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How Much Did Ernest Hemingway Drink?
There aren’t many writers who are as known for doing something outside of literature as much as their actual books that the readers come to enjoy. Heck, most writers aren’t even known for either. Somehow Ernest Hemingway got the unusual title as being not only a classic writer that should, at the very least, be respected by future generations, and at best, revered by them, but the short story expert also has an amusing anecdote that you can tell people about as soon as you bring him up if for some reason you decide that the whole classic writer thing isn’t your style. You can talk about this man as if he is on your level of creativity, but he isn’t.
Everybody knows that Ernest Hemingway liked to drink, but I mean, a lot of people like to drink; go to a football game on a Sunday afternoon, and you won’t only find people who want to drink but that are actively drinking in the parking lot and in the stadium. These fans of the various teams are drinking a lot, not just a few cans. They are consuming so much alcohol collectively that the games, the very places that profit from these people drinking too much, even said to them, “Yeah, that’s enough. We are cutting you off.” Imagine going to a bar where the bartender tells you that you have had too much and are no longer allowed to drink. Now imagine if he did that to the arena of people that he is serving. Yeah… I am starting to think that Ernest Hemingway fits in with his alcoholism.
When you hear about the man having one too many drinks, if you are like me, you just assume he can be a family member, or at least someone I know pretty well. Someone that I may see on the weekend and that their consumption of the devil’s drink is not unusual. If you are not me, which chances are that you aren’t, I have no stats to prove that, but I am pretty sure that you are not me, then hearing of an alcoholic writer may have you think a more rationale, one that inquires of the concrete nature to the claim of Hemingway’s drinks. Sure, the guy drank a lot, but how much is that, exactly? Are we talking about one can? A whole six-pack? Are we talking wine or liquor? When we say how much he drank, you want to know what he drank and the actual amount.
Everybody who has ever had a drink (which is the same as me just saying everybody) knows that a drink for a girl of a small stature who looks as though the glass weighs more than her doesn’t go down the same as for the big burly guy who looks like he chops down trees in his spare time. All drinks are not created equal. Getting drunk for you requires a different amount of drinks than I do. (which is excellent for that bartender we were talking about earlier), so for any of us to look at Ernest Hemingway’s total and judge him is not fair to the guy.
He stood six feet tall and was 200 pounds. In other words, Ernest Hemingway was a pretty large man. Not a giant, but certainly one that can hold his alcohol. He could drink the same as most of us and probably be better off since most people are not six foot, 200 pounds. I was interested to find out that a man of his weight and height could drink a beer and then two hours later have his blood alcohol content, which measures how much alcohol is in you, be at zero.
There is a reason that Hemingway is known for drinking, and that is because he drank Daiquiri, a cocktail drink made of rum, which is to say that Hemingway was not at the bar, ordering Bud Light or some other beer. Instead, the man was doing a little bit more heavy lifting with his drinking. His drink had 20 percent alcohol, so you can see why many think of him as a drunk. Add to the stories that he once drank 17, yes, that is the correct number, in one night, and you got the making of a writer that catches the public’s imagination regarding drinking.
Amazingly enough, despite his drinking habit, he never drank as he wrote. If you want to believe that, then it is incredible that the man had enough time for both lifestyles; the night bar attending drunk, and the morning, contemplative selective writer. I can’t help but think there were a few stories that he may have at least started hung over, right? But, that’s just me there. The guy drank alcohol, like most of us are supposed to drink water, and I am expected to believe he did all of his writing sober. Then again, he is a classic writer that is revered by many generations and is regarded as one of the best American authors of all time, so who am I to question his lifestyle?
How Should Writers Deal With Drugs? - Op-Ed Piece
Rules help us to function as a society and to organize the very way we all go about our lives. From the spoken rules that your parents gave you as a child that were meant to enlighten you, to the written grammar rules that your English teacher tried to teach you back in school, to the laws that the police enforce upon all the citizens of a town to keep order, to the rules your boss has you read over before you sign to an agreement to work for him; rules are everywhere. You can’t go anywhere without there being some standard on how you are to conduct yourself. Over time rules get put down, for we find it easier to transfer that information via the individual reading over it than being told the rules verbally. Official rules are to be followed. There is no way around this policy (which is, coincidentally enough, an actual rule too). In between those written rules lies the rules that many of the kids, parents, teachers, students, cops, criminals, bosses, workers, and everyone else use to function. They help us all get on with the day in a manner that enforces the current rule but allows us some level of freedom and comfort. They are the unwritten rules.
