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Alcohol and writing

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed June 17th, 2009, 6:20 pm

Well, here's how I do it:
work with NGOs in the third world. Talk to many people who have been raised in Afghanistan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ecuador, Zaire, or the gangs of Oakland or Los Angeles.

Spend time talking with people in anti-slavery projects. You'll lose any rose-colored lenses you ever had on human nature. And yes Sarah, people can get used to anything, including hacking fellow human beings to pieces. Lots of documentation there.

Sit with people who have been POWs in a veteran's hospital. Though those aren't their favorite memories.

The fighting doesn't happen in a vaccum. Your opponent is usually trying to kill you or yours. Makes a big difference. Or you badly want something they have, or vice versa.

But then, I am a veteran, as is my husband, one of my sons, my father and his father. If nobody on one side is willing to fight, that only encourages those who will do harm unless they are resisted. It isn't a safe world, not really, nor ever was.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Wed June 17th, 2009, 6:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Volgadon
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Post by Volgadon » Wed June 17th, 2009, 7:21 pm

[quote=""Ken""]I do!! Your response was hardly helpful, but quite in character.[/quote]


Sorry, I couldn't resist. =)
I second MLE's suggestions. Also find as many war memoirs and early newspaper clippings as possible.

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SarahWoodbury
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Post by SarahWoodbury » Wed June 17th, 2009, 8:31 pm

[quote=""MLE""]
Sit with people who have been POWs in a veteran's hospital. Though those aren't their favorite memories.
[/quote]

Yes, well, that was my whole point.

Most American families are full of veterans. In my case, certainly dating back to the first horrific Indian war in Massachusetts where we fought on the wrong side. My great-grandfather was 15 when he signed up to fight in the Civil War on the side of the North. We have his letters home and they aren't pretty. Not going to debate the rightness of any given war or the necessity--I was just trying to figure out how to think about the commonness of warfare in the MA. The child soldiers through Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East are testament to how hacking someone to death isn't good for you as a human being. I was just trying to get at how I create a sympathetic male character who is also good at it and how he thinks about it within himself.

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Post by Volgadon » Wed June 17th, 2009, 9:47 pm

I found George MacDonald Fraser's Steel Bonnets interesting, it shows how the Anglo-Scottish border was peaceful and prosperous for most of the Middle Ages and how brutal wars changed that and the mentality of the inhabitants, who became border reivers.

Anyway, to return to something a bit closer to Ken's original post (but only just), there is a fantastic book out in Hebrew about the archaeology of the grape and wine in Israel, that is, how they were cultivated, how the wine was manufactured, business practices, legal issues, party culture, the various kinds of wine, juice and preserves, basicaly the kind of stuff HF writers would find invaluable.
I'm a teetotaler, but I can't wait to get my hands on that book. Hopefully, there might even be a translation. The author is apparently writing a similar one on olive oil.

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Post by Chatterbox » Wed June 17th, 2009, 11:03 pm

There are lots of first hand chronicles (from the 18th/19th century onward) and then letters and oral histories about the experience of battle, for those of us who aren't able to deal with counseling or working with refugees or veterans.

I don't count my first-hand experience of 9/11 as 'battle' although it did result in some very, deeply ugly sights and I still have nightmares to this day. Let's just say that after plane 2 hit, there were bits of flying metal and flying body parts. And yes, that's probably PTSD.

Because we do lead incredibly sheltered lives. And (while I'm not religious myself) incredibly secular lives. So we shelter ourselves from the reality of death and have no intellectual/psychological framework in which to incorporate our own deaths and those of the people we love. Without at least one of those (and in many of our lives, without both), violent/sudden death in particular comes as a shock to the psyche.

Living in the middle ages, or as one does in the Congo, Somalia, Darfur, Afghanistan, etc. today, where the line between life and death is so often crossed, and living today in a modern Western urban/suburban community is a matter of night and day.

Re the alcohol element, while not necessary (it seems as if religious or political fervor to commit atrocious acts while stone-cold sober), I suspect there's a reason that one way so many of the armies and militias in Africa that have recruited child soldiers deliberately get them drunk or stoned before introducing them to violence and then often keep them hooked on some substance so that it becomes easier to break down any moral barriers to random murder. Because there's a big difference between hacking bits off another human being who is a stranger to you for no apparent reason with a machete, and being in an army that has some kind of purpose you can identify with intellectually until the fighting starts (at which point adrenaline kicks in and you stop thinking of big principles and start trying to figure out how to protect yourself and your buddies.) The more organized the army, the more clear the purpose for the military action, the less of a problem with drugs/alcohol. When the drug problem became so apparent in Vietnam, there were studies done on why the rate of drug addiction was so high proportionately, compared to the level of alcohol addiction, etc., in World War 2. I gather that some of the conclusions the studiers reached were unpopular enough that Westmoreland tried to bury the surveys. (This came up in a M.A. level course on international relations; I could dig for the precise source, but can't recall off top of migraine-y head.)

