Jason and the Psychonauts

Or, The Best/Worst Cold Email I Have Ever Received

A few weeks ago a friend asked how I would describe myself, in one word. Without any hesitation, I said “doubtful.”

She seemed to find this sad. But the truth is I don’t really mind it. Yes, I am constantly full of doubt, but it can be a positive force in my life. It means making fewer big mistakes, and more apologies when I do make them. Sometimes, though, I wonder what it would be like not to have my doubt. To not be second-guessing everything and imagining the worst possible outcome at all times. To not always being afraid I will say or do the wrong thing.

I do not need to wonder what that would be like anymore. I know now. I have learned, from Jason.

I have never met Jason. I have never talked to him directly. He’s only communicated with my publicist, Heidi, and only over email. But through him I have been able to see how the other half, the completely doubt-free half, lives.

His letter opens like this:

Huh.

Well, firstly, just professionally speaking, when someone asks me to work with them on something, they usually lead with their credentials. It doesn’t need to be something big, just something to show for themselves — a YouTube channel, an IMDB page, a nonprofit’s website. You can tell how much experience they have, and can tell whether or not working with them would be good for everyone involved. Jason has not provided me with this.

It’s also odd to pitch something to me as a “private gentlemen’s retreat.” I am not a gentleman. Nothing with the word “gentlemen” in the title appeals to me. It makes me think of cigar bars and that one creepy episode of Buffy and the worst kind of strip clubs. “Retreat” isn’t much better: I’m from California, “retreat” often means “cult.” But even if a retreat is totally innocuous, it isn’t something I’d be interested in: the idea of going somewhere just to relax makes me extremely nervous.

And it turns out this one wasn’t totally innocuous!

That doesn’t sound safe at all, actually. I know mushroom foraging is a thing people do, but I also know there are a lot of poisonous wild mushrooms that can kill you. I asked my brother Jon, who has a Ph.D. in botany, if this was as horribly unsafe as it sounded.

“Well, you’d better get your mushrooms right,” he said, bluntly. “Most magic mushrooms are grown indoors for that reason.”

Anyway, what does Jason want me to do there? Why am I being invited to witness this bro-naissance? This doesn’t sound like a good time to me. Is there anything duller than hearing a bro go on and on about what happened the last time he got high? Well, yes: having to actually be there with him while he’s high. And times nine! I honestly can’t imagine anything more boring than watching nine bros trip, and I used to work at a job that literally involved watching paint dry.

Up until this point I was pretty sure that Jason had not read anything about me, or by me, as an adult. Now I had confirmation.

Jason is very clearly not in my fanbase. You know what kind of people are in my fanbase? Children. Lots and lots of children. (And also some grown-up bisexual librarians who are really into sad animation and podcasts, but that’s besides the point.) For the past twenty-five years I’ve lived my life with the full knowledge that anything I do could get back to young fans. I got to have some awesome experiences, and the trade-off is that I have to be discreet, to try to live as if I’m a role model. It’s hard, and I don’t always succeed, but I try not to break laws and try not to do anything too grown-up where kids can see it. It’s not that I believe things like sex and substances are inherently immoral, I just think they are solely for grown-ups. Children should not be concerned with them: they’ve got enough to deal with already.

And while I think hallucinogens can be great experiences for many people — one of my friends took shrooms while watching The Muppet Show, and said she could see “the inherent muppet-ness of every piece of furniture” around her for a few hours — I just don’t think they’re for me. I’ve never tried them, and probably never will. Neurotics don’t tend to do well on anything that “expands” our minds: our minds already feel expansive. And not in a good way, in an agoraphobic, lost-at-sea kind of way. If I ever change my mind and decide I do want to try shrooms, I would not try them with strangers, and would not try them in a different country with different drug laws that are written in a language je ne parle. That sounds dangerous, and I’m not particularly fond of danger.

Speaking of danger, you might not have guessed this, but it turns out Jason is a white straight cis man! Jason does not seem to know that most women spend their entire lives trying to stay away from large groups of intoxicated men, because they have been told their entire lives that they will be assaulted or murdered if they do. (Mind you, if they do choose to spend time with large groups of intoxicated men, and something goes wrong, they will be told that it is their own fault for the rest of their lives.) This is very basic, Little Red Riding Hood-level stuff for all women, but not for Jason. It’s not his fault they don’t teach that in marketing school!

