Grow Girl

An Interview from Identity Theory

Interview: Heather Donahue, Author of Growgirl

By Matt Borondy | Published: April 18, 2013

9781592407040 Interview: Heather Donahue, Author of <em>Growgirl</em>At the age of 34, Heather Donahue meditated for a few days, then burnt the remains of her acting career, which included starring in The Blair Witch Project and the Steven Spielberg miniseries Taken, to begin a more organic life growing medical marijuana with her new boyfriend in Northern California.

Growgirl: The Blossoming of an Unlikely Outlaw is Heather’s very funny memoir of finding her way in the hippie pot-growing community and inventing a more enlightened, post-Hollywood identity out of smoke and ashes.

In her interview with Identity Theory, the writer formerly known as The Girl fromThe Blair Witch Project talks about ideal marijuana legislation, misunderstandings about pot farmers, and the future of her writing career.

Mike Doughty said in our 2006 interview, “I’d like to get weed recognized as a drug that people can become seriously addicted to and wreck their lives with. I don’t judge drugs—I stopped doing ’em, but I love ’em. But this nonsense that weed is some kind of light non-drug is pure fiction; a major problem in our society.” What is your response to that?

Just because something is powerful, doesn’t mean we need to take it away from people. From children, sure, but not from the grownup among us. I don’t think that anybody is suggesting that cannabis isn’t a powerful plant, it clearly is. That’s why there’s all this political and economic hubbub around it. It’s like the Force, Luke. You can use it in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have the opportunity to choose responsibly. Free, right? That’s the best of our national brand. America: Home of the Babysat. Just doesn’t have the same ring.

In the year-plus since Growgirl was released, major transformations occurred in the marijuana policies of several states. Going forward, what does the ideal pot policy look like at the state level?

It doesn’t really matter all that much what happens at the state level until there’s a Federal change. However, I think Colorado is on the right track. Let legalization happen, let there be enough regulation to protect the consumer. Let’s make sure there aren’t pesticides in there that trump the medicinal value of cannabis, but let’s also allow people to grow their own. That’s what legalization means. You can grow your own, freely. That is absolutely not what they’re getting in Washington State. The policy that they’re working on estimates 3 tons of weed produced a year. They will be awarding (and I use that word deliberately) 200 grower permits. That’s like handing a golden ticket to the highest (sorry) political bidder. Ick. It won’t go like that in California. The industry here is too big and folks are finally starting to unite to protect their livelihoods. I think true criminality in the Cannabusiness would be taking it away from the people who built it. Not the cartels–like any big business they can and will and do diversify. I’m talking about the family grower, the single mom, the artist, the musician, the writer, the small town whose economy depends on everyone having their little slice of the pie. Cannabis is the only high-value commodity whose resulting wealth is distributed at the mom-and-pop level. It provided opportunities for entrepreneurship during the crash of ’08 and beyond, especially where I live in Nor Cal. I think the small grower and dispensary entrepreneurs should be considered in any legalization discussion.

What’s the most common misconception people have about pot farming?

I think people don’t see the families who grow. I think they don’t see the grannies whose pensions aren’t cutting it. I think people don’t understand how entire towns that lost industries like logging are have become not ghost towns, but thriving, diverse communities. It’s not all cartels and guns. In my experience, it’s not like that at all.

A character in a novel I just finished reading invents a program that eradicates all online mentions of famous people who want to be anonymous again. Would you have used such a service to start over after leaving Hollywood at 34 if it were possible?

It would be really tempting, but it would also be disingenuous. I am all of these stories, made up of all of these events. The stories I tell myself about those events and how they shape me, even those are fluid. “I am not I” and all of that, because to say “I” is to assume some kind of solidity. Writing Growgirl made me think a lot about that. The rather more diaphanous off-the-page story that I tell myself about myself constantly challenges me to reinterpret my relationship to big, internet-permanent events like Blair Witch, and without that challenge I would be a lesser person. I’m always changing, always growing up and out of what’s come before. Blair Witch repeats on me constantly, like cucumbers or chili, all the better to make peace with it.