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Post by Margaret » Thu June 18th, 2009, 4:37 am

There are some very good posts here! It's important, I think, to try to write as authentically as possible about characters in warfare. Otherwise, people can get a badly distorted idea of what battle is like. I wonder sometimes whether some political leaders have read way too many romanticized accounts of warfare that make it out to be glorious and triumphant and cathartic and, for the winners, not much else. But I don't think writers have to have experienced warfare to write well about it. As someone else pointed out, people who have fought in wars don't usually like to talk or write about it, leaving it up to others to describe the experience as best we can. Writers often write very well not just about wars they haven't personally fought, but also about characters of the opposite sex, characters who lived in the past, characters whose lives were different in a great many ways than the writer's life - solid research and a good imagination are what it takes. Although Rosemary Sutcliff seems to have come to the idea that she may have lived as a warrior in a past life or lives and therefore wrote with an instinctive sense of what it was like. See http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/in ... tcliff.htm and scroll down to near the end to the question:
The idea of the mender certainly fits in with some of the most pervasive themes in your novels, especially that of bridging the gap between two communities. What about the soldier?
I totally agree that many of us are overly sheltered from the experience of death and that it's not a good thing. It leads to some very strange ideas, such as those that cause people to go to elaborate lengths to preserve respiration and a heartbeat at enormous expense to gain a few extra days of "life" for a dying person who is unconscious or suffering great pain.
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Post by Chatterbox » Thu June 18th, 2009, 7:59 am

[quote=""Margaret""]
I totally agree that many of us are overly sheltered from the experience of death and that it's not a good thing. It leads to some very strange ideas, such as those that cause people to go to elaborate lengths to preserve respiration and a heartbeat at enormous expense to gain a few extra days of "life" for a dying person who is unconscious or suffering great pain.[/quote]

Very interesting & thoughtful point, Margaret. A friend of mine is dying from ALS; she's become a Benedictine oblate (which gives her a formidable ability to deal with this), but it also creates the question of when is refusing treatment deemed 'suicide' in the church. Personally, if I'm terminally ill, unless I'm waiting to bid farewell to a loved one, it's not life. Watching someone die like that is just as punishing as having someone you care about being publicly decapitated in a ceremony broadcast on the Internet. I've experienced both, though refused to witness the latter.

Interesting & existential thoughts you ended up provoking, Ken, and not at all what you intended! Apologies for my role in the thread hijack!!

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Ken
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Post by Ken » Thu June 18th, 2009, 9:50 am

[QUOTE=Chatterbox

Interesting & existential thoughts you ended up provoking, Ken, and not at all what you intended! Apologies for my role in the thread hijack!!


That's what's great about HFO Chatterbox. It's very interesting reading such a wide range of thoughts and opinions and who cares if the original post gets a little bit forgotten along the way?!

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Post by Leyland » Thu June 18th, 2009, 12:20 pm

[quote=""Ken""]We do seem to have strayed off my original question of: does (some) alcohol aid or detract from writing?!
[/quote] Upon reading your OP, I immediately thought of Ernest Hemingway as an example of alcohol aiding the craft of writing. Then as I continued to read the posts regarding warfare and the effects or benefits of alcohol use, EH defenitely stayed on my mind. Even though EH had other distinct mental health issues, it seems he is a good example of a creative soul influenced by direct contact with warfare and more than some use of alcohol as an aid. His work is considered literature and is amazing stuff.

I'd say some writers may definitely benefit from having a chemical substance alter their central nervous system and cognitive ability so as to produce some unique piece of literature or at least, very skillful storytelling. But some people may become quite impaired instead, fail to produce and become depressed or bitter (maybe) about failing to write well.
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams ~ Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Thu June 18th, 2009, 8:29 pm

I'm so sorry about your friend, Chatterbox. It can be quite difficult to resolve precisely when it might be appropriate for a dying person to start refusing treatment. Sometimes, it seems more appropriate to put an end to the suffering. Other times, as you say, there may well be some particular thing a person needs to achieve before dying - making peace in a relationship that went astray, gaining some particular insight about a personal issue, who knows? - so it's not always true that a dying person is lingering for no purpose, even when it may seem that way. On the other hand, when a dying person feels ready to go and is only being kept alive by some of the amazing modern machinery we have these days, I think society should respect the person's choice.
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