This week I reached a new low. I lied to a client and didn’t feel bad about it. I wanted him to feel the pressure I was under and the lie made that possible. At first, I couldn’t believe I’d done it. And then, I wondered if I’d get away with it. Several more thoughts passed by before thinking: Jesus, what have I just done? Is this who I am now? A few days later, I paid the price.
The lie was a white lie about the cost of a project. I upped the quote by $1,000 to compensate for a ton of creative work I’d just done for free. I wanted the client to grasp the value of that work. I wanted the client to appreciate the value of my effort. I wanted to feel valued. Really, I wanted to be paid. Resentment had set in.
It was not the client’s fault for my non-payment. I agreed to do the work, more than that, I was happy to do it. But as the project progressed, eating into my time, compounding my financial concerns, I wriggled to break free. At first I tried a nice approach, blaming my imminent departure on my inability to fit the role. But my client smelled a rat.
He dismissed my message as misguided. He showered me with compliments. He insisted I was essential. He painted a picture of a glorious future in which I had access to a wide cannabis network and got to travel to cool destinations. However, when he criticised me I listened carefully. His negative feedback was the only thing I heard.
LIE 1: CANNABIS IS MY CULTURE
As negative feedback goes, his wasn’t particularly damning. He pointed out my perfectionist tendencies and asked me to tone them down. At the time, I laughed because I knew he was right. But I also cringed because I knew I had no idea how to do what he was asking. It was a message I’d heard countless times before. He’d hit a nerve.
Let me give some context: I am first and foremost a writer. To date, a failed writer. Yes, I’m published. Yes, I have a Masters. Yes, I got as close as I’ve gotten to a book deal in 2020, and I can write circles around the average Joe. But Joe is not my benchmark. Atwood, Mansfield, Rhys, Capote, Ginsberg, Rilke, Winterson, Moshfegh, Daum, O’Neill, these are just some of the names that inspire my writing goals.
The writers who came before me, as well as those who write today alongside me, they are my culture. They’re also the bane of my life. I wake every morning wondering how the hell I’m going to achieve anything close to what those people have achieved. Then I spend my day thinking about sentences. That’s all that matters to me.
Cannabis is my way to shut out the world, enabling me to spend as much time as possible thinking about words and how to arrange them. I live in service of the perfect sentence, and painfully aware that my sentences are far from perfect. Cannabis helps me overlook my imperfections, drown out self-pity and keep going. But that doesn’t mean I don’t regularly ask if I’m going in the wrong direction. When I need guidance, it’s not cannabis but other writers I turn to.
LIE 2: CANNABIS IS EASY MONEY
So when my client highlighted my leanings towards perfectionism, my mind countered with all the things I’ve failed to achieve. The list is long. It all relates to writing. And the feeling that my determination is at best aspirational haunts my days. It’s an odd conundrum: the longer I write the better I get the more irrelevant I feel.
Little surprise then that I’d be eager to shelve my personal ambition in favour of what appeared to be easier goals i.e. writing for cannabis. Certainly, that was the spirit into which I entered the cannabis space. Here’s something I can do, a wrong I can right/write, I thought, as I watched misinformation flood the emerging cannabis market.
I thought writing for cannabis could be a handy pit stop on the way to my real race. I thought my cannabis use qualified me for cannabis. But habit is not the same as passion. If I was stuck on a dessert island and could only have access to one past-time, it wouldn’t be cannabis. I’d ask for pen and paper and I’d write. I’d do it for free.
As it happens, I’ve ended up doing a lot of writing for free in the cannabis space. And yes, the irony is killing me. In short, no matter how much cannabis I consume or how committed I am to the industry it does not quench either my self-pity or my personal ambition. Furthermore, cannabis is too important to be treated as a pit stop. There’s nothing easy about it. If anyone knows this, it’s a lifelong stoner like me.
LIE 3: DAILY CANNABIS USE IS OK FOR EVERYONE
When I was 21, I spent a summer on Fire Island where I was part of a local hippie crew of stoners. One guy, Z, was in his 50s, had a big personality, short grey dreads and a large belly. He was a lover of books and introduced me to various authors including Bukowski and Celine. We’d spend hours talking about writing, which I thought was awesome until he admitted he had feelings for me.
My 21-year-old self was horrified at the idea and I duly kept my distance. He passed away a few years later due to heart problems, complications from smoking. I still miss our conversations and have the books he gave me safely stored in my mother’s attic. If I met him today, the attraction might be mutual based on a shared love of literature.
When I write I often think of him. I’ve even created fictional characters inspired by him. I hate that I can’t remember the details of our many chats but I’ll never forget his small wooden shack, cluttered with dusty books, and the chest that served as a rolling table, covered in smoking paraphernalia and flakes of bud. I was too young then to understand how life had passed him by.
Meeting that crew was my first experience of daily cannabis use. They’d start smoking when they woke at dawn. They were middle-aged, hard working and hopeful. But they also resented the way life seemed to overlook them. It’s a trend I see often amongst long-term cannabis users and can’t help wondering if less cannabis and more work would solve the problem? Either way, I see a need for long conversations on the dark side of cannabis use, if for no other reason than to understand it better.
LIE 4: CANNABIS DEFINES ME
People like Z are part of the reason I hold cannabis so dear. It has introduced me to so many interesting fringe-livers, people who changed my thinking. Cannabis may have introduced us, but it wasn’t what connected us. That was something else, something deeper, a love of craft, coupled with a firm commitment to outsider living.
This is a personality trait, one that Gabor Mate highlights in his book, In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, calling addicts the most “tenacious” people he’s ever met. Which came first, the habit or the tenacity, is one of those age-old questions with no clear answer. But either way, it’s in me. No matter the setback, no matter the flaws, I keep going. I get knocked down. I get up. I live my story.
It’s a trait I share with many stoners. I see evidence of it all over today’s emerging cannabis industry. But what we have now is a cacophony of cannabis, by which I mean, everyone has their experience, history and facts. Ego is in charge, and why wouldn’t it be when we’re coming from a dark place where for years we hid one of the most sacred things in our lives. Today, we want to live our stories and we’re willing to do whatever it takes.
I lied to my client because I thought I’d be giving him a nice surprise when he found out the price was much lower. Instead he cut me from the project, surprising me. Also, giving me what I wanted. After all, if you’re not living your own story you’re living someone else’s. I’d rather live my own. This is what defines me. Yet, can’t help feeling that the only way this industry is going be what we want it to be, we have to seek out mutually beneficial ways to work together.
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