Writing Under the Influence

This is a term I learned from a boy I saw in college: Writing Under The Influence.
I don’t know how long he –a gifted writer– had been using the phrase before he passed it on to me, and I don’t how –or whether– he still uses it, but in our correspondence at the time, it referred to one of two things: A lot of cheap Thursday-night beer/wine/cocktails or a lot of each other.

We applied the term as a sort of apology, excuse, and implied permission, all at once. “A precaution… This email/letter/note is a direct result of WUI. Apologies in advance for the disorder/sentiment.” It usually accompanied a deluge of words that rambled, circled, wandered around a point, or else got heart-breakingly straight to it. At least, that’s how I remember it.

And it wasn’t all romance, that’s not what I mean. Depending on the situation and at which point in our friendship it was invoked, the idea of writing under the influence came to mean a lot of different things to me. It was a funny phrase, and first struck me as an understanding between creative people that sometimes you just have to get it out… even when it –whatever it is at any given point– should be better contained. Yes, at times the WUI letters did allow a unique stumbling, insistent romance and intimate observation about each other and especially about how we fit into each other’s lives at that point in time. Other times, and far more often, to say we were writing under the influence was just so damn funny, because it was true.

And that’s what stays with me. That’s a specific gift from this boy I saw in college… a wry/bitter/heartwarming truth and a kind of comfort in the plain old acknowledgment that –as writers, or as artists of any stamp– our works, our modes of expressing emotion are so subtly, so completely flavored by our immediate experience. This day, this very second. The wine I am drinking makes me introspective and too sudden and a little stupid. The nearness of you make my thoughts jumble and straighten in a different sequence than I intended.

I was thinking about that a couple of nights ago, after a good six years from my last WUI communique with the boy (that is, the very respectable and grown up, and yes still very gifted man). And yes, it was also after a couple of full glasses of wine at home. I thought about going to work on some poetry and I giggled to myself, realizing that they’d all be WUI poems. I wondered if I ought to start a special little file for them, to keep them out of the “respectable company” of other, more sober writings.

But then… everything I write is under some influence, isn’t it? I am daily colored by the people I meet and speak with or ignore, the faith I cultivate or take for granted, the music and dischord I hear on the street and in my home. The words I read–from advertisements to breaking news to my fashion magazines and novels– they will color my own ear and speech, as will the changing of seasons and the necessity of an umbrella.

If you’ll forgive the sweeping turn of phrase, I really can’t believe there is a single thing under the sun that does not somehow affect my view of the world and the ways I want to, have to, couldn’t not tell you about it.

So please… forgive my jumbled thoughts here, their hyperbolic sentiment.

I am simply, always, writing under the influence.


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