I understand you started out as a journalist. What happened to that dream, and do you ever intend to return to journalism”
Journalist is a high-falutin’ term for reporter, and I was a terrible one. No, strike that. I wasn’t horrible, but I always needed to insert myself into stories. When I “studied journalism” (read: completed a 10-week class on writing short paragraphs), I was smitten with New Journalism. Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Norman Mailer were my heroes; interestingly, all are known much more for their fiction, “fictional novels” and essays than for their journalism. I am none of them, nor will ever be, but I won’t return to reporting or writing straight news, if that last is not an oxymoron. After all, the facts that matter to me matter to me, and perhaps me alone.
When I first got to college, an old man and army veteran at 22, my professors were pleasantly surprised my writing style was more essay than news. On a good day, that meant lengthy and thoughtful paragraphs that developed a point in an original way. Most days, my writing was long, with point upon point upon point leading to a conclusion along the lines of “black is a dark color.” Very insightful. I suspect most professors wished I could have embraced newswriting as a style.
You refer to yourself as a “formerly homeless drunk.” Since you’ve gone on to do many other things, and had accomplished things before that period, why do you cling to that?
I refer to myself as a formerly homeless drunk because I used to be homeless and I used to be drunk. I’m neither of those things anymore, nor do I wish to be, although who can predict the future. By keeping them as my calling card, I suppose I’m talismanning away the darkness. Talismanning was not a word, I don’t think, until now. I’m in no danger of accidentally slipping back into acting, directing, teaching, principaling or any of the other caps I’ve worn, but if I were to start drinking again, I would likely become homeless again.
How do you keep from drinking?
I wish I had some great insight into that. I don’t. Alcoholics of my type should stay away from insights. For instance, I once proved to myself I wasn’t an alcoholic by going eight days without a drop of alcohol. No alcoholic could do that. The eight days were spent at Disney World with my three daughters, all under 13. One half my brain was devoted to manufacturing lies, and the other spent its energy buying them. As my friend Gavin says, “If you’re deceiving yourself, do you know you’re being lied to?”
To answer the question, I spend time with alcoholics of my type, talking with them about what things had been like, what happened and what things are like now. I find spending time with folks who are newly sober is good for me and, I hope, good for them.
Also, I pray.
Pray? I thought you didn’t believe in God.
Belief has nothing to do with it. When I pray, life goes better. When I don’t life goes sideways. Of course, I only pray one prayer, so it might even be seen as a mantra:
“Thank you, God.”
Maybe 30 or 40 times a day, I toss up this prayer. Not just when things seem good, for I don’t really know what’s good for me. Not just when things are bad, for I don’t really know what’s bad for me. Expressing gratitude for being able to express gratitude seems to clean out my pipes.