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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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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A Growgirl Bedtime Story Just For You

The inimitable T.E. Wolfe was kind enough to invite me to read from Growgirl on his show A Word in Edgewise on community radio station KVMR. KVMR is a national treasure. The diversity of the programming will alternately tickle, inform, and astound you. Mayberry on Mushrooms, streaming live.

This is the first session of Growgirl on Edgewise. I’ll be back on the show to read from the next section in a few weeks. Since there’s no audiobook, this will have to serve as the abridged memory of what never was. Thanks to FCC regulations, it is abridged in all the right places. Oh decency, pshaw!

Seriously though, this is very nearly fun for the whole family.


Click this:

Growgirl on Edgewise edited

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Dinosaur Attack!

Video from a recent dinosaur attack at my house. Luckily, it was an adorable dinosaur.

The Newt is Cute



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