Sunday, January 12, 2003
posted 2:42 PM

In case you’re wondering, it’s alive and well,
That little habit that you left with me,
Here in the suburbs where it’s hard to tell,
If I got bear, or the bear got me.
--Walter Becker, “Down In The Bottom”

Timothy Leary was indeed fond of NEUROMANCER, and I never felt it necessary to point out to him that drugs in my books didn’t do what drugs in his books did.

In my entire corpus there is never a moment, as far as I can recall, in which a character actually gets anything out of taking a drug other than being on that particular drug at that particular moment. At no point do I imply, for instance, that the Rastafarians of Zion Cluster are any wiser, or more perceptive, for all that ganja they smoke. I think a survey (students take note) would reveal that drug use, in my fiction, is usually depicted as being somewhat problematic, however much it might be a part of a given culture. (Mimesis, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.}

One exception to this might seem to be Case’s Beta-P experience in Freeside, but isn’t. Beta-P is actually a substance our brains secrete when we fall in love. Make of that what you will, but I’d argue that that is not a drug experience, at least not as intended in the context of the narrative and Case’s character.

Leary once told me that he thought that the best single piece of advice he could give to a writer was to either write stoned and edit sober, or vice versa. For me, functionally and organically, composition and revision are aspects of one process, territories on a continuum. The need to chemically define two individual states seems anything but a shortcut. The journey out from baseline and back seems a waste of time, when, if you accept that one cannot step twice into the same Heracletian river, simply waiting a while will have the same effect. The Heracletian “you” that returns to the task is not the “you” that put it down earlier. That, to me, is the easier shortcut. Of course, if one were really inducing that state only because one enjoyed it, and wished to repeat it, that would be something else.

And then there is the matter of “state-specific learning”, wherein skills acquired in an altered state prove difficult, even impossible, to import to an unaltered state. This can be a problem, should one find oneself for some reason unable (or perhaps, eventually, unwilling) to alter state. I suspect that this, more than anything else, accounts for much of the (Western) mythology of drugs and creativity. If you learn to write on drugs, you might find that you feel you need drugs in order to write.

As to drugs facilitating creativity, I think I’ve seen a lot of paintings, most often stacked along the walls of thrift shops, that argue against this. (Amphetamines, however, can definitely facilitate macramé.) Where are our great novels of the Sixties drug experience? Somehow, it seems, they didn’t get written, in spite of all that major facilitation. (Is my Boomer cohort holding out on us? Are they writing them even now? Scary.)

Leary and I had a few telephone conversations, during his final month, that I won’t easily forget. In one of these, he told me that the experience of accepting that he was dying had brought him an appreciation of the life he had lived, and the people he had lived it with, that otherwise would have been unattainable. I’m not sure he said “appreciation”, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t say “understanding”. Whatever words he used, I think he meant he’d been able to apprehend something, finally, in a way he couldn’t have, otherwise.

His very last call consisted of him inviting me to his wake, and assuring me that I’d be “on the A-list”. I told him I’d be there, though I knew I wouldn’t. I had an abscessed tooth, was scheduled for a root canal, and, besides, I knew he wasn’t going to be there. He wouldn’t miss me, and I didn’t want to go all the way down there just to miss him even more.

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