Archive for the ‘Me’ Category

On Legalization

December 11th, 2017

(This is an essay I wrote in the form of testimony to a legislative committee.  the Vermont legislature will be reconsidering legalization of marijuana in the coming session.  I hope they eighty-six forty-two.)

 

This is testimony based on my personal experience about what the people advocating marijuana legalization are trying to sell you.

 

I was sixteen and new to the high school, but I knew what to do with the fat hand rolled cigarette my new friend had given me.  Even though I never had seen one before, I had heard about such things.  So I went to the second floor bathroom in my house, opened the window, put a towel under the door, and smoked it.  By contrast with the harsh tobacco I had tried, I could keep the smoke from this one down.  When I went outside on that sunny summer day, it seemed sunnier than sunny, and I felt happy and relaxed and at ease.  I had not felt so relaxed and at ease for a long time.

 

That was 1968, when pot was a lot weaker than the 10% or more THC content it is purposely bred to now, and thus began the next seventeen years of my life.  By the time I got to college, I was smoking every day, if I possibly could.  I smoked my way through law shcool, rarely attending classes, barely graduating, and then I failed to use my law degree for another eleven years, until after I had stopped smoking.  In the meantime, living in Boston on a near-poverty level stipend from VISTA, I bought pot with whatever money I had left over after paying rent and food, and when I couldn’t afford to buy a lid I stole it from my housemates, sneaking into their rooms when they weren’t there and stealing small amounts, taking roaches out of ashtrays and garbage cans, scraping hash pipes for residue, making sure I could get high every day.

 

I will leave it to others to quibble over whether to call this addiction.  You may say people have the right to make choices, even bad ones.  I did not sign up to spend a quarter of my life in dull stagnation, but that’s what happened.

 

When I say got high every day, I do not mean that pleasant, relaxed, aesthetically heightened state that I found at the beginning, when the birds’ singing was more musical than music and music itself was a transcendental experience – the drum solo in Inna Gadda Da Vida, man! The sound of a zilch bomb dripping into a bucket in a friend’s apartment at 3 a.m.!  Although it is bad enough, in retrospect, to have been so absorbed for so many hours by such meaningless stupidity.

 

Even those experiences eventually were beside the point.  When you’re high all the time, what was intense to begin with gradually greys and dulls to the stuff of quotidian routine.  The point of getting high becomes not the heightened aesthetics, not the jollies, which in any event are no longer so heightened nor so jolly, and in fact now are tinged with numbness and paranoia.  I just passively let stuff happen around me.  I watched a lot of TV.  I felt empty, so I ate a lot of lousy food.  We laugh about munchies, but poisoning yourself with junk food isn’t really funny.  Why are those people are looking at me?  Am I behaving oddly?  How should I know?  No, the point of getting high becomes simply that, to get high.  Furtively digging that little lump of crumpled, browned, saliva stained paper out of a housemate’s wastebasket, unfolding it, and finding a crumb of vegetable matter inside – oh good it’s not a seed – to add to the other little bits of vegetable matter I’ve scrounged and burn them and suck it into my lungs so I can get to that place that is somehow different from the place I would be if I hadn’t done this.

 

Seventeen years of putting my brain on hold, of putting my emotional development on hold.  A pothead might do startling or clever things, but he’s not growing, and although he might feel he is being creative, his ability to create is hampered because his ability to deal with life is impaired.  That impairment is the other point of being high.  Pot makes you stupid, but in a particular way.  It provides a rug and a broom and you can use that  broom to sweep under that rug all the stuff you should be dealing with.  In my case, that included the death of someone I loved and a history of early childhood sexual abuse.  Being high all the time put that stuff so far away from me I couldn’t see it.

 

When you’re high, it’s difficult to sustain a thought or develop an image.  Mental processes may begin with a whoosh of energy, but they soon dissipate into curly digressive tangles.  Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a writer.  But writing is hard, particularly the part where you have to make yourself sit down and do it.  I look back at my marijuana years, and see a lot of time spent away from the typewriter, a lot of fitful starts, a lot of crumpled paper and unfinished work, and what little I produced was stunted and shallow.  Because I was.

