Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

WTF! Performance Enhancing Drugs and The Writer

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WTF! Performance Enhancing Drugs and The Writer

While good citizens of the world fumble to regain their bearings following the shocking lifetime ban from cycling for Lance Armstrong, I am here to tell you something: you can count on us, the writers of your novels and plays and poems and greeting cards, to come to our competition free of any genuine performance enhancing drugs.

Let me be clear from the start: caffeine does not count. That goes without saying. I freely admit that I never so much as sit down to stare dumbly at the writing I completed a week ago without the security of a mug of coffee at hand. Quite often draining that cup of coffee is the only thing I actually accomplish. So, while caffeine certainly keeps us from nodding off as we try to remember what it is we can’t recall we were trying to say, the coffee bean most obviously does not count as “performance enhancing.”

How about booze, you say? Are you kidding me? Been there, done that. While bards and poets and beatniks alike have for centuries prayed to Bacchus as a means to loosen up the old creative gears, to get the mojo really flowing, we need only fast-forward to see how that ends: Hemingway in his basement, Fitzgerald writing B-movie scripts, Kerouac bloated and unable to so much as craft an address on an envelope, Dorothy Parker perpetually rhyming ‘gun’ with ‘fun’ and ‘rope’ with ‘cope’ …

Listen, I’ve re-read the work I wrote “the night before” under the influence of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, and I can honestly say this: WTF? It’s like some naughty Leprechaun possessed my brain and, in his slurred Irish lilt, encouraged me on: “That’s it, laddy, that tough main character of yours doesn’t need any justification for wearing capri pants and a halter top to the meeting with those crime lords, be brazen and bold, my boy, just write what comes to the tip of your tongue, like what if a space ship landed right here and there was maybe a quick but violent fight with some nuns who are really ninjas … weeeeee!”

Narcotics? Okay, okay. I see where you’re going. A little zip of cocaine to push Bright Lights, Big City to its inevitable conclusion. Maybe a skinny Leonard Cohen sitting on his patio in Greece, gunned on speed and writing the “interesting” Beautiful Losers. Sure, the hard stuff might keep us up and writing for humanly impossible hours, but I would argue with anyone that the resulting work is any better or more focused than what would have been set down with, say, a negative tox screen.

Now, I’ve heard from a friend of a friend that the grass can be a gentle coaxer of “outside the box” thinking, but again, it’s not going to conjure anything that isn’t already buried back there in the dark corners. And getting that brilliant idea across the finish line is a feat in itself when you’re more interested in Pizza Pops and The Weather Channel. Just read the brilliant Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon if you want to see what happens to a writer who forgets how to self-edit his thoughts due to the intake of, in this case, copious amounts of marijuana.

The blowhard Norman Mailer once complained that he had to “learn how to write all over again” after he quit smoking. I, too, reached absent-mindedly for a butt burning away in an ashtray in the first few months after quitting the demon tobacco. But there is no “tobacco” connection to enhanced writerly performance – we simply trick ourselves into believing a walk or a talk on the phone or editing is made all the more enjoyable while inhaling tobacco laced with carpet cleaning chemicals. If anything, you gain invaluable minutes back for writing when you’re not stepping out for a smoke break every twenty minutes.

So, unlike the baseball pitchers and the cyclists and the swimmers and the boxers and the sprinters who have achieved greatness through cheating, by taking a little short cut that trims a fifth of a second or adds eight pounds, your writers come to their work each day with only this: a spark, an idea, a flash of creativity, the balls and the guts to sit and grind through the tough hours without trainers and coaches, the courage to lie to friends and lovers about the “great progress” they are making when they fear they are whistling in the dark for comfort … and of course belief in the ancient spirit of the storyteller that has been passed from cave walls to e-readers.

And all of this work is undertaken without the hope of a million-dollar sponsorship awaiting the completion of our work. (Although I am happy to say my local Starbucks often pours me a freebie, likely more out of pity than any sense of hoping to co-brand with my modest author profile). And all of this work is undertaken, too, while mean-spirited governments continue to slash culture funding as though an appreciation of the arts is akin to the spread of communism. (Although I am happy to say my local library underwent a renovation this year and they’re even stocking my books).

Yes, friends, our sporting heroes have let us down. They will let us down again. But your artists, now these are the truest of the true competitors. You can count on us when it comes time for the urine test.

Time for a coffee. And then maybe some Zen. But that’s a blog for another time …

(CB Forrest's third novel, The Devil's Dust, is available in stores and online now.)

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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C.B. Forrest

C.B. Forrest is the author of the literary crime novels The Weight of Stones and Slow Recoil.

Go to C.B. Forrest’s Author Page