Next Round’s On Me
If there is one thing writers are notorious for (aside from the reclusiveness and melancholy) its their love affair with drink. There have been many entertaining, and, oddly informative, articles about great writers and their trademark drink, everyone from Poe to Kerouac has be chronicled. As well as this, there is a mind boggling amount of articles telling you how to ‘drink like your favourite author’ (though, based on the stereotype, one could assume adhering to ‘bottoms up’ would suffice) or listing drinks named after authors or their books (they even come with recipes! Readers living the dream). There are also the articles the cynics live for, the band wagon ‘we’re going to nail it’ articles, that have a distracted looking Hemmingway opposite scantily clad women. Where they seem to have confused writers and porn enthusiasts.
But alas, the scantily clad women and glorification aside, writers have become the greatest center folds for the alcohol industry in some self inflicted soul sucking effort to live up the glory days. To quote a song from Frank Turner, “I tried to live like Hemmingway, but life just doesn’t work that way.” The song, Next Round (from where the article got its name) goes a little like this; “I drink cause I want to, cause I need to, cause I don’t know what else to, with my time.” Unwittingly or not, Turner may have summed up the dire procrastination habits of every writer on the face of the earth. As well as the all famed method for destroying writer’s block, whether it be drinking to forget, or drinking to inspire.
“The drink has drunk my days away” Turner sings, and for each procrastination day, a day spent in drink could perhaps be much more worth it. Is there more to this relationship, something else behind the raging alcoholism? As a writer who seldom drinks (shock and horror) I can’t give even a remotely half conclusive answer, but I can ponder the bigger picture a little bit more. Alcohol is a depressant and writers, on the whole, are a moody and miserable bunch (I can vouch for that), so if we take a Crime and Punishment angle on the psychology that says creativity walks hand in hand with mental instability, then we’re left with this; writers are depressives, who drink a depressive, and some how, in the depths of the nightmares that inhabit our skulls, something magical happens.
Fiction writers aren’t the only ones that can handle their drink, the late Christopher Hitchens was known to say his average alcohol intake was enough to “stun the average mule.” Granted, he also noted that drink “makes boring people interesting.” And this may be one of the greatest points that people that could possibly be made about writers and drink. Because being a writer, along with the moods, comes (as with most – if not every other human being) an over inflated sense of self worth, carefully bundled up in a need for self validation. After all, even though some will deny it, deep down, we write and believe what we have to say is worth your time. When the relationship goes both ways, we write, you read and we feel validated. With relationships to the public like that, its no wonder we’re well known drinkers.
Writer’s and drinking, to the very least, is a rabbit hole. The pairings go beyond Fleming and even Wilde. The latter’s drink of choice was absinthe, and his observations, provide an interesting insight into exactly why writers drink as they do, “the first stage is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things, but if you can persevere you will enter in upon the third stage where you will see things that you want to see, wonderful curious things.”
There is clearly something in drink, whether it’s the ability to stare your own demons in the face, the courage to even begin to wrestle with them, or the inspiration that comes from self hatred and melancholy, drink has a way of serving writers across time. For writers such as myself that seldom drink, there is comfort in between these metaphorical sips. Alcoholism it seems, is more than a cliche and something less than prerequisite. This comfort, is a sado-maschistic relationship with ourselves, that involves picking, scratching, clawing at old wounds (especially the infected ones) almost forcing ourselves to do it.
Alcoholism is the painful denial of the romanticism that surrounds this profession. The romanticism, that ties great writing, great ideas, fame and legacy so closely to drink. Would Poe or Faulkner be the men they are today with out it? Unfortunately, that isn’t for me to say or to even know, but I don’t think drink is the be all end all of writerdom. If it were by extension, that would mean that every drunkard with a pen could be famous. Drink, if anything other than a habit, is the means to an end. And in it’s rawest form, away from the glorification and the lengthy lists of who drank what and how to make it, leans itself to an almost ultimate truth, writers are simply professional drinkers with a writing problem.