This past weekend, I spent three ridiculously enjoyable hours holed up in a private karaoke room in Japantown with my pal Bill. The room was small and poorly ventilated, but a steal at $30 an hour, and the establishment’s unofficial BYOB policy saved us even more money on overpriced drinks. It was a win-win.
As a general rule, I do not sing in front of people. I am all too aware of my inability to carry — let alone hit — a note. But the combination of a private* room, the company of a trusted friend, and a couple of adult beverages helped me to overcome my hesitation. By the time we were belting out TLC’s Waterfalls, I’d almost forgotten to be horrified by the sound of my own voice.
There does appear to be some correlation between intake of alcohol and improved performance**. Over the years, I’ve noticed my pool game, dart-throwing abilities, pinball wizardry, and even my writing improve significantly after just one drink. When I was in college, I had to write a paper on a dreadfully mind-numbing topic (Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists. Discuss.) for my Political Science class. I struggled through the first half of the paper, took a break for dinner and a glass of wine with my housemates, and then returned to my room to complete the assignment. The following week, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a B+ for my efforts, and highly amused with my teacher’s comment that the second half of my paper was superior in both content and style than the first. In short, the buzzed half was better than the sober one.
As I discovered, a nice glass of wine or pint of beer can loosen me up, help me relax into the game, let the words flow uninhibited from my fingers. But while one drink improves my performance, each subsequent drink plunges my abilities further into a void from which there is no return. At least until the next day.
So how the hell did our beloved literary alcoholics pull it off? A quick Google search for “authors with drinking problems” yields a multitude of examples: Faulkner, Poe, Dorothy Parker, Capote, Hunter S. Thompson (among other addictions), James Joyce, Bukowski, and of course, the Godfather of Alcoholic Authors, Hemingway. These folks created some of the best literature of all time, yet I have a tough time getting my fingers to hit the correct keys after a few drinks. It seems unfair somehow that alcohol can heighten the senses of some while dulling the minds of others.
But in addition to being remarkable storytellers, most of the the above-mentioned writers struggled with depression and many died from alcohol-related complications. And despite the lingering noir glamour of the genius alcoholic writer, I’d still much rather write mostly sober than live mostly drunk.
*Private in that no one can see into the room. However, a trip down the long hallway to the bathroom revealed that the rooms are far from soundproof.
**Although one could make the case that when it comes to karaoke, perhaps it’s not that the drinks improve my singing so much as they temporarily damage my give-a-shit-ometer.