Hello readers! It is my duty to inform you that Clean Your Bong, while perennially wise advice, is no longer the name of this column. Credit the Queen Kisser, whose interview under the influence made it clear that the best use of this space involves me getting high with anyone who wants to and having a conversation. Thus, High Society: In Which David Schmader Converses with a Person and They Are Stoned.
Julene Tripp Weaver is a Seattle writer and psychotherapist who I first met in 2015 at the Rendezvous, where both of us were taking part in Jennifer Jasper's storytelling showcase "Family Affair" and where I had a memorable intermission chat with her beau about the MOHAI exhibit The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. More recently, Julene e-mailed me about her forthcoming book of poetry. "This book is a big deal for me. I'm revealing my HIV-positive status as a long-term survivor. I worked in HIV services for over 20 years and most of that time was very private, only telling a small circle of people. I read your chapter in Sarah Galvin's book on gay marriage and admired how open you are about your status and it would be great to get together and talk sometime."
Most fortuitously, Julene was willing to execute this get-together-and-talk while high on weed, and so we met on a Seattle street corner, ducked into my car for a puff, then proceeded into the University District's Chaco Canyon Cafe, where I had a mocha, she had a cocoa maca root smoothie, and we got lost in 90 minutes of THC-enhanced gab. (Full disclosure: I also ordered a slice of chocolate-chip banana bread that was supposed to be for both of us but I ate it all.)
Julene has shoulder-length gray hair and an easy grin. When I ask her age, she makes me guess, and I come up 10 years short. (She's 64.) Raised in upstate New York, with a young adulthood spent in New York City, she still has traces of an accent, and when I ask her to alert me when she begins to feel the effects of the weed, she snaps brightly, "Oh, I'm high!" A former casual user who left weed behind with her 1989 move to Seattle, Julene tells me she's smoked "once or twice" over the past 27 years, and is up for breaking her habitual weed avoidance with me.
She mostly seems at home and happy, her intoxication making itself known through the occasional loss of a thought: "So many ideas racing around!" she says.
Interrogating Julene on her biography, I learn she met her partner on the East Coast, through the Grassroots Dream Community of New York, which gathered to communally muse on members' dreams. "I noticed him because he was wearing the softest leather dance slippers, and he was hugging everyone," Julene says of her now-common-law-husband John. "He wanted to be in the middle of everything." Julene and John bonded over their mutual but not overlapping involvement with ACT UP. Prior to meeting him, and at that point a lesbian, Julene embarked on a seven-day bushwhacking trip in Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness, during which she did daily I Ching drawings and decided to embrace her bisexuality. They have been together for 34 years. Julene is also an herbalist. When I tell her my husband is suffering through cracked ribs, she pulls a series of blue vials from her pocketbook. But she doesn't have the vial she's looking for—comfrey, which aids healing.
Eventually we get to our medical commonalities—partners who didn't flee in the face of HIV, coming out positive in writing—and stumble into some hilarious high conversational terrain, with Julene teasing out "bipolar... suicide... comedian..." before recalling "Robin Williams." I unconsciously retaliate by summarizing Fran Lebowitz's life of literary punditry as: "She writes with her mouth."
At one point, conversation ceases, and I get lost in Julene's scarf, Mondrian-like with red, white, and blue stripes. (It's an original creation, Julene tells me, fashioned out of swaths of thrift-store cashmere.)
Then we turn back to HIV. Julene notes: "All the lives we lost that would've made a difference in the future."
When we're done talking and each back home, I e-mail to ask her how she wants to be identified in the piece: full name, first name, pseudonym? "I want to go real, with my full writing name—Julene Tripp Weaver." This is the name that will appear on her book of HIV-inspired poems, and "I might as well be real in your piece, too."
Julene Tripp Weaver's book of poems Truth Be Bold—Serenading Life and Death in the Age of AIDS comes out this spring, with Hugo House hosting a publication party on April 9. Everyone else, e-mail me if you want to get high and talk: firstname.lastname@example.org.