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Michael Pollan has had several bestselling books including In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire. His seven books have been quite influential in the ways we view food from global and personal perspectives.

On his podcast, Tim Ferris talked with Pollan about his new book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. From the title alone, it would seem to be a departure from his other work.

I am just getting started with the book. The general topic is one I have read about in the past, but my firsthand knowledge is very limited.

“Psychedelics” is a term that still has 1960s baggage attached to it, though their use goes back centuries. Psilocybin, mescaline, and others have been in and out of the news. They have been legal and used for medical purposes, and also illegal, controlled and banned depending on the time period.

Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety. But apparently the book got more personal than he expected.

He decided to explore himself altered states of consciousness as he was researching the brain science and psychedelic therapies being used today for depression, anxiety, alcohol/nicotine dependence, OCD, PTSD, and others.

From what I have heard and read about the book, he does address the risks of psychedelics too.

Studies into the “entropic brain” are getting serious attention in universities again, though on a limited basis.

Tim Ferris is very much aligned with Pollan’s newest project and is putting a million dollars into the scientific study of psychedelic compounds. This is by far the largest commitment to research and nonprofits I’ve ever made, and if you’d like to join me in supporting this research, please check out.

Pollan’s book has been described as a blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, medicine and participatory journalism. Though the book is certainly a deep dive into psychedelic drugs, he also explores human consciousness and how we might use the drugs “to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.”

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan has two subtitle versions: “The Education of an Amateur Builder,” and the one I used for a previous post in 2010, “The Architecture of Daydreams.”  That this book has sat on my bedside book stack for all these years is not an indication of the quality of the book or my enjoyment of it. I bought it 7 years ago, started it, put it aside, and then started back into it again last spring and have dipped into it on and off and between other readings. I finally finished it on New Year’s Eve because I didn’t want it to remain unfinished into the new year. A small, doable, New Year’s resolution. It works reading it in parts as a story and as instruction. Think of the chapter as courses in a very long meal, or as occasional visits to Michael’s little place for another lesson. His place wasn’t built quickly, so why read it all in a weekend.

I was attracted to it because, like Pollan, I have long wanted of a room of my own. Okay, not a “room” but a separate building, albeit a small one. For me, it has been a small log cabin that has been in my head and sketched on many sheets of paper ever since I read Walden and a host of other books where people escaped and wrote in some cabin isolation. You should not need a cabin to be a writer, but it still seems Romantic (capital R) to me.

cover

In the snow…

He wanted a “shelter for daydreams” and I identify not only with that, but also with his lack of skills needed to build such a place. Pollan writes that “Apart from eating, gardening, short-haul driving, and sex, I generally prefer to delegate my commerce with the physical world to specialists.”

So,  I read the book for both of its subtitles, as instruction manual about how to actually build such a structure, and as an armchair-dreaming builder. As instruction manual, it had its limitations. I’m not in a place where I can hire a real architect and custom builders to make my cabin. Plus, my plan has always been to do it myself. I also don’t have the land to build on, so it is astill “armchair building” for now.

But as an armchair building adventure tale, the book is kind of a Moby-Dick reading experience to me. I learned about building a little place and how to place it on a piece of land, and also about the history and meaning of all human building. It is about finding your place in your environment in the same way that you need to place your cabin to take advantage of views, sunlight, and to deal with drainage and winds and weather. In Melville’s book, you learn about whaling, whale and the sea, and about your own place in and away from this world.

In the spring

Will I start building this spring? Well, I still don’t have that piece of land or all the skills to build a place on my own or a set of blueprints that I would use yet. But over the years, I have learned some of the building skills by repairing my home, building a rock wall and a garden shed. I have collected plans for cabins and one-room sanctuaries, though none feel like “the one” that is floating somewhere in my brain.

Perhaps 2018 will be the year the daydream gets built.


Back in 2009, The Botany of Desire was on PBS and I watched it. It was an exploration of the human-plant relationship.

I know I was attracted to the title, which sound like the title to an interesting poem.

It featured  Michael Pollan and was based on his best-selling book, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. It does view things from the plants’ point of view.

do plants, he wondered, use humans as much as we use them?

John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) is used to illustrate how the apple’s sweetness and its role in making an alcoholic cider made it appealing to settlers moving west. That increased the plant’s range. But human manipulation has also weakened the plant and he says that “modern apples require more pesticide than any other food crop.”

With the tulip, which in 17th-century Holland created a maniacal demand for varieties. It turns out that the different markings that made the tulip attractive are caused by a virus which needed to be encouraged and controlled.

When Pollan visited the Monsanto company headquarters, he found out that some potato seeds had been genetically engineered to produce their own insecticide. He planted some of their NewLeaf brand potatoes in his garden and they worked as advertised. He also found out that the NewLeaf plants themselves are registered as a pesticide by the EPA and that federal law prohibits anyone from reaping more than one crop per seed packet.

Recently, I picked up the book at the library. Of course, it is far more expansive than the program, but both focus on four familiar species – the apple, the tulip, marijuana and the potato – plants that evolved to satisfy our yearnings for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control.

You can watch the program on Amazon Instant Streaming (I was able to watch it free because I am an Amazon Prime member) and it is also available on DVD.

Here is a little sample from the program

There is a book by Michael Pollan that mixes several of my interests.  Perhaps the title alone gives you some clues as to those interests – A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams.

The primary reason he wrote it was to chronicle his experiences building a little “writing house.” Readers of this blog know my interest in (someday) building my own little cabin.  He also references one of my writing and cabin gurus – Henry David Thoreau and his Walden home.

Thoreau is an inspiration for Pollan, but more unlikely is a connection to a corny movie that I like a lot.  Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is a 1948 American comedy film starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy based on a novel by Eric Hodgins.

Michael Pollan is best known for his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. That book changed a lot of  its readers’ way of thinking about the food they buy and eat. It looks at industrial farming, organic food (both as big business and on a small farm) and also what it’s like to hunt and gather food for oneself.  He also examines meals for each area – a cheeseburger and fries from McDonald’s, chicken, vegetables and salad from Whole Foods, a meal from a sustainable farm and  mushrooms and pork, foraged from the wild.

A Place of My Own has the same kind of detail about the actual construction process – maybe more than some readers want to know.  Pollan is good in all his writing about connecting our experiences – eating, gardening,  building – and the larger world. This book is an earlier book of his.  His “place” is a small, wooden hut that he wants as a “shelter for daydreams” and he wants to build it himself – and he’s not particularly handy.

I can identify with the wanting to build it and the not being particularly capable of building it too. I like that he discusses the history and philosophy of building. He also gets into place, space, our affinity for certain forms and materials, geometry, wood, and nails.

So, his little building brings in the history and practice of architecture.

And we all need a place for our daydreams.

Daydreaming gets a bad rap, but more recent research shows that daydreaming has positive effects. It can act like meditation and allow your mind to take a break. It can release tension and anxiety. Daydreaming can be a  mental rehearsal for future actual events.

Pollan’s book is a daydream for me about building that place of my own.

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