Nobody ever talks about these rules aloud. They are not recorded in a book for us to study and read. You can’t really get in trouble for breaking them since they are not officially a rule. They come about because those involved in the culture understand that the rule isn’t needed to be written but is needed for them to function. Perhaps that rule is too silly, so the participants find it unnecessary to record the rule, or perhaps the rule is too controversial and restricting to put into words. As much as we all rely on the written rules to bring balance and fairness to our lives, we also recognize that the unwritten rules are as important. Literature is no different in this respect.
A specific unspoken rule in writing will be the topic of this piece. It is a rule that I believe one can apply to many areas of life as well, but for the author of bestselling novels, the blogger of short articles, the poet of emotional free verse, and any other writer out there, this hard, unspoken rule is tried and true. That rule is Just to get it done. Nobody cares how you do it. Write the piece for your online magazine. Write the sci-fi fantasy book. Write the poem you’ll share on Instagram. Write whatever you have to, in whatever way you have to, because there is a deadline. Whatever you do is okay, as long as the work is done.
Now, this rule seems harmless at first glance, and one may think that there is no harm in allowing individuals freedom in their own creative endeavors. You may even see this rhetoric as a promotion for a freelancer position. You can work your own hours, the promotion will tell you which is true. As a freelancer, you can work your own hours, which is a great thing to hear in our office working, 9-5 going, always-on-the-move world, but they fail to tell you how those hours are not guaranteed and that you are in a constant state of job searching as the current freelance job you have may end. Compare that situation to a more mundane job that doesn’t mention anything about the freedom of your job. Most don’t want freedom with their hours because that rarely means more hours for the individual, but less. A lot of workers would love to have worked enough hours that they get overtime, but how many workplaces are okay with that proposition? Or freedom with hours can be worse for the worker, it may mean that the worker is available whenever the boss needs them. You are then stuck being on the clock all the time, since you never know when the boss will ring you up to fill in for someone. Claiming that the lack of structure in your work routine is beneficial is not always true for some. Yes, we all hate the drive home from the office job that is always a traffic jam and forces us to listen to music or radio station in order fill the boredom, and the repetitiveness of the filling out of reports and invoices can be draining on our minds, but there is something to say for the fact that at 9 a.m. Monday, you know where you are supposed to be. When you initially hear Just get it done, You may see it, like the freelance promotion line, and think of pleasant things, not necessarily bad ones, but know that there is a dark side to this Nike/Al Davis-like slogan.
What are some of the implications of the phrase, though? It means that no matter the cost to the writer, they are to get the assignment done, which can be seen as very cruel to that unfortunate creative mind. I am reminded of the phrase I often hear in sports - We do whatever it takes to win. Now, most athletes and coaches put this in the nice category of their approach to the game. They are to work hard, give all their effort, and be the best they can be in their respective roles for the team. All provide pleasant commentary on the modern approach that athletes should have. It is suitable for filler in a column when the columnist needs a few quotes from the coach on what the team does to win. There are some in the field who will recognize the ramifications of such a statement though. Doing whatever to win also includes doing bad, questionable things in the name of victory. Nowhere in the information did I say anything about morality or ethics. Athletes know that. Coaches know that. And in our case, so do writers. If you have to cheat, steal, or do something that many would consider bad, then so be it, as long as you get the results done. Nobody is asking for saints here. The team wants to win. The magazine wants the article. It’s harsh, but it is a reality we all face.
Now with the use of controversial tactics to achieve your goal, one particular action will always come up: the use of drugs to either enhance your performance or alleviate some pain the tactics have caused you. In literature, mostly everybody is fine with whatever you do for either.
Let’s get some examples of both to get a better idea of what this can look like:
Example 1 - Taking a drug to help the writer stay up all night to get the book done. Without that drug, Adderall is the popular one used today; that book could not be completed. Yet, no one holds that against the writer. No one shames the writer for using the closest thing literature has to performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, the opposite happens. We praise the writer for even completing the book. Some critics may even go as far as giving the book itself praise. Does anybody say that the writer got help from a drug, though? Do we question the validity of the book? No. It’s all legitimate in our eyes. Then there are the actual drugs that are supposed to help your mental capacity and functionality. That is quite literally what a writer needs to do their job. Is it okay if a writer uses all the drugs to make should they work longer and think faster than the others? According to modern society, there is nothing wrong here.
