Ernest Hemingway, Russell Brand and the Unfortunate Relationship Between Art and Addiction

I recently read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway as part of my commitment to study notable authors and decipher how they do what they do. I was particularly attracted to Hemingway because I knew his writing style was understated and sparse, stripped of sentimentality, yet somehow enabling such indulgences to play out in the mind of the reader.

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I want my writing to be like this, minimalist and understated but infused with emotion and urgency. I want to present simple words and sentences, stripped of flowery or obscure language, and simply describe characters and scenes that are relatable to readers, stories that invoke empathy and intrigue.

Good writing is telling the truth and once you actually find the truth in a story then it’s pretty simple to tell.

I enjoyed experiencing the Paris cafe/bar scene in the 20s, the baking, unspoilt world of the Spanish mountains and, most of all, the harrowing and brutal world of bull fighting. I enjoyed the character portraits and what they revealed about our best and worst qualities as humans.

And yes, I definitely appreciated his writing style. I aim to emulate it. Not in any kind of conscious way but I think if I commit to my method of using meditation to settle my mind, be completely present with whatever I’m writing and just tell the truth, I’ll be doing all I can.

What really struck me though was how much they drank in that book. I paid special attention to this because I knew Hemingway was an alcoholic who ultimately stuck a loaded shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He’s definitely not alone among writers and artists.

Jack Kerouac drank himself to death, dying at 47 from cirrhosis. Hunter S. Thompson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Faulkner, the list goes on an on. Alan Watts reportedly drank a fifth of vodka a day. Stephen King did so much cocaine he had to stuff cotton balls up his nose so blood wouldn’t drip on his typewriter.

And that’s just writers. As Bill Hicks famously reminded us, all “the musicians that made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years were real fucking high on drugs.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Stephen King’s family staged an intervention and, with their love and support, he eventually sobered up.

“There were nine months [after quitting] when I was out of gas, depressed,” King said in an interview with the Guardian. “And despite what some people say depression is not conducive to good writing or to bad writing. But then it came back. When I gave up dope and alcohol, my immediate feeling was ‘I’ve saved my life, but there’ll be a price because I’ll have nothing that buzzes me any more. But I enjoyed my kids. My wife loved me and I loved her. And eventually the writing came back and I discovered that the writing was enough. Stupid thing is that probably it always had been.”

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, a book that inspired countless artists (including myself), peaked creatively after beating her alcohol and drug addiction and diving into spiritual practice instead.

Russell Brand used yoga and transcendental meditation to help kick his heroin habit and now listen to him speak.

Dude is connected and awakened and speaks the piece with astounding clarity and depth.  He uses words that sound beautiful when strung together and delivered in his irresistibly charming accent.

As a side note, I often read my writing to myself in an English accent. In fact, now that I think about it, it’s actually Russell Brand’s voice that I imagine. It really does make everything I write sound cooler. Try it. Start reading this post again with Russell Brand’s voice in your head and I guarantee it will sound more profound.

The point of all this meandering is simply to say:

1. Hemingway was a literary genius.

2. He died way too young like so many other artistic geniuses.

3. It’s impossible to create great art when you’re dead.

4. Love is the greatest and most sustainable source of inspiration and connection.

5. Russell Brand is a wise dude and his accent is awesome.