Finding the Zenith
Booze and prose – there’s a lot of reading material on the subject. Most point to a part memoir, part biography called The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing. The question posed, how much alcohol did these writers need to swallow to spit out beautiful work?
A harmless volume of drinks, my boyfriend says, makes me enthusiastic and philosophical. But too much red wine sends me into an outburst about my family living in a fish bowl… how no one does anything about anything in there. All they have to worry about is the next millisecond, you know? Ignore it until that girl starts tapping on the glass wall. Please – tap, tap, tap. And even then, the fish are like sorry but you don’t fit in here.
Over a glass of liquor, I dance and then stop to sob about the death of my yellow lab with emotional, philosophic enthusiasm. “This death of all deaths,” I gasp for air, “is eerily symbolic of the death of childhood.”
If “how much” – a glass, a shot, a bottle – is too much, can any writer really write? Alcohol, as Laing understands it, “alerted [Tennessee Williams] to the importance of empathy, that cardinal virtue of the playwright.” But when Raymond Carver and John Cheever drank together at Iowa, they were almost always drunk and rarely touched a typewriter.
The Swimmer by John Cheever is mentioned pretty early in Laing’s book. The narrator is at a party, decides to swim his way home through swimming pools. The neighbors are welcoming at the first few pools and offer drinks, an undeterminable amount of time passes, attitudes towards the swimmer change. The neighbors are aloof at best as the swimmer now asks for alcohol and everything becomes very ambiguous. The turn is subtle. He feels delusional and the reader, disoriented. What can we believe about this story? The reader wonders if this is even about alcoholism, or if the writing is only meant give off a peculiar feeling. Probably both. It’s strange, exquisite in a way and mostly, compelling.
I think some writers seek a “zenith” in their writing – a point hovering above, where it all suddenly makes sense. One day, they find it between one glass and ten. They spend hours, days, years trying to get back to a zenith, where words flowed quick with booze. Some stay upstream, some don’t, most make alcoholics either way.
I’m curious to see if alcohol changes my own writing – style, approach, ideas, etc. So I take a few shots of tequila and write on a prompt about advertisements from P&W.
On Chariots of Fire, Tequila and Apples
In my grandparent’s basement well over a decade ago, my cousin types the dialogue from a dirty cartoon website into Notes, right clicks and selects Speak.
“Make it say shit balls!” my brother suggests. It smells like cigar smoke and dryer sheets in here. I try to lean over my grandfather’s desk to see the screen but my brother and cousin share the big blue leather chair like a shield. I hear the computer reply, “She-it-ball-s.”
This is where my head goes after a few shots of tequila. The Chariots of Fire theme song plays on a YouTube video… the one with young Steve Jobs slipping a floppy to a Mac.
The gesture is as cool as someone tilting his head to blow smoke. The video comes on after the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial – the famous one with the woman saving society from Big Brother with a sledgehammer. It’s sort of my go to for inspiring advertisements. But today I’m more into this recording of Mac’s debut.
It’s the computer voice making me laugh again, the abrupt but friendly tone: “Hello. I am Macintosh. It is truly great to get out of that bag” eliciting my memory of the first time a computer sounded vulgar.
I’m eight years old and I’m only here because the boys are babysitting. I don’t know what’s happening on the websites really. I just scream and cackle when the boys Right click, Select speak.
The three of us scrunch together, like a picture framed by wooden walls and shutters. There are plaques and model cars, books and other trinkets around, an old coal burner in the corner. All of these old, dark things sag under the florescent lights. I’m too loud and if we get caught, they’re the ones in trouble. They kick me out.
On the other side of the door, I try to push the laugh down, squeeze my chest, buff my cheeks, try to be mad. I open every cabinet around me and slam them shut after finding some old instruction manuals to flip through.
There’s a tiny sign that abuse is coming, right on the other side of that door. Small and meaningless now. But it starts with what my cousin watches on television or finds on his computer. I think.
Chariots of Fire continues to play on the Mac video. I can almost hear Macintosh saying, Hey, the blame game ain’t cool. Don’t hate the Apple, that’s out of our control. Yeah, it seems to be out of everyone’s.
So I have to agree, this matter is two fold. And the song makes me want to run down my street with no clothes on, holding my laptop over my head, vowing my love and my life to Steve Jobs for making the words that I type possible. And then Macintosh ends with, “Never trust a computer you can’t lift.” The irony of this is too much to handle. Drunkenly I look down at my fingers as I type and think, I could be playing a piano.
There’s a dance break, and an email to three music publicists about a song (no responses).
Everything is very exciting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There are snack breaks, more snacks. Wish I could go get snacks, no driving.
Soberly, I added a lot. I edited drunken spelling, over-punctuation, removed pronouns and the illegible. I need less incentive to dance and email strangers. Less distraction and this might get somewhere.
Stay tuned for next week: