Myths and Misunderstandings
We flatter those whom we describe as “burning the candle at both ends.” In truth, the people of whom we say this — or worse, who proudly think it of themselves — are typically burning the candle at neither end. They are merely gnawing away at their wax, anxiously chewing up their lives until they are reduced to wicks without fuel. Eventually, even should they somehow be lit, they will merely flicker red for an instant, and then quickly smoke out.
Those who adhere to the myth of the drunken poet actually view their subject much like one looking through the wrong end of a telescope. The drunken poet neither writes because he is drunk nor drinks because he writes. He writes because he is trying not to be drunk. His poetry may be his means of resisting the urge to drown himself in drink. Or, alternatively, he may be the man who has had a few too many, and must therefore expend every ounce of energy and willpower left in his soul in a desperate attempt to walk a straight line before all the world — to appear sober, not least to himself. “I’m okay, I’m okay!” such a man slurs too loudly, desperately waving his fellows off for as long as he can stand up under his own strength — sometimes to considerable effect.
The drunken poet, perhaps more than any other man, is — as a poet — obsessed with sobriety.
The rebel.– We identify our rebels by their jackets, the way they wear their pants, the coarse disregard for formalities of polite language and comportment. But such marks of rebellious identity are, by definition, poses. Those who strike poses are obviously hoping to be noticed and singled out for their appearance. They are therefore essentially, almost maniacally we might say, concerned with reputation, with being admired (or feared) — with being accepted as non-conformists. The posing non-conformist, paradoxically, is most desirous of having his supposed rebelliousness acknowledged, admitted, approved. The rebellious pose is thus a particularly insidious (because more subtle) form of conformity.
The true rebel, by contrast (infinitely rarer than his posing counterpart), is not concerned with appearing so — nor, particularly, with not appearing so. Appearances are generally outside of his range of concerns altogether, except when, for practical reasons, he approaches others ironically. But irony is precisely a method of not looking as “rebellious” as one really is.