Monday, April 17, 2017

Four and Twenty Tokin' Women for 4/20

In honor of the upcoming' holiday 4/20—and for all of those blackbirds who got "baked" in a pie—here are four and twenty newly discovered Tokin' Women.

Google "marijuana + women" and you'll get a lot of photos of scantily-clad gals hitting the bong. But our true Herstory is much more interesting.

In literature, we claim the Beat poetesses Anne Waldman and Joanne Kyger. Waldman has written eloquently about the drug experience, and Kyger mentioned it in oblique and amusing ways.

Truman Capote's character Holly Golightly tries pot in the 1958 novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (although this aspect of her character wasn't depicted in the 1971 movie). Joyce Carol Oates's heroine in her short story "High" feels "expansive? elated? excited?" after toking.

From academia, there is Harriet Martineau, the first female sociologist and ancestor to to Princess Kate Middleton, who took to the nargileh during her Middle Eastern travels. French author Simone de Beauvoir tried marijuana in 1947 during a trip to the US, just before she wrote her seminal work "The Second Sex."

"We marched, wrote polemics, started magazines, took over universities. And in between, we smoked a little pot, made a little love, and changed the world forever," wrote Janis Ian about coming of age in the 1970s. Rita Coolidge wrote of her college years, "We always had a lot of weed, which we’d decided was vital to the creative process," and recounted eating pot brownies with Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and his wife before going to Disneyland.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart came out in favor of marijuana legalization. Halsey sang, "We are the new Americana / high on legal marijuana." Jazz singer June Eckstine was smeared over marijuana in 1947, and again in 1954.

Movies and TV take the most mentions, without even getting the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie." Recently uncovered depictions of cannabis-consuming women on film include Harley Wood as Burma in "Marihuana" (1936), a Reefer Madness-style film with a more poetic ending. Leigh French of the Smothers Brothers' "Share a Little Tea with Goldie" segment shows up in the prophetic "WUSA" (1970) as a hippie pot smoker.

Helen Hunt played a woman who learns to surf and smoke pot in "Ride,"  Elizabeth Moss turned on her boyfriend with trippy consequences in "The One I Love," and Jennifer Aniston's character enlightened up in "Life of Crime." Queen Latifah played blues singer and Tokin' Woman Bessie Smith in an HBO biopic, and Kate Winslet's character in  "The Dressmaker" supplied pot brownies to a neighbor in pain. Tina Fey took her turn at the hookah in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" and Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) got baked in "Dough."

And finally, a Viking ship dating back to 820 AD was discovered with the remains of two women, aged 50 and 70. The pair, who may have been priestesses, were carrying a leather pouch containing cannabis seeds.

Read more in Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Joanne Kyger Wakes Up From The Dream

Poet Joanne Kyger, who according to her New York Times obituary, was "one of the few women embraced by the Beat Generation writers’ fraternity," died on March 22 at her home in Bolinas, California.

Her contemporary Anne Waldman wrote to the Times: “She lived within the most interesting alternative communities of our time. She was Buddhist; she was an environmentalist. She lived her ethos daily, modestly, below the radar, and with great attention to the natural world and the magic of the cosmos.” 

Kyger was married to fellow poet Gary Snyder and wrote about traveling with him in Japan and India in Strange Big Moon: Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964. The couple divorced in 1965, "after she had tired of playing wife and hostess to other Beat guests." She taught at Mills College in and the New School in California, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, and in the hippie haven of Bolinas. 

There she met her friend and admirer Steve Heilig, who once asked her during an interview about the women Beats. She told a story about a woman writer  who would burst into tears when criticized. "I wasn't about to let that happen to me," she said. I asked Heilig if Kyger was a "Tokin' Woman," and he replied that although "she certainly wouldn't define herself in that manner," one could find references in her work.

She read this one aloud to the great amusement of the audience:

When I came back from a trip to Europe and New York in the late ‘60s 
I found the Summer of Love 
and the Bay Area awash with psychedelic participants 

I went to visit Albert who was living in Mill Valley…. 

