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Alcohol and writing

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SarahWoodbury
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Post by SarahWoodbury » Tue June 16th, 2009, 12:44 am

To extend this idea of warfare and drinking . . .

I try to imagine it, because I write about it, but I honestly don't know that it is possible for me to understand what it must feel like to be in a battle. I know that many people are veterans and they have to live with the fact that they've killed people, but medieval warfare was so personal. Men hacked each other to death. I don't think it's any wonder that the numbing effects of alcohol were almost necessary to continued existence. How else to sleep at night?

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Tue June 16th, 2009, 9:11 am

[quote=""SarahWoodbury""]To extend this idea of warfare and drinking . . .

I try to imagine it, because I write about it, but I honestly don't know that it is possible for me to understand what it must feel like to be in a battle. I know that many people are veterans and they have to live with the fact that they've killed people, but medieval warfare was so personal. Men hacked each other to death. I don't think it's any wonder that the numbing effects of alcohol were almost necessary to continued existence. How else to sleep at night?[/quote]

But then warrior societies where alcohol was banned managed to do so?
I do know where you are coming from in that my FIL drank heavily during and after WWII (during means when it was safe i.e. after a battle. They gave them alcohol - rum- before the battle to fire them up, but he preferred to go into the fight with his wits intact and save the drink for afterwards). But the 1940's is not the MA, so the reactions might be different - I wouldn't know without doing the research. In FIL's day, part of the tension was whether you were going to catch a bullet rather than down and dirty hand to hand. But in some cultures alcohol is banned, so how do they cope?
The other thing is that we have become much more sanistised of late. My FIL used to keep and slaughter his own rabbits. Reading up on our village history, it's not that long ago that a cow was brought to the yard beside the butcher's shop every Monday, and the local lads given small change to help out with the non-expertise bits of the slaughter and butchery. We used to live a lot closer to the daily blood and guts and that has a numbing effect.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Volgadon
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Post by Volgadon » Tue June 16th, 2009, 10:52 am

Well, the Muslim soldiers, especially the Turkish element, were notorious drinkers.

I agree with you about the numbing effect. Also, most births occured at home, lots ofblood and screaming and occasional death.

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SarahWoodbury
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Post by SarahWoodbury » Tue June 16th, 2009, 9:26 pm

Well, people were closer to death then. Mortality rates were just plain high for everyone--not just warriors. Women died in childbirth, but some ungodly percentage of children died before the age of five. How, as a mom do you cope with losing 6 of your 8 children? Edward I and his wife, Isabella, had 16 children, 9 of whom died before she did.

That's all I was saying--how do you experience all that and keep putting one foot in front of the other? My personal 21st century existence is incredibly sheltered.

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Post by Margaret » Wed June 17th, 2009, 4:21 am

Yes, and people were exposed to violence as children. Whole communities used to turn out to watch hangings. Sometimes, they'd bring lunch with them, the way we might to go visit the zoo or watch an air show. People exposed to violent death from childhood are bound to have a quite different attitude toward it than we do today. They wouldn't have felt the same level of guilt, for example, because it was accepted as perfectly okay to kill people under certain circumstances (at least if you were an aristocrat), and it would not have been inculcated in them from childhood to play nicely so as not to hurt someone. But I don't think that means the violence of warfare didn't have an unpleasant effect on them. Watching the town executioner hang someone would be an entirely different experience from going into battle and personally hacking at people with a sword, getting their blood all over you, etc.

It's likely, though, that people today get worse PTSD than they did in the Middle Ages, because battles then were largely confined to specific times and places, whereas nowadays, the threat of being bombed is essentially constant over a period of months or years. On the other hand, they did have sieges....

Still, I'm sure there's a link between the high violence rates in centuries past and the high alcohol consumption. When Muslims banned alcohol, it probably wasn't because of the problems caused by people who were drinking a couple of pots of ale or a beaker of wine with dinner.

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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed June 17th, 2009, 1:44 pm

We needn't talk about the 'back in the MA' as though it was completely academic. I work with people who have grown up in places where death is still a daily possibility. And despite all the discussion of trauma, I don't think the personal experience of it is always a bad thing.

After all, everything dies, sooner or later. It is one of the realities of life. We who live in cultures where security is a given do not think about it, and so it hits us like a sledgehammer when it happens -- but that isn't because we are somehow 'raised better', it is because we are like people who have never had to run forced into an extreme footrace. Those people will be damaged physically, just as people who suddenly face the reality that hey have been continually shielded from cannot process it, and end up with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

All flesh follows the same pattern of learning and development. People in less secure societies did see lots of death, and they understood things better than we do. They knew that the meat they ate came from a living, breathing creature; they also knew that even if they didn't eat it, something else would. All nature exists on a continuing pattern of death. A person aged 20 would have seen average half the people they knew intimately in their life die, beginning with the siblings that didn't make it. They didn't get traumatized; they processed it.

