I’m midway through my detox week. Haven’t had a drink since Saturday night. Maybe that’s not as impressive-sounding to you as it is to me, but I live in a world populated largely by collegiate or post-collegiate retail workers, thirty-ish small venue guitarists and tattoo artists and the desperately single, and a roommate who stops by home every day between jobs so that he can drop off the night’s twelve pack, otherwise he’d have to wait until five-thirty to buy beer again. I’ve got my own cheap boxed chardonnay and three remaining 6.2% beers in the fridge, and haven’t touched them. Rare are the days I don’t have at least one drink. But it’s been four full, now, and I might see if I can go seven.

Soon I’ll be back in the world of academics and writers, in general a group of people not so dependent on socialization, but dependent on alcohol in order to achieve any socialization. In the life of the writing academic…

No, in the life of the writer in academia, you’re expected to appreciate the glorious history that writers and alcohol have together, without succumbing to that history in any obvious way. It’s a unique situation in which your job and your artistic hobby are tightly tied. No one really goes the full Raymond Carver on you, but you know the heavy drinkers are around based on how they drink in the acceptable social situations. These are the people who otherwise, fifty, a hundred years ago, would have had a day job and struggled through it to make ends meet, dreaming all the while of being back at the quill with an open fifth, elucidating and lubricating such dreams and fantasies as might impress the other dreamers and fantasizers in their given artistic clique. In days gone by, sobriety was the dirty secret. Everyone assumed it happened but never saw it happening, if not at the day job than while writing, if not while writing than hopefully while editing. When they got together to feel the rush of a shared aesthetic, naturally they would get hammered and smooth out any rough edges that may remain, so as to form a more perfect unity, and the occasional black eye. Exciting times, I’d wager.

Now, perhaps appropriately, those extreme drinkers are the secretive ones because no one wants to share an office with one. Which is to say, most people handle this unique blend of work and play just fine; even the moderate to heavy drinkers, a category in which I think I belong, can usually keep it together in social situations long enough to retain the dignity necessary to look everyone in the eye the next day. Me, I’ll go out and drink those seven beers and two shots that will roll into and out of my mind unnoticed, other than how suddenly funny I’ve become, and then when the night is over and I’ve bicycled home so as not to murder anybody and I’m all alone again, I’ll finish myself off with whatever’s lying around, another couple beers, a bottle of wine, cooking sherry, and then when memories stop being formed I’ll realize that oh, I guess I have been drinking all night. How about that. Then I’m awake, with a hangover seemingly disproportionate to the amount of fun that was had, and a scrapeable odor on my skin, really gets under your nails, that.

This, to me, is somewhere in the seventy-fifth percentile, the moderate-to-heavy range.

Then there are the real writer-drinkers, who have trouble separating the work from the art, because admittedly it is fucking confusing in this environment. Hence they could be drunk at any time. No– they could be drinking at any time, and they want to drink all the time, and when you do all go out together to drink, they try to show restraint while everyone else is still moderately sober, but when the center becomes tipsy and cannot hold, these drinkers on the fringe show their true colors. By which I mean, they don’t get drunk. Not really. They’ll do every shot and participate in all the rounds, but what it takes to get them drunk will remain their secret. Entire handles of vodka, paint thinner, lines of Red Bull, who knows. Somehow they show up to the office the next day, dragging their own bloodshot eyes behind them, smelling vaguely of urine and cheese and failure, and you wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear they went home and finished two chapters last night.

But, on the whole, most everyone in the program drinks, and these social events happen once a week on average. The rest of the time we’re by ourselves, creating worlds and living in them. This is where my current life confuses me, because the people I see here don’t have to create a world to live in it. They just, go out, they live, on any given night, usually someone is going out every night if I want to put forth the effort to figure out who, it’s not a grand social event, it’s just sake Wednesday at the sushi joint on the east side. No one’s got a huge creative project that is quite literally driving them insane; even the musicians seem pretty goddamn level-headed, as if properly medicated, as if they all have shrinks and are well-adjusted, and their priorities are nicely lined up, most important of these being their job, then television, then a love life of some sort, then family if they’ve got one, and they drink in regular but constrained spurts of moderation, like I said, almost daily, for the most part.

Is no one else tortured? Even at my happiest I wasn’t very happy. At my most successful moments I feel like a failure. I even regret I’m not a better alcoholic. Take me away from the normals, please. I mean they are all terrific people and I wish them the best, but I don’t know how to function in this society. There aren’t enough people for me to judge. If I’m not condemning you it means I don’t understand you, I can’t relate, your mistakes to me are mere anthropological inevitabilities and not circumstances of choice, you are statistically flawed as opposed to intellectually complex, which means you’re not really vulnerable at all, your failures aren’t failures so much as natural selection, and even if the standards of “fine” have to prove mutable for it to happen, I don’t doubt you will be fine in the end.

Me, there is doubt. My best friends, my heroes, there is doubt. Which makes every genuine success precious, containing a joy that is real to me, and glistening in a way that draws me in close, where I squint at the surface and hope it is reflective, hope I am revealed at last.

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