Growgirl was your first book, and you’re still quite young. Do you plan to continue to work mostly in personal nonfiction, or are you going to transition to other forms of writing?

I’m working on a novel called Bounds right now. It’s an erotic black comedy about a trio of cancer researchers. The theme is love and other consumptive malignancies. At the same time, I’m launching a business called Prettywell. It’s a mix of herbal and lab-tested ingredients for whole bodies. My first four products, about to fledge the nest, are Lift, Feed, Mojo, Buff, and Hump.

Your dog Vito was one of my favorite characters in Growgirl. How’s he doing now?

He is the planet’s finest creature. Intelligent, mellow, with uncanny comedic timing. He’s five now. He does a lot of this:

heather donahue vito 1 500x375 Interview: Heather Donahue, Author of <em>Growgirl</em>

And also this:

heather donahue vito 2 500x333 Interview: Heather Donahue, Author of <em>Growgirl</em>

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Desire and Discernment

A pink camper adorned with rainbows and butterflies drove past. There were other words on it, probably peace or joy or something, but the one that caught my eye was at the top, by the sleeping nook. Discernment.

The problem: how can I maintain gentleness in the face of the desire? Especially when desire keeps telling me how gentle it can be and tangles me in word yarn? How can I keep an open heart with the narcissistic and the pissed off–even just the confused–without becoming a confused, aggressive, and defensive douche myself? How can I avoid the tit for tat when my tits would just like to go for it? The noble assistance of Wikipedia, was, this morning, as ever, at the ready.

The first part was okay:

“Discernment is the activity of determining the value and quality of a certain subject or event, particularly the activity of going past the mere perception of something and making detailed judgments about that thing. As a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others.”

Wisdom? That would be nice. Good judgement? Ditto. Virtue? I try. Going past mere perceptions? My talent and my peril. Subject matter often overlooked by others? Sort of my specialty, especially in the desire department.

Gratuitous Image of Tom Selleck Because Something About Him Really Captures the Essence of Desire and Discernment For Me.

Which is when the bad news came:

“The mark of dispassion is true discrimination; for one who has attained the state of dispassion does all things with discrimination and according to measure and rule. Without dispassion, however, you cannot achieve the beauty of discrimination”

Dispassion? After that word, I was all ready to hear something like, “and for God’s sake you don’t want that–ever passionate, ever bold!” –so deeply ingrained is “Passionate” as one of my personal signifiers. So then I’m like, well fuck discernment then. Overrated, like temperance. If wisdom is disembodied, you can keep it. If I have to be lashed to the wheel of fortune and its concomitant suffering, then I’m going to take the body’s warm/hot consoling joys as well.

Maybe that slash is the problem. Warm/Hot. Intimacy/Desire. Defended/Graceful. Those are some pretty unstable dichotomies. I have typically chosen passion over reason every time, taken the cues of the body, that handy ship of learning. But what’s a ship without a captain? The captain is not a captain without a ship and the ship is just metal but for the sailing. It takes some humility for the captain to know the power isn’t all hers, no matter how much desirous diesel she’s put in the tank. The purpose and the power of sailing are only realized through the skillful relationship between captain and ship. Discernment is what keeps the cargo ship captain from flying the jet. Or the jet from yearning for the coxswain. Coxswain is a fun word to use and means boat servant, so I only sort of digress…

That Kali Isn't Very Dispassionate.

Discernment is easily squatted on by all the negative connotations of discrimination, but only if I don’t trust my instincts. Only if I choose defended over graceful. The shitty bits of discrimination come from judging without holding steady in my own humility and gentleness. Just making assumptions all over the place is not discernment, but rather the worst discrimination has to offer. That word could really use a little re-grounding and redemption. Pull it out of the stereotypical language ghetto, so to speak.

Luckily, Wikipedia is pretty straightforward in its final summation:

“Discernment is the ability to make wise decisions in difficult situations.”

That seems pretty do-able. There’s no room for wisdom, or its pretty cousin grace in the uglier forms of discrimination. Maybe that’s it all there is to it, idea-wise. Maybe discernment is desire tempered by grace. I’ll try that and get back to you.

Desire Tempered by Grace?


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Epiphanies Spring Eternal


There are some things I think I know, but when I test them with another, especially another naked person, I falter. The perils and joys of solitude, which my winter was full of, are in learning what I need to know. Then I have to welcome my test buddies when they come to call. Bringing aspiration into knowledge, body deep, is hard until it’s easy; until you finally have enough of the desperate friction and eager fiction.

I’ve had enough. I’m sitting in an empty cup again. Okay not entirely empty, I’m thinking there are some very nice flowers in it. California Poppies and Cynoglossum officinale. Or something like that.

I finally have sincere gratitude and some much needed forgiveness for the naked test buddy who drafted me into Heart Boot Camp. His indifferent handling of delicate valves taught me to be steady, to grieve as deep and hard and lonely as can be, and trust that it will pass. The heartbreak hangovers grew shorter every time. I persisted with him, out of a stupefying mix of nostalgia, love, loneliness, and straight-up get-those-fucking-clothes-off-and-sit-down-in the-big-boy-chair desire. He could rely on my yes, and so he did.

It was a stupid thing I was doing, even the internet said so. Sex with the ex is a bad idea, particularly one you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with. I had to learn to let go again and again. He timed my recoveries well and by the time he’d call again I opened my heart (and assorted other body parts) to him just as readily as the last time. Friends thought this was the very definition of insanity and were tired of hearing about it. I was tired of talking about it, but being with him in this untethered territory was fun and playful in a way that it wasn’t when we were together, especially that last year.

When it was done, and he went back to workaholic absence, I tried to find a way to keep the sense of play amid the flood of memory and story that I could not write. I had at my disposal several versions of what once was, and, I considered all too often: could be again. I wanted to know. I wanted to know now. I wanted the plot back. The memoirist in me was stifling the puny human. Teetering between love and hate, rage and gratitude; I couldn’t just let fragile fire be.

Borage Flower


About five different narratives clashed in my body as I tried to write an essay about it. Chaos was giving order the Philly Phinger. I just had to sit in it. Drown in it some days. In crazy-ex fashion, I even reached out to one of his breakup-time lovers, to try and suss out which memory path would bring me closer to the truth: the one where he was a controlling asshole, or the one where he was an gentle teddy bear safe and hot and home. I thought someone else’s story could stabilize mine, as if that would sandbag the balloon.

Well, it sort of did. That’s what stories are for. They do that. We do that for each other in the telling. As it often goes with unstable dichotomies, he is both. A fuzzy stormtrooper. Just his nature. That must be hard. We are, none of us but the sociopaths, trying to hurt each other. Paths cross and don’t, and though I can’t believe what a dirty hippie I’m becoming, to trust in the necessity of that, to persist in allowing comfort in uncertainty, is the order of the day.

A sudden poppy. California Poppy.

I don’t know anything, except that when I am still, I am safe. I discovered that this morning, just like that. A sudden poppy. This is not to say I won’t veer, oh god, not at all, veering will hopefully just deepen my understanding. Desire is disruptive. Desire is life-giving. It is spring now, after all. But still, this morning has the ease and light of an actual epiphany. I think I might really finally know this beyond my tricky brain, deep in my sturdy bones, all the way to a steady heart: Everything is going to be okay.


Big props to naked test buddies.


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Democracy, Hypocrisy, and Medical Marijuana

This article was originally published here at the Huffington Post.