I speak from experience. I had two little brothers die of leukemia before I was 8. That was no doubt stressful, but you come to accept it, just like gravity, and it gives a certain amount of 'reality muscle'. Then there was our adult experience of raising livestock. Or as my husband puts it, "If you're going to raise livestock, sooner or later you're going to have some dead stock."

The first llama we lost was very traumatic. I helped with the post-mortem, not because I wanted to, but because that was the only way to get it done. Now I have had many animals die, and most have gotten the standard post-mortem. Not pleasant, not fun, but not traumatic, either. I find that dealing with the remains helps me get over it quicker.

We have also raised rabbits and slaughtered our own meat. My kids got science lessons in the process. And we have fought like mad for the life of a valuable animal and lost. Sometimes we won. You grow a little reality muscle.

How this plays out in real life: My daughter lost a dear friend very unexpectedly at age 11. When the girl was in the hospital, all her young friends prayed earnestly that she would recover. When she didn't, the group was traumatized, had nightmares, feared their own deaths, and on top of that were very angry at God, who was, in their minds, 'supposed' to make an exception for their friend. Not my daughter. She amazed the counselors by being sad but nothing else, and told the pastor she knew that although prayer was a correct response, that the odds were still very poor, and that some things must simply be accepted. Raising livestock and dealing with normal death was what gave her that balance.

Living with the daily possibility of your own demise or that of significant people in your life, and an honest awareness of the violence inherent in nature and your fellow man is what made people in past ages (and in other places around the globe) profoundly different in their outlook from people in industrialized places today. There were two major effects ---

But that's for another post.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Wed June 17th, 2009, 1:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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SarahWoodbury
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Post by SarahWoodbury » Wed June 17th, 2009, 4:54 pm

I agree completely about the familiarity with death issue--but I still think hacking to death another human being is a different story. I do think people 'got used to it' but if you look at the Welsh wars in the 13th century, or the Dark Age poetry mentioned in another thread, the human toll was significant to such a small population, and the lamentation and trauma very real. You can hear it in the songs.

I write this in large part from the perspective of 3 sons who I am most definitely not raising to go to war, and I think I have that in common with many parents of my generation. My eldest is 16 and will have to register for the draft in two years, which shocked him when he found out about it. In the US, every generation has had their war, through Vietnam, but with the elimination of the draft, that threat is no longer there. Even with Iraq, a tiny percentage of our population is serving, which is the only way we'd be over there in the first place because of mothers like me. We don't have guns in the house and for many years no toy guns either. Ironically, we do have swords and lightsabers, but they aren't 'real' in the same way. The same goes for my son, who is a black belt in karate.

I could kill a chicken if someone showed me how. I understand where meat comes from and accept that if you can eat it, you can kill it. We live in a rural area with lots of hunting, and my husband works for an Indian Tribe so the culture is infused with an unsentimental approach to death. But killing another person . . . I still think that individuals learned to live with it and rationalize it and even become immune to it, but lose something of themselves in the process.

Sorry. Gone way beyond alcohol and writing here. Perhaps we ought to start a new thread ;)

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Ken
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Post by Ken » Wed June 17th, 2009, 5:33 pm

We do seem to have strayed off my original question of: does (some) alcohol aid or detract from writing?!

Not to say though that the above posts are not interesting and, in some cases, really poignant, as recounted by MLE!

My own feeling, never having been to war or even had a serious fight, is that alcohol in any quantity before the battle, would have hindered a warrior's ability to fight and, in the case of archers or other forms of artillery, would have been positively dangerous for the warrior's own side!

Different story for the atrocities that post-battle drinking would have wrought, the raping and pillaging that features so often in history. The relief of having survived the fighting and the feeling of personal invincibility, would all be fuelled by the intake of alcohol.

All that being said, and getting back to writing, how do writers who have no personal experience of fighting or killing, present a believable battle scene, including the very personal man-on-man slashing and hacking spoken about above?

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Post by Volgadon » Wed June 17th, 2009, 6:06 pm

Read a lot.

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Ken
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Post by Ken » Wed June 17th, 2009, 6:13 pm

[quote=""Volgadon""]Read a lot.[/quote]

I do!! Your response was hardly helpful, but quite in character.

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