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Estrangement in a Strange Land: Writing Wrongs

By Bob Woodiwiss · March 30th, 2005 · Estrangement in a Strange Land

God bless Jose Canseco. Really. God bless every rippling, bulging, disproportionate, fatless ounce of him. His admission, endorsement and portrayal of steroid use in the pursuit of baseball superstardom is, to me, both courageous and encouraging. Not because I'm an athlete (in fact, I chair the President's Council on Sloth) or a baseball fan (I root for the bats more than the ball) or because I have bitch tits, but because I believe it's high time young people hear the truth: Controlled substances are indispensable for attaining improbable goals, outperforming more gifted competitors, achieving overall greatness and, in the process, vastly improving one's income.

It is in this spirit of forthrightness I now state for the public record that, in order to facilitate and advance my writing career, I have frequently, copiously and willingly consumed a comprehensive hodgepodge of illegal and experimental liquids, pills, powders and vegetable matter/organic material. Let me also state, in the interest of full disclosure, that in the course of my career I've not only witnessed many of my peers and colleagues using but have often shared with and procured for them these same substances. More to the point, I feel certain had I never ingested such drugs I would still be a bland, aimlessly employed, unpublished nobody. Moreover, there can be no doubt that without the aid and comfort of powerful intoxicating ingestibles American literature, as we know it today, would not exist.

Permit me to make three important distinctions, however, between my story and the one Mr. Canseco tells in his book, Juiced. First, his audience is, obviously, athletes and sports fans; his is the voice of physicality, action, brute strength. I, on the other hand, wish to reach out to the artist, the non-jock. I want to make absolutely sure those sensitive individuals who choose to plumb and express the depths of their souls know that chemical shortcuts and enhancements are available to them, too.

Second, it's vital that young people struggling to decide between a life of the body and a life of the mind make an informed choice. As I see it, the sporting life is one of routine, shooting syringe after syringe of joltless, joyless hard-to-score 'roids and/or growth hormone into one's own ass. Conversely, writers gorge from a vast buffet of abusables, most of which are readily available through proven outlets/street corner dealers; require no medical supervision; and, best of all, are infinitely more enjoyably, enticingly mind-enfucking. Choose wisely.

Third, unlike the relatively recent introduction of performance enhancers to athletics, controlled substances and intoxicants in the service of art have a long, proud, proven history. They've not only provided succor, anesthesia and/or lubrication to innumerable authors, they've been the source, the grist, the lens for countless more. Writers from Poe to Kerouac, Hemingway to Kesey, Faulkner to Thompson make it painfully clear: Get thee to a pharmacy. Or at least a package store.

But enough theory, I've got particulars. What follows are excerpts from my upcoming, tell-all book, Suppression, Inebriation, Expression: A Writer's Suite.

As a struggling, unpublished author, I snuck into the PEN/Faulkner Award ceremonies. After meeting and shaking hands with Bret Easton Ellis, I (naturally) went to the men's room to wash off. While drying my hands, a stall door, through the kismet of a faulty latch, slowly swung open. Inside it, clearly discernable in the room's harsh florescent light, was a wild-eyed, tousled John Updike, disposable lighter in hand, firing up a rock at the end of Kurt Vonnegut's crack pipe. They met my stunned gaze with neither panic nor embarrassment.

"Not all your demons can be expunged on the page," Vonnegut choked, the crack cloud trapped deep in his lungs.

To which Updike added, "C'm'ere 'n' take a hit, m' man. Write about it with some subtext later."

Thus did I gain a mentor.

Oaxaca. 1994. I was getting nowhere on my first book, unless writing the "Note about the Type" blurb is "somewhere." I traced my low energy/output to the toaster oven-sized brick of hashish I'd scored and couldn't stop going at. It was like I was Carnie Wilson and the hash was, well, anything remotely foodlike.

One day, while toking a bowl with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I mentioned my predicament. His response was to reach in his jacket pocket and take out a baggie fat with tiny white tabs. "Madre's Little Helpers," he said, tossing them on the table. "Without 'em, One Hundred Years of Solitude woulda taken 100 years to write."

Sure enough, by the following morning I had a 300-page manuscript. By the morning after that, I'd gone back and broken it into sentences. And by dawn of the third day, I was back in my languorous hash groove.

Big blast at Maya Angelou's. Along about 4 a.m., I'm in her kitchen showing Maya, Philip Roth, David Mamet and Don DeLillo the finer points of speedballs. Roth is strapped off, veins popped. But he's nervous, sweaty, too. He says, "I'm more a snorter than a shooter." Whereupon I jab the spike home. Plunge in the goods. His eyelids fall, posture melts.

Maya, quoting herself, says, "History, despite its wrenching pain/Cannot be unlived, and if faced/With courage, need not be lived again."

Roth, barely there, eyelids fluttering, croaks, "Hey, Maya, put a sock in it."

BOB WOODIWISS: His column appears here the last issue of each month. His book, Keys to Uncomfortable Living, a collection of humorous and satirical essays, is in bookstores now.


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