1. Why did you decide to write this book?
Writing is the one thing I’ve done all my life. I don’t need permission. Have laptop. Will write. At first I thought I would write a book more in the city-mouse-becomes-country-mouse mold. Then I thought maybe a novel about pot growing. After some time and distance between me and growing the paranoia gave way to courage and I decided to just tell my story.
2. Why did a successful movie star “give it all up” to go grow pot?
I wouldn’t say I was a movie star, which was okay with me because that wasn’t ever my goal. What I loved about acting was learning why people do what they do and how flexible my sense of identity was, and of course the dressing up was fun. I came to acting from being a bookwormy kid. For me acting was about stories, checking out another world, walking for awhile in another set of shoes. I had done mostly theater at that point, improv comedy, experimental theater that involved slow motion and prosthetic limbs. I once played Pontius Pilate’s wife in a Bible Belt Passion Play. Popular moves all around. Blair Witch was just another one of those odd projects until it became freakishly successful. The acting projects I was lucky enough to work on weren’t always things that I felt good about putting out into the world. I didn’t see that getting better as I got older. I wanted to change my life, see what else was out there for me, what else I might become. So I burned most of the stuff from my life in LA (resumes, headshots, lingerie, lint) in the desert and moved to pretty little Nuggettown.
3. What made you think growing pot was a good idea?
I had no idea what to do next and growing pot was what presented itself. I felt better about putting medical marijuana in the world than I did about about making another terrible movie. And I fell in love with Nuggettown the first time I went there. On that visit, sometime in 2000, I swore I would live there one day. Growing pot was an opportunity to do that. To live somewhere where I could expand and maybe soften after feeling pretty clenched and contracted by my ten years in LA.
The thought of becoming a grower definitely made me uncomfortable, but I like doing things that make me uncomfortable as long as they don’t hurt other people. I was on the fence about it for a long while. I know some will argue with this, but I felt that growing marijuana did no harm, so it passed the ethical test for me. Growing pot provided time and space to find what I really wanted to do next, long-term. I didn’t know quite what I wanted back then aside from time and space to write and breathe and trees and probably a dog. I expected these things as part of the pot grower package. What I didn’t count on were the plants themselves, The Girls (the plants are all female), taught me some pretty important lessons about impermanence. I have a Vipassana meditation practice and have had a variety of experiences around impermanence, but The Girls provided a tangible one that I realized I could share with other people in a way they might enjoy.
4. It is an interesting dynamic of men and women in Nuggettown, which you get into in the book. How did you feel being a woman growing pot in a “man’s world”?
At first I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t see more women in the business, as it seemed like such a natural fit. But as my feminine self-preservation instinct butted up against the isolation of my new reality, it started to become clear. It’s important to keep in mind that though the majority of growers are men, the plants are all female, and they are at the heart of the whole enterprise. The cannabusiness is ultimately a matriarchy, and the only place in american culture where something female is considered to have it’s highest value after maturity. I like that about it.
There are a lot of growgirls out there, sometimes where you least expect them. There are single moms trying to send their kids to good schools, people trying to keep their houses or pay down their debts, grannies whose pensions aren’t cutting it–but they tend not to roll like G’s. They tend not to flash their nugs, so to speak.
It’s a man’s world on the economic side. Which is significant, because that’s where most of the bad shit related to growing comes from, the economics, the politics–that’s what creates the danger, not the plants or their effects. These are man’s world concepts that are really due for revision. The pot world reiterated those, because a gray market subculture is still an offshoot of the market, as much as the urge toward a new paradigm was a big part of the Nuggettown rhetoric.
On the upside, negotiating a man’s world is sometimes kind of nice because it’s so direct. I love a good fart joke and fondly recall a night in Nuggettown where the guys and I laughed till we cried while one-upping each other in a discussion of blumpkins. I’m aware of how sexist this might sound, but I think the guys were better able to manage the paranoia [although beer/weed consumption was pretty high (ba dum bum) all around]. I think my self-preservation instinct; the urge to befriend my neighbors, etc.; caused more conflict for me than the growdudes I knew.
5. Living in the countryside created an interesting dilemma of feeling secure, secluded but also paranoid. Can you talk about that experience?