 

Dealing with the painful stuff of growth and development, and of overcoming trauma, requires sustained effort, a willingness to gaze steadily on ugliness and to accept pain in order to move through it.  But the stoner is hedged off from that mental space by a thicket of distractions and diversions.  Avoiding all that discomfort can help you function, but at a minimal level, and at the cost of stagnation.  You sacrifice your capacity for joy.

 

Listen to the language we use and what it tells you.  Ripped, baked, fried, stoned, blasted, wasted, f-ed up.  These are the words that our culture has grown organically, as it were, out of the experience itself.  They’re more honest and truly descriptive than any of the carefully chosen language you’ll hear from a marketer or advocate.

 

When I stopped smoking pot, I had to play a lot of psychological catch-up, years of therapy for which I am grateful the state employees’ health insurance plan paid.  If I hadn’t had access to that, I might still be struggling merely to function.  Of course this service didn’t come free: thanks to all those state employees and taxpayers for funding it.  Maybe if I’d addressed the stuff I needed to address earlier than I did, I would have addressed it quicker and more cheaply.  I might have written more and better, contributed more to the community as a lawyer,  learned what I needed to become a better husband and parent.  But I smoked pot instead.

 

I am a lucky one.  I did not have a psychotic break, although a pot smoker is 2.6 times more likely to suffer this outcome. I know a few people this happened to.  I’ve known a number of drug casualties, people whose mentation, shall we say, is of the vague and wandering sort.  Don’t we all know people like that?  Nobody got injured in any of my car accidents.  I scrupulously stuck to my self-imposed rule about never using a needle, so I escaped that kind of addiction. Studies now show that opiate addiction is more likely for pot smokers.  Sure, my memories of those seventeen years are haphazard and spotty.  So a quarter of my life is mostly lost to me.  That’s the kind of price the lucky ones pay.

 

Pot is not the safe and innocent pleasure I thought it was, back in the sixties, despite what adults and the government wanted me to believe.  The adults’ standards regarding everything else, from sexuality to religion to the meaning of success, were suspect and crumbling, and the government was lying to me about matters of life and death such as war, and there wasn’t any science to back up their hysterical overreaction to this seemingly benevolent drug.

 

Now there is plenty of science.  Listen to the doctors.

 

Don’t legalize it.  You may ask, what difference would that make?  Criminalization didn’t stop you, Mr. Steinzor, from abusing it.  But legalization would do several things.  It would make it more available, and it would feed into the misperception that this is a harmless recreational activity.  People who want to believe that would seize on this as an authoritative statement.  It’s called confirmation bias.  We tend to focus on information that supports what we want to believe, and we dismiss the rest.  Listen to the doctors.

 

Don’t support legalization unless you really think it would be fine for your kids to spend a substantial portion of their lives grubbing around among the dust bunnies under the couch for a few grains of weed.

 

I am not calling for criminalization – what a disaster that was!  But I’m not saying the status quo is acceptable, either.  Get real about substance abuse.  Get over the notion that a rich person’s God-given right to have lots of money is more important than what I’m talking about.  Raise taxes if you need to.  Fund the mental health system adequately – our so-called “system” of services for adolescents is a sick joke.  Give kids healthy things to do in school and especially out of school – sports, outdoor education, art education, music, theatre, community service.  Invest in programs that support and strengthen families.  Invest in community, in making our villages and towns places where people can have daily encounters with beauty, where they can expect to live creative, productive, happy lives, where the strength of neighborhood supports them.

 

Or, you can give all that money to the marijuana industry.  You’ll never get it back.  Your choice.

