Heather Donahue is a writer and former actress best known for her starring role in the 1999 cult classic The Blair Witch Project.
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.
Visit Heather’s website at heatherdonahue.com