Last week was a strange week to be an American. I was moved by the president’s inauguration speech, like when he invoked, “We, the people,” in that hypnotic way and said, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

Democracy is both one of those ancient values and perhaps our most fundamental enduring ideal. So, imagine my surprise when the day after those words were spoken, a U.S. Circuit Court failed to acknowledge the medical efficacy of marijuana and remove it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

The continued classification of cannabis on Schedule I will make it difficult for the 18 states (and the District of Columbia) that have already approved medical marijuana to securely and legally represent the will of their citizens. It is certainly not encouraging for the 10 additional states with bills pending. With those 10 states on board, we have a clear majority. We, the people, are lifting our voices, we are casting our votes, and we are still not being heard.

This administration has some big decisions to make in the coming months about how it will respond to these votes and voices. We, the people, have achieved critical mass on this issue. It’s time for the administration to spend some of that freed-up second-term political capital on an issue whose depth has been largely obscured by jokes about Cheetos.

Why should you, the person who is not and would never choose to be a medical marijuana patient, care about this? Because it’s a poor reflection on “our most ancient values and enduring ideals.” Because it fills our prisons and keeps the 44 million uninsured Americans from a broad-spectrum medicine they could grow in their own backyard. Because it wastes law enforcement resources and keeps us from the revenue and entrepreneurship opportunities that this plant could provide. This is not about whether you like marijuana or not, this is about democracy and hypocrisy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has, since 2003, held patent number 6630507 on medical cannabis. The abstract states that “Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties … This new-found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of a wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.” What diseases don’t fall into one of those categories? That’s not a rhetorical question. I really can’t think of one. Now that there is increasing evidence showing cancer and Alzheimer’s can be inflammatory diseases, that list covers pretty much everything that isn’t a birth defect. This is a federally held patent. How, then, can it be anything but hypocrisy for the court to say that marijuana has no medicinal value?

It’s a legal Mobius strip. The court says marijuana stays a Schedule I drug because the studies are “wanting.” But here’s the rub: If the studies are wanting, it’s because marijuana is a Schedule I drug. A researcher who wants to investigate cannabis has to get a special permit from the DEA. This is preventing the depth and breadth of studies we need to develop federally legal medicine from cannabis. Regular citizens see the hypocrisy in this — it’s part of why they’re voting to have access to the whole plant, based on overwhelming anecdotal evidence and the limited research allowed.

Cannabinoids have their own signaling system in our brains, which runs in the opposite direction to all other neurotransmitters. A whole different way of signaling than what was previously known. It’s called Retrograde Signaling. This rather startling discovery wasn’t made until after marijuana was already on Schedule I. Hard science: the cannabinoid system spans all regions of our brains and moves in the reverse of all other known neurotransmitters. This system also extends to our lungs, liver, kidneys, blood stem cells, immune system, and the cells that interface between our blood and lymph. That is huge enough, one might think, to not have research limited by permits from the DEA.

I’m excited by the science to come. I want to understand the complexities of our relationship to this plant that we’ve been dancing and healing with for thousands of years. Go ahead and isolate those cannabinoids, discover new receptors, bring on the remixes and mashups. Make new medicine. But in the meantime, we have the whole plant. It has the capacity to heal without damage. The drug war has done nothing but damage. Also, there are real opportunities for entrepreneurship here. Colorado and California have been home to an innovative marijuana middle class where slices of the pie are distributed with a fairness not seen in other billion dollar businesses. It has been a business of, by, and for the people.

In the inauguration speech, Obama also said, “We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” We, the people, couldn’t agree more, Mr. President. I hope you count our votes and hear our voices, lifted, loud and clear.

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the still sweet pulse in my foot

There are times when only stillness will do. Something has gone wrong, but it’s not clear how or why. Or maybe I’d just rather not remember. We are missing each other. My arm misses your shoulder like they are part of the same thing, the phantoming is intolerable when the real is reminded. The actual smell of you. The way it fills the house. The heart that I can feel skipping because we are so close. These days, in the aftermath, I rely on stillness. There’s so much in it. The necessary movements are made carefully. Each step, walking the dog, considered. Everything is vast here but the individuals. The individuals stay tiny in their skins and furs and barks. The snow is dripping from the roof. It’s stopped being snow. Elemental things move on so easily, but the water is still water and this is still my home.

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