And then I asked him, How can I understand this new hippie culture? 
Albert said, Well, when you wake up in the morning, get stoned. 
And I mean really really stoned. 
If you do this every day 
you can eventually change your consciousness. 

About 15 years later when I saw him next 
I asked, Did you ever say 
when we were supposed to stop?

Yet she published nearly 30 collections of her poetry in her lifetime. Her poem Destruction was another crowd favorite and demonstrates her unique way of breaking a line:

First of all do you remember the way a bear goes through
a cabin when nobody is home? He goes through
the front door. I mean he really goes through it. Then
he takes the cupboard off the wall and eats a can of lard.

He eats all the apples, limes, dates, bottled decaffeinated
coffee, and 35 pounds of granola. The asparagus soup cans
fall to the floor. Yum! He chomps up Norwegian crackers
stashed for the winter. And the bouillon, salt, pepper,
paprika, garlic, onions, potatoes....

He goes down stairs and out the back wall. He keeps on going
for a long way and finds a good cave to sleep it all off.
Luckily he ate the whole medicine cabinet, including stash
of LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, Amanita, Benzedrine, Valium
and aspirin.

“Joanne Kyger was a trailblazer, fearless and full of insight,” City Lights Publisher Elaine Katzenberger told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Her poetry has influenced generations of younger poets, and there are many in the Bay Area and beyond who will be missing her fierce humor and generous mentorship.”

“When you die,” Kyger wrote in the poem “Night Palace,” “you wake up from the dream.”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What "The Dressmaker" Made in the Kitchen

I was so engrossed with the tale of
"The Dressmaker," a "black comedy of revenge and haute couture" now on Amazon Prime that
I nearly missed the pot plot.

Based on the book by Australian actress and author Rosalie Ham, the movie stars Kate Winslet as Tillie Dunnage, a young woman who comes home to her outback Australian hometown and transforms the place with her tenacity, courage and dressmaking skills.

One of the many colorful characters in the town is the druggist Mr. Almanac (Barry Otto of Strictly Ballroom), who refuses to treat his wife Irma's painful arthritis with drugs. "Addictive," he says. "All that's needed is God's forgiveness, a clean mind and a wholesome diet." So Tilly brings Irma some special cakes she's baked with herbs from her garden. "Unusual aroma," says Irma who is astonished to find her pain is gone after eating them. The secret herb is later revealed in the book when Tilly adds hemp to hot honey to treat her mother Molly, played by Judy Davis.

Molly gets into the act when she brings some extra-strength cakes to Irma. "Go easy on them cakes, I made them a bit stronger than she [Tilly] would have," Molly warns her. "She's young; she doesn't understand pain like we do."

Elsewhere in town, Marigold Pettyman is drugged by her husband Evan with something called Browne's Elixir. Marigold escapes from her domestic nightmare when she puts down the elixir and instead visits Tillie to order a really great dress.

The film, which features Liam Hemsworth as Tillie's love interest Teddy, adds a delightful ending to the cannabis cake episode involving the local police Sergeant, played by Hugo Weaving.

It's almost a modern The Count of Monte Cristo,  another tale of revenge that includes a stylish stranger, and hashish. As in the Spanish TV series The Time Between Seams (aka The Time In Between, now on Netflix), it's nice to watch women reclaiming their power using their traditional skills of sewing – and cooking.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Else Lasker-Schüler: Orientalist Poet

Lasker-Schüler in 1875
Once called “a bohemian princess who lived in the belief that she was the prince of Thebes [Egypt],” the German-Jewish author Else Lasker-Schüler was dubbed “The Black Swan of Israel,” by the poet Hille, who nurtured her career. Widely regarded as one of the most important German lyric poets, one rhapsodic fan proclaimed, “To know Else Lasker-Schüler was the nearest to God that a mortal can hope to reach” (quoted in Else Lasker-Schüler: Inside this Deathly Solitude, by Ruth Schwertfeger).

