My mom called this morning to let me know she was making a trip to the base exchange (kind of like a military version of 7-11) and wondered if I needed anything. I was about to say I could use some boneless chicken thighs if they happened to have any, when she elaborated. “Anything in a bottle?” she wondered. My mom wasn’t talking about shampoo or Pepto-Bismol, either. She meant liquor, and this is why I’m convinced that I’ve got the Coolest Parents Ever. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth (especially if it’s a Clydesdale), I said I could use more tequila and rum. I stopped just short of asking for Crystal Head vodka because, hey, I wouldn’t want to take advantage of their already good nature. Although, that would make a great Christmas gift, if anybody is reading…cough, cough…
Don’t get the wrong idea. I like the occasional drink, but I’m not one to overindulge in things fermented or distilled, even though some of the greatest writers of all time were raging alcoholics. Hemingway was a connoisseur of the mojito (attaboy, Ernest!), William Faulkner loved mint juleps, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s BFF was gin. Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Charles Bukowski all often wrote while three sheets to the wind. Stephen King famously penned Cujo while drunk, and does not even remember writing it. One of my favorite authors of all time, Jack London, made drinking a part of his daily routine. He didn’t shy away from this fact, and the below quote is – not surprisingly – written beautifully, full of the imagery that made London such a great writer.
I was carrying a beautiful alcoholic conflagration around with me. The thing fed on its own heat and flamed the fiercer. There was no time, in all my waking time, that I didn’t want a drink. I began to anticipate the completion of my daily thousand words by taking a drink when only five hundred words were written. It was not long until I prefaced the beginning of the thousand words with a drink.
So, by all accounts, I should begin each day with a fifth of scotch or a shot of bourbon, but noooo…I stick with coffee instead. With a splash of hazelnut creamer, for crying out loud! Oh, the shame. What kind of writer am I?! My liver thanks me, sure, but I’ll never storm up the bestseller charts with that attitude. There’s hope for me yet, though. A couple of weeks ago, I poured myself a glass of orange juice, and when I was drinking it, I thought it tasted funny. When I realized what was wrong, I laughed. Out loud, for real. The OJ tasted “off” because there was no vodka in the glass! What can I say, I like the occasional Screwdriver, and I’m not referring to anything in my tool box.
I may just hit the big time, after all.
It’s funny – and a little sad – that, when people think of writers, they picture alcoholics (although, based on the examples above, there is certainly some truth to that). All occupations have stereotypes, however. Lawyers are smarmy and arrogant, farmers are dimwitted and dull, chefs are temperamental, foul-mouthed chain smokers. I thought I’d take a look at some more stereotypes people have about writers and see how many of them I live up to.
- Writers love coffee. Why? Because we need to keep our minds sharp. Probably to sober up after all that alcohol, too! In movies, you often see writers shuffling around in bathrobes, their hair disheveled, with a five o’ clock shadow, drinking cup after cup of coffee. For me, this one is true. I brew a pot first thing in the morning, and occasionally will indulge in the evening, as well. What can I say, I love the java!
- Writers own cats. I’m not sure where this one arises. Cats are notoriously independent and don’t require a lot of attention. You don’t have to take them for walks. Throw a little food in their dish, scoop the litter box occasionally, and you’re set. The rest of your time you can devote to writing. This certainly doesn’t pertain to all authors – Dean Koontz is a well-known dog lover – but again, in my case, it’s true. I’ve got a calico named Sydney, and I grew up with cats.
- Writers are introverts. They are often cooped up at home, in an office or den, and have limited social skills due to very little interaction with other people. Makes perfect sense, at least when they become successful enough to write for a living and don’t have to work at more traditional “day jobs.” Maybe it’s all that concentration on the fake people we write about, who behave as we expect them to because, after all, we created them. By contrast, we have no control over the real people in our lives. It’s a theory, anyway, and while I do have an outgoing side, I personally have never been comfortable with large crowds and, in corporate meetings, rarely speak up. This one, too, is true.
- Writers are depressed. Look no further than at Sylvia Plath, who stuck her head in an oven. Or Hemingway, who ended his life with a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head. It is often said that pain breeds creativity, and while this may be true to an extent, I don’t think having a tortured soul is a prerequisite to being a good writer. I’m an optimistic person by nature, and while I sometimes get to feeling down in the dumps – who doesn’t? – I am generally a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so for me, this is false.
- Writers are emotionally sensitive. We are viewed as brooding, sensitive, inquisitive. Why? Because you need to be in touch with your innermost feelings in order to feed your muse, I suppose. I can see the truth in that. Athletes pick up baseball bats and swing at balls; writers pick up pens and jot their emotions down on paper. In order to create believable characters, we need to know how they think and act in a variety of different situations, and in order to do so, we have to have a good grasp of our own feelings and emotions. I have been labeled as “sensitive” and I can’t deny it, so true.
- Writers are nuts. Or, to be a little more PC, “mentally disturbed.” Plath is another good example here, as is Virginia Woolf, who filled her pockets full of stones and walked out into a river near her London home and drowned herself. There have actually been scientific studies showing a link between mental illness and creativity, particularly bipolar disorder, and that major depressive disorders are far more common in playwrights and novelists, among other creative occupations. It’s quite compelling, actually. I was going to quickly call this one “false” because, ironically, I often feel like the only sane person on earth! But if you are insane…would you know it? Hmm. Food for thought. I find it interesting that these studies show “creative skills are more common in people with mental illness in their families.” I don’t mean to disrespect the family name, but as a matter of fact, there is a history of mental illness in our family. Am I a product of that? I honestly don’t know. Of course, I’m not “nuts,” but in this particular case I have to say the verdict is out.
So, there you have it. Funny – I set out to disprove these stereotypes – but based on my personal responses, I’ve pretty much done the opposite. Oh, well. I’ve always said that stereotypes exist for a reason, and are based somewhat on fact. My apologies to any lawyers and farmers reading me (the chefs probably started cursing me out three paragraphs ago, so screw them).
Off to pour myself a glass of whiskey…