Is being a writer worse than being an alcoholic?

There wasn’t a lot left – a couple of drops, really. But it called to me and awakened something inside of me. Not really lust, not really gluttony, but more of a memory than anything else. It was a drop of liquid that held a vision of a whole other life; a life spent spiraling and searching for an ethereal reality that couldn’t exist. Still, that vision of life was there, dancing in those few drops: A version of a life I thought I wanted.

It was a romantic idea, really. Hemingway did it; Steinbeck did it. I could go on but the image of the tortured writer spending endless and countless days scribbling thousands of unintelligible words into tattered and worn notebooks until he had another Old Man and the Sea or another Grapes of Wrath was a vision of a perfect life to me. Only I wasn’t like those glorified scribblers. If I spent an afternoon hunched over a bar sipping tequila, my pen might move from time to time, but then, the next day, I’d review my previous day’s work and see that it may as well have been written in Aramaic. There was no way to know what the hell I wrote. Maybe I wasn’t really writing anything; maybe I was just moving a pen in various lines across notebook pages.

But damn, I wanted to be a tortured writer on the hunt for the perfect set of words that would become my legacy. I wanted so badly to be just like those writers who lived their lives on the edge of reality and lunacy. It was a lust greater than any man could have. I figured that living on that edge would make my writing life somehow more real.

So when I saw those couple of drops of tequila lingering in a mostly empty shot glass, I saw that distorted reflection of who I thought I wanted to be and realized that the edge of sanity I sought wasn’t all that great a place to live. Alcohol may bring lunacy, but it doesn’t help with writing. I saw in those drops that attempting a writing life, in and of itself, creates lunacy; it simply isn’t easy parsing through millions of thoughts with a net that only holds a hundred or so at a time. It’s like fishing for plankton with a net suited for landing giant catfish. But what the hell, I keep at it, which is the lunacy and irrationality of the writer.

I remember this one time, after spending hours at a little dive, I scribbled enough words to fill more than 20 pages of a notebook. At some point, I placed the notebook down somewhere and went to take a leak. When I was done, I searched the joint for my damn notebook – but it disappeared. It was gone and I wasn’t even drunk. I threw back, MAYBE, two or three shots over the course of an entire afternoon, but somehow, that notebook went threw some notebook-rapture-vortex and entered into another dimension of sight and sound. Wherever it went, though, I wasn’t there. I was more than angry about losing that notebook; I drove home in complete grief over the loss.

This thing called a writing life is a bad habit, alcohol or no alcohol. I can’t quit – hell, I’m not even sure I want to leave it. Writing transports me – in my own parlance: I am a compulsive writer. Maybe I should start a “writer’s anonymous” group. “Hi,” I’d say at the start of my testimony. “My name is Juan and I am a goddamned writer.”

The group would chorus back to me, “Hi Juan!”

The problem was never the alcohol. The problem, if there’s one, is that I write because I have no other choice. When I’m sitting in my rocking chair wondering if the grandkids will ever visit me, I’m certain that if I can still hold a stupid pen, I’ll write a poem or a verse about how much old age sucks. I’m certain that I’ll still be fishing for plankton in my mind, even if I’m senile, I’ll be grasping at some great collection of words that I won’t fully capture.

Or maybe I won’t. Maybe my WA 12 step group will cure of my writing addiction. I don’t drink or drug. Don’t gamble much. Writing is my only remaining vice. I wonder if my writing glass will ever be down to 2 drops. On second thought, no I don’t. My name is Juan and I am a goddamned writer.