...After 8 years of just being dapperly drunk all the time writer David Von Behren endeavors to go 40 days without slurping an alcoholic libation, living to tell the tale by blogging about his daily snorkel into sobriety one day at a time, airing out his liver like fresh spring linen, forgoing the substance that has been his creative rod and staff in order to chronicle the dreams of all mankind...
Over the last eight years I’ve been drinking on an
avg. between 12- 20 plus beers a day, poetically pounding beers the way I
wrote, as ifvibrating Trojan pistons
were burrowed beneath the tips of my fingers, scurrilously typing, undressing
the powdery Victorian girdle of the page, biting into the shoulder blade of
each sentence, leaving inky teeth remnants in the form of Pabst Blue ribbon parenthesis,
bruising my lips into the indented porcelain neck of each paragraph, a
well-hewn continent of language and literary longing stripped and then applied
like paint thinner before nipple pinching the poetry out from every solitary
syllable, endeavoring to bend language over and phuck every article, every
conjunction, every clause from every conceivable orifice, from every
alphabetical angle, entering and exiting vowels in subtle thrusts and
exasperating huffs—the post-prom backseat bridal chamber of the page where
everything is tight and new and after ten sloshing hours of consecutively slapping
sentences together like meat on a Super Bowl hoagie until everything feels
almost childlike and just virginal incipient spring-budding fresh and I can
finally, somehow crash in a nocturnal copse of peace.
This has been my writing routine for the last eight
years and, unless I’m at work, I almost always have a beer (or twelve) cracked
open, adorning my writing desk like votive candles displayed at an iconic
late-twenty something rock star’s untimely drug-overdosed shrine, vacuous beer
receptacles arrayed in the fashion of glass amber relay batons or seminally
crushed aluminum chess pieces or carbonated bubbly townhouse chimneys or just
plain scattered in defeat cosigning the loss of human dreams.
This has been writing process for the last eight
years and I honestly just haven’t been able to stop. And since I’ve primarily
been working thirds since (shit) spring 2000 my daily routine has been this:
Wake up at 9:45 pm, drink a pot of coffee, arrive at work at 10:30pm. Brew
another pot of coffee. Work an eight hour shift (usually six days a week),
endeavoring in earnest to avoid the whizzing slot machine of social media
networks, monopolize too much time flirting with various cyber-visages plopping like buttons in the pixilated slate in
front of me before swearing off facebook forever ad infinitum amen after I espy
a picture of the love of my life with her current short-hair cheap cologne beau
and then blasting off,writing for four
hours straight sliding head first Pete Rose Johnny Hustle style into the home plate of each alphabetical emblem, all
the while juggling my romantic and literary ambitions with a very menial-paying
job that I feel blessed to have because it avails me ample time just simply to
write my ass off.
Après work I’d arrive home via one of the three liquor
stores in proximity to my apartment.I
used to be an hardcore cork-dork swilling hoity-toity haplessly haute oenophile
(until I realized that impecunious writers just aren’t blessed to be in that
burgundy tax bracket) and I always enjoy a good cocktail esp. if it is dashed
with a splash of angostura bitters (and lets not forget single malt scotches
that’s been aged in oak casks since before my current girlfriend had her first
period), but the last eight years have seen both my liver and my waistline
succumb to craft beers, microbrews, IPA’s,anything that is poured employing a pump cask in the British Isles that
has no assoc. to Stella Artois whatsoever. I’m talking ales and stouts with 6
plus alcoholic content per pint. Beer that erupts in an applause of minty hops
the moment it hits your palate and jump kicks into the skeletal-stein of your
anatomy. Beer that leaves sudsy latitudinal residue on the interior of the
chalice after each swig transiently demarcating its territory in hyphenated
rips of foam.
Beer that has its own area code.
Beer that just refuses to die.
In his book ‘On Writing’ Stephen King writes about
spending years drunk at the oak stump of his writing desk drunk off his
Shinning-inflicted ass, wildly hacking away into the pecking scowl of his
smith-corona, drunk feeling like (paraphrasing cause I gave the book away), “ feeling
like the captain on a prow of a ship steering a vessel headed for nowhere.”
