Coincidentally, today is both the first day of the Wisconsin Book Festival and National Coffee Day. It may as well be my birthday too, but no such luck. Instead, this seems like the perfect opportunity to talk about writing vices.
I like coffee.
They fit into my life right now–mom, wife, doer of things, cleaner of virtually nothing were you to peak in my living room window and see the pile of clean laundry strewn about the couch, toys up and down the floor, trikes and shoes and tiny socks sprouting randomly wherever the cat walks letting out his pathetic empty-nest mrowl.
Coffee and tea and me.
When I started writing, I mean living through words as a means to get through the day, I was high on teenage hormones. I was a rage in my mind. I wanted something to harness the intensity and the longing I felt surging through every motion or stillness of every day. I came to poetry doubting myself, but relieved to be braced against something solid.
Notebooks filled with scrawl.
Moods and handwriting followed eachother with an unerring sense of conflict.
Carpe Diem, my brothers and sisters, we only have this one, paltry life to live so live without regrets.
I vacillated between sentimentality and idealism.
The notion of art was as intertwined with life as deeply as blood and spit. My friends shifted to the wholly creative and destructively thrilling.
I smoked my first cigarette. They made me sick–a fracture in thought.
Coffee gave me nerve.
Alice W. Flaherty writes about substance use in The Midnight Disease, “Writers have used many different types of drugs. In the distant past, writers generally did not distinguish between creative inspiration and religious inspiration; the same drugs were used to stimulate both.”
She goes on to say, “Modern writers have many more pharmacological options than the Delphic oracle and the Bacchantes. Hallucinogens (think Aldous Huxley and Anias Nin) and stimulants (think Stevenson, Freud, Sartre, Auden) are perhaps the most popular. The range of drugs used suggests that the direction in which the writer’s consciousness is altered does not matter much, as long as it is altered.”
For me, alcohol does no good noodling up with my ABCs. The only wonder drug I’ve found is caffeine–Flaherty’s stimulant package–black.
But of course, there is the hard way. Artists the world over are famous for their binges, their bargaining, and their booze. I can follow that bend in the road, trace the footsteps of Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac.
Stephen King admits his own struggle with substance abuse in his book On Writing wherein he says of his wife’s intervention, “I did think, though–as well as I could in my addled state–and what finally decided me was Annie Wilkes, the psycho nurse in Misery. Annie was coke, Annie was booze, and I decided I was tired of being Annie’s pet writer. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to work anymore if I quit drinking and drugging, but I decided (again, so far as I was able to decide anything in my distraught and depressed stat of mind) that I would trade writing for staying married and watching the kids grow up. If it came to that.
It didn’t, of course. The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.”
But is it really a myth?
Or is writing it’s own kind of high?