As a child Else was diagnosed with either epilepsy or St. Vitus dance, “for which there is no factual record, but which played a central role in the feeling life and imagination of the poet—one that was undiminished over the years" (Else Lasker-Schüler: A Life by Betty Falkenberg).*

Believing that she was “a misunderstood, mystical visionary,” (Jewish-German Identity in the Orientalist Literature of Else Lasker-Schüler, Friedrich Wolf, and Franz Werfel, by Donna K. Heizer), she left her first husband, a bourgeois doctor, and had a child out of wedlock to an unknown father.

In 1903, at the age of 34, she took up with 25-year-old George Levin, who she renamed Herwarth Walden. In 1910 the pair, already foundering as a couple but remaining devoted to each others’ work, co-founded the influential literary magazine Der Sturn (The Storm) in Berlin. Lasker-Schuler meanwhile was having success as a poetess, both in ink and in performance.

One of her expressive poems reads:


BUT YOUR EYEBROWS ARE STORMS 

At night I hover restlessly in the sky, 
undarkened by sleep. 

Around my heart dreams buzz, 
searching for sweetness. 

But my edges are spiked— 
only you drink gold unharmed. 

I am a star 
in the blue cloud of your face. 

When my rays shine in your eyes 
we are one world. 

And would fall blissfully asleep— 
but your eyebrows are storms. 


Readers of this blog know I've connected Europeans' fascination with the Orient in the 1800s with their discovery and use of cannabis, and that I've reported that some think the incense of biblical times, caneh bosom, was cannabis.

In 1906, Ruth St. Denis, who had not yet been to India, created her famous solo dance “The Incense.” Coaching a dancer for this role, Martha Graham told her, “Your arms become the smoke, which is your prayer.”

Else too was an Orientalist, traveling east and penning The Nights of Tino of Baghdad, (1907) and The Prince of Thebes (1912) in the style of the Arabian Nights.  Even her style of dress was avant garde for the time: she chose Oriental-style trousers over dresses. "Lasker-Schüler was fascinated with what she saw as the exotic, the mythical and the mystical in Oriental culture," wrote Heizer. "It was a culture filled, she thought, with visionary artists like herself.

Heizer argues that for Jewish-Germans, whom Germans often saw as Orientals, "writing about what they considered to be Oriental culture enabled them to examine not only the exotic Other but also themselves. Through their Orientalist works they could thus explore their own cultural identities. Coming to terms with their own identities became a pressing concern for Jewish-Germans at this time because of the rise of volkisch ideology, which, with its stress on national uniqueness, asserted that they did not belong in German society."

Lasker-Schüler in Oriental garb
I haven’t yet found a reference to Lasker-Schüler taking hashish, only opium once during an illness. But it's recorded that her crowd indulged. One friend, Hanns Heinz Ewers, took haschich starting in 1895, adding opium and mescaline by 1903.

In 1914, a young Walter Benjamin was drawn over to Lasker-Schüler’s table at Berlin’s Café des Westens, which he called “the headquarters of Bohemia.” Benjamin called Else's poem “David and Jonathan” one of his all-time favorites. He wrote, “the true, creative overcoming of religious illumination does not lie in narcotics. It resides in a profane illumination, a materialistic, anthropological inspiration, to which hashish, opium, or whatever else can give an introductory lesson.” (quoted in Primitive Renaissance: Rethinking German Expressionism by David Pan).

Modigliani (a hasheesh user) was one artist who was shown at Der Sturm Gallery, owned by Walden, who is credited with introducing the term "Expressionism." One of Walden’s “circle of expressionists” was Harald Kreutzberg, who in 1920, while attending art school in Dresden, performed a "hashish dance" at a student carnival party. The dance was so well-received that Kreutzberg enrolled in a dance class and later paired with the exotic-looking dancer Yvonne Georgi for and act that “enjoyed enormous and unprecedented international appeal” from 1928 to 1930. (Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910–1935, Karl Toepfer).

Lasker-Schüler’s lover Ernest Junger, a prolific German novelist and essayist who is “considered among the forerunners of Magic Realism,” used ether, cocaine, and hashish in the early 1920s; thirty years later he turned to mescaline, ololuqui, and LSD. His experiments were recorded comprehensively in Annaherungen (1970)

Else was reportedly abused by the right-wing press and beaten unconscious by Nazi thugs when she won the German Kleist Prize for her body of work in 1932. She fled to Switzerland and then Israel. "She often gave money to people in need, leaving herself in poverty, and she spent her last years that way, dying in Jerusalem." (Notable Women in World History, Lydia G. Adamson.)

