As I sit down to write this, I’m staring down the couch at a half empty bottle of cheap French merlot. It’ll be empty by the time I shut my laptop, and my head will be full of memories of four long years of wine-drenched academic effort. It’s not like me to be maudlin about it, but these bottles sometimes have a heart of their own.
Indeed, if I think hard enough, I can trace a line of wine bottles back, back, and back right to the gates of first year, when my friends and I were amongst the privileged few, the over-19 first-years. All of us were well past the time when alcohol was a novelty; not that we didn’t party, but that’s not what I’m here to write about.
I’m here to write about writing, and about the wines that went with it. Because they always did. From the very first paper in Political Science 110, the gauntlet was thrown down: start the double-size bottle of wine when you start the paper. Finish them together. The memory of almost every paper I’ve written has a taste attached to it; that first-year Poli Sci paper was a Cabernet Sauvignon, Baron Phillipe de Rothschild I think.
I still remember the terror on all our faces when we realized, at the exam, that none of us had ever done any work for the class while sober. At least one of my friends downed a bottle of plonk right then and there. I didn’t, and somehow survived, but it was a pretty disconcerting feeling.
I’m going on into my fifth year of study by now, and I must admit, I’ve mellowed. Rarely do I plow through 1.5 litres of red on the way to literary glory. Still, the habit remains, and I embrace it. By now, I think I can honestly (and even soberly) advocate it.
Many of us are bound from the moment we start to write. The rote-learning English classes we all pass through in high school bind us. The marking schemes of our papers bind us. Our own expectations bind us. Too often, that keeps us from taking that first step into a paper, the only uphill step on a path that otherwise rolls right downhill into thesis-proving glory.
I’ve read many papers, my own and other peoples’, that have been written under the influence. Most of them are pretty good, and there’s a reason for that. The basic structures of essay writing are so deeply ground into most of us by the time we get to Laurier that no amount of wine will dislodge them. What it will dislodge, though, is the artificial barriers that our mind puts up between the free-flowing, critical thinking elements of our thought and their structured expression. Indeed, if anything, I find it cheering that so many people are such good writers while drunk. It means that the only things holding them back are their inhibitions.
There are, of course, different strokes for different folks. Some people prefer to write stoned; I find it slows me down. Some people like to jazz themselves up, on coffee or otherwise. It’ll always puzzle me how they get any actual writing done. Nonetheless, your choice of substances is your own – and so are your words. If writing drunk can teach our sober selves how creative we are, I’m all for it.