This is how, for some reason I have decided to write
as well, genuflecting at my writing desk from 9am to 4 pm, breaking into the
hymen of narrative-threading consciousness, listening to music (sometimes
opera, usually early Metallica), and always drinking beer, reciting poems,
sporadically pacing back and forth, noting the way my apartment captures
tangerine shades of light like a freshly mixed vodka screwdriver pausing with
almost spiritual deference to listen to the Writers’ Almanac, crushing beer
after beer until four-thirty in the afternoon when my body capitulates and more
or less passes out into a creative coma of unconsciousness for five hours
before waking up and starting the routine all over again.
Two weeks ago I scribed this massive ten-page poem
for what turned out to be my encore reading at a literary series I loved. The
poem was entitled ‘Colloquialism’ and was an audience participation poem where
the crowd was invited to carol out the colloquial, “I know, right?” in shoulder
tilting airheadesque verbal concurrence every time the narrator tells them an
astronomical fact. The poem was composed in about 70 hours of just being in the
zone feverishly pecking away into the drywall of the screen in a caricatured
cumulus of incessant tobacco puffs. During the zone period there was about a
five hour period where I indulged in this spiritual coitus with the page and somehow
in those five hours I drowned 25 beers like I was an intercontinental keg stand-champ returning to a friendly fraternity case-race
competition being hailed with Red SOLO cups, palsied palm-Sunday hosanna’s
lauding my drinking duress. I crashed at my keyboard for three hours, and
starting slamming both beer and words into the coastlines of my craft once
This is how I have composed my novels and poems for the last eight years
and this is why I have decided to (somehow) take a hiatus from my daily dose of
hop-fused hedonism and go 40 days without slurping an alcoholic libation and
live to tell the tale by blogging about my daily snorkel into sobriety one day
at a time.Airing out my liver like
fresh spring linen, forgoing the substance that has been my creative rod and
staff in order to chronicle and write
about my dreams, proclivities and vices (be it booze, literary ambitions or
feminine failure) as honestly as I fucking can all w/out the urgency and aegis
of alcoholic bliss.
Those who know me know that I’m an affable lush. Out
of the eight vehicles I have had registered in my name in this lifetime I’ve
never once garnered a DUI. When I’m out
partying and a political and/or philosophical debate ensues I’m more than happy
to let the fellow interlocutor win all the while buying him several rounds
during the exegesis of his discourse. I’ve done some unforgivable shit while blitzed (two things which I’ll blog
about later) but for the most part I’m very Falstaffian in my drinking
fetishes, there’s always laughter, I’m quick to crack flippant witticisms.
Every night I have had off from work in the past eight years has found me
carelessly brachiating from barstool to barstool dervishly drowning in whatever
drink sprouted in front of my vision like a lilac in spring. There’s nothing
like going out and buying rounds and making out with a cute girl in a random
bathroom stall but shit somehow (circa 2005) my drinking supplanted my literary
ambitions by becoming a full time hobby. A craft beer career, or rather bluntly
stated with the refreshing use of a colon:Drinking all the time while blathering on swiveled barstools was just
something I am insanely good at, or, as my cool bartending Bride Traci at the
Owl’s Nest has monikered, my “drinking talents.”
Somehow in my late-twenties I started drinking in my
various apartments around the clock and in the last eight years I can count the
number of times on one hand that I have gone five days w/out getting imminently
smashed. In the last 8 years I have not
read a book without groping a beer like a scepter in my free hand. In the last
eight years I have not watched a movie or witnessed a sporting event with
chugging the hell out of a libation on my own metaphysical sidelines. I’m
somewhat of a nature freak and used to live on about twenty-acres of woods and
always on my daily foliage-ridden jaunts were always accompanied by an aluminum
banquet of cold ones.
Since I turned 21 there has been no family function,
no jingoistic summertime barbecue, no seasonal holiday, no nuptial gathering,
no funeral where I was not completely hammered. My cousin who was born in 1994
and is completing her frosh. year in college has no recollection of seeing her
writer cousin w/out a beer in paw at any family fete she has obligatorily
attended. In the last decade I have had sex only once (it was ‘spiritual
Aristophanes-heralding sex,’ it felt like my heart was going to ejaculate into
the spiritual ovum of her Botticelli halo) without lubricatingmy tryst-oriented bedroom breadcrumb
sentences with some sort of sudsy swill. The highlight of my week is Sunday
smoking cigars, the cultural-beast that is the weekend New York Times sprawled
across the prow of my writing desk like a recently unearthed glove-compartment
atlas, pounding beer while drinking coffee and writing, blasting NPR on
high-volume, trying to augment my intellectual virility by beating the call-in contestant on the weekend puzzler while being totally soused.
