Friday night I had the privilege of attending a small book reading featuring Catherine Hiller, the author of Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir. The reading was originally supposed to be held at St. John’s Book Sellers, but due to the falling ceiling it was relocated to Atelier Gallery.
Not only was Catherine’s jovial presence welcoming and comforting, but her book is unlike anything we’ve seen before (book review to come soon). We learned more about Catherine, for one she mentions when the reading starts that she only uses cannabis recreationally, she’s lucky enough she doesn’t need it for pain. We learn that out of all her accomplishments in life, when being interviewed people just want to know one thing, “WHAT ABOUT THE WEED”. Expected? Yes. Surprising? Probably. We learn how she came to making this memoir, why, how and when. As she reads a couple chapters from her book she has us all laughing, smiling, and most of all THINKING. Never has there been a memoir where someone details their life long use of Cannabis…and with no worry of judgement, it was empowering watching her read about her first Burning Man experience at age 60. YES, BURNING MAN! Catherine has lived a full and happy life, it shows after spending just a few minutes with her.
After the reading I got to speak with Catherine a bit, and she’s just as friendly one on one, as she is while speaking to a group. I only wish that more people had turned out to her readings. She had another reading the night before at H.E.M.P., and when I asked Catherine how the turn out was there, I believe she said that maybe a couple people had attended, but the rest were H.E.M.P.’S own employees. For the reading I attended, aside from the bookstore and gallery owner, I think there were maybe 4-5 people. Most of the crowd was older, my companion and myself being the youngest, but it was an interesting mix of people who were new to pot, and those who were well versed on pot and the laws in Washington and Oregon.
What made you start this project, and what do you hope to accomplish with your book?
“I started this project because I felt no one else had done it and I thought it was very important that someone would say what it was like from a positive point of view to be smoking this many years, and what I hope to accomplish is the normalization of marijuana use. The fact that you cannot make an automatic assumption about a person because they’re a user, that they could be a stoner and a boring person, or they can be highly motivated, professional, engaged in the world. I myself am an environmental activist, I’m on towns comittee for the environment. I don’t think of myself as a slacker, but I am a heavy user”, she says with a smile, I smile too because it’s so odd seeing someone her age admit to smoking, so open and free.
Do you hope your book helps others your age to become more comfortable with the idea of weed being legal, and hope that maybe even some come out of the smokers closet?
“Definitely, I’m hoping for that, uh, and I’m hearing a kind of commonality that they’re really glad I’ve come out, but sometimes they can’t because of their jobs, or whatever, but they’re glad because they feel that someone’s told their story, and no one had before. That makes me really happy, you know as a writer, you do worry about just digging in your own little sand pile, and when someone says, no that’s my sand pile too, it’s really exciting.”
What was the hardest & easiest thing about writing this book?
“The hardest thing was getting it published”, she lets out a hearty chuckle, and continues, “I am not one of those writers that has a hard time writing, or agonizes about that whole thing. But, the lack of encouragement, the fact that no one wanted to publish it for so long, it was disheartening.”
As Catherine paused I asked her how many years it took to get her book published:
“Well I didn’t have the whole book written, I had the idea, the first chapter and the a proposal about my life and what I would cover, about 8 years ago. It was picked up Summer of 2014, in August I got a publisher. This book is pathetically small, but is was even smaller when it the publisher, so anything I could think of to make it a little bit of a respectable size I put in, including the chapter, “But Is It Healthy?”, which is actually a good chapter”, I agreed with Catherine on this, it is a good chapter. She continued, “I admit there’s a lot of bias in there, but still it gives you some information, and then I added this chapter, “Potpurri”, which is about various other people who smoke, and I just wanted to get their words in too, I added different things here and there just to make it a little longer.”
What have been some crazy responses to your book, or when you brought up the idea of writing this memoir?
“The craziest response was really a heartbreaking response, I mentioned it to my sister who lives in England and she goes, oh please don’t write that book, we’re tired of marijuana, why would you bother writing a book about it? I mean they’re smoking in your novels, get a decent plot, write a decent novel, but don’t write on that. And I tell you, I was destroyed. She’s very authoritative and she’s very smart, so it wasn’t like I could dismiss her, I just wanted to go into the other room and cry.”
Catherine went on to explain that after that trip she got back and realied that she didn’t care what her sister thinks and she continued writing her book, her sister must’ve magically forgotten that conversation because since then she’s been so supportive and happy for her. Sisters have a funny way of doing that, huh? (I have 3 sisters, I am wise in sister) She said it was the craziest and saddest response.
Since you’ve been in the Pac NW, how do you like the weed scene, and how is it different from where you’re from?
Her face lights up when she begins to answer this question:
“Well it’s so much more open here, it’s terrific, it’s wonderful. I so much wish that we had it legalized and more of an open culture in New York. Obviously it’s completely different here, the first chapter, how I buy weed, trekking up these filthy stairs, knocking on somebody’s door…”
I interrupt her here and mention to Catherine how I had just been talking to the friend who was with me about this chapter, I had read it before I left for the reading and told my friend that her story was so foreign to me. I’ve never had to ever be that discreet buying pot in my life and it was amazing that people were so secretive about it. I was used to going to the dealers house chilling on the couch and hanging out, we don’t walk down ten flights of stairs and down mysterious hallways…not all of us anyway. But we agree that when you do make it to your destination it’s all the same, you hang out and pay your respects.
What’s your usual smoking ritual (music, tv, cooking etc.)?
“Well, I use it a lot, so I don’t really have one ritual. I try not to use it until after 4:20, just before dinner, and maybe one more time after that. I do roll it in papers and I do try to smoke it outside of the house, because I don’t really love the smell. But in the winter I put my hand up the fire-place chimney, or when she’s cooking the draft.
My friend and I think this is weird, but Catherine assures us that it isn’t, she just likes a fresh scent.
I know in you book you mention how you only buy the one kind of weed, can you think of strains that you’ve enjoyed aside from what you normally get?
“You know I’m just not one of these connoisseurs, I mean you know more. I’ve been really trying the indica, do I really tell the difference? Not really, so I can’t say.I got a lot of flack when the NYT published how I buy weed, people felt I outted my dealer because I mentioned the bright yellow door, and people thought police would be looking for yellow doors. I’m not crazy, so I changed enough of the details so I wouldn’t give him away, so people were angry. People then asked how I can buy Mexican grass when I know I’m contributing to the violene, the cartels, and so on. I do like to be an ethical consumer, and it did give me pause, I had never given a thought to it. My answer to every couple of months is not going to make much of a difference, but I was also thinking, I might as well buy a higher strain, maybe smoke a little less of it and not enable whatever’s going on in Mexico.
And this is where my true personality shines because I while trying not to laugh I asked her:
Back in your day did a dime bag really cost a dime?
She laughs and says,
I don’t know, I think we used to call it a lid, and I don’t know if a lid was an ounce or a dime bag. I don’t think it was ever that cheap, not in New York. I think a dime bag was much less and it’s what you’d buy if you didn’t know anything, you’d just go to Washington Park, taking your chances with whoever came up to you asking ‘if you wanna buy grass’.”
Please visit the Marijuana Memoir website where you can share your own weed stories: you can share a story about the first time you got high, your most memorable high, any encounters you’ve had with the law, crazy stories on how you’ve scored your weed, and any other high stories you can think of. I love the idea of a place where people from all over can go share their stories with Catherine, after all she’s shared hers with us.