It’s hard for me to tell if the paranoia came from living in the countryside or from the actual weed growing. Most likely it was some combination of the two. There’s this thing I’ve discovered of being so completely vulnerable that you realize clenching in fear is folly. The softer I allowed myself to become, the better I was able to adapt to the moment to moment realities of my situation. The softer I was, the safer I was; which might sound kind of counterintuitive, and by no means am I always able to do this. Once I stopped solving problems that didn’t exist yet and really began to stay in the moment, appreciating what’s in front of me, resisting terror about the future; my life bloomed. I was happy.
6. In addition to growing pot, you also had a small farm with chickens and crops. Talk about the similarities and differences between raising pot and growing veggies.
I would say that there are way more similarities than differences. All living things need the same things; water, care, light. And the more I put myself at the service of my non-human dependents–The Girls, the hens, the veggies, Vito the Dog– and kind of celebrated this interdependence, the happier I became. What was good for them was good for me. It made me think of independence as a somewhat overrated virtue, at least the way I’d been practicing it. Toward the end of the book when I reflect a bit on what I learned, one of the major things is “The best a growgirl has to give is her attention.” I feel like that’s what money and technology distance us from, but it’s the thing most satisfying to pay. Much of what we spend money on is to subsidize other people’s attention to our basic needs; making clothes, growing and preparing food, even raising kids.
You hear people say about a job, “Well it beats digging ditches.” And I’m not trying to romanticize backbreaking labor here, but in my experience, a day of digging holes for plants, or pulling weeds, or training the dog, or adapting a shed for my hens, was a lot more satisfying than a day of volleying emails, and my body looked better for it too. I came to think of it as “The Eve Workout” and thought how fun it would be to get the ladies of LA hooked on it. The new pole dancing.
7. Animals also play a large role in the book, and in your life – talk about the challenges of raising animals (dogs, turtles, chickens) versus growing pot.
There was really no “versus”. The dog, the tortoise, the chickens, the veggies, the pot, and I (because I include myself among the animals I raised)–all of our needs were remarkably similar. We just ate different things. Except light. We all devoured light.
8. Do you have any regrets?
9. Do you think pot should be legal?
Where I live pot is legal. Cannabis has been intertwined with human culture for thousands of years. It’s here to stay as medicine, as an industry, and as a component of the culture. The idea that such a hearty, useful plant could be legislated out of existence seems pretty foolish, especially in retrospect. That being said, the Cannabusiness has been a place that some people have been able to turn to in this tough economy. I’d hate for legalization to take that away. I’d hate to see corporations suck up large swaths of land and leave the mom-and-pop small time growers who have built this business no option but sharecropping. I think before wide-spread legalization happens (and it does seem inevitable) an infrastructure akin to that in winemaking should be in place. Humboldt and Mendocino are already the Napa and Sonoma of cannabis.
10. What would you most like readers to take away from reading Growgirl?
a. Have the courage to fail, early, often, and fearlessly. There’s no substitute for it.
b. Silence and stillness are always there, waiting gentle, patient, soothing. A harbor to bob in till the shitstorms pass.
c. You have to laugh. You really do. People who don’t are usually self-righteous douchebags incapable of bringing joy to your world.
d. Remove anything that’s more than 50% dead.
e. Spider mites are assholes.
f. Plants can’t help but choose awesome, because they can’t help but feed on light.
g. Harvests are to be celebrated. Cut down, trim up, let go.
h. Like “The Girls”, just keep aiming for the light, even if it comes from thousand watt high pressure sodium bulbs.
FROM THE OFFICIAL READER’S GUIDE:
An Interview with Heather Donahue:
1. Why did you start growing despite Judah and Zeus’s warnings that you wouldn’t make money if you farmed for only one year? Did you intend to write a book from the beginning?
When I left my house in LA, after having just finished a second semester of community college where I was trying to figure out what I might do with the rest of my life and found nothing that thrilled me like writing in Jim Krusoe’s workshop, I made a little plea to the universe or what have you. I live in California. We do that sort of thing. The plea was: Show me the story. I definitely got a story, just not the one I expected.
