I called Waldman at her home in Berkeley—where she lives with her kids and husband, Pulitzer-winning novelist Michael Chabon—to talk about it.
How did you learn about microdosing?
I have a background in drug policy reform. I taught for seven years at the University of California's law school, and when you're in that academic milieu, books just arrive at your house. I'm not sure if I bought it or if it just showed up, but at some point Jim Fadiman's book, The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide, showed up at my house. There's a chapter in it about microdosing. The other stuff isn't that interesting to me. I'm too afraid to trip and I'm not so much in psychedelic exploring but microdosing was really compelling.
Then I went online and googled microdosing and found a lecture Fadiman gave. He describes the experience of people microdosing on LSD, and he says, "They don't trip, they don't hallucinate, but they look back on their day and think, 'Oh, that was a really good day.'" I just kept replaying that, over and over again. The whole idea of a good day was just astonishing to me at the time. I hadn't had a good day in longer than I could remember. When you're depressed, you feel like you're depressed forever. You almost can't remember not being depressed. And I was in such a state that I honestly felt that I had been that way for as long as I could remember. I was doomed to always be that way. Depression was kind of my lot. The idea of a really good day was just exhilarating to contemplate.
Was it hard to get LSD?
I thought it was going to be super easy to find acid. I live in Berkeley, California, you know, the psychedelic capital of the world. I thought I was going to walk outside and it was going to rain orange sunshine down on my head. It turns out that the Venn diagram of middle-aged moms of four who write novels, and acid heads—there is no Venn in that diagram. They do not cross. There is no overlap. I kept asking everybody I knew for acid and everybody looked at me like I was completely insane, and said, “I don't know how to get acid.”
Then, eventually, I was talking to an acquaintance who said, "I heard about this professor somewhere in the Bay Area who is really old and he's been microdosing for decades and maybe he's got some extra. I mean, he's gonna be dying soon." That sounded like so much bullshit to me. I mean, come on, an elderly professor with extra LSD that he's willing to give me? A geriatric Dr. Feelgood? It made no sense. But then, I went out to my mailbox one day, and I found, among the Victoria's Secret catalogs and utility bills, a little brown paper package with a little cobalt blue bottle inside with instructions for use and a poem. Would you like me to read you the poem?
I would love that.
I didn't keep the package because I felt like maybe he could be traced through the saliva on the stamps. Nobody is more paranoid than the public defender. But I did keep the little poem. It says: 'Our lives may be no more than dew drops on a summer morning. But surely it is better that we sparkle while we are here.' Lewis Carroll.
It was so damn cute. But I'm not a maniac, I don't drink little bottles that arrive at my doorstep, no matter how adorable the notes with which they come. So I tested it. I bought a handy dandy LSD testing kit from Amazon.com, and once I satisfied myself that it was more likely than not LSD and not something else, I embarked on this experiment.
And how was the experiment for you?
Well, I, like you, definitely experienced an increase in anxiety on dose days. I also experienced a slight uptick in irritability, but nothing like what I was used to. It felt more manageable. Or at least, not dangerous. I had to take it super early in the morning or I wouldn't be able to sleep. If I took it past 8 o'clock, I would have a hard time falling asleep. I am a person with lots of sleep problems. I had to take Ambien for six years because I was on Wellbutrin. Just taking Wellbutrin made it impossible for me to sleep at night, so I took this horrible drug that made me forget everything about the first six years of my youngest son's life. Which sucks.
How have your kids reacted to the book?
My kids now call me Snoop Momm. They are so witty. Someday they will write their own memoirs and then they can tell you the truth about how they feel, but I think that mostly they feel glad that I have—that I had—found a way to feel better.
Overall I wasn’t crazy about microdosing but I was super productive. What about you?
I mean, I wrote a book in a month. I rewrote for six months, but I did write the first draft in a month, which is amazing. What I really realized is that kind of flow state was very readily accessible, where you don't notice that time is passing, when you feel like you're so immersed in your work that you’re in a sort of creative zone. That was more readily accessible with microdosing than without it. At this point, I think the only people who are having some creative flow are the people who are writing about Trump because the rest of us are just reading the internet and screaming.
Totally. Everything I like to write about feels really frivolous in the Trump era.
Right. I'm glad this is the book that came out now because it's really a book about drug policy and criminal justice reform and race. On some basic level, these are the most important themes of the book. It's also about my marriage and my mental health and mental health reform, but it has these really larger issues that drive the book. It feels great to talk about that in the Trump era, to be talking about the injustices of the drug war, to be talking about criminal justice reform, to be talking about drug policy reform. My last novel was about the Holocaust. Whatever. The only novel about the Holocaust we need to be writing is about the coming Holocaust.
Speaking of novels, I'm curious—how did you transition from being a defense attorney to writing murder mysteries?
Pregnancy, childbirth. Once I had my first kid, it wasn't so much that I couldn't be a criminal defense attorney and be a mom, it was that I had in my house an example of this really wonderful alternative. Michael was the primary parent when my daughter was small, my eldest, and I would go to work for 12 hours a day, and he would spend the day going to Mommy and Me, and going to the library for story time. He would dress her up in costumes and take her picture literally all day long. This was in the days of film cameras, and he was doing baby costume changes all day long, having the time of his life. I wanted a piece of that action. I wanted to be with him all day. I was jealous of her as much as of him.
Then, of course, when I decided to stay home, it was just as I imagined it would be. It was Mommy and Me and story time at the library and hikes around the reservoir with my mommy girlfriends, and the next day it was Mommy and Me and story time at the library and hikes around the reservoir with my mommy girlfriends, and I wanted to kill myself by day four. I was so bored. I was in the park one day and I was pushing my daughter on a swing and I said to this woman who was pushing her baby on the next swing, “Oh my god, aren't you just dying of boredom?” And she turned to me in horror and described in great detail how utterly and completely fulfilled it made her to make her own Play-Doh.
So I started writing these murder mysteries about a woman like me, who was a former federal public defender going out of her mind staying home with her baby, but rather than writing murder mysteries, she starts solving murders. It was meant to kill time until I went back to work but then, you know, the books sold and they did pretty well, and I started getting more and more ambitious, and eventually I wasn't writing silly little mommy mysteries, I was writing much more ambitious fiction, and then I was writing nonfiction and I was like, wait a minute, I wouldn't pay me to be a lawyer anymore because I don't know what I'm doing. I forgot everything I learned in law school.
But I will say that as soon as I finish this book tour madness, I'm going to reactivate my Bar membership. I was at the airport protesting, screaming at the top of my lungs, and it suddenly occurred to me that I actually have a skill set appropriate to the current age. So I'm going to activate my Bar membership and just do some immigration volunteer work. Why not? Rather than just reading Talking Points Memo and weeping every day, I’m going to do something productive.