Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Drinking then writing, or writing and drinking? Just don't kid yourself. And then there's Wikileaks...

Just home from work after a drink with a friend who had persuaded me that as the weather was cold and miserable, we should treat ourselves to a whisky. I had a one to one whisky and Drambuie (officially a Rusty Nail, unofficially a Drambuies Shandy) and as that first went down well, I treated myself to two more. I don’t have far to walk home, and I had written at least three quite brilliant novels by the time I arrived there. Alan Bennett was once asked whether he ‘wrote when he drank’. No, he said, he didn’t, but he often ‘drank when he wrote’. This might sound as though the chap were being disingenuous, but there is a difference. In a way it’s related to ‘the urge to be creative’ and the ‘ability to be creative’. And the distinction between the latter two is probably a little clearer than that between ‘drinking and writing’ and ‘writing and drinking’. How often have you, dear reader (and forgive that rather arch address, but I am encouraged that bit by bit rather more people are reading this blog and I do prefer to address you directly) – how often have you walked home from the pub (the bar in Med countries), your belly full of booze and your heart full of optimism and faith in your talents and ability, and felt moved to create? You pick up your guitar and start strumming, you sit down at your desk and take out a pen and paper or you switch on your PC or laptop (as I have just done) and start writing, you find a pencil and start doodling or perhaps you even haul out your oils and start painting. And all because the booze has rather raddled your judgment and led you to believe that what you are now appreciating – the stars, the city lights, a woman’s beauty, the sounds, whatever it is must be immortalised, or at the very least, recorded. And how often have you read what you wrote, listen to what you recorded (something I have done far too often since computers and software made it all so easy) or look at what you drew and though: Lord what crap. Incidentally, as a former fan and long-term user of cannabis I should add that what I write here applies just as much to smoking, sniffing or, I suppose, though I have never tried it, injecting as boozing. The result is the same: if you are only in the slightest bit honest, you are obliged to admit that what you produced was unadulterated crap. But that is ‘writing while drinking’. ‘Drinking while writing’ might not necessarily be so unproductive, although there always comes a point where you are obliged to call it a day – or, more probably, a night – because the quality of what is being produced is becoming pretty dire.
I should imagine everyone reading this has, as I described above, had a skinful or two and persuaded him or herself that as far as artists go, they have the right stuff. But appreciation does not amount to a creatively ability and nor does a desire to be creative mean that you have what it takes. Any teen who has attempted verse and poetry will be all too familiar with the illusion that intense feeling equals high art. But no, it doesn’t. Intense feeling can lead to the creation of high art, but is by no means the same thing. As for booze, or cannabis or, I should imagine cocaine or heroin, the one thing they most definitely do is to cloud your judgment. That is why one of the best pieces of advice given to a writer is to write, then put aside what he or she has written for a day or two, and then to read it with a dispassionate and critical eye. You'll soon edit it down and might throw it out entirely. One of the best pieces of advice that one can take to heart is that it doesn’t necessarily matter who you bullshit as long as you never, ever bullshit yourself. Unfortunately, that is something all of us do all too often. I know I do, even though I know full well I shouldn’t. It’s at its worst when I think, as I tell myself, as I sometimes do, ‘you’re a pretty down-to-earth sort of chap, Patrick.’ It’s at the moment if thinking as much that I realise that I’m not and have quite a long way to go before I am. And even writing that last bit doesn’t change a thing. Or even that last bit. Or even that bit. Or even that. If you’ve been there, which I suspect you have, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about. If not, this blog isn’t for you. Oh, Lord.
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By way of drawing breath, I should tell those who might not know who Alan Bennett is who he is. He is a playwright and writer who first came to prominence as one of the four Cambridge graduates who wrote and performed a revue called Beyond The Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival. All four – the other three are Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore – all went on to have successful careers of one kind or another. Cook and Moore are now dead, Cook ending his life as an alcoholic, and Moore having made several bad marriages. Miller went on to direct theatre and opera and has become a darling of the cultural London establishment (and, as far as I’m concerned, seems to take himself just a little too seriously). I have just looked up the history of Beyond The Fringe and learny a little more. The show was, in fact, put together by an impresario specifically to perform at the Festival. It didn’t actually do too well, but found success when it transferred to London. Bennett has become something of a grande dame in Britain about whom no one has a bad word to say. And he is remarkably unpretentious, with a very dry wit which is usually a delight. I have not seen any of his plays, but I have seen one or two of the films for which he wrote the screenplay, most notably The History Boys, which was based on his play of the same name. It was OK, and I suspect the – longer – play upon which is based was rather better. The film almost seems to proselytise for homosexuality, and I found that theme rather odd and a tad hamfisted at that. Bennett has in recent years come out as gay, although it is not quite as clear-cut in that as he was also linked to a woman for many years although quite what the nature of their relationship was I don’t know. Anyway, that is Alan Bennett. But back to ‘creating’ and the fact that boozing can make us think we are far better at doing what we want to do than we really are.

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I hadn’t actually been drinking last night when I decided to write about the Wikileaks revelations, but on reflection I thought my views were rather crap and didn’t add my two ha’porth to this blog after all. But the whole affair still does make me wonder. First of all, how on earth can the Americans be so stupid as to have a system which reportedly allows something like two and a half million of their employees around the world – from enlisted men to I don’t know who else – access to the database of emails from diplomatic staff? It is breathtaking in its naivety. They have made themselves look remarkably silly, although I can’t really see that a great deal of damage has been done. What I find far more interesting is Julian Assange, his merry gang of leakers at Wikileaks and his motives. Why is he doing it? The obvious answer that it is all in the interests of ‘openness’ doesn’t convince me for one second. Just how ‘empowered’ are we for knowing what we know? Rather less than we might think. Of course, for the media this is a great story, but in all honesty there is not a great deal to it. I’m sure the Saudis are rather peeved that their private thoughts about the Iranians have been aired, but I would be very surprised if the Iranians were fully aware of those thoughts and have been for some time. Likening Russia’s president Medvedev as Robin to prime minister Putin’s Batman won’t exactly massage his ego but I can’t see anyone in the Kremlin losing any sleep over the matter. As far as Russia is concerned no one in the West has the faintest clue as to what is going on. In these past few days I have heard both that there is a growing ‘rift’ between Medvedev and Putin and that they are still the same double act that they always were. Both claims can’t be true, and I am more inclined to go with the Mutt and Jeff routine. But whatever the ture explanation is, Wikileaks revelations will do very little to alter the course of the river. As for the claim that U.S. diplomats were allegedly urged ‘to spy’ on Ban Ki Moon and other UN officials, the former British ambassador to the UN rather devalued it this morning on the radio. He pointed out that the diplimats were urged to do whatever ‘was possible’ and that they all knew full well that any outright spying and similar skulduggery was pretty much ‘impossible’ if they wanted to remain effective as diplomats. These revelations have most certainly caused the U.S. a certain amount of embarrassment, but they can live with that, and know they can live with that. What could be going on? Will we ever find out? You know, I don’t think we ever will.

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