Hey y’all, how goes it? Today I have a friend, writer and special guest who offered to entertain us with a small article I like to call “Reefer & Writing”. I thought the concept of the article was hilarious yet super informative. I’m not saying I condone using marijuana while writing, but it indulges the imagination nonetheless. Without further ado, I present you with this Guest Post written by author Michael Bolan.
I started writing because it made daytime gin-drinking acceptable. Expected, almost. “Write drunk, edit sober”, that’s what Hemingway said. It seemed like the best excuse I was going to get…
From Kerouac to Joyce, writers and journos seem to thrive on a steady diet of booze (and who knows what else). Recent reports of cannabis being found in four of Shakespeare’s pipes made me wonder who else was under the influence of nefarious substances when at their most creative. A quick Google search and I was lost. Most revealing was an article about Lee Child, whose Jack Reacher books are so popular that one is bought every two seconds. “I’ve been smoking weed for 44 years, five nights a week,” he stated shamelessly. “My dealer’s on speed dial.”
There’s a theory that poetry and alcohol go together, as complementary means to achieve transcendence. You can trace the idea back to ancient Greece, where poems were created and recited at drinking parties. Many arguments have been put forward for why writers should rely so heavily on mind-altering substances. Kingsley Amis suggests displaced stage fright as a cause of literary substance abuse. The writer might not see his audience, but he’s still aware and still scared. He’s supported by Tennessee Williams, who wrote, “Why does a man drink? There’s two reasons, separate or together. 1. He’s scared shitless of something. 2. He can’t face the truth.”
But now science is suggesting something altogether more constructive, and it’s all in the mind, it seems: in the frontal cortex of the brain, to be precise. The average brain is bombarded by up to 100,000 different stimuli every hour and struggles to process them all. The frontal cortex sorts out the useful from the forgettable, processing the information that is most important and storing it away for later use.
But when you get tired, the activity of the frontal cortex slows dramatically because your body starts to block the dopamine receptors in your brain; dopamine is the feel-good chemical, associated with reward, but also with focus, planning and attention span. With the frontal cortex slowing down, other parts of the brain come into play, solving problems in a very different way. The state between wakefulness and sleep, which psychologists call hypnagogia, has often been cited as a creative well. Archimedes had his Eureka moment when he dropped off in the bath, Mendeleev drew the periodic table in his bed, and Paul McCartney wrote down the tune of Yesterday when he woke from a nap. (His original words needed some work, “Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs”). How often have you had a great idea, a moment of intense creativity, while standing on the dreamy precipice between wake and sleep?
Getting drunk, (or high, or both), has a similar effect – it limits frontal cortex activity and allows different parts of the brain to take centre stage. So perhaps the love affair between creative geniuses and mind-altering substances isn’t so much a crutch to support them in the real world, as a gateway to the realm of creativity, where the normal rules don’t apply. Whatever the reason, and whatever the cost, we’re blessed that these people chose their own course, leaving us with a wealth of art we might not otherwise have had.
As Hemingway also said, “Drinking is a way to end the day”. And this post, so I’m off for a drink. G&T, please…
Well, there you have it folks. Now, go entertain yourselves with a book by Mr. Bolan, they are worth the read.