Since I turned eleven years old, when my grandfather died as I blew out my birthday candles, I have understood the intimate relationship between emotions and the written word.
Sadness is incredibly potent for sitting down and barrelling through page after page of what often turns out to be a treasure trove of usable content. There is something special about life’s most uncomfortable moments that can help create some of life’s most beautiful stanzas.
This is why I used to find solace in drinking a bottle of wine, reflecting on something painful, past or present, and tapping away on the keys until something special had been unearthed. I never found answers to my problems at the bottom of a bottle, but I often found a turn of phrase that seemed to make it worthwhile to open a second.
A bottle of whiskey is hidden in the dining room hutch, unopened. A few times over this past month, I’ve stared at it, wondering to myself if within it contains a new piece, song lyrics, or a passageway to a place where words are painted onto the blank page, a page that seems to be longing for the same inspiration I am seeking.
It remains unopened.
It will be three years since I have been drunk in a week, and the battle over what to use to inspire new work is a daily fight. Truthfully, I had to come up with this piece you are reading to get out of the slump I have been in for over a month.
I have barely written a word during that time. And until I woke up this morning.
Professionally, I’ve never been better. I have a book deal, a popular podcast, and a slew of ideas floating around my head for future projects. But the book is non-fiction, requiring discipline more than a flair for creativity. The podcast involves endurance for show-running – booking guests and researching backgrounds – but none speaks to anything I have inside that is based on a visceral need to be a professional creative writer.
I am inspirationally bankrupt, and I thought it was due to sobriety.
A friend and I are practitioners of the ancient art of gallows humor, finding the punchline or stanza inside life’s worst moments. Whenever something tragic happens, we often ping each other with a simple message – “it’s good for writing.” Emotions are just as easy to stir as a stiff drink, tumbling words onto the screen as if they are writing themselves.
When I woke up this morning and realized these words do not appear out of thin air, I sat down and wrote the piece you are currently reading, and all of a sudden, things became clear to me.
I don’t need sadness or alcohol to write anymore, and I haven’t for three years. It was just the echo of the old me pining for something I sometimes believe I’ve lost. It just takes more work than cracking the seal of a bottle.
Sometimes you have to crack open yourself instead. Inside, you might find memories of an old love or remnants of a life you used to live. I found something just as valuable – a man toiling with his old self, like a sparring partner in the world’s longest-running shadowboxing title fight, a fight I always lose by winning.
The bottle will remain unopened. I was more of a wine guy anyway, but the more important lesson I’ve learned is the following – if you are going to be a baby, James, at least use those tears as the ink for something new rather than something to make excuses over.