Attitude adjustment

April 21st, 2017

It is amazing how many people tell me, without being prompted or asked, that they wish he would die.  I’m not going to say his name, but you know exactly whom I am talking about.  Admit it, you have felt this way, too.  Just this morning I was talking to a friend and she dropped it into the conversation with about the same degree and type of emphasis that she might have used in confessing that she doesn’t like cats.  I had to admit that practically every morning when I wake up I check the news right away hoping to read of a popcorn choking incident or myocardial infarction. This does not make us better people, I said.  She said, well, but so long as it’s just him we’re thinking about, it’s not so bad. I suppose that’s one approach. For a while I tried imagining myself inside his head, so that through the magic of empathy I might be able to see him as a human being, like me, deserving of compassion the same as I am. I thought of him as severely emotionally crippled, isolated, unable to connect effectively with other human beings, suffering the pain that goes with that. I’m not that kind of person, but at least that gave me something to work with.  I know something about loneliness.  I was aware that there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in trying to connect with him this way, but it seemed to make him more real and less of a malevolent fantasy.  But then a friend I respect, a psychologist highly experienced in working with criminals, told me that he is a psychopath and he doesn’t feel any pain, at least not the kind of pain I was imagining. I pretty much believe her.  So there goes any basis I can find for relating to him, bringing him within my world of experience, and now what do I do? Empathy doesn’t work if it’s fantasy.  I still don’t want to be the kind of person who wakes up every morning wishing that somebody were dead. Maybe the answer comes out of meditation. There’s no point in repressing a thought. That just attaches you to it and gives it power. Instead you allow the thought to happen, acknowledge that it is happening, and then say goodbye to it. I wish it were that easy to deal with him: allow him to happen, acknowledge that he is happening, and then say goodbye to him. I am impatient. I want to get to the goodbye part without going through the rest. I must remember that “going through the rest” constitutes most of what we call living, and that wishing to cut to the end, the goodbye part, is in that sense a wish for one’s own death to come closer. Am I large enough to live in a world that also contains incomprehensible evil? I hope so. Remember to breathe.

Among the Lost gets its first review!

November 11th, 2016

Forget that other thing.  Wednesday also brought this news: the first review of Among the Lost.

Two weeks to my book launch!

October 26th, 2016

You’re invited to help me celebrate the launching of my second book, Among the Lost!  Yay!  It’s on November 10, 2016, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Bridgeside Books, 29 Stowe Street, Waterbury.  I’ll read from it, answer questions, sign copies.  There will be refreshments at the reading and next door at Stowe Street Café.  Please feel free to pass this invitation along to others!  Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s description of the book:

 

Among the Lost: In Dante’s Wake Book 2

Among the Lost, set in the modern American rust belt, is a meditation drawn from Dante’s Purgatorio.  To Dante, Purgatory was the mountain where souls not damned went after death to cleanse themselves of sin in preparation for entering Paradise.  What, Steinzor asks, are we preparing ourselves for, having lost the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, in the course of our daily urban existence?  And whatever that is, how do we go about preparing for it?.

 

 

 among-the-lost-cover-300-dpi

 

 

Praise for Among the Lost

What a magnificent ascension Seth Steinzor is achieving. Having embarked on a latter-day retelling of the Divine Comedy, he has already descended into the Inferno and has now risen to the peak of Mount Purgatory, regaling us along the way with apt parallels to Dante’s infernal and purgatorial people, places, and purposes. We are indeed fortunate to have Steinzor following Dante’s footsteps.

—Rennie McQuilkin, Connecticut Poet Laureate

 

Yippee!

May 29th, 2014

fireworksI was going to title this post “Yahoo!” but that might have been misinterpreted.  So much of our language has been commercially appropriated.  Eat more kale, says I.  Anyhow… I am pleased and proud and tickled and relieved to announce that the second volume of my poetic trilogy, which revisits Dante’s Il Purgatorio in much the same way that To Join the Lost revisited L’Inferno, has been accepted for publication by Fomite Press, a publishing house after my own heart.  Visit their site and you’ll see what I mean.  The “relieved” is because I took some risks with this one, and they seem to have paid off.  Both of the editors who have read it so far have liked it enough to want to print it.  Projected publication date is some time in the first half of 2015.  So… if you haven’t bought a copy of To Join the Lost yet, now would be a good time to do so, so that you can be all read up and prepared when Goldfish Rising (or whatever we decide to call it) hits the streets!  You can get your very own copy of TJTL here; if you ask, I’ll autograph it for you.