First, let me say this: I love wine. I really, really love it—how it sparkles in the glass, its velvety feel on my tongue, the delicious tickle it creates in my brain. I love looking forward to “Wine-o’Clock,” which for my husband, who works out of the house, comes as soon as his agenda for the day clears, and for me, whenever that happens for him. Because who can write when your partner has raised the party flag?
My husband is a dedicated oenophile. We have two wine refrigerators where he stores the bottles he collects, plus a wine rack for our more pedestrian bottles. I think it holds twenty or so. On our first formal date, we split a bottle of Opus One. He has trained me not only to love wine, but to love good wine.
And now I’m taking a year off from this lovely pleasure—all of 2012. Why? Well, for several (what I consider to be) very good reasons.
The first and probably most important of these reasons is productivity. I am a writer, and even though I am brilliant after a glass or two of pinot noir (just ask any of my writer-friends who’ve retreated with me, and they’ll tell you this is so true), I do not actually write when this brilliance shows up. I talk a good game, offer insights into their work, delve deeply into topics like using setting as character, unreliable narrators, and the magic of well-written dialogue. But I do not write.
Secondly, writers need also to be voracious readers. I love nothing better than to sit down in a comfy chair with a glass of wine and a good book. But once glasses two and three come on the scene, whatever I have read goes to some nether region of my brain, never to be heard from again. I open the book to my bookmark the next day… and flip back a page… and another page… and think to myself, what the heck is going on? I don’t remember any of this!
The third problem (notice how I have to get to number three before I call them problems?) is that my mother became an alcoholic in her forties, and I have some very bad memories of what that was like. Though she was what they call a “functional alcoholic” who showed up for work every morning without fail (she was a highly regarded executive secretary), and wore a very responsible public face, she missed out on so much with regard to relationships and personal growth. By this phase in her life, she wasn’t interested in anyone or anything but getting through the day, doing what was expected of her, and going home to that first Manhattan of the evening, or Whiskey Sour, or later on, beer. All of her creativity—and she had been so very creative—vanished, buried under layer upon layer of numbness.
I don’t want to be her.
This is the second time in my adult life I’ve “taken a year off.” In 2003, I needed to prove to myself that I could do without my wine. (Not to mention that my liver needed a break.) That year, I finished and revised my first novel. I was able to concentrate on research, plot layering, and getting everything woven together perfectly in my head and on the page. And yes, I attribute that mostly to the fact that I wasn’t drinking.
This year will be tough at times, I know. Particularly hard will be the trip my husband and I are planning to wine country. But there are other things I look forward to when we visit wineries: the calming scenery, the wonderful little trays of crackers with fig jam and goat cheese and artisan bread, the conversation that never seems to happen at home with the television on. I’ll be the designated driver, of course, a proposition of which I’m not especially fond; but I’m on board anyway, because there’s an upside: we’ll be safe.
Now. Just so you’ll know that I don’t love everything about my year of abstinence, I’ve found a disturbing downside. I used to wake up in the wee hours and stare at the ceiling. But during that wakefulness, many times a perfect phrase or idea for my book would pop into my head and I’d scribble it on the pad I keep on the nightstand for use the next day. Some of my best ideas happened that way. But now I’m sleeping through the night. Ah, well.
Today, it’s been 32 days. I’m one-twelfth of the way to my goal. By December 31st, I will have another finished novel under my belt, another thirty-plus books crossed off my to-read list, and will have chosen the perfect bottle of petit verdot with which to ring in 2013.
Susan Rosson Spain is the author of a young adult novel, The Deep Cut, as well as a picture book, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia. The mother of four grown daughters and ’Nana’ to seven-and-a-half grandchildren (eighth due this month!), Susan lives in Conyers, Georgia with her husband Dave and two very rambunctious shelties. She is currently at work on her next novel, a young adult dystopian tale.