*St. Vitus dance, or chorea is an involuntary movement disorder that can have several causes, including drug intoxication (commonly levodopa, anti-convulsants and anti-psychotics). Sources of L-DOPA include Mucuna pruriens (velvet bean), and Vicia faba (broad bean or fava bean). “Like all priests of the Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries who were forbidden from ever touching, mentioning, or looking at Fava beans, Pythagoras forbade his followers from doing the same and some claimed that it was due to his belief that fava beans contained the souls of the dead. …Initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries where studies were done on a ritual that transmogrified participants were said to have a deathlike experience after ingesting the kykeon and would then pass by the home of Kyamites, the Greek demigod of Fava beans." (Wikipedia)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Janis Ian and the Summer of Love

"I was born into the crack that split America."

So begins Society's Child, the autobiography of singer/songwriter Janis Ian. Writing about her side of the generation gap, Ian goes on to say, "We marched, wrote polemics, started magazines, took over universities. And in between, we smoked a little pot, made a little love, and changed the world forever."

Ian published her first song at the age of 14 in the magazine Broadside and earned two standing ovations from the likes of Judy Collins and music industry execs when she first performed them. By 15, she had a hit on her hands with "Society's Child," despite the fact that many radio stations banned the song about an interracial relationship, and she met with hostility when she performed it. One station in Atlanta that played the song was burned down, and people would spit in her food in restaurants. She writes:

I was having a hit record.
I was singing for people who wanted me dead.
I was fifteen years old. 


Ian was no stranger to controversy, or hostility. Her father, a farmer, attended a meeting about the price of eggs and was thereafter followed by the FBI as a suspected communist. The family lost the farm and moved every two years when her father was unable to get tenure at the schools where he was a respected teacher, after the FBI would pay a visit to school administrators. Added to that was abuse Janis suffered from her family's dentist and the early realization that she was attracted to women at a time when homosexuality was not well accepted.

She found her salvation in music, with the help of teachers and counselors who recognized her intelligence and potential. After she hit the charts, she traveled West and played the Berkeley Folk Festival, where she befriended Janis Joplin, eight years her senior. "We went to a party at Peter Tork's house one night, where everyone was wearing bright silk Indian clothing and crashing on a floor filled with pillows and hashish pipes," she wrote. At the next party, where a heroin dealer went around the room shooting people up, Joplin turned to her and said, "Kid, time for you to go home."

Jimi Hendrix used to call her, "that girl who wrote that song, man, you know." He let her try some of his cocaine, but her reaction was so extreme that she never tried it again. "Lucky for me, because cocaine could easily have come my drug of choice," she wrote. "I'd have loved the extra energy, the sense of power, and I'd have ended up like so many of my friends, strung out or even dead."

When Ian taped the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (below), Bill Cosby saw her sleeping with her head in her chaperone's lap during a break, and proceeded to tell several industry people that she was a lesbian and shouldn't be on national TV. Now that we know about what Cosby's been accused of, one wonders if he was really upset that Ian wouldn't be drinking wine with him.



Ian herself became an object of government surveillance, through the CIA's "Operation CHAOS" program, whose goals were to target war protestors, civil rights activists, and public figures, and:

Show them as scurrilous and depraved. Call attention to their habits and living conditions, explore every possible embarrassment. Send in women and break up marriages. Have members arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to the newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap. Use misinformation to confuse and disrupt. Get records of their bank accounts. Obtain specimens of handwriting. Provoke target groups into rivalries that may result in death. 

"For us, it was impossible to separate protesting against the war from the civil rights movement, using drugs, and living on music," Ian wrote. "The rest of the country had managed to ignore most of it, until San Francisco's 'Summer of Love' [50 years ago in 1967] got national attention from the press, and large portions of America that still yearned for the simplicity and rigidity of the fifties had their minds blown."