When I first set out, on that trip I was trying to adapt a short story I wrote in Jim’s class into a screenplay. When I began visiting Judah in Nuggettown, I changed it up and started planning a book of the city-mouse-becomes-country-mouse ilk. I had no intention of writing a memoir about growing marijuana. I resisted growing at all in the beginning (metaphor alert!). I changed my mind at least a hundred times, which drove Judah batshit. It took a lot of failure around my first book idea to get to growgirl. It takes a lot of failure for me to get to anything.
The level of paranoia I experienced as a grower was so intense that it took about six months of working on what eventually became growgirl before I could even type the word “pot”. Calling the plants “The Girls” started as a protective euphemism, but I had come to actually think of the plants as my very extraordinary roommates (possibly a product of the isolation), and so it stuck. As far as not making money that first year, I, like many growers, had enough of an arrogant badass streak to think that wouldn’t apply to me. Suffice to say, The Girls taught me humility, among other things.
2. Do you think growgirl will stir up more controversy within the cannabis community or from anti-drug crusaders?
That’s a tough question. Insular subcultures like the grower culture are insular for a reason. I only grew for a year, so I’m no expert grower. I’ve had critique from people who think I shouldn’t talk about this world for that reason. My story is not told from that perspective, an experts tale, but rather from the perspective of a woman trying to find her place in the world while maintaining some semblance of autonomy. That said, I think there’s been a shift in public sentiment and it’s time to bring cannabis into the light and let the stoner stereotypes shift to reflect the more diverse realities of the medical marijuana world. That will ultimately benefit everyone, I hope.
I think anti-drug crusaders will have less of a leg to stand on. Marijuana is a plant. A plant that has been coevolving with us for thousands of years. Michael Pollan writes about this eloquently in The Botany of Desire. Our bodies produce endocannabinoids. Our bodies make the stuff of weed and receptors for it span our whole brains. It’s ridiculous that this plant is illegal. We should be exploring its potential. Anti-drug crusaders would do better to focus on substances that destroy communities, rather than plants that create them.
3. If it’s legal—for growers who have their prescriptions in order—to grow medical marijuana, why do so many growers live in fear of getting caught?
Because the Republic of California; where medical marijuana provides a thriving, legal industry; is still one of the fifty United States. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the Federal government, equivalent to crack. Spend some time tending ganja plants and you will see that this makes no sense.
4. Your descriptions of Cedara playing “hippie chicken” and Stinkerbelle’s “hippie hippie snake” make peace and love seem downright aggressive. Would you care to comment?
I think it helps to understand where I come from to put this in context. My family are working class Philly dwellers. We’re open, loud, honest, loving. We laugh a lot and eat cheesesteaks. I felt, when I first arrived in Nuggettown, like I’d landed on Mars. It was hard to feel like a community member rather than an anthropologist, studying this foreign culture where people did things like, “hold space” and “reflect” and “play” all of which words took on new and foreign meanings. Something that is not in the book is when Judah introduced me to friends of his who were an engaged couple. He didn’t mention that the woman was his lover and they regularly had threesomes. When I sensed this all on my own, he looked deep into my eyes with his hand over my heart and said, “Just stay open.” I thought I was just that closed off girl from Philly and LA, just didn’t understand how to be a better person. But it turned out that he was full of shit. So yeah, a lot of really wonderful concepts from eastern religions, physics, metaphysics, philosophy, can be commodified and manipulated. Ideas are a form of currency, and The Community that I became a part of sometimes had no bullion to back up their tender. Still, they did what they could. We all want to feel powerful in some way. We all want to feel special, be loved. We, all of us, go about this in unseemly ways sometimes.
5. What exactly does “larfy” mean?
I knew I should have done a glossary! It means scrappy weed with loose nuggets and too much leaf. Some strains of marijuana, often those in the Sativa side, tend to be airier, or larfy. Larfy is an adjective. There is also the noun version: larf. Larf is expensive to trim due to its lack of density. Larfiness can be a result of The Girl’s metabolic energy being too widely dispersed. Four main colas. Keep it to four main colas. Colas are like priorities, or limbs, if you’ve got more than four you’ve got a problem.
