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Whatever It Takes

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“All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

I have discovered that I need coffee to write.

This is common among writers, we all have crutches, muses found at the bottom of amber bottles, pills swallowed or powders snorted (rarely is the crutch as innocuous as a cup of coffee, but I’ve always erred on the side of the grandma. Remember my last police encounter?).

Fun Fact: coffee acts like a diuretic; it makes you pee, alcohol has the same effect. It also wastes electrolytes – particularly magnesium. This diuretic effect is partially responsible for hangovers you get after a night of drinking, the headaches and the pain and the lethargy and the vomiting.

But I don’t need coffee or alcohol to waste electrolytes, I do that all by myself! I’m chronically deficient, and as a result, my memory is non-existent, I’m always exhausted, my hands cramp, my body betrays me (cue violin).

But when I sit down to write with a cup of hot water, or even tea, my words stutter. My brain stalls, I sit here tapping my fingers, lazily trolling through the news, trying to find something to write about. I start to write ten, fifteen times, erase the words over and over. I can’t follow a thought to see where it ends up, I can’t find the right cadence.

After a coffee, however, my mind races, I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the thoughts hurtling past (which is why my posts so often miss entire words, they just get skipped over as I struggle to keep up) . I blast out a post in half an hour, it’s thick and involved and sometimes funny. It just comes.

But as innocuous as coffee seems, it’s not harmless for me. This is what I’ve had to get used to with the kidney disease; normal things like one drink with friends, or a bag of black licorice, or even sweating in summer heat, don’t do normal things to me. I pay much more dearly for them.

During the summer when I was on my iced coffee kick, my writing got better and better but physically, I began to feel worse and worse. My heart would race for hours after I finished a cup. When my blood tests kept showing decreasing electrolyte levels and I needed to start taking more medication to keep up, it seemed ridiculous.

I gave up coffee, my writing ebbed. I began to post more pictures. My words became more forced, my days slower. It was sad to be able to stand back and observe it, notice that loss.

Through this process I have learned something very interesting about myself, I’ve learned just how much I will sacrifice to see the right combination of words on a page, to feel the hit of churning out a single perfect sentence, that rush of accomplishment.

It’s very surprising to me what I will give up in order to feel this kick. It’s surprising to me that I would knowingly compromise my health to get this result.

I just finished Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. As I said yesterday, holy fuck what a writer. He’s savage and unrepentant and tears into characters with his teeth.

I find it truly inconceivable that we are writing in the same language, I feel incompetent trying to describe him; like an inept juggler, constantly dropping the ball while gazing at a master who tosses language around so effortlessly, twists and molds it to his own devices while I sit here stilted and stunted, issuing feeble orders.

In Diary his main character ends up imprisoned in an attic, force-fed mercury to inspire madness, insanity, and the wealth of artistic talent that results.

Poor Misty Marie, blindfolded and hobbled, slave to the insatiable need to create, her chemical muse poisoning her from within.

In seemed like insanity while I was reading it – I’ve always had trouble understanding addiction, why people would give up so much in pursuit of a sensation, the ghost of feeling.

But hey, here I am, a watered down version of sweet dumb Misty Marie, sitting in my own little room, drinking my sweet mercury and waiting for that kick, that rush of inspiration. Sacrificing for my own crutch, my chemical muse, and suffering the consequences.

It’s surprising to me.

I could have never predicted how much I would give up, how willing I was to feel listless and debilitated the rest of the day just to feel this, here, now. Fingers racing and tapping out these thoughts, and without any promise of reward, recognition. Just sending these words into the wilderness, givin’ it away for free, day after day.

And how many others are there just like me? Ignoring sunny days, life outside, choosing instead to bow down daily before this unforgiving altar, striving for greatness, pouring themselves into these small tight words, trying to stretch them to fit around the grandeur of the vision, to somehow ask them to hold in their meaning the expansiveness of this life.

“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”
Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

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