This is the life I have chosen for myself and (for a
long time) I thought it was involuntary, because all my older male writer
friends were drunk all the time. Though I had written thousands of pages,
burrowing myself in monastic isolation somehow around 2005 I just started
writing while pounding beers like verdict sentencing gavels.
The incumbent forty days is my self-diagnosis. My
forty days of self-discovery.My forty
days to try to insightfully discern why I feel the unerring need to drink so
fucking much. I’ll be writing about the crazy times I’ve had with the sauce,
eschewing the bandwagon of sobriety like it was a fording raft disassembling on
the Oregon Trail, but I’ll also be investigating spiritual matters, addiction,
poetry, longing, creative-vocations that pay shit, about scathing emotional
welts unalloyed love, and something else. Something wound deep that is
There’s an old barroom bachelor joke about the
reason why beer is better than a woman is because beer, “Doesn’t use up all of
your toilet paper and a beer is always wet.”
Beer has been my best friend for over a decade. It
has always been there for me. It has never fucked me over or cheated on me.
When my late-father told me that I would never be a writer because, “God might
not want me to be a writer,” alcohol gave me the strength the bow into the page
and to make me feel significant. When My mom told me that she couldn’t give me
a loan even though she had just given a substantial amount of money to
siblings, alcohol was my crutch. Every break up of the heart alcohol has held the fissures of my chest together like glue. In a career riddled with rejection letters
from self-deemed nepotistic journals no one subscribes to much less reads, beer
has never rejected me.
It has elevated me.
It has made me feel loved.
But the reason I feel compelled to jettison my
addiction (and it is an addiction that’s starting to gnaw away like a hamster
at my health) is because of something deeper. More than anything else, more
than cracking open a twelve pack while swan diving into my latest literary
project for hours on end feeling like a whirlwind artist losing all notion of the
vagaries of time as I compose—more than anything else I want to grow, I want to grow in every facet of my life. I
want to spend the next forty days slaying skidding fears while quashing decade
old anxieties, transitioning doubts into disintegrating motes of forgotten
dust. I want to slough the jarring psychological pigments of the past in a
reptilian skein of dead flakes.I want
to nakedly joust the emotional impediments that has pinned and manacled my
burgeoning manhood into the anchoring port of the pain that is yesterday for so
I want to grow.
Campbell once poetically posited: Death to the infantile ego, birth to the Mature.
I want the used maxi-pad of my heart, with all its suicidal
welts and crimson splotches, to heal. I
want to come to peace with the failed campaign of my foundering romantic foibles.
I want to forgive the females who have hurt me and to apologize to those whom I
have gratuitously fucked over.
Through all my poetic partying I never (never)
poured a sudsy libation into the laundry chute of my anatomy without having a
deep desire to know everything about the pulse of this planet, inhaling the
oxygen composing this artistic atmosphere of this spiritual stratosphere, the
place I, for a terse finite hiccup in linear history of what is perceived of
time find myself to be a part of (what an honor. To be massaged into the
fleeting echo that is the modulating fabric of time!!! To be a part of all
this!) and while I’m more apt to experience withdrawal oriented shakes then I
am to experience hangovers, priding myself at being the last man standing after
a night of excess— over the past couple of years’ I have been sick, i.e.; I’m sick of hurting all the time. Sick of
feeling like my literary career has something in common with the Joycean notion
of human paralysis, the author, lost in a labyrinthine maze of his own deluded
Dublin. I’m sick of my chest feeling like something viable in the third
trimester is kicking and pleating before being aborted.
Sick of feeling like I need to pour a vat of
alcoholic ambrosia into my anatomy in order to fuel the diesel of my
Sick of feeling like I need to get fucked up on a
daily basis to feel like a sentient and worthy human being.
