We had the good fortune of connecting with Jordan Plotner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jordan, can you tell us about a book that has had a meaningful impact on you?
Sometimes, a book enters your life at just the right time. It’s comfortable, and it knows you— like a couch indentation knows and welcomes its sitter in warm embrace. “Stealing Fire” was first recommended to me by a stranger seated next to me on the airplane (I fear that I, too, like my father, have become that person who talks to strangers on airplanes…). I made a note of the title, and then simply forgot. However! This Delta-assigned stranger has since become a close friend, and towards the beginning of Lockdown, re-recommended the book. This time I ordered it right away. And I’m glad I did. “Stealing Fire”, by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, is a pop science/journalistic view of altered states of human consciousness and the means through which we reach them. It is in states of ecstasis or flow—the feeling of being in the zone—that we’re able to reach new levels of clarity and achievement, both physically and intellectually: a team of Navy SEALs surrounding a desert compound; a painter toiling away before a vast canvas in a leaking Parisian flat; or a tie-dyed Deadhead, hollow-eyed and high, spinning in an open field like a whirling dervish. Today, methods of manually inducing such flow states, once thought to be eccentric or countercultural (i.e. meditation, biofeedback, sensory deprivation chambers, LSD, psilocybin) have become more normalized and have, on occasion (particularly in the tech sphere) become integrated into the workplace in an effort to harness the power and efficiency of lateral, creative problem solving. There is a wonderful scene in the movie “Space Jam” when Michael Jordan enters the dilapidated Looney Tunes gym for the first time: Daffy Duck hangs from one of the rims—“We’ve got hoops!”—until it rips off the backboard and sends him crashing to the ground; The Tasmanian Devil (Taz) lifts up an overloaded barbell—“We’ve got weights!”—before dropping one side of weights onto the chipmunks that watch beside him; Sylvester the Cat yanks open a gym locker—“We’ve got balls!”—before being buried beneath an avalanche of basketballs, soccer balls, footballs, and baseballs. MICHAEL JORDAN You sure do. This place is a mess… DAFFY DUCK Mess?! You’re worried about a little mess? There’s nothing here a little spit shine wouldn’t fix. ALL LOONEY TUNES (shouting) SPIT SHINE!! The Looney Tunes then proceed spitting on the floor. Now here’s where the real magic begins. In a sequence that has undoubtedly instilled in me a lifelong satisfaction with the act of mopping, Taz restores the gym to a sparkling, pristine arena with just four mops and a truly astounding display of torque. This gym (pre-spit shine) was, more or less, an accurate depiction of my state of being at the start of 2020. For four years beginning in the spring of 2015 my health (and subsequently my life and the lives of those nearest and dearest) were ravaged by some mysterious malady. Then, over the course of two and a half months in the fall of 2018 (get ready for it!): my dog died; my brother got married; I found out my parents were getting divorced; I was officially diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a genetic condition affecting the body’s connective tissue; I found out I needed surgery on my spine and skull; AND I wrote a musical. Much of 2019 was spent braving the murky depths of both physical and emotional recovery, from the surgery itself, and from the rather eventful months I’ve just described. And then to finish off 2019, my relationship of five years came to an end, and I moved back to LA. (enter 2020) To the outside world I appear fit, happy, and healthy. Inside, however, I am like the Looney Tunes gym: worn, broken, scarred, and desperately in need of a spit shine! (enter Lockdown) Here I am—in the paradise-themed terrarium that is Los Angeles—feet against the proverbial starting blocks of my artistic career, staring down a course whose twists and turns I cannot see. There will be a set number of things I create in my life. The works themselves don’t yet exist, but that number sure does (AHH!!). But how can I even, if only temporarily, get out from under the all-consuming baggage of my recent past in order to reach the clarity of mind necessary in the creative process? How can I reach this state of ecstasis or flow outlined in “Stealing Fire”? At the end of March I find myself in an Emergency Room gurney reading “The Plot Against America”. As I tell the innumerable hazmatted triage personnel, I do not have any fever or shortness of breath. Well I do have perpetual shortness of breath but it is related to my EDS—my doctor once said it was the equivalent of me being suffocated by a pillow every night while I sleep… a cheery thought! But no, this time I am concerned that I might have a blood clot in my hand. It has become mysteriously swollen, discolored, and painful, and my arm has grown numb. Apparently these things happen to us EDS folk. So I do the only thing I can do while confined to my gurney in the hall, listening to patients hacking away behind closed doors, unleashing vengeful microbes into the air… I read! Eventually I am found to be free of any clots and am discharged with an official diagnosis of ‘ left hand pain.’ The next week I seek out my ‘spit shine’. I download the app “Eaze” and within an hour there is a man in protective gear delivering me weed at my door. Soon after, I am high, and I begin to write. I do not regularly drink alcohol. I’ve never smoked a cigarette. I’ve never been to a weed dispensary (with the exception of the time I mistook one for a bookstore and promptly left). The first time I ever smoked weed (during the summer before my freshman year at Yale while squatting in the East Village subterranean hovel coined ‘The Chateau’ by the members of the indie band who lived there) I failed a drug test at New York Presbyterian Hospital where I was volunteering in the pediatric music therapy department. It never occurred to me to know how drug tests work, or the fact that marijuana stays in your system for longer than the duration of its effects. But in the five years since last smoking weed, I’ve been prescribed (and have therefore consumed) over thirty different kinds of medications—beta blockers, anti-depressants, stimulants, blood thinners, anti-convulsants, anti-histamines etc etc.—in an effort to ‘fix me.’ HA! Let’s just say that said medication did more harm than good. But much like I will always identify as an expat, after growing up as an American in London, I am beginning to accept that I will also always be an additional variety of expat, forced to embrace my states of consciousness as merely temporary. I do not know what normal feels like because I don’t have a normal. To ask me “What is your pain on a scale of one to ten?” is like asking me “How far are you?” How far am I from what?! From the grocery store? From finishing the Sopranos? From the moon? It is meaningless without context! Because I am at the mercy of the wrath of EDS, I (or rather my consciousness) will be forever ungrounded, without a home. But the acceptance of such untethering affords me the freedom to be an explorer of sorts, whose adventures are confined to a purely cognitive realm. An astronaut of the mind! A psychonaut! (enter Today) I’ve spent the past two and a half months high. And something has clicked. For the first time in my conscious memory, I am able to simply exist in the present, relieved of my physical pain, unburdened by my emotional trauma of the recent past, and undaunted by the looming specter of the unknown. I do not feel numbed by my emotional overload as I did before, but feel acutely aware of it, attuned to the flux of daily emotional arcs, and connected (without the sensation of pain) to the constant aching, shooting, creaking, burning, and pinching of my body. In turn, I’ve gained some sort of VIP all-access pass to the inner workings of my multi sensory processing. I can hear things in music I could never hear before. The world of shapes I experience through my synesthesia has grown more vivid and intricate. The music hits me with a visceral force more primal and potent than anything I’ve experienced prior. My body is clearly stressing the importance of such sound in its own nourishment! I am stretched on the floor like a starfish singing Pete Seeger thinking about how Dad and I would sing through each verse of “If I Had a Hammer” like it would never end. Because in those precious moments time is nowhere to be found. And I cry and cry because I have not thought about this song in over fifteen years, and suddenly it is here, deep inside me, and I am not in Cloroxed isolation from Covid but I am a five-year-old, bundled in my pinstriped flannel sheets, listening to Dad sing through each line with complete abandon, witnessing firsthand as both observer and participant, the ecstasis of song. During this weed-induced ‘Coronassaince’ I’ve written hours of music and hundreds of pages of notebook scrawl—from essays to be included in the book I’m writing, to plans for new ‘Cosmo Kramer-esque’ business ventures. But more important than these quantitative metrics of productivity have been those unquantifiable transformations. I wake up each morning thrilled for the adventures that await me, and I go to bed reluctantly—who wants to sleep when being awake is so wonderful?! I have found in myself a new level of peace with the past I cannot control. It appears in my mind in the form of raw material to be mined and transformed into art. May the books we read always expand our minds, embrace us, and then cast us away with the care to search, the courage to keep searching, and the (paradoxical) comfort that our search will never end.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Lemon ricotta pancakes at Gjelina (Venice) Iced latte with maple syrup at Bardonna (Santa Monica) Japanese rice balls (omusubi) at Sunny Blue (Santa Monica) Breakfast burritos at Lily’s (Malibu) Tacos at CaCao Mexicatessan (Eagle Rock) Ice cream at Jeni’s (Los Feliz) Thai food at Night + Market (West Hollywood) Post (or pre) hike snack at The Trails (Los Feliz) Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine (Pacific Palisades) The Last Bookstore (Downtown) Monday Night Jazz at Harvelle’s (Santa Monica)
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Thank you Trader Joe’s, Eaze, California State Legislators, Oliver Sacks, Philip Roth, Abba, Beethoven, Kanye West, Dr Henderson, Dr. Zingman, Dr. Youngman, Steven Kotler, Jamie Wheal, and Michael Pollan!