. In her kitchen, I ate crispy fake bacon, far too aware of the suffering, the personhood, really, of animals, to eat the more grotesquely chewy real stuff, edged in thick ribbons of actual fat, blarghh. Sometimes, at the taqueria, I would stand behind a person ordering carne asada, carnitas, polla verde, and I would startle at the sound of their order. People still ate animals? Preposterous. I liked this smaller taqueria because they put tofu in their burritos and you didn’t risk getting splattered with actual flesh if you stood too close to the butcher, like at the other taqueria. The fake bacon was not filling but I didn’t eat much, had arrived in town a year ago emaciated from my diet of um well whatever didn’t hurt of oppress anyone or anything. My pants ringed my hips like a hula-hoop, held aloft by a cruelty-free hemp belt. It was ugly but I hadn’t cared, not at first, and then I saw how sexy everyone was and I made some changes, but not leather, no, not meat, though I had, during a moment of extreme low blood sugar while waiting at a bus stop outside a bodega, rush inside and like an addict snatch up a Kit Kat bar, decidedly not vegan, the chocolate, I didn’t know, picked by enslaved children in Africa, right? I didn’t know that but I did know about the cows, enslaved in rape racks, perpetual postpartum, squeezing machines clamped to their tits so I could gobble this candy bar – oh! It had been so long! It was wonderful! I boarded the bus in a stupor. So little food in my belly it did not take much to put me into a coma. The sugar flooded me with its grainy energy. I felt both dense and electric, I was happy.

I don’t know why the Christmas cookie didn’t affect me, perhaps I was just impatient, and we all went to the theater to see that terrible movie, Claire of the Moon, this is how a young lesbian spends the holidays in 1994 when her family has abandoned her. She sits through a very awful film about women she can’t relate to, waiting for the drugs to kick in. Who else was there, who was holding the cookies? That one dagger a little older than me, bragging about how she only was attracted to straight women. I mean, she was complaining, but it was a brag wasn’t it? Like she only liked real women or something insulting. Not that I wanted to fuck her. She seemed Italian and full of rage, which was attractive. But sober, so not holding the cookies. I had my own date arriving later that day, another young lesbian whose family had abandoned them, driving to San Francisco to sleep with me in my futon placed atop my crumby floor, where literal mice dashed brownly by in the early morning. What is more Christmas-y than a little brown mouse dashing through a drafty, impoverished home? I ate another cookie, and by the time the movie was over I could not move.

Come over later, when you feel better, Cary said when he dropped me home. Cary and his roommates had deemed their flat, above a restaurant on Valencia, House of Failure. People were gathering to watch videos later on. That I would never feel better, that my mind had been sucked into a new dimension, was too complicated to explain, so I merely grunted. I phoned my Los Angeles paramour, telling them not to come to my home. It was my last functional move before I was consumed by thought, pure thought, a star on fire beyond the reach of earthly telescopes. I went into my room. There was an Ice-T cassette in my radio, I pressed play. I think it’s time that I told ya the truth / I’ve been dissin females since my early youth. Oh, no, this won’t do. This is negative. I found a CD, Love and Rockets. The word that would best describe this feeling / Would be haunted. No, it wasn’t Ice-T, it was electricity, it was disembodied voices, it was the modern world, or was it the post-modern world, the contemporary world, it was as wrong as sin, I felt it through my body that, in spite of this biological refusal could still accommodate a cigarette, which I smoked out my window, looking down at the tawdry street below, all the poor people, and I was poor, wasn’t I, and had been that way always but now more than ever, a small bolt of anxiety shot through me, soothed with the cigarette and the understanding that I was in outer space. I had always thought of it as out there, outer space, but I was in outer space, too. I would never have to go there, because I was there.

Pictures ca. the 1990s from Michelle Tea’s archives.

I laid down on my futon and felt my own vibrations. I understood that my body was covered with a type of receptors, green and red, they weren’t on my actual body, they didn’t touch my skin, they sort of hovered all around, part of my aura, perhaps. These receptors looked like the reflectors on a bicycle, and they picked up different cosmic energies that radiated through outer space, where I was located. I realized I could turn them off and on. I turned off all the ones for racism. I turned on all the ones for love. I prayed to have all racism removed from my spirit or my body or mind, whatever these receptors were plugged into. I prayed for maximum love. I prayed to be flooded with it. I didn’t know who I was addressing, maybe I was addressing my self, I was the ones fiddling with the receptors, after all. There was a moment, a fleeting moment, where I understood what is commonly spoken of as the secret of the universe. I figured it out. I got it. And I understood, in that moment, that I would have to relinquish this revelation, I would forget it, because it was not meant to be common knowledge carried around in our pockets, us humans. We’re not supposed to know. But I did, for a moment, and the forgetting began and I experienced the forgetting as a slow, luxurious thing, until I was lying there, grasping for something long gone, like the sliver of a dream.

If anyone had seen me they perhaps would have wanted to call a helper, the sort that come in an ambulance. My estranged mother would have been very distraught to see me flat and drooling on my futon as the sun slunk in the dirty sky out my window on Christmas Day. Even a roommate, had one been around, would have perhaps dragged me into the bathroom and tossed water in my face. But I was happy. My mind was alive with everything it couldn’t know, I had unlocked a part of my body—my brain, my mind, my aura—was experiencing a sort of cosmic multiball. I thought of reincarnation, of souls coming back again and again: I thought of a god-headed soul, returning again and again, making a profound mark. Buddha, Jesus, the same entity. Martin Luther King. Who would it be in this moment, in the now? The knowledge struck me. It was me. I had been, I was, Buddha and Jesus. My body convulsed in spontaneous orgasm. What the fuck? My hands were tucked beneath a pillow, my legs heavily akimbo. As long as I kept I’m Jesus, I’m Buddha in my mind, a mantra, the feeling raged through my body. If I let the WTF in, it would subside. I’m Jesus I’m Buddha I’m Jesus I’m Buddha.

I awoke in the morning and it was sunny, the sky blue as a whale. At the by-the-pound thrift store a pullover spoke to me, V-necked and a pointy color, very ’70s, a sort of static design of stripes across it. Yes. I put it on behind the heavy red dressing-room curtain and could not take it off. I thought of the rays that shot across the universe, how we were picking up this consciousness all the time and didn’t even know it, didn’t know we could control it. I walked to the bagel store and sat outside in the sunshine, my creamy, seeded bagel, orange juice like the pure sunlight washing over me, everything was ecstatic, holy, holy, holy. That dagger who bragged about liking straight women arrived, did a double take at my weird shirt. I just bought it, I told her. Last night I realized I was Jesus and Buddha and had a huge orgasm. It was 1990s San Francisco, Mission District, lesbian. You practically saw women getting fisted, getting flogged and pierced, just walking the streets. My revelation was comparatively tame, but the dagger was sober. You’re scaring me, she said. I couldn’t imagine the state of her receptors, how flipped about and scratched they must be, pummeled by space dust ignored, unknown. Don’t worry about me, I told her, same as I told my mother on our erratic phone calls. Worry about yourself. I’m Buddha. I’m Jesus.

Michelle Tea’s latest book is Against Memoir.