6. Do you wish you’d never landed your role in The Blair Witch Project?
That’s like asking if I wish I’d not been born a blue-eyed white woman. How would I know? Blair has been on me for most of my adult life, sometimes like a stench, sometimes like a badge of honor. Like anything big that happens to a person, it’s its own down and upside. If I hadn’t been in Blair, I would never have been cast in a shitty sci-fi movie that shot in Bulgaria and so I would never have hitchhiked across southern Bulgaria with Slovenian Geography students and ended up at the Golden Trumpet Festival in Guca, which was awesome. I had money and freedom in my twenties, which is a pretty amazing time to have both of those things. That being said, I like that it defines me less now. Quitting acting was helpful with that. Cutting my hair off and dying it blonde was a pretty good move too. I talk in the book (briefly, don’t worry) about Nietzsche’s idea of Eternal Recurrence, probably most popularly exemplified in the movie Groundhog Day. Events will repeat on you like cucumbers or chili, until you come to love them. Blair Witch is my cucumbers and chili, and I find it delicious now. Wasn’t always that way. It took me finding my way beyond it–becoming the current version of me.
7. You experienced a lot of loss during your year: Buga, the chickens, and your carefully tended garden—not to mention your relationship with Judah and “the Girls,” who succumbed to spider mites and other hazards. Yet, your tone is primarily upbeat and funny. How do you maintain such a positive attitude?
Because I was raised by a loving, funny, affectionate family. And because I know that everything passes. This is where my meditation practice has been key for me. There’s this word/concept anicca that basically suggests impermanence, that everything’s changing all the time. I think about anicca when things are going great, I think about anicca when things are shit. I want to get it tattooed on me for when I forget. Things have to pass for new things to come, so the gentler and softer and more receptive I try to stay, the more likely I am to bounce rather than break. My body sheds cells everyday and new ones take their place. If we kept all those dead cells on us, we would be stinky and gross. Loss is necessary.
That being said, I don’t always maintain a positive attitude. I falter a lot. Sometimes I can be hard and cutting. Sometimes I can be a selfish asshole. Sometimes I can be self-destructive. I like when I lose those qualities. Those are losses to cheer.
8. What was ultimately more challenging: growing pot or writing growgirl?
That’s a tough question, because they’re so interconnected for me. I spent longer writing growgirl than I did growing pot, which is kind of funny. I would have to say writing the book was probably harder. It’s harder to make sense of things than it is to just do them. It was more difficult to relive things in my head than it was for me to tend things outside myself. The writing process is so solipsistic, it can feel inescapable at times. At least that’s how it was for me. My time as a grower was sort of a rite of passage for me. I wanted to understand what I meant by that, and how I hoped it would reverberate in my life. Writing the book was a way of articulating identity, a way of tracking “becoming” if that makes sense. That was way trickier than taking care of the plants.
9. Not only did your parents know that you were farming pot, but your mom helped you care for the plants and—presumably—you had their permission to document the fact that they knew you were growing. How does it feel to have the coolest parents in the world?
It feels pretty great to have the coolest parents in the world. I wouldn’t say that they were excited about the growing. They were worried sick about me. That was one of the many reasons I stopped, actually. It was hard on them to know I was out there at the end of the road, so vulnerable all the time. I would say that my Dad was initially even less excited to hear I’d be writing about the experience. Does anybody’s family thrill to the word “memoir”? I doubt it. Luckily, my family is amazing and they all come out well. My Dad would like everyone to know that he did not ask for a TV. He is kind of fixated on this because he has only been allowed to read certain chapters, as you might imagine.
10. Are you and Uwe still together? Do you still have Vito? What’s been happening in your life since you finished writing the book?
Uwe and I are not still together. We broke up this past summer, as I was writing the parts about falling in love with him. That was hard.
Vito and I, however, are still going strong. He’s pretty much the smartest, sweetest, mellowest dog in the world. My shedding Buddah. You can follow him on twitter @mrvito. Yes, I’m that lady.
11. You used to be worried that your epitaph would read, “Here Lies the Girl from The Blair Witch Project.” How do you think it might read now?
12. Are you continuing to write? What are you working on currently?
I am continuing to write. I love it. I also teach memoir at the SF Writer’s Grotto, which challenges and inspires me. I have three projects I want to do next. A novel and two non-fiction things. I’m going to have to pick one soon, but not quite yet. For now I’m completely focused on getting growgirl out into the world, which is every bit as big a job as writing it was.