Ian enjoyed smoking pot and listening to a roommate recite Russian poetry and Dostoyevsky. "We confined ourselves to marijuana and hash, although once in a while something else snuck past," she wrote. She and a boyfriend declined an invitation from Stanley Owsley to try his LSD, but did accept some THC pills from him, which they liked to take while flying (on planes), with Ian hiding it in an empty makeup tube.

The day after Martin Luther King was shot, Janis was assaulted on the streets of New York and given a Coke to drink that was laced with too-strong acid; she was prescribed Stelazine to come down from it but still experienced flashbacks later.

After Robert Kennedy was also shot, "Every hero I had was dead," Ian wrote. "The war on drugs dried up the border, and there was next to no marijuana in the five boroughs. The Mafia moved in with heroin, and normal people my age, not in the music business, not on the fringes, started dying. It seemed death was all around me."

Around this time Ian's agent David Geffen arranged for her meet to fellow songwriter Laura Nyro. On their evening out, "We spent most of it in his limousine, riding around downtown and smoking pot." On another occasion, Nyro took a TV to Ian's apartment to watch the premiere of "The Mod Squad" with her friend Peggy Lipton; "So we watched TV through dinner, smoked some dope, and made our good-byes."

Nyro, Ian wrote, would constantly sip Cheracol, a cough syrup with codeine, "her eyes getting duller by the hour." Once during a recording session Nyro pointed to a purple chair and said, "I want it to sound like that." Ian was able to translate that she wanted it legato.

Somewhat abandoned by her now-divorced parents, unhappy with the state of the world, and stressed from the pressures of her career,  the young singer took refuge in marijuana. "Since the world refused to change, I stayed stoned," she wrote, though she never smoked while working. Then a book called The Day on Fire, a fictionalized account of the life of VIP Arthur Rimbaud "turned my world upside down," she wrote. "Overnight, I becomes steeped in the mysteries of being an artist....Just being a person wasn't enough after reading Rimbaud, not by a long shot."

She started seeing a therapist who told her, "You don't trust anyone. You're scared of everyone." Not surprising, considering she was surveilled since she was a child, and overdosed with a drug by a stranger. She overdosed on Seconal, and then stopped eating, her weight dropping to 82 pounds just as she turned 18. Once more music brought her back, and she wrote her hit "Stars" after being inspired by Don MacLean's "Starry, Starry Night."

Ian's songs have been covered by Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Bette Midler, Amy Grant, Shirley Bassey, Cher, and Mel Tormé, among others. In 1993, she released the album Breaking Silence and came out as a lesbian; she was interviewed by Tokin' Woman Melissa Etheridge for The Advocate.  

Ian, who will turn 66 on April 7, is now writing for the Huffington Post. Her latest article, Women Under Trumpcare—A Proposal, is well worth a read. Keep up with Janis at JanisIan.com

Friday, February 24, 2017

Maha Shivaratri and Parvati

The Hindu god Shiva with the goddess Parvati,
approx. 600-700 A.D.  India; Bihar state 
My friend Jeannie Herer reminds me that this is Maha Shivarati, the holiday when Nepal relaxes its laws to allow the partaking of the holy ganga.

In some parts of India, rather than just worshipping the Lord Shiva, this day celebrates the day Shiva married the goddess Parvati ("she of the mountain'). By some legends Parvati was as devout as Shiva, but when she saw him she had to marry him, and diligently brought him out of contemplation into the world.

I was told this legend straight from the Himilayas: Shiva was busy frolicking on the mountaintops with various nymphs when Parvati, left alone at home, discovered a cannabis plant growing in her garden. When Shiva returned to her, Parvati put some of the plant into a pipe for him to smoke. He did, and thereafter the two invented tantric yoga and saved their marriage.

Rather like the Adam and Eve story, here it is the woman who discovers the magical plant (which is “forbidden” in the Bible, what Timothy Leary called “the first controlled substance”).

