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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The girl from The Blair Witch Project has gone to pot

Most people know her as “the girl from the Blair Witch Project,” scared witless, fighting back tears, coping with the sounds of pure evil emanating from the woods. But that was a long time ago, and after rounding up every bit of ephemera related to her life as an actress, taking it into the desert, and setting it ablaze, Heather Donahue turned over a new leaf. She headed north to a place called Nuggettown, Calif., and began her new life growing marijuana. It was fun and enlightening while it lasted, but after a few harrowing experiences, and seeing an acquaintance get busted, Donahue has channeled all of the courage and experience she gained in Nuggettown into Growgirl: How My Life After The Blair Witch Project Went to Pot (Gotham Books).

Heather Donahue pays a visit to the Music Room to sign copies of her book Thurs., Jan. 12. Tickets are $5 at door, which is good for a $5 credit toward the book purchase price of $26. 7 p.m. 327 Edgewood Ave. (downstairs from Pizzeria Vesuvius). 404-343-4404.

This is the first book that you’ve written and published, correct?

Yeah, but I started out as a writer when I was little. I loved to do it and was one of those weird kids that could read at 2. My parents didn’t have a lot of books around the house, so it didn’t make as much sense to take my love of storytelling and put it into anything other than performance. When I had a lot of downtime when I was acting I always went back to writing, and I did a lot of workshops in Santa Monica and L.A., but I didn’t want to do too many of them because one of the things they manage to do is coach your voice, and I wanted to keep the courage of my own voice, which served me better in the end.

Your writing is kind of purple, which I admire. As a journalist I have to say what I mean in the least amount of words possible.

It really is nice. I’ve found it to be so much more difficult to write a 500-word piece than it is to write a 16,000-word piece.

Yes, and generally speaking, whatever I’ve written that I think is the greatest part of the piece is always what has to be cut.

Ah… the killing of the darling! I go back and forth on that. Every once in a while if my editor doesn’t catch something I’m secretly relieved. I like to keep my darlings — little passages here and there. I love the purple stuff — when writing (laughs).

Are you nervous about people’s reactions to the book?

No. One of the wonderful, lasting lessons that I learned from being a pot grower was fearlessness, and learning to be at ease under a very wide variety of circumstances.

… And criticism.

Are you kidding? I went to thick-skin boot camp in my 20s. After Blair Witch I had people coming up to me saying they wish I was dead. Where do you go from there? One person came up to me and said, “Oh, you’re alive? Can I have my money back?” I was 25 and thinking it was my big break, but actually it kind of sucked.

There is no middle ground with Blair Witch; people love it or hate it.

I’ve found that to be the case with almost everything I do, and I’m still trying to figure out why that is.

Well, you’re dealing with horror, vice, and a political hot button. The topic of your book is marijuana, and people are pretty worked up about it because it’s illegal.

What’s strange to me is that it’s a PR gimmick that’s left over from the 1930s. It’s just a matter of reintroducing people to it. The policy is the problem, not the plant. Prohibition is way more harmful than the plant. The stats are there and there’s no contesting it. It’s time to revisit it, and it’s an amazing, beautiful plant. We have cannabis receptors all over our bodies. It’s a plant that’s been tied to human evolution for a long time, we’re a planetary power couple.

Can it save the American economy?

It already is. It’s already sustainable, community level Capitalism in California. We need to look at that before we take the only multibillion dollar industry where the wealth is still distributed on the mom and pop level, before we hand it over to the corporations, when it’s been built by the people, for the people for decades!

Ain’t that always the way … I can already envision a pack of Marlboro Greens at the gas station.

But this is the first time we have a chance to look at it and say ‘No, that’s not what we want to happen.’ We can have a say in shaping this.

Slowly but surely, it’s working its way into mainstream popular culture, what with a show like "Weed Wars" on TV now. But across the board I’m noticing more and more of a local first initiative: food trucks, free music outlets like Bandcamp on the Internet. In Atlanta you’re seeing music venues dropping the cover and adopting the pay what you want model. All of these things seem to be tentacles of the same octopus, which to me sounds like some sort of renaissance is either happening, or is about to go down.

I certainly think a renaissance is going on, and I certainly think that the economy has forced us all to look at our priorities and our definition of freedom. For decades we’ve been losing our freedoms. Take me for example. I could have gone for my MFA and been in debt for the rest of my natural life. Instead, I did my independent study in the woods and went for the book. We have 21-year-olds who are graduating with six-figure debt. How are any of them ever going to know the taste of freedom. What does their futures hold? What the future of America looks like is up to us. Are we going to continue being slaves to debt, or are we going to have freedom.

We have to be clear-eyed about cannabis and we have to look past the fear mongering and our whole political scheme.

You are prescribed medical marijuana for PMS?

Yeah, but it’s not a prescription. It’s a doctor’s recommendation for PMS and, of course, it’s a very versatile medication (laughs).

Is that a common recommendation, or did you have particularly hellish PMS?

I don’t think you should have to have hellish anything to get relief in America. I would say it was just regular old PMS and a wellness need that the state of California is compassionate enough to allow.

That is very California!

Right! That’s why I’ve spent most of my adult life here. It’s a business here and it’s absolutely thriving. Change is a scary thing for institutions, which is why we have to have the courage to think for ourselves on matters such as this.

This isn’t the book that I was expecting to write when I was in my little cabin in the woods, but I did. I wanted a new life and wanted to see what else I could become. I had been so tied into this identity that I am an actress, and you become very indoctrinated in conservatory or any kind of arts training that like “if you can do anything else, you probably should …” A little brain-washy, but it’s like the Darwin quote: It’s not the strongest or most intelligent species that survive, but those who are the most responsive to change — or something like that. So I tried to take that approach. I initially thought it would be like “a city mouse becomes a country mouse!” But it didn’t work out. I realized that I had this whole world at my fingertips, but I was so entrenched in the paranoia that I didn’t even think to write about it. I was six months into my first draft before I even thought to write the word “pot” on my laptop. I thought well, if they come and take my laptop I don’t even want that word on there. That’s why I originally started by calling the plants “the girls.”

What do you hope people will learn from your book?

Courage. Courage to take risks in general, and to take a clear-eyed view of their lives and the world around them.

Is Atlanta your first stop on this book tour?

Yes, I’ll be there right after I’m on "The View!" Hello America!

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