Thursday, February 07, 2008

booze, the bottle, the sauce: alcohol

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?


wry catcher said...

Did you PUI this post? :-D I like it.

I like to have drinks, but I'm not a writer. I have PUIed a few times, but I try to resist because I tend to get (more!) emotional.

I don't think heavy drinking is the same as alcoholic, though. There's them's that's addicted and them's that ain't. So yeah, there's a middle way 10 miles wide.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Wry!!!

Nope, (ironically?) I was totally sober when I wrote this post. I was also sober when I drew the illustration. I can almost write when drinking, but drawing and writing Java code are completely out.

And I completely agree about PUI leading to more emotional posts. That's the second most embarrassing aspect for me (after the stupidity factor).

mxracer652 said...

I do believe you are incorrect about writing code and drinking.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey MXRacer652!!!

LOL, that is fabulous!!! Actually, I just meant that I can't code while drunk. I'm not saying anything about the people who wrote Windows ME. Plus, I'd never heard of the "Ballmer Peak" so I never thought to try for it, but it sounds like an experiment worth testing out... ;^)

Sideon said...

Egads - drinking and blogging/posting dont' mix well.

Try commenting on a post and addressing the host and discovering that you were on a different site that you thought you were on. Yeah, embarrassing.

And the Exmo comments? Verily I say, there was much gnashing of the teeth and foaming at the mouth. The alcohol loosens my tongue and I let the verbal barrage begin.

If you do invent the disabling feature based on blood/alcohol level... I'll gladly pay for your service and product.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sideon!!!

LOL, addressing a comment to the wrong blog host? Yes, that's exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. ;^)

I'll keep you posted if I make any progress on my invention! :D

Beat Dad said...

The alcohol just makes me mellow; so mellow that I just don't care. Now, give me about three cups of coffee and a latte' then I start spouting venom that I wish I could take back.


C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Wayne!!!

That's funny, I can't picture you spouting venom, even hopped up on coffee... ;^)

Holly said...

I readily admit to having written while intoxicated--journal entries, letters or emails, even a few poems--but in general, I don't think alcohol does much for writing, just as it doesn't do that much for conversation--unless you're with other people who are drinking too--then, it's GREAT, for at least a drink or three. But after that.... It's just so boring to be the sober audience to someone who's too drunk to realize they're being inane, pathetic and over-emotional.

So I try to stay off the sauce while I'm writing and save it for when I'm hanging out--especially as I age and it becomes harder to metabolize alcohol. Because I still enjoy every so often sitting at a bar with a friend and nursing a nice martini prepared for me by a cute bartender.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Holly!!!

Yeah, mixed drunk/sober parties are terrible -- when I'm drinking, I'd rather have others drinking, in hopes of looking a little less foolish... ;^)

I agree that a few drinks are nice for a conversation with a friend, but more than that turns the discussion inane, pathetic and over-emotional.

So you don't metabolize alcohol as well with age? That's odd -- I haven't noticed that, and we're close to the same age. Well, maybe it's coming soon...

Beat Dad said...

I spout venom in my head, then write it, then delete it. LOL

It is true my reasonable self always takes over.


C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Wayne!!!

LOL, I suspected as much!!! ;^)

hm-uk said...

I actually write a bit better under the influence. Thank f*ck I'm not paid to write - talk about occupational hazards!

I agree with Wayne on the coffee front - caffeine makes me 'meaner and keener'

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Hm-Uk!!!

LOL, I had no idea coffee posed such a danger (at least to one's sunny disposition ;^) ).

intervention said...

The need to drink alcohol everyday just to make you write articles isn't just right. Constant alcohol drinking can lead to addiction, and can be bad to the health.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Intervention!!!

Thanks for your concern. Actually, if you read the above article carefully, you'll see I've said that drinking does not improve one's writing -- indeed it leads to writing things that are very stupid.

Interestingly, even though I don't notice much of a change in my own behavior after moderate drinking, I can tell that even a single beer has a real effect by trying to do any kind of work that requires concentration. My real job (software engineer) isn't that difficult, but I wouldn't dare drink at all while working because it really does break my concentration just enough that it hinders me from working effectively. Even doing something as simple as writing a blog post is something I won't do after drinking even a tiny bit. The irony of the above article is that I was completely sober for the planning and writing of the whole thing. (When I planned and drew the picture, too, now that I think of it.)

I think it should be clear from this post that my point is that it's not cool to imagine that you're some sort of tortured artist and destroy your health over it. Perhaps I shouldn't be discussing the subject in such a flippant manner as I've done here...