Tag Archives: hemingway

Under the Influence

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.

 

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*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.

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Upward, Dog!

On a recent trip to Los Angeles to visit my dear friends Mari and Gary*, I attended a class entitled Yoga for Writers. It wasn’t clear whether the class was a writers’ workshop in lotus position or a yoga class that swaps out the usual “ohm” chant for a little Hemingway, but I was intrigued.

Hemingway accomplished many things, but I'm pretty sure Dolphin pose wasn't one of them.

Hemingway accomplished many things, but I’m pretty sure Dolphin pose wasn’t one of them.

After a warm, lazy Saturday spent meandering the hipster-lined streets of Silver Lake, eating hippy food in Eagle Rock (I had the bbq chickpea salad with tofu), and sipping iced organic coffee, the three of us headed out for the 6:30pm class. It was co-led by the resident yoga teacher – who had both the requisite calm demeanor and strong yoga legs – and the editor of a popular online literary magazine. The class was small and friendly, and as far as I could tell, consisted mainly of bloggers.

I quickly came to the conclusion that while the class was called Yoga for Writers, it could have applied to anyone who spends the bulk of his or her day tapping away at a keyboard. And isn’t that most people these days? Then again, this is Los Angeles and everyone needs a hook.

We started out on our mats, reclining against the supportive bolsters that helped to open up our shoulders – presumably rounded and tight from all the hours we writers hunch over our laptops or notebooks – and immediately, I began to doze off.** This phenomenon has long baffled me: why is it that I so often have difficulty falling asleep in my bed at night yet nearly always conk out during shavasana (corpse pose) while lying on the hard floor in a room full of strangers as cars and people pass by on the street just twenty feet away from my head?

We moved on to a series of other poses and movements with a goal of opening up our necks, our shoulders, and our lower backs. The movements were slow and deliberate, and – accustomed to a more strength and/or balance-based practice – I had to remind myself to be patient with this type of gentle yoga. At two hours, it was the longest yoga class I’ve ever taken, but also the least physically demanding.

After class, Mari, Gary and I compared notes over ginger fish pho noodles. Gary revealed that for the first time, he’d felt a floating sensation during the guided meditation, as if he was in a small boat drifting down a calm river. I was a little ashamed to admit that I’d fallen asleep again during meditation, until Mari confessed she had as well. I shared with them my puzzlement over bedtime vs. yoga time sleep. “I think it’s because you’re supposed to fall asleep when you get into bed at night,” Mari explained. “But there’s no pressure to fall asleep on the floor of the yoga studio.” Chalk another one up in the Neurotic Writer column for me.

Aside from the Clock and Butterfly shoulder rolls, the thing that resonated with me most of all was a Buddhist saying shared by one of the instructors. When a fellow yogini asked: “If you don’t have a lot of time, which movements are the best to do on a day-to-day basis?”, the instructor responded with: “If you have time, meditate for ten minutes a day. If you don’t have time, meditate for an hour.”

Translation: “Get your priorities straight.”

I once had a writing teacher who instructed the class to write for at least 15 minutes every day. Not for a month or a year, but forever. She said, “You might spend the entire 15 minutes changing around two words in a sentence. Or you might find inspiration and write for four hours straight.” Her point, of course, was that if you want to make writing (or anything) a part of your life, you will find 15 minutes in which to do it. Get off of Facebook. Stop checking your email every five minutes. Turn off the TV.

Write. Stretch. Write more.

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*Mari is a full-time writer/cartoonist and occasional yogini. Gary is just a damn good sport.

**My friend Fiona refers to this type of restorative yoga as “advanced napping”. She isn’t wrong.

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