Sunday, July 16, 2006

That Demon Drink

It's midnight on a lazy Saturday, and all I can think about is why writers seem to drink a lot. That is to say, I'm sitting up late, doing nothing but wondering why beer often seems to figure into the local literary scene.

Aw, come on. Surely you've noticed it: Any high-profile gatherings of writers (particularly writers' workshops) always seem to involve the consumption of egregious amounts of the demon drink. Some contemporary writers' habits are so synonymous with drink that their personalities are inescapably associated with particular brands of beer (the late Nick Joaquin being identified with San Miguel, for example). And should we be surprised that Fully Booked decided to spring for more than a few cases of Red Horse during its awards earlier this evening, despite the possibility that not all of its attendees might have been of drinking age?

Of all the things, why alcohol? Is it because the notion of malt liquor figures heavily into our national culture and social consciousness for some reason? Is it because we have to find some way to keep the stress of our lives from killing us where we stand? Or is it because we figure that we all tend to have splitting headaches in the morning, anyway?

As you've probably concluded by now, I'm not a drinker. I don't touch the stuff, primarily because it usually gets me spilling out whatever I have in my head at the moment, and it's bad for my work as a result. I don't even drink socially; The best I ever do involves a decanter of champagne at high-class weddings and a glass of red wine every New Year's Eve. I have no physical means of empathizing with people who do drink, and that's why I don't quite understand how beer and literature seem to fit together around here.

Or maybe there's no link between them at all, and they just look related to each other once we're six cups deep and starting to see things. I'm still looking for enlightenment in this regard.

Under normal circumstances, I'd probably dismiss drinking as a weakness. After all, how articulate could a man possibly be when he's far more light-headed than usual, plastered enough to forget the alphabet, and probably in the grip of faint hallucinations? You'd hardly expect much of an effort from such a person.

Except that Edgar Allan Poe reputedly wrote while he was drunk. And Mark Twain seemed to know enough about the prospect of drinking to write about it. And of course, there's the fabulous example set by Nick Joaquin and a bunch of other distinguished Filipino writers, all of whom found nothing wrong with opening a few bottles and getting soused.

I strongly suspect that the true skill lies in being able to hold your liquor. That way, the drink doesn't make much of a difference -- all it'll probably end up doing, after all, is clear your head long enough for you to write the stuff you want to write. If this were the case, then the drinkers would definitely have an advantage over the rest of us poor, abstaining sods.

It doesn't do much to clear up the issue for me, though. Whether it does clear one's thoughts or otherwise, I don't think that that constitutes much of a link between drinking and writing. For that matter, why bother with alcohol in the first place? We could theoretically replace it with Far Eastern meditation, hypnotism, cocaine, or even that ultimate whiteboard eraser itself, a good night's sleep.

Okay, so maybe beer is a little easier to procure than any of the above. Whatever. It's still difficult for me to figure out exactly why it seems to have a prominent place in the local literary gatherings.

It's altogether possible, I suppose, that a lot of amateur authors out there can't break into the big time simply because they either don't drink yet, or because they can't hold their liquor just as well. Think about it: It's easy to visualize the current roster of outstanding Philippine writers as a "big boys" club of sorts, all sitting together at the same bar. If you want to be able to join such a club, you'd have to wait for an empty seat at the counter and throw back a few shots along with the rest of them. Literally.

Yes, that was an exaggeration. Again, I have no idea what it is between writing and drinking. I have no plausibility with regards to these instances, and you shouldn't listen to me at all.

But on the other hand, does that mean that I'd be far more believable if I decided to engage in drinking along with the rest of our fair literary crowd?


If you think I'm going to start emptying the local liquor supplies anytime soon, you're sadly mistaken. I have enough problems writing as it is, and once or twice I've even encountered people who asked me if I was drunk when I wrote some work in question.

I suppose that, given the circumstances, I should really start looking upon those comments as compliments. Or not.

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