Oh, well, now I feel safe. Nothing bad ever happens on film!

Not to get too theater school here, but Jason’s idea for a “series” seems to be what we would call “lacking in both form and content.” Most people think that they and their friends are funny, and like to think that the rest of the world would be as fascinated by their conversations as they are. But we’re not all the McElroys. Recording your life means spending a lot of time thinking about what is and interesting to other people, and then thinking about the right way to frame it. You need to think of your intended audience. I do not think Jason has thought very much about his intended audience. This is not surprising, because, as previously mentioned, Jason does not have any film or comedy experience that I can find. (Jason has a startup!)

Maybe this is just my opinion, though. A lot of my friends have worked with Funny or Die (or similar outfits). I consulted some of them to ask if watching strange bros trip and catch up for twenty minutes would be entertaining.

Responses ranged from to “Yeah, that sounds bad” to “Nothing about that sounds funny” to just “woof.”

There’s no way this doesn’t mean tents, soylent, and bitcoin.

After I finished Jason’s letter, I asked Heidi if she knew if Jason had sent this “offer” to anyone else. Yes, she said. He had asked someone we both knew, a former child star.

Strangers wanting to party with me because of my past is not new. In my first few months at NYU, small cliques of girls would show up at my door late at night, saying they just really wanted to meet me. I’d say, “Oh, nice to meet you,” and inevitably one of them would blurt out, “Do you want to party with us?” I always declined.

Once it got even creepier: I opened the door after frantic knocking, and a drunk guy I’d never seen before came bursting in to the room.

“HEY I HEARD YOU WERE MATILDA THAT’S COOL DO YOU WANT TO PARTY WE SHOULD GO OUT SOMETIME HOW ABOUT YOU GIMME YOUR NUMBER?" He yelled, as my roommate doubled up with silent, horrified laughter behind him.

“How about you give me your number, instead?” I said, as coolly as I could, and he was too drunk to argue. He wrote it down on a slip of paper (which I promptly threw away) and my roommate ushered him out the door.

These people did not want anything to do with me, as a person, and we all knew it. I was just a symbol, a dare, a crazy anecdote waiting to happen. Jason, similarly, does not care who I am or what I believe. Jason just wants me to be there because it would be fun!

Not all former child stars are fun. Not in the way Jason and his bros would like. I’m certainly fun if you want to drink a single glass of wine and talk about why Lunettes are superior to Diva Cups and how to treat the herpes virus in cats. But that’s not what someone who wants to trip out in the woods with a child star wants a child star to be. Jason wants the stereotype, the one that grew up too fast and parties too hard.

And we know this. We know that they know how often that partying is based in self-destructiveness, in addiction. When they say they want to “party” with us, what they’re really saying is “I want to take advantage of your illness.”

My publicist Heidi got back to Jason to tell him no thanks. His response:

You know, I never thought I’d find a douchier Jason than the one in Greek Mythology. He’s among my least favorite of the ancient “heroes”. (You try doing a monologue from Heiner Müller’s Despoiled Shore Medea Material Landscape with Argonauts in college and see if it doesn’t change you.)

But perhaps I am being too harsh on Jason. The truth is, I have expanded my mind.

I have gone on a trip, but the trip was not taken via mushrooms; it was taken via email. It was not taken into my own mind, but into Jason’s mind. I was in a world where child stars and marketing bros frolic in the forest, where women might actually want to hang out with nine strange men who willingly describe themselves as bros, where drug trips are not just entertaining to the people currently on them. It is a world where someone who is freely able to spare $50,000 would not, as I might, spend it on their wife and two young children. Or to support organizations that help fellow substance users who are incarcerated because they are not wealthy white men like Jason. Or even just to buy their own shrooms instead of foraging! I was in world of pure ego and profligacy, where nothing can go wrong, even when so many things could go wrong. There was no room for doubt here! I have washed up on the shores of Colchis and found something even more beautiful and powerful than the golden fleece: unearned confidence.

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

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Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Ants of the Commonwealth