by Jessie Roberts
In light of recent controversies over performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sports, Brian Michael Murphy considers the role of drugs in literature:
All of my writing heroes used PEDs. I still respect them; I would still shake their hands; I would never boo them as they took the podium to read, just returned from a stint in rehab or a drunk tank. I’m thinking of Allen Ginsburg’s acid. Baudelaire’s absinthe. Alice Walker’s magic mushrooms. Graham Greene’s Benzedrine. Legend has it that Gabriel García Márquez smoked up to 10 packs of cigarettes a day while holed up in his writing room for a year and a half like José Arcadio Buendía with his astrolabe and crucible. I once read that Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee daily and died of heart failure; another account said his personal record was 200 cups in a day, and that he died of a perforated ulcer.
I don’t use PEDs myself, aside from a demitasse of espresso here and there. Perhaps the impurity in me is not the caffeine, however. Perhaps it’s that very desire to be the best writer, to outshine my peers and gather accolades from people I don’t know, the willingness to sacrifice my time, energy, and relationships in order to accomplish it. Real life–a game of racquetball with my best friend, sharing a meal with my wife and daughter, teaching–tempers this impure ambition and keeps me connected to reality.
(Image: Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto, or The Absinthe Drinker, by Picasso, via Wikipedia)