Yoga for Writers, a donation-based, hour-long yoga class at Hugo House, is book-ended with the reading of a poem.
At a recent class, that poem was W.S. Merwin's "For the Anniversary of My Death." "Every year without knowing it I have passed the day / When the last fires will wave to me," the teacher read as our breaths began to deepen.
As we moved through stretches, my mind wandered back into the past, when writers were allowed (even expected) to be bad. Dorothy Parker didn't do yoga. To write was to drink, to smoke, to stay up all night, to burn through money, to eat what you please, and to never do any kind of stretch. So many of the great American writers were drunks—Chandler, Cheever, Faulkner, Fitzgerald—that writing, one assumed, must be enhanced, even made possible, by a drink... or, even better, a whole bottle.
Of course, it's really just an excuse to get drunk. Drinking doesn't make anyone's writing better; it just makes it harder to spell. Even Ernest Hemingway—a man often credited with saying, "Write drunk; edit sober"—apparently didn't take that advice. He wrote in the morning. The afternoon was when he drank.
Still, writers like to think there is something about the act of putting words on paper that is so difficult, so wrenching, so bloodletting, that the only cure is frequent infusions of booze. I suspect, however, that the opposite is true: The real reason writers drink is because writing is easy. Have you ever tried mining coal with a hangover? Or changing a bedpan? How about convincing 30 kindergarteners that it's time to take a nap? Writing is one of the only professions in which it's possible to do work when your stomach is a mess and your head is an anvil. It might not feel good, but with enough Advil, you can probably type through it.
This view, however, is changing. In the United States in general, and Seattle in particular, we've embraced wellness, self-care, and even (gasp!) being sober. Alcohol sales are falling for the first time in generations, and you can now go to early morning raves where the only drug available is coffee. We do fasts and cleanses and do-it-yourself colonics. A three-drink lunch is a fireable offense, but dipping your body in a freezing cold cryotherapy chamber is perfectly normal. I guess this is a good thing? Sure, it might be hard to imagine F. Scott Fitzgerald in child's pose, but he also died before he was 50.
At Hugo House, after we moved through cat/cows and down-dogs and ommed our way to inner peace (or at least a little more balance), the teacher offered us pen and paper, and I jotted down a note. "Poses focused on the neck, shoulders, and back," I wrote, "the parts of the body the writer is most likely to injure." Absenting, of course, the brain, the heart, and the liver.