When a writer turns to alcohol: Boozing it up with the ‘Blackdog’ crew

Cheers! All three of the runaway menopausal women in my novel are drinkers. Two of them have, or have had, legal and health issues linked to alcohol. They all experience heavier night sweats when they drink. But hot flashes don’t stop them from self-medicating for a variety of other ailments during ever-present Happy Hour.

As I write about their beer-guzzling exploits, which take me places where women of good morals normally fear to tread, I find myself sitting in judgment. How could anyone relate to these rough-and-ready Gretchen Wilson truck-stop babe wannabes far past legal age and well over the blood-alcohol limit?

Then I ask myself: Who among us hasn’t had a few, or a few too many? The bras hanging from the ceiling of the infamous Coyote Ugly bar franchise are evidence enough that many liberated ladies like their liquor and a good story to tell in the morning – if they remember, that is.

Cyndi Lauper was right. Girls just wanna have fun. They want to find that free and open space somewhere between naughty and nice where they can feel (with a nod to Shania Twain) like a woman.

An elderly lady in a very proper cap-sleeved white shirt and royal blue-and-white polyester pantsuit looked at my hand and then took it the other day in the EconoFoods bottle-deposit machine area, where empty pop and beer bottles and cans are fed through a conveyor-belt system which then poots out a refund slip. “You’re married,” she said, eyes twinkling, smile merry.

“Yes. You too, I see.”

“Thirty-six years,” she said.

“Thirty-three for me,” I said. “That’s terrific!”

“We should go out for a drink sometime,” she said, as a nice young male grocery store attendant changed the full bins and her husband inserted their bottles into the machine. “We could have a beer. I like wine better. A glass of wine makes me horny.”

I gently disengage my hand.

“Oh, that’s nice,” I say, my smile frozen because it doesn’t know if it wants to stay or disappear. I tell myself I’ll enjoy this odd moment later. As I move to the reprogrammed machine next to her husband and begin inserting my returnables with the UPC code up (they’re less likely to be rejected that way) I can feel her still watching me. Anyone who doesn’t believe in the effect of the full moon is crazy. The moon does bring the kooky out, delightful or otherwise.

So does booze.

A male friend whose judgment is questionable once told me “You’re more fun to be around when you’re drinking.”

A part of me felt like smacking him (my hand was literally tingling). Another part was absurdly pleased, as if I’d been given blanket permission thereafter to have a few/a few too many.

But lately, in part because someone close to me has been sharing her journey through the 12 steps, I find myself drinking less often and drinking less, period, when I do choose to have a cocktail.

Watching others drink when I’m not has literally been a sobering experience. My stints as a bartender were particularly eye-opening.

Ever notice how some people get lovey-dovey and others turn nasty? While there are some commonalities (lessening of inhibition and coordination) it seems we’re all like snowflakes, no pattern exactly the same in how we hold our liquor. Because of body weight and chemistry, women tend to get smashed faster than their male counterparts.

Many of us let go of secrets when we’re drinking. In my novel, Hailey, Robin and Trish demonstrate the loosened-tongue effect of what one of my bar customers so aptly termed “talking water.” Though they’ve only known each other for days, my trio of runaways get to know each other on a deeper level because they drink.

Female relationships with alcohol are discussed in-depth on the very interesting website http://www.drinkingdiaries.com . Celebrations, revelations and commiserations abound. It’s the same with Hailey, Bonnie and Trish, who seem to be both attracted and repelled by bars, along with the cases of beer that Capt. Bonnie is compelled to keep fully stocked at all times on her boat.

When I write about their drinking exploits, I’m drawn to have a beer myself. This impulse is particularly dangerous in the morning. Bartenders are also susceptible to the power of attraction. While my gig behind the bar was a useful exercise (and the tips came in mighty handy), I am not cut out for more than a short stint at this profession. The dark aura sucked me in. I didn’t like waking up with the day half gone.

As fiction writers we are not our characters. But because we incorporate consciously and unconsciously so much of who we are through our intake filters, the characters seep into us as we merge with them on that vast plain of make-believe.

Some of the greatest writers were legendary drinkers. Hemingway’s exploits go far beyond the creation of the iconic daiquiri. Fitzgerald;, Hellman; London; Poe; Faulkner; Parker; Cheever; Joyce; Capote; Thomas; Kerouac; Williams … the list of literary imbibers goes on and on.

Hemingway may have said “A man does not exist until he is drunk,” but that isn’t the writer’s cue to mix a stiff one, any more than wearing a flowing, ruffled white shirt, lighting candles and daubing a quill pen into the inkwell in a rough-hewn attic retreat will prompt you to produce great poetry. Alcohol is not an essential ingredient in the formula of a Great American Novel. Good books are written in spite of the personal habits and mind-altering substances employed by their authors.

And so, a toast – to Hailey, Robin and Trishie, whose journey in my novel “More Than You Think You Know” is nearly complete. May their fate be more peaceful than the hard-drinking heroines of fact and fiction who came before them.

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