As my contemplation of Dylan Thomas and his undeniable genius continues into today, there’s one very real aspect of his life as a writer which I have been focusing on and that’s his dependence on alcohol. It’s always been fashionable to draw these links between alcohol and substance abuse with the creative process, not least of all writers. There’s a long list of critically acclaimed (and dead) literary genii who are well documented alcoholics and the list of writers who abuse drugs, particularly opiates and other psychoactive drugs, is rich in tradition and depth. I only have to mention Thomas de Quincey and his Confessions of an English Opium Eater to put that into some sort of context. However, in the belief that it is either the alcohol or the drugs that leads to creativity or the great process of mind expansion that allows such is, I would suggest, putting the cart before the horse.
My reasoning for this is crude but nonetheless unshakeable: that in today’s society there are increasingly people of all classes, intellectual abilities, backgrounds and social groups given to experimenting with an abusing drugs and alcohol and if the relationship were as simple as these theories suggest, then they would ALL magically become creative genii. And they don’t. Not at all. You only have to subject yourself to any given episode of UK talk-show Jeremy Kyle if you require any further evidence of that. To suggest there is a simple, direct correlation is naïve and romantic at best or just plain ridiculous or even dangerous at worst. To live in a world that continues to glamorise and romanticise this (non) connection troubles me deeply. If anything it muddles and fogs the brain so that you are unable to produce anything of any great coherence, structure or substantiality. So where has it come from?
I would suggest that it is because if you put the horse and the cart the proper way around then there is the possibility of a connection – that many gifted, artistic, sensitive and creative minds have a great need, a hunger, to quiet the constant chatter of new concepts and creative thoughts, to quash the painful passions and perplexities presented by every minute of every day and so they turn to drugs or alcohol to tame – not unleash – the creativity already surging through their soul.
As a result, the voice that presents itself under these conditions, through their writing, is as you would expect – slurred and slowed and disjointed. In my view, they haven’t unlocked their authentic voice by running headlong to these false doorways, they have killed it. They are the doors of deception, not perception. They push their way through them, hastily searching out a hiding place from their authentic selves and only then – safely hidden away – do they have the courage to confront the ‘curse’ of their creativity – now that it is safely contained and calmed.
I don’t doubt that this is, for some, a huge comfort and that without that safety mechanism many truly great works would never have struggled free from those constraints of intoxicated conformity within ‘creative circles’ and into the world. However, I would suggest that it would be far more interesting to explore other ways that creativity and insights truly can be enhanced, that greater clarity and can be obtained and that the authentic voice to express those can remain loud and clear and true. Perhaps this whole notion of the tortured and toxic creative soul was created by those very people who would seek to destroy it because maybe, just maybe, without those self-imposed distortions, those creative minds could really push some boundaries in a way that’s not masked by a smoke-screen of substance dependant semantics. Now that really would be something radical.
After all, what’s the point of ‘broadcasting’ on a frequency that nobody you seek to reach can tune in to? Because what those lists also tell us is that if you’re waiting for people to catch up with you on your jolly jaunt through wonderland, so they can really understand your message – you’re probably going to be dead before they get there. And, as a teacher, how could I possibly guide a generation to embrace their own authentic creative voices, if I was so terrified of my own that I had to hide from it in an alternate reality?
These aren’t my thoughts on the morality of drug or alcohol abuse – they belong somewhere else. These are my thoughts on the mistaken and misinformed theories about the relationship they have with the creative voice and the dangers, dumbing-down and deaths that can occur because of it.