A Bong, a Typewriter, and a Jew Walk Into a Bar…

11 Apr

When I was in film school, I took a class that was basically Acting for Directors. It was the only time I ever had to play “Tree.” (More on why film school is a bad idea in a future post.) One of the students asked the teacher whether she thought that getting high could help an actor’s craft. The teacher said that it helps some people and doesn’t help others. (Reason No. 25 that film school is a bad idea: teachers won’t be honest/critical with you because it might make you mad/sad.)

I was thinking about that class when I saw this in the Daily Dish (which continues here and here). The original question was whether cannabis can increase an artist’s creativity.

I wanted to address this from the perspective of someone who has actually done this: I used to smoke pot and write. Specifically, I would get high and then drink a lot of coffee. The pot opened up my mind, and the coffee focused me. Or so I thought.

It seemed to work because my writing definitely improved. Oh, wait….no it didn’t. I only thought it improved because I was writing while I was high. Everything is better when you’re stoned. Going to the dentist is better when you’re stoned.

What I was actually doing was what many writers do – finding a reason not to write.

Getting blitzed wasn’t helping me write, it was helping me get blitzed.  Writing was pleasurable, getting stoned was pleasurable, marrying the two seemed like a really good idea at the time. Though I was probably baked when I got that idea.

(In actuality, writing was never “pleasurable” per se. Writing has always been quite difficult, and I was probably self-herbalizing to make the writing easier. But writing should never be easy.)

I have no problems with people getting high or getting drunk. But those are things we do to relax.

Sometimes I relax by getting together with some friends to play poker. We drink beer and have a good time.  The most I ever lose is around a hundred dollars. Nothing big. But if I were a professional poker player, would I drink while playing? Doubtful.

My friend is a nurse. After he gets off work he goes home and smokes some stanky danky. He gets high, relaxes, streams a few episodes of Portlandia, has a couple of fluffernutters (the sandwich, I mean), goes to bed, and the next day he’s back at the hospital. Sober.

Doctors don’t (hopefully) operate under the influence. Teachers shouldn’t smoke up before class. Most jobs are best performed sober.

Writing is no different. Writing is (at least for me, and for many others who either get paid to do it, or hope to get paid to do it) a job. It’s a profession. If I have a few beers or that rare puff off a joint, I can still come up with some really good ideas (“what if instead of the Judeo-Christian religions, our modern world still worshipped the Greek gods?”). Basically I can brainstorm really really well when I’m stoned. But what I cannot do is take these brainstorms and craft a fully functioning story while under the influence of the red-headed Mary Jane.

Most writing is editing, reediting, trying to find the correct word to describe Sir Roderick Derbyshire’s demeanor (“punctilious” or” persnickety”), rewriting, making sure all the than/thens are correct, hating your writing, feeling sorry for yourself, rererewriting, cutting out long passages that are wonderfully written but do not work within the confines of the story, rerererewriting, curling up in a fetal mass while listening to Billie Holiday, rererererewriting, and finally accepting the fact that the damned thing is as done as it’s gonna get, and write “The End.” Then you can crack the bottle of Black Label and get your icky all sticky.

Basically, most of writing is revising. And most of revising is recognizing the Bad in the writing, and changing it. But when you’re stoned everything is good.

One more thing. I know a lot of creative types who say “I am not going on anti-depressants, they’ll change who I am and get rid of my creativity.”

Bullshit.  I was one of those people too. But then I acquiesced. What I learned was that depression (mine is fairly mild compared to most, but it’s still there) is another thing that creates excuses for inactivity. The typical utterance from a mild depressive is “Nah, I’ll do it later.” The typical utterance from a stoned writer is “Dude, I’ll write the great American novel next week, but this is some primo ganj, pass the Cheetos and mayo.”

Whether drugs make a person more creative or not is beside the point. What they do for most is make us lazy, content, and completely uncritical of our work (or our lives for that matter). Simply put – it makes us amateurs.

(Author’s note: sorry for the delay in today’s post. I know that both of my readers eagerly anticipate my new column every week, and I greatly appreciate your loyalty. Unfortunately, I scored some dank herbage and was baking it into brownies when my oven caught my apron on fire and I tried to douse it with water but it was actually vodka so I called 9-1-1 but they sent the cops not the fire department and I had to explain to the fuzz why my apartment smelled like the remnants of a Phish concert, my computer died.)

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