…Drinking Absinthe on Your Pub Date

Posted on July 7, 2008. Filed under: The Writing Life | Tags: , , , , |

When I was sixteen and first started pining for the literary life, I idolized Charles Baudelaire. This led to my lifelong interest in absinthe, since Baudelaire consumed legendary amounts of it. Oh, how I wished for the “Green Fairy” to descend on me and give me visions! Oh, how I wished that I had been born in another time and place (19th-century France, to be specific) so I could embrace that chemical muse!

Well thanks to some heavy lobbying, absinthe became legal in the U.S. in late 2007. I’ve been waiting for my excuse to try some, but the price (steep!) and the presence of my children (young and probably not wishing to see their father go crazy) held me back. Finally the perfect opportunity presented itself: the July 1, 2008 publication date of my very first book, Wifeshopping. I busted out the credit card, spent more for a bottle of liquor than I care to mention, and grabbed the bottle after my kids had gone to sleep. 

After my wife had gone to sleep, too. “I don’t want to see my husband to go crazy,” she said as I slunk downstairs with the absinthe like some degenerate thief. I had looked up absinthe recipes online, so I made an absinthe frappé and put my lips to the glass expecting the terrible taste that everyone had warned me about. Instead it tasted like ouzo or pastis—lots of licorice, a taste I love. A little tasted okay, so I drank more. And more. No Green Fairy? Try a little more!

I kept drinking alone until I felt sort of drunk and sort of pathetic. The Green Fairy never did arrive, but after awhile I could smell licorice on my skin. The absinthe experience proved entirely non-hallucinatory and a bit anti-climactic, and as I finished off my last sip for the night I felt the same about my pub date. I’m a published author! Whoop-de-do! July 1 felt no different from any other day, because I had the same old problems, the same old mental blocks, the same old self-defeating psychic mechanisms. 

It took a couple days for the significance of July 1st to sink in; perhaps the absinthe had to work its way through my system before I could feel good about being published. But by July 3rd, I had gotten enough congratulatory emails and hugs from family and friends to feel that getting my first book officially published was an accomplishment to feel proud of. But in the run-up to July, I hadn’t allowed myself to feel that at all. For the whole month of June I’d been crossing out days as I went to bed, which I told myself was supposed to help me tell one day from the next. (I’m not teaching right now, and the days blend together in a whirl of screaming children). But in truth I had actually been counting down the days to my pub date, in exactly the way that you count down to your last day on a job you’re tired of. 

Why was I counting down—and therefore focusing on the past—instead of looking forward to my future as a published author? Looking at the moment with a few days of perspective, I’d have to say that I turned the absinthe/pub date experience into a purgative one—a celebration of something ending rather than something beginning. The day (and the crappy month that preceded it) represented an end to the “old job” of being a writer without a book, which I’ve been dreadfully tired of for years. My life up until July 1st had been all about the desire to get a book published, and parallel to it ran the desire to have the Green Fairy of absinthe descend upon me and give me visions. Both desires ended on July 1st—a nice, neat ceremony that I didn’t understand at all while I was performing it.

What’s on the other side? Who the heck knows? But at least it’s nice to feel that one aspect of my life makes sense to me for a moment, that it all adds up into a nice, neat formula. No doubt the next breath I take after I blog post this will screw up my formula completely, and with it all sense of self-understanding. I can only hope that this screwing-up is in a fertile and new direction.

“Onward!” shouts the captain of the pirate ship, sword pointing at the sun. “To… wherever!!!”

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