[sixties-l] How Marijuana Ruined My Life

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 01/14/01

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    How Marijuana Ruined My Life
    Stephen Kessler, Northern California Bohemian
    January 2, 2001
    Sometimes I wonder what I might have amounted to if I hadn't become a 
    pothead 30 years ago, when I was in graduate school, and pretty much 
    remained one ever since. If not for marijuana, by now I'd probably be 
    securely tenured in some English department and my mother would be able to 
    brag to her friends about her son the doctor of philosophy. I'd be fluent 
    in Academese, a respectable specialist in some form of critical theory, a 
    teacher admired by his brightest students, a defeated imaginative writer, 
    and a wretchedly unhappy and neurotic person. This, at least, is how I 
    envisioned the path I was on at the time and where it must inevitably lead.
    Luckily, marijuana intervened.
    Getting high, for me, in 1969, at the age of 22, provided a vitally helpful 
    perspective on the pettiness and irrelevance of an academic career to the 
    creative vocation I felt was calling me. Following an acute psychotic 
    episode, usefully assisted by psychedelic drugs, which triggered the 
    explosion of all my internal conflicts and contradictions, I left the 
    doctoral program and its generous fellowship for the full-time pursuit of 
    my first love, poetry. This may not have been possible without a small but 
    steady independent income that enabled me to live without a "real" job, but 
    that financial independence was also existential in that the freedom it 
    afforded left me no excuses for not doing what I claimed to want to do, 
    which was to write. Smoking marijuana gave me courage, at the time, to 
    follow my deepest imaginative instincts, not only in the actual writing of 
    poems but in the larger arena of making decisions about my life and how I 
    wished to live it. Contrary to conventional wisdom, my judgment felt to me 
    more fundamentally sound when I was stoned than straight.
    Encouraged by the permission I felt to write without parental or 
    professorial approval, I set out on the slow, uncertain, and mostly 
    thankless path of the young poet, laboring over less-than-brilliant lines, 
    writing, revising, sending the finished works to magazines, occasionally 
    publishing, more often collecting rejections. Through most of this artistic 
    apprenticeship I was accompanied by the sweet smell of burning hemp, whose 
    presence surrounding my efforts seemed to expand the atmosphere of creative 
    possibility, enhancing my sense of heroic romance on the seas of the blank 
    page, that heady journey into the unknown. Frequently stoned as I indulged 
    my imagination, I knew I was learning something about poetry, about 
    writing, and about myself.
     From there it was a slippery slope into the harder stuff: translation, 
    criticism, journalism, editing, and publishing. In the years since my 
    earliest days as a dropout hippie poet I've managed to make a working life 
    for myself in these various branches of literary practice, and while I 
    wouldn't presume to credit pot for anything I've managed to accomplish, I 
    do believe its companionship has helped me maintain a certain equanimity 
    amid the myriad distractions, confusions, and aggravations of the 
    surrounding world, enabling me to focus on what matters most, or what I 
    most enjoy. If anything, marijuana has tempered my ambition, relaxing the 
    compulsion to overachieve and giving license to play.
    It is this sense of permission, or permissiveness, as the virtue-pushers 
    would have it that makes the forbidden herb, for me, a useful antidote to 
    the various societal prohibitions against, for example, "doing nothing." 
    Pot reinforces my instinctive Taoism. Maybe that's why it's considered by 
    some to be a dangerous drug: if everyone used it, nothing would get done. 
    But paradoxical as it may seem, it is precisely when "doing nothing" that I 
    tend to get the most accomplished as an artist. Or the deep involvement, 
    the timelessness, experienced in the flow of creation may feel so aimless 
    or effortless that it might as well be nothing, except for the fact that 
    when I resume more consciously purposeful activity I often find persuasive 
    evidence that I was doing something after all: a written text or other 
    crafty artifact, a rack of freshly washed dishes, a stack of firewood, a 
    pile of paid bills whose checks were written while listening to music or 
    some radio show.
    Stoned or straight, I find these kinds of meditative activities to be a 
    means of grounding myself in the mundane patterns and rhythms out of which 
    imagination rises. The content, style, and quality of what I write are not, 
    I've found, especially affected by whether or not I've been smoking, but I 
    am aware, when high, of more intimate sensuous relations with the language, 
    with the texture of lines and sentences, with a kind of musical 
    understanding not always readily evident to my more rational and sober 
    self. The mild psychosis induced by this subtle alteration of consciousness 
    may provide a different angle of vision, or revision, that can be of use in 
    making esthetic decisions, what works and what doesn't, how to refine some 
    detail, trim out the excess, or develop some incomplete idea.
    Obviously such working habits are more dependent on the mind and skill of 
    the individual than they are on what drugs he may or may not be taking. An 
    idiot on marijuana is still an idiot, possibly more so. And one's response 
    to pot may vary greatly, depending on personality and circumstances. The 
    health effects of smoking anything cannot be entirely positive, and I've 
    seen enough stupid people in herbally induced stupors to be disabused of 
    any evangelical notion of marijuana as a panacea. Like any other substance, 
    food, tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, television, its abuse can be toxic and 
    destructive. But unlike these ordinary and often insidious additives to 
    daily life, pot remains not only legally prohibited but even now, at the 
    turn of the millennium, socially stigmatized in a way that, say, coffee (a 
    truly mind-altering substance) is not.
    AMONG my friends, some smoke and some don't, for reasons of their own, just 
    as I don't drink coffee because it makes my stomach jumpy, but the ones who 
    do are just as productive in their lives and work and social contributions 
    as are the abstainers. Anecdotally speaking, I've seen no correlation one 
    way or another between marijuana use and creativity, citizenship, ethics, 
    or character. What I have noticed when smoking with friends is a ritual 
    affirmation of time-out, a refreshing pause in the everyday onslaught, a 
    moment of quiet dialogue to savor, an island of sanity in the rush of 
    events. Different people have different ways of relaxing, but those who 
    habitually watch TV, whether in the lethargy of their own living rooms or 
    in the noise and convivial drunkenness of a bar with ballgames blaring, 
    seem to me far more at risk for various psychopathologies than those who 
    routinely prefer a few tokes of pot.
    While I don't exactly take pride in my own habit, I don't consider it a 
    major vice. A couple of puffs in midafternoon, following a late lunch, or 
    at the end of a longish day, in the cocktail hour, or in the evening while 
    listening to some especially beautiful music, strikes me as an eminently 
    civilized way of decompressing the psyche. Whenever I find myself using it 
    more than feels healthy, when I wake up in the morning foggy-headed, or 
    feel a strain on my respiratory system, I may take a break for a few weeks 
    as a way to remind myself of the drug's potentially negative effects and to 
    refresh my appreciation of its positive ones. I wouldn't recommend it to 
    anyone, especially children (I'm content with the knowledge that my 
    18-year-old daughter doesn't use it), but neither would I discourage the 
    curious from trying it in a conscious, responsible way.
    Partner, collaborator, accomplice, friend, companion, marijuana, over the 
    years, has woven itself gently into the pattern of my life in a way that 
    may have prevented me from pushing myself above and beyond whatever I've 
    done as a writer. Without the benign corruption of pot, who knows, I might 
    have been a contender. Instead, up to now, in my early 50s, I've managed to 
    maintain my physical and mental health, create a few works I hope may be 
    worth saving, cultivate many lasting friendships, and contribute what I 
    could to my communities. For someone of alternately competitive and 
    contemplative tendencies, the path I've taken, accompanied by the herbal 
    reality-check of marijuana, feels to me thus far to have been a reasonable 
    compromise. As my father used to say, "Everything in moderation." 

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