Grow Girl

Judge My Book By Its Cover

Growgirl The Blossoming of an Unlikely Outlaw and/or How My Life After the Blair Witch Project Went to Pot

On the left, the paperback. On the right, the hardcover.


The two covers have the same basic design elements: a naked lady with a dark blonde bob and a cannabis plant on a pale background. But (to me, anyway) they couldn’t feel more different.

My hardcover is clean. So clean. Suze Orman clean. Like those old Dove ads that featured ladies that were real. So real that Dove could not risk their sexuality. They wore big panties and you were not supposed to want to fuck them. You were supposed to respect them and think them brave just for showing you that they do have bodies that don’t look like your regular billboard bodies and they were okay with these bodies. Not fuck you exactly if you didn’t like it, but rather, hey, we’re still here anyway okay? if you didn’t like it. There is a certain kind of power in this. There is a difference between the power of fuckability and the power of respectability. The former is a harder sort of currency, but disposable.

Presenting my book in that way says, see, it’s not a gray market enterprise we’re talking about here! Come, Soccer Mom, you’re gonna love this! It’s like Kate Plus Eight! But with ganja! Don’t like pot? Okay how about joy? You like joy? Oh yeah you do. How ‘bout freedom? Everybody likes freedom! Because, I mean just look at that lady. She is joyful and free and she would be wearing one of those ASK ME HOW! Buttons that Herbalife people wear if only she had a stitch to pin it to, really she would!

My publisher and I shared the desire to reach a lot of readers. Let’s sell books! Of course. I can’t imagine being the kind of self-flagellator who wants only six people to read her book, even if it is amazing that six people would take the time. It’s even nicer when they send you emails or review it on Amazon. But why not aim high (pun sincerely not intended)? My publisher is really good at the kind of book that has it’s author on the cover. It puts a human face on the story. It makes sense. It also makes sense that Blair Witch would be on the cover. I really do get it. The thing is, nobody wants to buy the middle aged woman. The middle aged woman does not sell like hotcakes. She sells like tepidcakes. When was the last time you saw tepidcakes on a menu? Hot things burn. Tepid things go down easy. Clean and tepid are widely digestible, if not highly desirable.

This is why I thought, when I presented this: “Okay guys, how about me, naked, with a pot plant.” They were going to say, “Yeah, let’s just go with the illustration.”

I was up late a lot, as the manuscript was due in five days and the accompanying sleepless nights made it all the more surreal to find myself, a week after that email exchange, totally naked with a pot plant.

The photographer, Michele Clement did a fantastic job. Especially considering I completely fucked up her really beautiful, gorgeously sketched out plan when I showed up with short blonde hair and thirty extra pounds. A difficult commodity. To top it off, she borrowed a for reals, not-fake-silk cannabis plant; no small thing, even in San Francisco. The plant I am clutching on the cover is Blackberry Kush, a strain I grew, which made it a very happy botanical family reunion for me. Michele and her kick-ass team made a photo that I cherish.

Still, the middle of the road sterility of it, despite all of our best efforts with the semi-legal plant and the nudity, gave me the sinking feeling that people who might like the book might pass it by because of the cover, and people who liked the cover were probably not going to be into the book. As Michelle Dean and I discussed over at The Awl, the book is much rawer than the cover would suggest. Even the subtitle, “How My Life After the Blair Witch Project Went to Pot” was amusing in an old-fashioned, safe, and kind of cheesy way. It was Blair Witch that made my story interesting. It was Blair Witch (and Mollie Glick) that got me a healthy advance. The downside was that isn’t what the book is about. The story isn’t a Hollywood story. It’s the story of someone who thought she was one thing, and became something else all together. It’s about the question of whether we can change and if so, how much? Are we the products of our own creation or are we born with some indelible ways of being in the world? I think we all confront those questions at one point or another. Putting the author on the cover you say, “This is MY story, MINE!” I never really saw Growgirl that way.

My paperback represents more than it presents. It is very nearly the cover I had in my mind when I was writing the book. The illustration is an anthropomorphization of a mandrake root into a woman. It comes from a medieval alchemical manual. I shortened her hair and replaced the mandrake plant with a cannabis illustration from a old botanical manual. The mandrake woman is symbol of transition and transformation. No separation between plant and animal. They start to match. They are family now. This is what I think the best parts of Growgirl are about.

The legend of the mandrake woman has a weird sort of power, which I like. Take this from Josephus, a guy writing in Jerusalem around 50 AD:

“A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this the root can be handled without fear.

That’s more like it!

I don’t think Growgirl is just my story. It’s a version of a story about growing up and up and up that uses my voice and the events of my life in the telling. Everybody lives this story at some point, to varying degrees, or will. Some role got stuck to you: be it wife, father, lawyer, teacher, guy that got bitten by a shark, or girl from the Blair Witch Project. You shed it or make peace with it (or something in between) and keep on growing.

The two covers (and subtitles) are so different, that I kind of ended up with the best of both worlds. I’d love to hear which cover you prefer and why. Or perhaps you think they both suck. Let me know! Come on over to Facebook or click me up @aheatherdonahue on the twitter.

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The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot


This is the sweet spot. This is where I meditate. Not everyday, I’m not that disciplined, but definitely today. The San Francisco skyline makes a pretty nice altar. It’s quiet in the sweet spot, except for the constant arrythmic thrum of tires over rumble strips on the Bay Bridge. It never stops. And while I’m in the sweet spot at least, I never stop paying attention. A river of people between A and B all funnelling into the skyline. Sometimes when I sit here, I can’t help but think about all of them. They remind me how tiny we all are. This might seem like a limiting thing: I’m so tiny so what impact could I possibly have? Or: I’m so tiny, why would I not risk?

My book comes out in about a month. It’s mostly a memoir about finding my place in the world, but that happened while I was growing pot, which is federally illegal, which makes me lose sleep at night. There’s a few weeks left before it’s out. This is also the sweet spot, a tightrope time where there’s no failure or success yet, only possibility.

I’ve wanted to write books since I was a little girl. When I opened the box with my books inside and they actually smelled like books, I cried. Making long-held dreams come true is a dangerous proposition, no matter what they involve. Dreams happen in your head, and so they’re perfect and intimate and sealed up and yours, and so they are engines of faith. Out in the world, solid in the the open air, they get touched and tarnished. The shape is always a little off, not quite the dreamed ideal. Dreams are always in motion. The words in my book aren’t moving anymore and the covers are hard and it’s everything I wanted and so what next? Every interview so far closes with that. What next? Um, can I please enjoy this for a second? Wait–since when do I ask for permission? Yes, I can enjoy this. Yes, I will. Enjoy this. No shit yet on the fan. The spot is sweet for shortness.


Please join me again next week, when I’ll be feeling less pensive.


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Weed Wars: Is the Cannabiz Ready for its Close-Up?

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.


As a former pot grower, I took a particular interest in the premier of Discovery’s new reality show, Weed Wars last week. As is typical of the pot business, when it comes to the main players, it’s a sausage fest.

There’s no central female character, except there is: The plants themselves, the ones that produce seedless and valuable sinsemilla are all female. Despite what you see, Harborside is the house the Girls built. The gents of Weed Wars serve the Girls’ evolution and dispersion, and in return their family business grossed $21 million in sales last year. That’s some good medicine in this economy.

Because the medical marijuana trade in California is obligated to be non-profit, all excess money made at Harborside goes into patient services and charitable donations, which makes it seem less like criminal enterprise and more like a model of sustainable, community-level capitalism. Putting this into greater perspective is Jon, one of the growers featured on the show, who worked for a mortgage company before he tried his hand at the ganja trade, “My real job, ” he says, “was attempting to scam people out of their life savings to get them into homes they couldn’t afford.”

Unlike the industry that exploited that avenue for accumulating wealth, the Cannabusiness is not in need of a bailout. It’s one of the few growth sectors in a still-struggling economy. Its growth was so explosive in Los Angeles, that the city council stepped in to shut down dispensaries as numbers mushroomed into the high hundreds.

Steve DeAngelo, Harborside’s CEO, who looks a bit like Willie Nelson in a Don Draper costume: suit, hat and long gray braids, says, “I was one of these lucky people who finds out at a young age what it is that’s important to them.” He’s both impish and sincere when he says, “I’m an agent of change, working to bring the truth about the cannabis plant to the rest of the world.” Like any good protagonist, I’m rooting for him to win, but what that might look like is up for grabs. Does a victory for Steve mean legalization across the board? It’s hard to imagine Harborside holding up to that, which is probably why his brother Andrew, a former theater guy and current general manager, said on Bill O’Reilly said that he doesn’t support the recreational legalization of cannabis. The premiere episode of Weed Wars does nothing if not point up the very gray area between medical and recreational that some patients occupy.

Steve explains: “Whether or not they realize it, most regular cannabis users are using cannabis for the purpose of enhancing their wellness. They may be using it to spark their creativity or their libido or to get a longer night’s sleep. All of those things are legitimate wellness uses.” I agree. My doctor’s recommendation is not for any of those things, but I’ve used the pot purchased via that recommendation for all of the above and more.

The medicinal/recreational question is interesting because it raises the question of how we define medicine. I once got a doctor’s recommendation at HempCon for $50 and a record-free claim of PMS. Is that gaming the system? Or is that providing my uninsured self some relief? Should insomnia be a qualifying condition? Anxiety? How about an acute giggle deficit? There’s a reason for the saying “laughter is the best medicine” and marijuana is indisputably a laugh-bringer. The very real danger of playing this semantic game is, of course, the potential loss of hard-won ground for patients with debilitating diseases.

Moderate recreational use shouldn’t be seen as a denigration of the medical marijuana system — nor should the millions of dollars that Harborside brings to the City of Oakland. The making of money and the provision of medicine are not mutually exclusive. They can both contribute to the well-being of the patients, the growers and the communities in which they are neighbors. Or they can cross the Rubicon and become corrupt. I look forward to this Thursday’s new episode of Weed Wars to watch which way the DeAngelo’s are headed.



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