Part of the
reason we come to fiction (and maybe even certain religious ideologies) is
thathuman beings harbor an innate
desire for growth and that real change, true growth is at times just plain
fucking lonely and arduous and psychologically daunting and hard and that the
part of our brain that recognizes this neurological tautology really gets off by vicariously experiencing
change and growth via the stories’ of the (in my case hardcore literary) protagonists’
floating in front of us in a pointillist-haze of words. Whether it’s Leopold
Bloom findingmetaphysical singularity
in an Irish brothel with Stephen Daedalus or Holden Caulfield drying out in
psyche ward reminiscing over how fucked up he got over the first days of winter
break.We want to be vicariously
strapped in the greaser forehead of ol’ Sal and Dean as they aimlessly motor
cross-country in a Benzedrine-fueled frenzy or carousel in the twisted psyche
of Humbert Humbert as he validates his pedophiliac propensities connoting both
his sin and his soul. We want to have an incestuous threesome with Catherine
and Heathcliff under the cobbled used tea-bag colored clouds of the British
countryside; we want tocommiserate with
the materialistic vacuity and loneliness of Nick Carraway as he contemplates in
his forever solitude that even Gatsby believed in that green light.
We want to feel that the mawkishly-addled Prince of
Denmark is talking solely to our own philosophical pandering’s as he ponders
aloud a simple query of being.
This is how poetry and literature and overall good
writing works. It not only takes us places we have never been before, it
transforms us.It penetrates our
membranes and infiltrates our cells and changes the way we perceive the
molecular sheath of reality via a
character we relate to— a character who
is a riddled-fuck-up, goes on some sort of a journey, and comes back changed. As
Don Delillo once said in a Paris Review interview, when you endeavor to write a
protagonist that the audience can relate to “Give your character a hangover!”
We want someone to do the work for us. We secretly
desire an anonymous angel to grope the narrative spine of the mass market trade
paperback constituting the slopfest sentences of our life as we suffer and
become confused and lonely—we want an outside ‘reader,’ a phenomenological
‘other,’ or a flighty 140 character ‘twitter-head’ ( a poppyheaded pintrest) to
be keenly invested and empathize in the day-to-day pathos that is the
children’s storybook hour of our collective breath.
We don’t want to trudge through the narrative of our
own existence alone.
For years I justified my drinking because I wanted
my readers to feel the way that I feel when I’m totally fucking smashed.I want my readers to be initially blown away
by beauty and by insight and by aesthetic awe with the initial sip of every
draught (sic), entering the syncopated din of an underground club for the first
time. I want them to be dancing under the kaleidoscopic stutter of pastel
fluttering strobe lights and find themselves one with the music, one with the
intermittent thrust of a randomly grinding torso in the fashion of a vibrating
treble clef sign, one with the chary shot they just imbibed, one with the
experience of life. We want our readers’ to espy a hot blonde on the geometric
oak corner avenue of the bar and come back from my text jumping up and down,
madly in love and just a little bit horny.
We want our readers’ to come back to our text to
dog-ear and annotate, to scribble sonnets in the marginalia coastlines of each
page, to undress it, to give it neon hickies with a cheap highlighter to
discover the newness of the world expressed through a conveyor belt of
sentences over and over again for the first time.
Now somehow its time for myself to be the
protagonist in my own narrative and give up something I love in order to find
something I have lost. I have not gone over five days sans an alcoholic
beverage since May of 2005. Have not gone seven days w/out getting exorbitantly
smashed since probably November 2004, eight and a half years ago. Sixteen days
of soused-induced celibacy has not been achieved since I turned twenty-one in
1999. When I make it 40 days in early June it will be the longest I will have
gone sans slipping an alcoholic libation of any kind into my anatomy since I
graduated from High school 17 years ago this May.
This is my time to grow and give so that I might be
able to give more and to keep on growing.
I want to end this invocation to the forty day
odyssey by telling you about the most precious thing I own:
The copper is an oxidized chunk of chemically
altered earth that is almost always stowed in my pocket. I received it nine years
ago from a dear friend who gave it to me on a refulgent autumnal afternoon in the
gardens at the Art Institute of Chicago as an emblem, a conductor of our spiritual
rapport, a talisman of hope and a covenant that the rudiments of our friendship
would be metaphysically welded in both this world and the world to come. This
thumb-sized tear-drop petrified thermal alloy is always with me. Give me a
500,000 Whiting genius grant, a review in the New York times heralding my prose
as the second coming of David Foster Wallace, a Pulitzer prize, literary
canonicity, my caricature sprawled next to Ernest Hemingway on a café mural at
Barnes and Noble, a videotaped four-some with Kate Upton, Megan Fox and
Meredith Vieira (I harbor a hardcore classy middle aged scholarly well-read
woman fetish) marketed to TMZ for millions of dollars— all would fail in comparison to how much this metallic
tithe currently stashed in the right pocket of my jeans means to me.
