Dear Mr. King,
I’m writing this letter to you as I am 1/3 of the way through your book On Writing. Being that I’m only 1/3 of the way through the book and have never read anything else you’ve written, I did question the logic of writing to you. But then again, I’ve never been one to subscribe to logic.
The truth is the only reason I’ve never read any of your books is no fault of your own nor is it because I’m a literature snob. The issue is simply that I’m a big wuss. My overactive imagination and anxiety disorder (I have a long list of fears that sometimes keep me awake at night, including the possibility of being abducted by aliens and the possible existence of God) means I wouldn’t be able to handle reading them.
I did see the “It” TV movie when it first aired, though, because my mom wanted to watch it. I was about 8-years-old at the time and seeing that movie, along with catching the campy, but nonetheless frightening, Killer Clownz from Outer Space on cable when my parents weren’t around one afternoon, instilled in me a sort of fear of clowns. I call it a sort of fear because I’m not afraid of all clowns, only select clowns. I could go to the circus and not get freaked out, but the second I saw a clown that seemed ominous in anyway – anything from weird looking teeth or a threatening look in his eyes could make a clown seem ominous – I immediately heard “We all float down here.” I still do. I’ll probably dream about clowns tonight.
I also saw The Shining when I was about 14 or 15, which was a terrible idea. It was a cold night, a couple of days after a snowstorm and a few weeks before Christmas, and my parents had some family friends and their kids over that night. The Shining was on TV and I watched it in the living room with my mom’s best friend’s son, who’s a few years younger than me, while the adults drank wine in the kitchen. He didn’t appear to be scared at all and his mother took him home before it was over. I, on the other hand, was a mess, but for some reason stuck it out to the very end alone. I’ve always been somewhat of a masochist. I was terrified of the idea of New England for years (though I eventually got over this, now love New England and even lived in Boston for a bit).
After the movie was over, I tried to find something else on TV to take my mind off what I had just seen. But as I channel surfed my way to the Disney Channel, I stopped on the local PBS station to watch a show that was just as scary as The Shining: A fundamentalist religious program where a manly woman (likely an ex-gay) was spouting passages from the Bible and preaching fire and brimstone for all non-believers.
I haven’t seen many people in my life that I could definitively say, “Ah ha! There’s an ex-gay.” After that terrifying religious programming, the only other one I’ve seen was when, on my way to a pez museum after a horrible trip to Hershey Park in the middle of the summer – meaning it was obscenely hot and the theme park was overcrowded with lots of gross people wearing very little clothing, which was also obscene – I accidentally stumbled upon the gay pride celebration in Allentown, Pennsylvania. A group of fundamental Christians were protesting at this Pride in the Park celebration (I still have the mug from the beer tent). The organizers of the event were kind enough to protect these protestors from angry gays. I was more amused than angry, though I definitely thought they were idiots. One girl had really nice pants and I thought to myself, “I would really like a pair of those pants.” She was carrying a sign that said something I’m sure was offensive and a bullhorn that she wasn’t using at the moment. So I asked her where she got her pants. She gave me a dirty look and turned away from me. Miffed, I said to my now ex-girlfriend as we walked back to the beer tent, “She is SO an ex-gay. I mean, look at those pants.”
But, as usual, though you wouldn’t know that about me, I digress.
I bought On Writing at the suggestion of a man I met in a Smart Recovery meeting after he found out I was a writer. He told me that in the book you write about writing and also discuss your recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Being that I’m still only 1/3 of the way through your book, I don’t know exactly what method you used to cope with your addictions. So, if you don’t know what Smart Recovery is, think of it as a thinking person’s AA, except you rely more on reason and yourself and not so much on all the Jesus mumbo jumbo (sorry Jesus).
So, I ordered a mass market copy of On Writing at my local Borders. They had another version there, but let’s face it, I’m a broke writer and figured the $5 I’d save on a mass market copy was better off in my pocket than yours. And eventually I forgot I ordered it. And eventually it arrived. And the store forgot to call me. But when another book I had ordered came in, which the store remembered to call me about, On Writing was waiting for me behind the register.
Partially a memoir, partially about the craft, it’s an easy, enjoyable read on the genesis of your writing career (well, the first 1/3 is, I haven’t touched the rest of it yet). And I could appreciate it and connect with certain things, but I didn’t truly stop and go, “Hmm…” until near the end of that first 1/3, when you wrote about how you were drinking so much that before you went to bed you’d pour out any beer you had left in the house so you wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night and keep drinking.
This clicked in my mind and made me immediately think of my Law of the Disproportionate Amount of Beers. Most of my friends think it’s just an excuse for me to drink a lot.
But trust me, it’s rather scientific. I’ve tested it out myself many times.
The whole idea is that if you are drinking in your place of residence, and you want to take a break from drinking so much starting the next day, then by the end of the night the amount of beers you have left over (I suppose liquor and wine can be used in this equation as well) needs to equal zero. If you have too few or too many, then you’re screwed.
Basically, if you have ANY leftover you’ll just wind up drinking them the next day. But if you have too few, you’re apt to go out and buy more alcohol so that you have enough to get drunk. And if you have too many leftover, well you’ll go to bed knowing you’re going to get drunk the next day, but you can at least hope that perhaps by the end of the next night the figure equals zero.
I suppose this is a theory for alcoholics and not so much for normal drinkers. But it makes sense in my mind.
Anyway, more importantly, the greatest thing I took away from that first section, “C.V.,” you call it, came in the last couple of pages, when you discussed the relationship between alcohol and creativity. You said, among many things I needed to hear: “The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.”
This is something that other people have tried to tell me, but it failed to resonate because they were neither a. a writer/musician/artist/mime/performance artist/etc. or b. a heavy drinker. Hearing it from you, though, a popular and successful writer, albeit one whose style certainly doesn’t influence me, it had a bit more oomph to it.
My mom used to accuse me, in not so many words, of romanticizing alcohol, saying that I idolized people like Janis Joplin a bit too much. When she’d say things like that I’d always think to myself, “But if I wanted to be like Janis Joplin I’d be a heroin addict and would have drank so much Southern Comfort in my lifetime the liquor company would start sending me personal gifts for all of the free promotion I was giving them.” But I’m too anxious and paranoid to ever touch drugs and I only have one memory of drinking Southern Comfort and it involves puking out the door of a moving car.
You also go on to say: “Substance-abusing writers are just substance abusers – common garden-variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit… We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.”
My greatest fear has always been that without drinking I wouldn’t be able to write; I’d have no voice, no ideas, lose my energy. This has been one of the biggest reasons I’ve had a hard time quitting. But just reading those, barely, two pages of the first third of your book, now I’m rethinking that. So, knowing that, if I drink now, then it’s for other reasons entirely, not because alcohol is my muse. If anything, I’m way less productive when I’m drinking. My thoughts are muddled and all over the place. I can see the difference in my work when I’m sober.
So, Mr. King, you have unintentionally called my bluff and called “bullshit.” For that I thank you. Let’s see what I do with this information.
PS – Again, I’m only 1/3 of the way through the book, so it’s possible there might be quite a few postscripts.