Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Lengthy Relationship

One of my students recently proposed that marijuana should be the drug of choice among older teens providing that they stay off the roads and remain at home with only a few friends. This topic could work if the evidence is plentiful and if the writer anticipates counterarguments from his/her audience early within the essay. It isn’t an argument that I would encourage personally because I think the teen years are a time when one develops intellectually, physically, emotionally, and socially, and adding something like marijuana complicates the process and prevents that growth from developing as it should.

Marijuana used to be my drug of choice. As an undergraduate, I usually smoked marijuana on Friday evenings as a way of relaxing and rewarding myself for getting through another week of college. Not having a car, nearby relatives, or many friends when I was living in Wichita, I mostly kept to myself and remained in my duplex apartment. On Saturday nights, instead of getting stoned while watching television or listening to music, I usually studied, worked on an essay due in one of my literature classes, or worked on a poem for one of my creative writing classes until about 10:00 p.m. Then, as I sat at the kitchen table with my work spread in front of me, I added marijuana to my pipe or rolled a joint and used that time to reflect on what I had been doing, eventually adding a record to the stereo.

Marijuana provided a way to relax, offering moments of peace, reflection, amusement, and discovery. I often gained a new appreciation for music, finding pleasure in Jan Garbarek, Michael Urbaniak, and Zappa (particularly “Big Swifty” from Waka/Jawaka), for example. I often dreamed of a rural landscape where I could escape from the noise of Wichita and where I could seclude myself with a woman.

I had experimented with drugs when I was younger, beginning in the Air Force. During the Vietnam era, psychedelic drugs held a strong allure for many of us. I regularly smoked hashish while stationed in England. Easier to find than marijuana, hashish could be picked up in Cambridge or London; an ounce of hashish from Afghanistan cost the equivalent of $30. Once in Cambridge, I exchanged four cartons of American cigarettes, Marlboros mostly, for hashish. As an impulsive and impressionable young man, I also took psilocybin, mescaline, and LSD on more than a few occasions. I eventually got so strung out that coming up with the words to say anything became extremely hard; it was as though I had become the person that Robert Lowell in “Waking in the Blue” refers to as “more cut off from words than a seal.” Tripping lost whatever pleasure it once provided after my first six months in England. My own lack of sexual experience became magnified during my altered states of consciousness, causing me to imagine that others were aware of my inexperience as I heard voices and saw gestures that seemingly related directly to me.

My first Christmas in England was spent on amphetamines. When my flight chief brought baked goods out to those of us guarding the F100’s on alert status, I was standing outside of my gate shack, delighting in the falling snow and unaware of the cold. My flight chief seemed surprised that I wasn’t hungry and refused any of the cookies and candy he offered.

This experimentation with drugs developed again, but to a lesser degree, when I was living in northcentral Kansas after the Air Force and attending a local community college. I took another psychedelic named Hawaiian woodrose one Friday night that first semester. A couple of friends also introduced me to cocaine, which I ended up trying a few times. One of the local dealers of marijuana had gotten busted and raised the money to pay for his lawyer by selling cocaine, which seemingly flooded the town during my first November there.

Having learned firsthand the ravages of experimentation, and having gained an understanding of what risks I subjected myself to by taking psychedelics, amphetamines, and cocaine, I opted to make marijuana my drug of choice and to forgo any further experimentation with drugs. This decision didn’t suddenly result in moderate indulgence. I continued to smoke marijuana almost every day during the next two semesters and again when I moved to Wichita with the goal of working and achieving Kansas resident status, thereby reducing the cost of college tuition.

Over the years, I went through extended periods without marijuana. My return to college, three years after I dropped out, wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t given up marijuana for a couple of years. It took that time for me to realize how much I wanted to study poetry in college. I was reading poets like Norman Dubie, Pamela Stewart, and Dave Smith and came to realize how much I needed to know about poetry and about writing before I could compose better poems.

My absence of writing skills became especially prominent when I bombed a literary analysis/research paper written for a class in Romantic and Victorian poetry during my first semester at Wichita State. That much more of my attention had to be devoted toward my studies if I wanted to remain in college.

Smoking marijuana remained an occasional part of my life when I left Wichita for Connecticut, after earning my BA, and when I returned to Kansas to live in Manhattan and earn a Master of Arts, and when I taught English in Lawrence and Kansas City. I ultimately quit when my only source of supply left the area. The desire to continue that habit wasn’t strong enough to seek out a different, and probably a far riskier, connection elsewhere. I also finally managed to quit smoking cigarettes, a twenty year habit as well, after more than a few unsuccessful attempts.

Sometimes I remember, nostalgically, my quiet evenings with marijuana. It isn’t something that I want to pursue anymore. There are so many more risks associated with marijuana. It isn’t only me that I have to worry about now. I have also invested too much time, effort, and money in pursuing my career to suddenly let it be tossed aside.

I dread the day when and if I should find a baggie of marijuana in my son’s room. What can I say to prevent him from continuing to smoke it when he spits back, “But dad you did it.”