Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Last call ...


[Cheever] spent most of his time in group therapy correcting his counsellor’s grammar. “Displaying much grandiosity and pride,” they wrote in their notes. “Very impressed with self.” Eventually he fell silent. Four weeks later he emerged, shaky, fragile and subdued. “Listen, Truman,” he told Truman Capote. “It’s the most terrible, glum place you can conceivably imagine. It’s really really, really grim. But I did come out of there sober.”

Gee, the place I went to was pretty pleasant, actually. What Don Newlove says is right on the money (and Those Drinking Days is probably the best book on the subject):
First you hang on to all your old romances about your illness, then you suck your old grandiosity for every drop that’s still in it, you vigorously emphasise your uniqueness among the clods who might be recovering with you, and then you defend to the death your right to self-destruction…Starting afresh meant that a massive part of his work so far was self-pity and breast-beating. That was the last mask he couldn’t rip off. It was like tearing the beard from his cheeks.
The copyeditor in me compels me to point out that the palpitations associated with liver disease are heart palpitations not liver palpitations. You can palpate the liver, though that is something quite different. The liver does not palpitate.


  1. Here is something from the article to which you have provided a link:

    "(Elmore Leonard said that attending AA meetings had made him a “better listener”.)"

    Amen, to that observation. Becoming a "better listener," as I discovered in similar circumstances, can become something like learning to perceive mirror-like reflections of the self in others. That alone is a powerful, sobering catalyst and is worth the expenditure of effort, erosion of ego, and exposure to epiphanies.

  2. Indeed so, R.T. Since I spent the bulk of my drinking days in vintage bars (no cocktail lounges for me) I already thought of myself as one more low-life, so I didn't have the ego problem when I went to dry out. I was just one more drunk on the permanently disabled list.

  3. There is no such thing as a "permanently disabled list" with respect to those who use and abuse alcohol; there are, however, those who die because of the use and abuse, so I figure avoiding room temperature is part of the recovery. It is strange, though, at least on the surface of the issue, that so many writers have their names linked to alcohol and drug abuse; closer inspection, however, would probably show that writers are simply a cross-section of the general population in that there is no shortage of drug and alcohol abuse throughout society.

  4. I think that is precisely right. Certainly, the people I rehabbed with were a representative sample.

  5. Becoming a better listener is ALWAYS a good thing. No matter what context, or situation, or art, or whatever. It's always a good thing.

    That's one of the very very few absolutes that I subscribe to.

    One that I do NOT subscribe to is that "all artists and writers are messed up," alcoholics being only one kind of victim, woundology, or cross to bear. (The list is long, but then, our culture really likes to promote victim archetypes anymore.) So I agree very much with the cross-section idea. Furthermore, there's a lot of great art made by people who never had to deal with addictions or other extreme circumstances. So fails another stereotype.

  6. Oh, I just noticed that the phrase "permanently disabled list." I have no idea why I used the word permanently. There is, as R.T. noted, no such thing.