Stopped Drinking / Started Writing

The first stage consisted of boisterous declarations of my might as a drinker, a writer and a man. One’s twenties can have a dastardly effect on the ego if not humbled properly through a series of failures and embarrassments. Had I known then, maybe I wouldn’t have started this lofty quest all those years ago. But for better or worse, here we are. Started small (pretty sure I never moved past small) with reading comic books and then writing comic books and then reading scifi books and then writing scifi short stories and so on. Eventually I managed to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to the holiest of holies in literary fiction. Human condition. Man and woman. This is art. Begin by reading, emulate, find a voice and work your ass off for an incalculable amount of time until you’ve got it. If you’re like me you probably still don’t have it but you certainly talked about it and sang about it and drank about it like it was there. Then you drank some more, and continued drinking for the duration of your twenties in some childish attempt to harness the power of Cheever, Hemingway or Carver. Brilliant drunks, all of them.

The bottle and the pen (or pc) are permanently linked in popular culture and some of us don’t want to shake it. Even now I help to proliferate the connection by typing these words. Books, films and especially anecdotes all celebrate the equally romantic and depressing constant of boozing and writing. We’ve been conditioned to believe that one is simply a side effect of the other. If I write, I must drink to crush the voices in my head at night. There are plenty of theories as to why we drink. Too many. Some claim the sauce lends that necessary touch of strength to the holy act of creativity. And of course its consumption must help to combat the oppressive lifestyle of constant solitude, because writing (as we all know) is a friendless ritual — hours spent alone in front of a screen or a piece of paper while your mind wanders through caves of sadness and the unreal. Maybe writers drink for the same reasons as anyone else: to escape the shackles of everyday thought. Maybe there’s something to that. The forever weighted soul. Woe is me! Life is a hall of mirrors reflecting phantasmagoric images that haunt our waking moments in the night. But people like being fucked up. I know I do. Pleasure-seeking in all its forms is part of breathing in and breathing out.

My own personal headache with years of successful drinking and attempted writing is that drinking begets hangovers and (as we know) it’s damn hard to write well if your mind is rotting from the inside out, or if you can manage a few decent paragraphs you’ll be hard-pressed to keep it up. Fitzgerald once wrote to his editor “It has become increasingly plain to me that the very excellent organization of a long book or the finest perceptions and judgment in time of revision do not go well with liquor.” Well said, old sport. Hit the nail on the head. How does one succeed in mapping out a complicated piece of art while the brain is constantly pickled? It’s possible but a hell of a lot of extra effort. The work itself needs to be clean. Why muddy the waters?

During my precious collegiate years I was able to drink every night and feel halfway human the following day. I could churn out a story (terribly written) with an all-nighter and a line or two of adderall. Now at the ripe old age of 32 my hangovers last days and end with hours of anxiety, or what I’ve come to call THE HEEBIE JEEBIES — an ambiguous, yet impending sense of doom with vague origins, no exit and all the forces of darkness crawling up my back. Cold sweats, fits of anger, etc. “Battle through it,” I often say. Dark thoughts consume and the work suffers. Everything does. It begins as a murmur, ghost-like, but it builds and then you try and tell yourself it’s gonna be fine and you know it is but it doesn’t do a damn bit of good, and by that point the battle is already lost.

‘The rooms of the gallery were very wide and made entirely of wood. They walked into a small theater and sat in the front row and watched a German experimental short-film from the 1940s. Patterns of triangles and colors moved and blended over one another. Metallic sounds and voices speaking German were heard in intervals. The movie was slow and the colors seemed faded. Diamonds became lines that vanished into blurred copies of themselves.

John sat in the dark between Naoki and Dan and tried to focus on the patterns before his eyes began to blur, the shapes obscuring. My brothers. I miss them. They’ll resent me for being away for so long. Got to save us. I have to be the one. I’m the oldest. Guilty fuck. His heart beat quickly. He was short of breath. I should call my father, he thought. John’s phone rang. It was Miho. He did not answer it. He felt sweat on his arms and thought about his dick. He wondered if he’d die of some strange disease. Probably going to die because I fucked her. Death by fucking. He took a deep breath and told himself there was nothing wrong at all, but that was a lie.’

A standard illustration of the Sunday heebs during my time in Tokyo. The entire process began with overconsumption days prior and ended in some version of the above, all roads inevitably leading to the fear of death. Am I alone in this? For obvious reasons I stopped getting drunk all the time. Not that I was ever what most might call a true alcoholic but I still went to sleep drunk more nights than what one might consider healthy. Not sure if that counts. Depends on who you ask. Addiction is another rant altogether. Did I drink because I thought writers should, or did the writing drive me to the bottle? And then there’s the possibility that I boozed because it runs in the family.  Or maybe who gives a shit and I’m over-thinking the whole thing. Too many possibilities.

Now I drink no more than one or two drinks a night, and as a direct consequence I write more frequently for longer periods and produce (I hope) more consistent work. So that’s something. Hell, that’s everything at the moment. The point I’m trying to make is to myself. Write your guts out. Don’t drink em out. It’s all affectation. A bunch of bull-shit. Sure there’s the special occasion where I might still toss back my fair share of daiquiris to avoid the meat-grinding gears of the present, but that’s to be expected. I’m still human. I like getting fucked up and old habits die hard. Maybe if I have a quick drink I’ll be able to finish this essay with a bit more panache. There’s the pitfall. Booby-traps everywhere. Devil on my shoulder wafting the spicy rewards of rye whiskey under my nose. Clever bastard.

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Kris is the senior editor of Spoken Word Inc. He was once the co-founder and editor of the Tokyo art & literary community in TYOMAG. You can see his writing mumbo jumbo here.