Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On Drunk Writing & Bradbury.

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." ~Ray Bradbury

Anyone who knows me is aware I'm not much of a drinker -- by writerly standards or any other. I live in Florida and in the brutal summers I drink an occasional weak gin and tonic. Sometimes I sit in the front yard in our fake wicker chairs and watch the kids play frisbee or ride the green machine. (Sometimes, because I was denied a green machine in my youth, I ride the green machine too.) If one of the kids wants to go for a walk -- and let me remind you it's 100 degrees easy -- I put the drink in the mailbox so that I'm not out there in the neighborhood adding to the myth that writers are drinkers.

I hate that myth, but more I hate the reality that many writers throughout literary history have been alcoholics. It's a sad thing. (And alcoholism runs on both sides of my family so I feel the losses there too.) To quote a bit from David Gessner's blog, which I'm aware is called Bill and Dave's Cocktail Hour -- something Gessner's at work on, "
He had been a nervous child and a nervous teenager, and had grown, quite naturally, into a nervous man." It felt like the definition of many writers I know. Are writers nervous by nature? Are those nerves, so exposed and raw, what help us pick up on the hinted world existing just beyond the presented world? Those nerves that sometimes benefit from being lulled...

I give a speech to my young writers about taking care of their bodies. Writing has a long end game. You get better at writing simply as a function of age. Youth has words, lots of them, but few insights, and the brain hasn't expanded to its fullest architecture. Insight and structural expansion and more life to bring to bear on the page -- these come with age. To get to them, there's a trick. You have to try to stay alive. (I say this as a fully confessed hypochondriac.)

Okay ... but none of this is what Bradbury is talking about here. Bradbury is talking about being drunk on writing, of course, and I'm guilty of that. Because there's a moment when the world shuts down all around you, and another world rises up. This world demands your attention. Time passes without your knowledge. You look up and it's night. How did that happen?

Some writers cordon off the two worlds. They open and shut a door, disapear, and then open the door again. They like to shake off one world to be fully present for the other. I don't knock this way of doing things. It's just not mine.

And maybe you do it the way I do ... When you come up for air, you live in two worlds for a while. And this other world flashes like an afterimage behind your eyes. I try to hold onto that. You stumble in this mindset as long as you can -- the other world and this coexisting is good for both. You think as yourself. You think as your characters. You see for yourself and for them. You hear what you hear and then how they hear it. You feel drunk -- and a little punch-drunk too, because sometimes the writing has felt like a fist fight, a bar-room brawl. Bare-knuckled. You're banged up.