Just Say Yes: Celebrating Cannabis with Catherine Hiller (Excerpt)

While in the United States federal legalization remains a question mark, with California’s recent favorable vote on recreational use it’s clear that many Americans are ready to embrace cannabis in its many forms. Whether in business, as medicine, or recreationally, informed advocates know it’s time to “just say yes.” Author and cannabis activist Catherine Hiller takes this literally, making it the title of her nationally acclaimed book, the first “marijuana memoir” written for a mainstream audience. Here she shares her personal favorite things about the experience of getting high, and why cannabis is worth celebrating.

By Catherine Hiller

I wish drink did the trick, I really do. People in bars look like they’re having a wonderful time, and people at parties laugh a lot more after drinking. But, like several other women in my family, I don’t tolerate alcohol well, so marijuana is my inebriant of choice.

It should be no more significant than that. Instead, the millions of people who smoke pot routinely must be furtive about their habit because in most parts of the world, and in most of the United States, there are legal and financial penalties for smoking pot. At present, three-quarters of a million people in the USA are behind bars for marijuana offenses. Costs vary from state to state, but on average it costs taxpayers about $47,000 per prisoner. We could save $33 billion a year simply by pardoning all the inmates who are in prison because of marijuana. This wouldn’t save only money: it would save lives. It is profoundly unjust that so many (principally minority youth) are in jail because they own or traffic in an herb that gives pleasure to so many.

There are also social penalties, so smokers tend to be quiet about their habit. Along with the secrecy comes a certain shame, at least for people past a certain age, at least about habitual smoking.

I wrote my memoir, Just Say Yes (from which this piece is excerpted), to counteract that shame. I think it’s time for a positive narrative about long-term cannabis use. As someone who’s indulged for some fifty years, I’m glad to publish this memoir under my own name. It’s high time marijuana habitués came out of the closet – hat’s off to Bill Maher! Pot use should be normalized. Weed is not something exotic, and smoking pot doesn’t mean you’re peculiar. When gays started coming out, laws changed. I believe that people who get high should be more open about it, within their risk tolerance. That’s what fuels this memoir.

I begin this marijuana memoir with a short celebration of its effects on me. These have been much the same for half a century. Of course there are downsides to smoking, but for now I celebrate without restraint the sacred herb, the holy weed, the blessed hemp.

How do I use it? Let me count the ways.

For inspiration and writing. After half a joint I feel a tingling in my elbows and a warm general confidence. Happiness suffuses my brain, and I become more playful and inventive. It’s the perfect time to plan a project, because ideas come more quickly. It’s also a good time to actually write, because I usually feel so good I don’t notice the demons of doubt. Being high eases me into writing; after a while, I’m no longer stoned, but the writing momentum continues. I’m in flow.

I also like being high for the final read-through, of either my own fiction or pieces I edit or write for others. I honestly feel I owe it to my clients to do the final reading after smoking, for then I often see subtle infelicities of meaning or rhythm that I’ve missed before, and I correct them on the spot. I give my clients a perk they know nothing about: a high level of attention.

Of course, I don’t smoke just for writing and editing. Basically, weed is a general pleasure drug for me, a mild, reliable way to get happy. Most things I enjoy I enjoy even more when I’m high, especially if they don’t require energy. So relaxing outdoors is especially good for me after smoking. I like being baked while I lie on the beach, being stoned when I stroll in a drizzle and being high when I walk in the sun upon new fallen snow.

Kayaking at sunset is reliably wonderful, but marijuana brings it to aesthetic and spiritual bliss. I paddle mainly in the calm harbor near my house, slowly, at the end of the day. Sometimes other boaters ask, “Are you as happy as you look?” and I always nod yes. Paddling like this is more meditation than sport. When people ask if kayaking is difficult, I sometimes say, “The hardest part is lighting the joint in the wind.”

I wonder if the harbor police have ever seen me hunched and struggling. Probably: when I wave my paddle at them, they do not wave in return.

I get high for many of the good things in life – and none of the bad. So the contention that getting high is an escape from one’s problems is irrelevant to me. I smoke to augment pleasure, not to dull pain.

Smoking makes me languorous and passive. That’s probably why I like weed so much. I tend to be a speedy person; pot calms and cocoons me. “Life is always a tightrope or a featherbed,” wrote Edith Wharton. “Give me the tightrope.” But I like pot because it brings me down from the wire and onto a pillow. It’s great as a calming agent after an ordeal, such as a rough drive home, and it’s a fine way to start the weekend.

It opens the senses. There are three things people traditionally enjoy after smoking weed: listening to music, eating and making love. Perhaps pot lets one focus more fully on a single sense: when I’m high I feel I listen more attentively, more fully, with music pouring into my very soul. I love to hear Bach in a church, for the ambience and the acoustics, so just before the concert I’ll be sneaking around the perimeter of the church parking lot, or ducking between rows of cars, surreptitiously toking up before entering the space. I wonder if anybody smells marijuana on my hair or coat. I wonder if others are high, too. When I’m stoned, I like following instruments individually, first one, then another. Am I really hearing better? Who knows? I do feel I’m more in the moment.

When I’m high, my taste buds become exquisitely sensitive, and I appreciate food even more than usual. I am more attuned to its texture and flavor: I can taste the carrot in the sauce like following the bass in a song. I consider it a disservice to a fine restaurant to dine there without being high. Even on an ordinary weeknight, I usually smoke pot before dinner, the way others have a cocktail on returning home from work. Pot makes food tastes better: it’s my reward to myself as the cook.

Having sex is the third sacred thing to do stoned, at least for many. Skin becomes more sensitive, kissing more complex, anything oral more interesting and compelling. And the feet! When I’m high and my husband Mark squeezes my arches and pulls my toes, I’m in heaven.

Many philosophers feel that living in the moment is the key to happiness. That’s the premise of the mindfulness movement. And it’s the main reason why I love to smoke pot: it keeps me alive in the present.

I toke, therefore I tingle.

Catherine Hiller is an American author and filmmaker, best known for writing Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir. John Updike described Hiller’s short story collection, Skin: Sensual Tales, as “good, brave and joyful writing.” Her forthcoming novel, The Feud, will be published by Heliotrope Books in Spring, 2018. Visit catherinehiller.net and marijuanamemoir.com to learn more, or follow her on Twitter at @edgycathy.

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