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Stereotype: writers use drugs. Lots of them. Various types at various times. Their own gourmet blend or whatever they can lay their hands on. Drugs. You are a creative person, are you not? You are under a lot of stress. Drugs help. Drugs are good. Drugs relax you, they stimulate your mind, they let you go down whole new avenues. They open you up. They let you think. They help you admit yourself to yourself. You realize again what you think, what you have, what you want to say. You fall on your pen. And then, when you are ready, they send you off to sleep.

Here is the rule. If you are American, and a writer, your drug of choice is historically required to be alcohol. That is, unless you are a very beat-oriented type, in which case your favorite substance ranges over a wide swath at various times. American writers drink. They drink socially, casually, seriously; they drink themselves into the ground. They drink bourbon. They drink whisky. They drink scotch. They drink good beer with dinner, or Labatt's if they are currently in the starving writer category. They do not traditionally drink wine, except on special occasions. I don't know anyone out of school whose drink of choice is vodka. A good gin and tonic is appreciated, especially in the summer. Mostly, however, they drink the colored liquors. They drink them strong, they drink them straight.

What ho, William Faulkner. Glad to see you. Sit down and we'll open that case the movie studio sent you. Come on down, Frank O'Hara. Have an Old Fashioned. Here you are, John Steinbeck, with your bottles cradled in the back of your truck. That's right neighborly of you. Sit down and let me pour you one.

You go to the bar after work or school with your notebook (like you do) and your books and your whatever work you have to do -- everything is work for you -- and you order a Manhattan, you order a double Jameson's on the rocks, you order a bourbon sour. You order your drinks and you drink them. You drink absently, leaning on your shotglass hand as the other holds the pen. You sip and ruminate. You toss the shot straight back. You warm a mouthful delicately in your throat. You set down the glass with a permanent, pleasing, weighty thump.

Here you are, o William Faulkner, in my hand, warming to my skin. Here you are in my glass, Ernest Hemingway. Here you are.

And here you are. With your friends, with your cohort, with your peers and mentors and professors. You argue, you discuss, you expound; you are loud and annoying and together. You work. You are all equal over the strip of polished wood, all watching one another in the mirror, the rows on rows of shining bottles reflecting themselves back. You are in the bar, you are around your kitchen table, you are in your room at your own desk. You hold your glass up, golden, to the light.

Poets Drink Wine

And eat grapes. And eat cheese. For the most part, these three things are piled precariously onto a tiny plastic plate at receptions after stuffy readings where the Famous Poet (the one you can only hope to be like, but can never hope to be) reads his poems in a lilting voice that makes each line sound like a question.

So the proper poet handles the post reading reception like this: the plate (covered in cheese and grapes, remember) is in the left hand, the clear plastic wine cup is held in the right. However, this leaves no hands free for eating said cheese and grapes. What is a starving artist to do?

There's a balancing act that needs to be performed here, a juggling where the plate may be balanced on top of the wine cup for brief moments, giving a free hand for nibbling at the cheese. Then there’s the matter of the napkin, which can be clutched in the palm of either hand. All this needs to be performed inconspicuously, as you namedrop the names of your poetry professors or the poets you saw read last month.

The important thing to remember throughout this ordeal is that your goal is to get as drunk as possible on free wine, and get your protein requirements from the free cheese, all the while appearing both aloof and interested in the conversation around you. Good luck!

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