The obvious comparison that literature may face here is the baseball steroid scandal of the late 90s and early 2000s. Those players got in trouble because they took things that gave them an unfair advantage over their competition. Players hit home runs more than ever, and everybody in the league was doing it until the drug use got so out of hand that the fans started to question the very integrity of the game. What people thought was great feats, was nothing more than a man on steroids, hitting home runs. Players went to places others have never been, because they were cheating. Why doesn’t literature feel this way about drugs? “Oh, it’s just writing. It’s not a competition.” Some will say. I am sure those bestseller lists are put up for fun then too. The writer goes around promoting their book, for the hell of it? Literature doesn’t like to admit that competition is going on, but there is. When Stephen King releases a book, it is bad for the indie author; why? Because he gets all the book sales, leaving the competition in the dust. If you say that writing is just for fun, and we are all in it together, then you clearly have been beaten by those other authors. Losers pretend like the game doesn’t matter when they lose. If it isn’t a competition, then the writer is not getting an advantage over anyone since there is no opponent. If two writers are writing a book, and one takes drugs to help them complete it, and the other doesn’t, nobody credits the drug as helping the one writer. We wrongly claim that the completed book happened because of some natural ability that the writer possesses.
Example 2 – A writer drinks and has a massive alcohol problem even though he is a famous author that everyone loves. There are two real-world examples of writers that have had this very problem. First, Stephen King, the legend of the modern horror novel, had (and still may) a problem with drinking. As he wrote The Shining, I remember reading that he was either in rehab or going through a dark place because he almost drank himself to death. Even in the story of The Shining, the very protagonist, Jack Torrance, is found in the bar talking for a few scenes. His descent into madness may not be as far from the thought that Stephen King either had or felt at the time of the book. The second real-world example is a writer whose drinking is part of his lore that you may even know who I am talking about before I even say his name: Ernest Hemingway. The man had a problem, like Stephen King. (I personally think the man struggled with some sort of depression, too, since some of those short stories read as a man trying to cope with loss than anything else, but that is not what I am talking about right now) Hemingway drank so much, that it is part of how we know him as a writer. He is one of the few writers to have this notorious claim. Let that sink in for a minute: he drank so much that instead of talking about his classic stories, we are talking about his alcoholism.
Both writers are great in their own right. Both should be on your bookshelf and were genuine students of the craft. I was impressed when I learned how much the men put into the art of writing. Like a fine artisan working on their sculpture, both men had original thoughts and ideas for how one should go about writing. (I advise the reader to look into both of the men for their insights into writing, for you are bound to learn a thing or two from the two masters of words) Do we think less of these men for their alcoholism, though? Do we think we should question their art and that their addiction could have hindered or helped their writing? No. We think nothing of it, almost as if we try to forget they ever did it. We want Ernest Hemingway to be at his typewriter, focusing on the sixtieth edit he is putting on his book. We want Stephen King at his desk typing up another sequel to The Shining. (I acknowledge that Hemingway has drinking as part of his lore, but when you look him up, you won’t find him with a bottle but writing. We talk of his drinking, but we want to be impressed by his writing. I know I may have sounded like I contradicted myself there)
If there is anything that is harsh about this very topic, it is the public’s dismissal of problems that an individual faces in favor of an appreciation of the art that they contributed. Don’t tell the reader that the book they are reading should be banned because when it was written, the writer was on drugs that enhanced their writing ability. Don’t bring up the drinking of Hemingway or King because that may ruin people’s love for their stories.
Where does this leave a writer? Should a writer jeopardize their very health to write more of the story or complete the article? Should a writer take something to deal with the stresses of their career as a wordsmith? According to how society treats them, yes, yes, they should. Until the public cares about the writer possibly taking something that can artificially enhance their book or that the writer is becoming an addict, then the writer will, unfortunately, be pushed into this lifestyle. To be a professional writer, author, blogger, or whatever you want to be called, one must be willing to take drugs to meet their deadlines and then take a vice to deal with the stresses of that writing process.
Ask someone about their favorite writer, taking something like that of an athlete, and the public would have no problem with it, even if this drug can possibly harm the writer. I am sure that some of you are laughing at this very proposal I am giving you. Right now, you are laughing, but laugh when you hear about the writer who had to take drugs in order to stay up for three days to complete their latest novel. Tell someone that their favorite writer has a problem, and people will shrug it off as commonplace. We accept that there are bad things in the world, so we think nothing of the writer falling victim to them. Do any of us help the alcoholic? Nope. We accept that they have a problem and move on with our reading of their book.
I’ll end this with two questions:
Question 1: Would you want your favorite book book banned if you learned it was written by a writer who could only write it because of drugs that increased their writing ability?
Question 2: If you learned that your favorite author was an addict but could still produce books, would you want them to stop writing to get healthy, or would you be okay with the addicted writer living that lifestyle?
We all know the answers here, which may be part of the problem.
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About The Blogger
Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.
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