I got sucked into watching the first season of Californication right around the time my father died. Maybe that’s why I actually felt vaguely sympathetic to the pathological womanizer Hank Moody; he lost his dad, I lost mine. The show’s lack of judgment toward women who also “play the game” does encourage me to give it a pass on the feminist front. The show’s not about men and women and sexual politics in a binary system – it’s just about people that are abso-fucking-lutely insane.
I’m watching the later seasons now, on breaks between researching that damn nonfiction book on divorce I’m writing. The show makes a strange counterpoint to my reality. The glamour of the tortured artist/fucked up writer gives Hank some pathos, but in real life, he’d probably be totally unemployed and I’d want to kick his ass. I know he’s based on the Kerouacs and Hemingways of American mythology: the great American writer, with his substance abuse habit and basic inability to monitor his genitals. I get it, I see it…and I think it’s bullshit.
This is not just because I’m more likely to stick my finger in a light socket than I am to write while inebriated. I also wouldn’t be caught dead hacking at my keyboard with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. One, it’s a cliché’, and I don’t need to try to adjust my self image to imitate someone else, and two, smoke does terrible things to computers. I’ve already destroyed one with incense smoke alone. My general attitude about substance use is that as long as you can contain the damage to your own person alone, it’s up to you. But to be able to do that means a very light hand on use of any substance – when it becomes a habit rather than an after-dinner mint, you damage your health, you drag down your family’s finances; you smoke incessantly in the house and you live with other people, it’s not just your lungs you damage. I do take it personally when you throw up on my favorite shoes, especially if you think “Sorry, I was drunk,” excuses you from paying to replace them. I still think people in general take even alcohol far too casually: you may not feel impaired, but you are affected from the first drink on (even if you are a 500 pound gorilla), and your tolerance has nothing to do with your level of impairment. Tolerance is a measure of how long until you pass out, not a measure of how poor your judgment gets on the way down.
Our character Hank has done things (in the show, I know he’s fiction) like pick up his kid after a fair amount of drug bumps. He might have the tolerance, but the failure to recognize the cost of impairment pissed me off.
I realize it’s meant to exemplify exactly how much internal damage he has , and how the world mixes with the sheer force of his masculinity. It’s yet another character that exemplifies the worst/shadow aspects of the masculine as somehow positive. It also represents writers in a way that I’ve seen way too many writers male and female want to buy into: that you must be fucked up to continue to write. ((I speak mainly from my grad school experience with other writers.))
I do think a certain amount of suffering does make for a better writer. You have more empathy, even for your villains. You have more of a sense of humor about yourself, especially after your inevitable fuck-ups. But if you continue to willfully fuck yourself up, you get in the way of your writing. Let me put it this way: only Isaac Asimov got to this earth with the gift of perfect copy as he typed it from the first draft. (Notably, he was not known for bad-boy bullshit antics, he just kept his head down and wrote.) You can’t rewrite if you’re drinking; your ego starts barfing on the page. A drunken editor is a recipe for disaster.
I have no problem with the suffering writer taking pain to the page. I do have a problem with writers then deliberately seeking more pain, in the theory you need more in order to write.
I hate it when someone takes suffering and absorbs it into the image projected to the world in imitation of every stereotype that has dragged a club before. Don’t be a stereotype. Be you. If you is naturally a stereotype, then I’ll just assume you can help that about as much as you can help your sexual orientation, as long as I know that you’re being you, and not just trying to imitate some archetype.
I realize we’re trained to look for role models, starting with our parents and moving on to the famous. It’s hard to make yourself look critically at the role model and say, “OK, I’ll take this habit of yours, but not that one – this worked, and that didn’t.” The entire premise of hero worship and imitation is to either not look at the whole picture, or to immerse yourself in absolute imitation of it in hopes of replicating the same experience.
Except that you can’t ever replicate another person’s experience. In fact, all imitation does is prevent you from having the authentic, exploring – hell, positive – experiences that give you something unique to say about the stuff we all have to experience in life. You don’t need to be universal or original because that’s already covered by you being a sentient carbon based life form. Suffering and stories will come to us all, just by participating in life. Even the most severe agoraphobic has something to say; in fact, a severe agoraphobic might especially have something to say well worth writing down.
Watching Duchovny portray Moody raises mixed feelings. I hate the glamor, but I wish it were possible in today’s world – even though every glamorous place I’ve ever been always has a really dirty floor. I realize that if Hollywood didn’t glamorize the writer’s life no one would watch. Moody’s universe is pot in the typewriter and a glass of whiskey beside him. My reality is bunny slippers and coffee, followed by a frequently refilled water bottle. On a good day, I remember to brush my hair before I start in with the writing. The fictional character also still lives in a world where book tours happen (mostly dead), where publishers do the promoting for you and at least so far in the series I haven’t heard a single character speak the words “E-publishing”, “POD” or “Kindle.” I can’t make it for years at a time being blocked, and while writer’s block is real, I have managed to write while still experiencing block. (It’s not good stuff.) Drinking my way through the block would only have made it worse.
To the archetype of Hank Moody, please take my own inclinations to fuck up and store them in your universe. May sanity and steady writing come my way to replace it.