Thursday, February 07, 2008
Mmm, delicious red wine!
During my exmo-social days I learned the art of "PUI." That's "posting under the influence." It turns out it's not so hard. With a little practice you can learn to write comments that are coherent, relevant to the conversation, and free of spelling errors -- even when you're so drunk you can't sit up straight in your computer chair. The problem is (as you'll quickly learn) a comment can be coherent, relevant, and free of typos, and yet still be really, really, really stupid.
So, as useful as it is to learn to post while plastered, it's an even more useful skill to learn not to do it.
I made myself a very strict rule about this once I switched to blogging (where you can't just go back and delete your posts the next day). It's particularly important if you like to post comments on the Bloggernacle blogs. I somehow imagine the faithful would be less understanding than the heathens if you go back the next day and post "please ignore all my comments from last night -- I was really drunk when I wrote that..." I even thought of inventing a breathalyzer computer peripheral for exmos which allows you to read all the web pages you want, but past a certain blood alcohol level it disables your browser's "post" function. Now that would be a useful gadget! If I knew how to build that, I'd make a fortune!!! ;^)
It was writing that furnished me with definitive proof that drinking does not make you any cleverer. If I'm typing in a draft that I've written out longhand, when the writing is neat and clear, I've found I usually have little editing to do. But whenever I get to a page where the writing looks a little slurred, I pretty much have to scrap the whole scene and start over.
Now you're probably thinking "Chanson, you can't seriously expect us to believe that a novel called Exmormon was written without the aid of large amounts of alcohol..."
Well, yes and no. The trick is not to drink and write at the same time. Here's how to do it: All day long -- during every free moment -- brainstorm the story, outline it, map out scenes, and compose the individual lines. Then, as soon as it's quitting time, have a nice apéritif. This temporarily breaks the obsession so you can relax and go to sleep early. And with the aid of a few drinks, you sleep hard, but for just a few hours. After a nice concentrated sleep, the dehydration wakes you up at two or three in the morning, ready to start writing. Then you go to the computer and brain-dump everything you composed in your head the day before until around seven in the morning when it's time to take a shower and go to work. (Why am I saying "you" here? Obviously I mean "me"...)
The drawback to this? Health, mostly, which is why it's better not to get struck by inspiration too often. It's not possible to do this for more than a few weeks at a stretch, and at the end of that you're basically a zombie. So hopefully by the end of a couple weeks the obsession has run its course, the first draft is done, and -- after a long nap -- you're ready to get back to real life.
Alcohol is the reason it's important to avoid the temptation to self-identify as a writer -- or as any kind of an artist, really. If you're, say, a software engineer or a mom, then hard drinking just makes you come off as irresponsible, and maybe even something of a loser. So you have a social incentive to avoid it. But when you're an artist, it doesn't have quite the same stigma. You can pass for "troubled" and "deep." It becomes an asset if you think about it. After all, it's just that much harder to get taken seriously as an artist if you're not a total basket case.
But suppose you've decided that you'd rather not sacrifice your health and other responsibilities for your art. You might imagine that the best strategy would be never to touch the stuff at all, in order to stay as far away from problem drinking as possible. But it's not clear that's the safest course. It seems like one extreme begets another, and a tee-totaling society produces a lot of people who have no idea of how to drink responsibly. This can lead to drinking problems which -- in the grand circle of life -- lead to "12-step programs" to lead people back to the other extreme.
Might there be a middle way?