Let me put it like this: When my house caught on
fire last February and I ran back inside battering through suffocating tufts of
smoke the two things I grabbed were three thumb drives containing thousands of
pages of my writing and the copper. If I had to make a choice I would choose a
life with the listless copper over a lifetime of literary laurels any day.
The copper has a story. It was derived from a Native
American reservation near the boundary waters in northern Minnesota. It’s been
prayed over on a holy shrine in a temple of love. Shortly after I received it
in September of 2004 I would grope it in my hand and experience what I refer to
as “the glow.” My entire anatomy would vibrate
in illuminating (invisible) tassels of light and I would experience love and
kindness and human benevolence wafting throughout every molecular scent of my
People go to ashrams, fast, pray, contort their body
in meditative yoga postures for hundreds of hours to experience the feeling of
timelessness and inner peace and love and joy that I experience whenever I grope
the copper and wade into what I refer to as “the glow.”
Perhaps fifty years from now I’ll write a
book containing the stories associated with this mystical talisman. There was a
time where I lost the copper in my old apartment and it literally fell out of
the ceiling, from the heavens (it was on top of a book shelf I moved) and the moment
it hit the ground Tom Petty’s ‘Learning to Fly’ echoed out from the radio in
chimes of light. There was the time when I got into a heated altercation with
the beautiful creature who gave me the copper years ago. I cursed her family, vilified
her career choices, and made comments that today I’m just not proud (one of the
worst things I have ever done, and yes, I was drunk) because I was envious
that, in another lifetime ago, she chose another man over me. That she had pledged
her life to the masculine limbs of another human being to lie next to her every
night while all I had lying next to me was a rock in an apartment fraught with
empty beer cans. In the midst of this horrible altercation spawned by my
jealousy we came to the consensus that the copper was cursed and I asked if I
could send it back to her in Europe and she agreed. En route to the post office
to mail the copper back (and I shit you not this really did happen) my car ( my
beloved ’91 BMW) broke down.It just
stopped and I had to have it towed and then totaled.
I took it as a sign that the copper was somehow
meant to be cached in my pocket at all times.
But my favorite anecdote concerning the copper is as
follows: While walking to work four years ago I had a hole in my pocket and I lost
the copper. At the time I lived five blocks away from where I worked (on
mystical Heading avenue) and I spent hours optically combing the avenues of the street,
scouring the parking lot, certain I would retrieve the copper. I then trashed my
apartment, pillaged anything containing a cushions at work. Weeks went by. Part
of me knew I would recover the copper again, part of me realized that the thing
that was most precious to me in the lifetime I would never see again.
After four months it happened. At the time I was
working third-shift at a residential treatment facility. The residents were
teenage boys and they were asleep third shift. My job was to monitor the hall
and check up on the boys’ several times during the night.
It was about six in the morning and it was autumn, the
sun emanating bangs of translucent peach into the crisp lavender windshield of the west. I
went into a residents’ room to check on him. The boy was asleep but,
ricocheting on his wall were prisms of light. When I looked what the light was
reflecting off of I saw it. There was the copper, the most beloved thing I ever
owned, stationed on the young boys dresser.
I woke the lad up and asked him where he found it. The
boy told me that he found the copper in the parking lot a couple of months ago
and thought it was, “a really cool looking rock.” I sat on the lip of the boys’
bed and told him the story of the copper. Told him all about the beautiful
creature who presented it to me years earlier. Told him about the glow and how
the copper had mystical power and how I had lost it and looked for it and
thought I would never see the clot of metal again.
I then asked him if I could have it back.
He smiled and told me I could.
Cool story right? It gets cooler.
When I traipsed home that morning drifting in the autumnal banks of the september sun I cathartically realized (tears) that I had found the copper almost exactly five years to the date when my beautiful friend presented it to me in the garden at the art Institute half-a decade earlier.
The copper that had been lost had come home.
Why do I share this story?Because as I embark on the sojourn of
sobriety I’m just like that oxidized pebble. My dreams, my ambitions, my
yearnings my joys—the individual I had the potential of becoming—all have been
lost for a long time. These forty days of
succulent sobriety is my endeavor to find the glow in that copper inside my
chest once again.