Monday, March 03, 2008

Liquid Inspiration

Matthew mentioned this article from the LA Times on writing and drinking, and the linking thereof. I had been meaning to say something about it because, well, honestly, been there and done that.

Intoxication, if not the source of literary creation, creates a cerebral aura congenial to it. It recasts the glare of life in a softer hue. It soothes anxiety and other stultifiers of reflection. It warms the mind and thaws thoughts frozen in timidity. The fruit of the vine does not give us insight but aids our discovery of it; it can allow you to eavesdrop on yourself.

The trick is to find the golden mean between exhilarating and dulling the intellect. Cratinus' belief that only bad verses were written without wine seems too appealing to be untrue. But the best verses no doubt arise when, the wine low in the bottle, Dionysus is still steady enough to dance to the tune of Apollo's lyre.

For years, I believed this was true, and I suspect I still might. When I quit my daily drinking many years ago, I also quit writing for the next six or seven years. Well not completely -- I could still write good academic stuff, but not poetry or fiction.

I thought I needed a few drinks to write well. Not too many, however, that my mind gets dulled, but just enough to free the words.

I'm not alone in this belief -- many writers have held this belief, as the article details. But many have also died a result of this belief:

But there can be a dark side. Booze was the downfall of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, after it “pickled their brains,” in the words of John Irving. Ditto for William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neill and Dylan Thomas, drinkers with writing problems all. "I'm Catholic, and I can't commit suicide," said Jack Kerouac, "but I plan to drink myself to death." Which he did, checking out from liver cirrhosis at the age of 47.

Great company to be in, aside from the dying part. There's no better way to avoid making good art than to be so dead that you can no longer write.

I've written more good poetry while drinking (not drunk) than while sober, so I think there might be some truth to the idea that alcohol can free the mind, or at least loosen the inhibitions. Still, there is always the possibility that what I think is good writing is really crap that my addled mind can't see as crap.

I don't know. But I do know that no poem or publication is worth drinking myself to death -- there's too much other good stuff to live for. Maybe that's why I was never "really" a writer.

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