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Writing Is Not an Altered State

Question: Before you went\r\nsober, did you feel that drink or drugs provided spiritual insight? 


Anne Lamott: I can\r\nmostly say that the writers that I know that have continued to drink or \r\nuse,\r\ntheir lives are just kind of disgusting messes right now, not to sound\r\njudgmental.  But I mean they’re\r\nheartbreaking.  And certainly drugs\r\ntook me to places; they were like portals.  It’s \r\nkind of a cliché, but they were like portals to altered\r\nstates of consciousness into ways of imagining the world, or seeing a \r\nworld\r\nbeyond this world, or seeing a world beyond this world that I might not \r\nhave\r\ngotten to unless I discovered meditation and a very deep, intense \r\nspiritual path\r\nbased on contemplation and meditation. 


But you know, I was young.  I\r\n quit drinking and drugs when I was 32, so I cycled through\r\nrelatively quickly.  And no I don’t\r\nthink I would have this spiritual sense of exuberance and profundity \r\nthat I—not\r\nthat I have, but through which I understand the world if it weren’t for \r\ndrugs,\r\nalcohol, and poetry.  I can\r\nhonestly and genuinely say those three things.  But\r\n at the same time, probably 90% of the time, I was\r\nstoned.  I was so wah, wah—I was\r\nlike an idiot.  I was just\r\nstoned.  I would always wake... and\r\ndrunk.  I was drunk every night\r\nfrom about 18 on.  But I loved\r\nMethedrine, for instance, and I loved cocaine.  I \r\ntook possibly too much LSD, and I loved prescription\r\ndrugs, and the non-habit-forming marijuana.  But \r\nI’d get good and tanked up and I’d start to write, like\r\nyou do if you’re a writer and so I’d stay up really late scribbling like\r\n mad,\r\nlike the Unabomber.  And then I’d\r\nwake up in the morning and it would just be pathological. \r\n It would just be tragic, really.  It would\r\n be scrawl. \r\nAnd yet 10% of it might be stuff that was really great.


And so the proportions weren’t excellent, but the \r\nfact is, I\r\nthink it was just the natural order of things.  The\r\n natural course of my life.  My family tends to be\r\n pretty alcoholic and drug-addicted.  Both of my \r\nbrothers are\r\nclean are sober also, and a long time, 20-plus years.  And\r\n I think drugs are part of the magical possibilities of\r\nyouth and I wouldn’t be here if I had continued with it.


Question: Is writing\r\nitself a kind of altered state?


Anne Lamott: For me, being a writer\r\n is not an altered state.  It’s very ponderous, and \r\nvery—it’s like being a shoemaker.  You know, shoemakers \r\nstick to your last and you stay there working over your last, and it’s \r\npretty drudgy in a lot of ways.  But for me, reading poetry\r\n and reading the great works of the canon that we were reading in the \r\n‘60s and the ‘70s and ‘80s was mind altering.  I mean, you \r\nknow what it’s like, people blow your mind with what they are able to \r\ncatch and present, and I would say that most of the writers I have loved\r\n and been influenced by and had been blown away by were drunks and drug \r\naddicts and, you know, I love the Beat poets.  I love Allen\r\n Ginsberg as much and in the way that I love Virginia Woolf, or Auden. And\r\n a lot of the people I loved the most were suicides.   So,\r\n I am drawn to people that are\r\nnot going to shy away from the very dark, scary stuff of the human \r\ncondition\r\nand in a lot of cases people need alcohol or drugs to create poetry and \r\npoetic\r\npose that can take you so far out there where you are still able to \r\nrecognize\r\nyourself and then to bring you back home where you’re not the same \r\nperson you\r\nwere when you left.

Recorded April 6, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by Austin Allen

Anne Lamott used to seek inspiration in "drugs, alcohol, and poetry." But writing her novels has always been more like arduous manual labor than an ecstatic high.

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