Parvati is the Hindu mother goddess of love, fertility and devotion. Along with Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity) and Saraswati (goddess of knowledge and learning) she forms the Trinity of Hindu goddesses. "In Hindu temples dedicated to her and Shiva, she is symbolically represented as the argha or yoni. She is found extensively in ancient Indian literature, and her statues and iconography grace Hindu temples all over South Asia and Southeast Asia." [Wikipedia]

In the blackwashing of goddesses as witches, she's come down to us as Kali, the destructor goddess, but her form or incarnation depends on her mood. Sometimes, she is Kamakshi, goddess of love and devotion; at other times Annapurna, the representation of all that is complete (and of food).

Parvati is the mother of Ganesh and is believed to be sister to the Goddess Ganga, the personification of the sacred river Ganges and the term for cannabis leaves and flowers that are smoked. Another interpretation of these ancient myths is that the cannabis plant is another form of Parvati.

Bhang and Ganga are said to reside side by side on Shiva’s head, while he dances on the body of a dwarf who embodies indifference, ignorance and laziness. May we all dance on that dwarf tonight.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Opiate of the Masses Now Officially Opiates (and Booze)

UPDATE: Maher's second show had Eva Longoria bringing up voter suppression, and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan chiming in that 2 million voters had been purged from the rolls in his state. This prompted Grover Norquist to bring up exactly what Greg Palast has been saying: that Pew found 2.8 million people are registered to vote in more than one state (thus the Crosscheck list). This is the real voter fraud we need to look at, people. Read more

Bill Maher's season opener on HBO's Real Time started with Tokin' Woman Jane Fonda, included his observation that Toby Keith ought to be head of ATF because he writes so often about booze, and ended with startling statistics about the states and counties that voted for Trump and their pain pill or heroin habits.

Maher put up maps demonstrating that the 14 states with the highest number of painkiller prescriptions per person all went for Trump, who won 80% of the states that have the biggest heroin problem.West Virginia, Trump's best state, downs 433 pain pills yearly for every citizen of the state. In Wisconsin, heroin deaths nearly quadrupled between 2008-2014. Even Muskogie, Oklahoma about which Meryl Haggard penned "Oakie from Muskogie" has nine drug treatment centers, Maher noted.

The stats stemmed from the findings of several observers, including journalist Chris Arnade, who has spent the past four years traveling the US to document the opioid crisis, according to Business Insider. "Wherever I saw strong addiction and strong drug use," Arnade said, he saw support for Trump.

Maher also noted that most of the counties in Pennsylvania and Ohio that flipped Republican had higher overdose rates than average. That  correlation was made by Shannon Monnat, a rural sociologist and demographer at Pennsylvania State University. She found that counties that voted more heavily for Trump than expected were closely correlated with counties that experienced high rates of death caused by drugs, alcohol, and suicide.

Historian Kathleen Frydl found that six of the nine Ohio counties that flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2016 had overdose death rates far above the national rate, and 29 of 33 Pennsylvania counties with overdose death rates above 20 per 100,000 conformed to the same pattern and/or flipped from Democrat to Republican entirely. (You can see Frydl's comparison of county vote totals and overdose death rates here.)

Noting the irony of hippies long being called unpatriotic for their drug use, Maher joked, "Kids, don't do heroin. It's the gateway to becoming a Republican," and added, "You're doing the wrong drugs. Stick with the stuff that comes out of the ground. Ninety percent of you are farmers!"


The full quote from Karl Marx translates as: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

"I expected to see [the correlation] because when you think about the underlying factors that lead to overdose or suicide, it's depression, despair, distress, and anxiety," Monnat told Business Insider. "That was the message that Trump was appealing to."

In the 2002 Dutch film Twin Sisters, two young girls are separated from their twin, and grow up in very different ways. One has loving, enlightened parents and is educated and happy; the other is abused and kept ignorant, and ends up marrying a Nazi who promises her something better than her desperate life.

And so the fix is to address the factors that are causing so many Americans to reach for opiates, actual or trumped up.

UPDATE 2/9/2017 - Professor Irwin Corey, the World's Foremost Authority who has died at the age of 102, used to joke about Moses and the burning marijuana bush, and once said, “Marx, Groucho Marx, once said that religion is the opiate of the  people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium will be the opiate.” A head ahead of his time.