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Far From Flatbush

My Process

Photo courtesy Drug Enforcement Administration.
Maybe you smoke weed to get high, but for me it's a performance-enhancing drug.

That marijuana can help me with my writing is something that I've been aware of for decades, even before one of my distinguished professors at City College told me that she sometimes smoked a joint before editing her own work. She said it made it easier for her to see the "bullshit," and to cross it out.

To be clear: I don’t write when I’m stoned. Quite the opposite, actually. I start work in the morning, after breakfast, usually around 10 o’clock. And depending upon deadlines (or lack thereof) I keep going well into the afternoon. First I write this blog to get my brain into gear. Then I do whatever freelance work I have. And finally I get to the book I’m working on—Bobby in Naziland at the moment—and devote my remaining creative energies to that. Sometime between 3 and 5 o’clock, I find that I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, that I can no longer focus on the computer screen. That’s when I stop.

Writing, in other words, is a sober, self-motivating act of discipline that I’ve been going at fulltime since September 1999, when I left my regular job. It’s after I finish writing that I put a pinch of performance-enhancing cannabis into my pipe, smoke it, and then take a very long walk.

It’s the combination of the marijuana and the walking that puts me into a mind-freeing meditative state similar to what some people might achieve through yoga or chanting. When I’m totally into it, I can walk two or three miles without even realizing I’m walking; I can suddenly look around and have no idea where I am or how I got there.

It’s while I’m walking that my mind is turning over the words that I’ve been wrestling with all day. It happens almost every time: the idea that I couldn’t figure out how to express, or the sentence that I’d rewritten ten times but which still wasn’t right, or the chapter title that didn’t quite click… the correct wording magically pops into my head. I pull a pen and a piece of paper out of my pocket, and leaning against the nearest horizontal surface—a car, a mailbox, a newspaper box—I scribble it down as if in a fever state. Then, the next day, when I go back to my book, that’s where I begin, with the notes I’d taken on my walk.

And no, it tends not to happen if I haven’t smoked beforehand.

I don’t suppose Oprah would want me to come on her show and confess to my use of a performance enhancing drug.
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