by Al Drinkle
During my reckless youth, the acts of bowling and drinking often coincided amongst my friends and I. We bemusedly noticed that our bowling skills improved with modest imbibing, but rapidly diminished with the onset of inebriation. To my memory, this was as far as the analysis ever went, it never occurring to us that the mastery of the game could in essence be achieved through the meticulous, almost mathematical, engagement with alcohol. In all honesty, this idea might have become manifest, but on most evenings reaching execrable levels of drunkenness was more important than an impressive bowling score.
Of course this phenomenon is not restricted to bowling and I've amassed experiential evidence that alcohol can provide a similar fine-tuning of proficiency in the realms of cooking, musical performance, sexual prowess, public speaking, and socializing, just to name a few. But the careful and dexterous utilization of alcohol is not only useful in the enhancement of such skill sets; in fact, this capacity is merely an indicator of alcohol's eminently more fascinating role in the unveiling and the calibration of the true self.
Humans are incredibly complex animals and we all respond differently, both in body and mind, to the influence of alcohol. In Plato's Symposium, Socrates argues for moderation in the following way:
“If we pour ourselves immense draughts, it will be no long time before both our bodies and minds reel, and we shall not be able even to draw breath, much less to speak sensibly; but if the servants frequently "besprinkle” us… with small cups, we shall thus not be driven on by the wine to a state of intoxication, but instead shall be brought by its gentle persuasion to a more sportive mood.”
This is straightforward enough, except that one man's incremental "besprinkling” is another's roaring debauch, and one must act responsibly in pursuing sportive moods and not intoxication.
In On Wine and Hashish, Charles Baudelaire categorically states, "there are wicked drunkards; they are people who are naturally wicked. The wicked man becomes abominable [when intoxicated], just as the good man becomes truly excellent.” Similarly, Thomas de Quincey argues that “it is most absurdly said, in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for, on the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety, and exceedingly disguised; and it is when they are drinking that men display themselves in their true complexion of character.” I have no intention of arguing for or against these admittedly compelling (if potentially unfair) assertions, but will simply say that they fortify my argument that drinking serves to calibrate, if not unveil, the most harmonious self that each of us are capable of embodying. And of course this means that for some, the most congruent form of self is attained at stark sobriety.
Baudelaire arguably put more thought into these concepts than anybody else, and he's worth quoting again. He envisions a “philosophical doctor” who could serve to "carry out a penetrating study of wine, a sort of twofold psychology, the two terms of which are wine and man. He will explain how and why certain drinks possess the ability of increasing immeasurably the personality of the thinking being, and of creating, so to speak, a third person - a mystical operation in which natural man and wine, the animal god and the vegetable god, play the roles of the Father and the Son in the Trinity; they engender a Holy Spirit who is the superior man who proceeds equally from the two of them.” All this from just a few sips of wine... You thought that it was just washing down your tagliatelle when in fact it was fine-tuning your personality and conjuring an unadulterated version of yourself!
It's inarguable that wine is the ideal vehicle with which to calibrate the self. Its effects are gentler than spirits, fostering greater chances of evoking one's true nature without drowning it. Perhaps along this line of argument, beer or cider would be even safer, although some selves wouldn't be sufficiently calibrated until the onset of bloating, vile breath and intemperate belching, thus rendering the achievement fugacious at best. Wine, the vegetable god in its most succinct fermented incarnation, is the easiest to integrate.
Considering how delicious wine can be, not to mention our tendency to subscribe to the erroneous dictum that if a certain measure is good, more must be better, this is easier said than done. But an axiom is no less veracious for being difficult to put into practice.The goal should be the point where honesty, magnanimity and altruism collide with joviality and spiritual clarity while the possession of faculties is maintained to the greatest possible degree and the risk to one's health, both long- and short-term, is kept to a minimum.
For some this might mean just an ounce or two of invigorating wine, but if so, indulge in that modest measure! It will unveil the best version of yourself!