Sometimes I get high and feel I’m the most brilliant writer

Sometimes I get high is a series about the activities you do or things you think about when you’re high, in deep detail, for the fun of it.

When I get high and decide to write, I feel like my laptop knows I’m stoned. We got a connection like that. Nobody knows me like my axe — which is what I call my MacBook when I want everyone to go away from me. When I’m really on one — writing wise — I sleep with the damn thing. The relationship is such that the laptop seems to know how to make my fingers fly like Beethoven or Glenn Tipton.

Cannabis helps me get out of my own way. When I spark and then write, I feel like I’m a brilliant writer, you know? Not one who simply types whatever is asked of them or works their thumbs against screens, but an actual crafter of ideas that come alive in the world of paragraphs. My personal understanding of the gig as a writer is to make words dance in the minds of others. Almost a quarter-century ago, I did just that, when I explained, “Cool is about turning desire into deed with a surplus of ease.” Danced an idea into existence.

And in a story I wrote about the struggles faced by Black American farmers I said, “In the imagination of Black America, farming has existed as a centuries-long, government-enacted crime scene.” Last December those words worked to help enact change. I have the receipts.

It’s taken decades to get on top of my ideas and language and operate in the neighborhood of peak performance. Mostly when I got high, that brilliance was just a feeling.

Back in the days of putting out my own non-fiction stories while faded, there was no social media. No internet. No Apple Macs. The concept of social media was inconceivable. Instant publishing worldwide? Our newspaper editors were physically carrying pages from their typewriters to a woman in an adjacent building called “the typesetter.” If I told you I edited with quill and inkwell, for a second you might believe it.

I learned to type on a Selectric typewriter located by the vocational skills wing of Sacramento City College. The Wite-Out company was doing big business back in the 1980s, and the stakes of crafting sentences were higher than you could imagine, as every second thought, every backspace, came with a material cost. One thought hard before committing to a key, to a letter.

At 19 I was a shitty typist. It was all but impossible to let my fingers fly sober, nevermind baked — though I tried.

In 2021, I can type the first neat and wildly inaccurate thought in my head and offend someone important within seconds, simply because I’ve underestimated my good friend’s homegrown cannabis. In 1985, it would have taken a ransom note to get their attention. But today, that Twitter fight with 20 different progressives with whom I’m in 90% agreement is just one misunderstood tweet away. Typos and half-baked theories on display for the world to see.

Being high on social media is all but inevitable. It’s what the scribe-inclined does while inside this chasm of risks that can nudge them into legitimate brilliant writer territory. Typing words onto social media platforms gratifies, but it rarely results in brilliant lit. The tell? Crafting writing that is actually good is a painful process, whereas tweeting simply dispenses dopamine.

Inside of a high Twitter moment I may feel like a great writer, but when the tweet I thought could change the world is missing a word that would have made the whole thing clear, I know I’m too high and am over my skis while barreling down the mountaintop.

Write for a living long enough and you come to understand that, like most things in life, in order to produce quality work a balance must be struck. When I was in my 20s and working for weekly alternative newspapers, the writing process was demystified by a wayward role model in two steps: “Cannabis to write, speed to edit.” In a short time, I realized that coffee was the more sustainable cannabis companion. And over many years it became clear that one’s relationship to breath can be a more powerful sentence-crafting tool than either caffeine or speed.

The takeaway is this: at some point, a clear mind is required to refine what the influenced mind puts on a page. It’s not sexy. No one is liking or retweeting edits made for the sake of clarity or fluidity. Matthew McConaughey is not chewing on the end of his faux glasses, playing this in a film. And yet this is how one turns that feeling of brilliance into powerful sentences that stack on top of one another into unshakeable paragraphs.

I don’t know anyone who writes well while super high all of the time. That’s been my decades-long experience. I don’t know, maybe I need to get out of my silo more. Stand-ups seem able to pull off their gigs stoned to the brink of oblivion and certain rappers can do their thing, for a time. But stoned writers? We can usually use a good editor, time away from the page, and fresh eyes.

My advice to writers (high or otherwise): descend from that Twitter thread tap-dance that means everything and nothing. Ease out of the high-minded Clubhouse idea exercises. Let it happen. Work out, lose friends. Spark up, but don’t forget to come down and come home.


Donnell Alexander

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