Thursday night and the local tavern trembles with the pops of bottle tops and clamor of billiard balls. Boys in Birkenstocks and socks chat up girls with exaggerated cat eyes. Craft beer runs from the reservoir like an amber fountain against a backdrop of polished oak. It’s all very romantic, seemingly the perfect place to watch people and invent for them motives, emotions, and actions — a writer’s paradise. But after four chocolate stouts and not nearly enough water, my abilities have gone out the window. In the morning, I’m left with notes like, “Pam has waffle ass,” “sauce and the shack,” and “pizza pants.”
What is it about intoxication that makes us believe we are better at things than we actually are? Wittier, funnier and deeper than anyone in a 50 mile radius? Why do I think I can write fiction under the influence? F. Scott Fitzgerald captures the phenomenon in The Beautiful and the Damned: “There was a kindliness about intoxication — there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings.”
In popular imagination, writing and alcoholism have gone hand in hand, like a couple of codependent lovers. History is full of examples — Hemingway, Joyce, Faulkner — but the truth is that drinking doesn’t lead to better writing. It does, however, damage the writer, and not just physically. Writers are often insecure, neurotic, self-obsessed egotists who can be reduced to a quivering puddle after a bad day. Add whiskey or, for those with a sharper palate, gin to the mix, and you’ve got one truly toxic cocktail. Many writers who turned to alcohol as a solution met a tragic end, including Fitzgerald himself, who died at the age of 44 after suffering from alcoholism his entire adult life. Sobering indeed.
Does this mean, however, that writers shouldn’t drink? Hell no. First: I cannot presume to tell others what to do. Second: Like that would ever happen!
What this does mean is that I will not expect drinking to magically fuel my writing or that it would be a good thing even if it somehow did. I’m resolved that those two worlds remain separate, with as little mixing as possible. While an anecdote from a ruckus night out may spill over into a story or a good day’s writing may direct a bar conversation, one must not depend on the other. Otherwise, I might find myself trying to place a short story about one man’s venture into the uncomfortable — yet delicious — world of edible trousers. The story would be titled “Pizza Pants.”
Trisha Leon is a freelance writer and student of English at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
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