Go with a smile!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

3 interesting biographies

It’s funny how these things come together. In a short span of time, I read 3 intriguing biographies of people from the Guardian, all of them are to some extent tragic.

In the first and the most tragic, a baker wins 5 million pounds in a lottery, and his life goes downhill from there. He becomes an alcoholic, spends his money on race horses, loses his wife, and dies of a heart attack 5 years later.

He blames it all on the lottery, but I know a thing or 2 about addiction. You can pinpoint the time when you got addicted to something, you only need a taste of a certain something to activate the self-destructive circuits that are there in your DNA. You only need to experience it once, then you like it, you do it a few more times, and then you’re an addict. The baker’s destiny was to become an alcoholic, and he was just lucky that he was past 50 by the time he started off on alcohol. (In case you’re wondering what my addiction is, I’m not going to tell you.) Whereas his downfall was due to the lottery, I think the causation is indirect.

The second story involves a high flying political career brought down to earth. John Edwards was a philanderer just like Bill Clinton. However, in Bill Clinton’s case, he was lucky enough that both his wife and the public were willing to accept him as a political leader and close 1 eye about his affairs. John Edwards, in contrast, had always portrayed himself as a decent family man, and neither his wife nor the public would have expected that he had affairs. I had already known, from the synopsis of “Game Change”, one of the most interesting books about that most interesting of presidential campaigns, that John Edwards’ campaign faded away because he was having an affair. Not the Bill Clinton one-night-stand kind of affair, but a long drawn out affair.

The third story is not really a tragedy, but a story of hope. (Although a lot of it is tragic.) A former editor of the Sun (that’s the UK version of the New Paper, the national trashy tabloid) comes out and admits that he’s an alcoholic. Because of the way that the UK is being run, this means that he is one of the most powerful men in the UK, and without the public responsibility and accountability to go with it. Why? Because once you don’t like somebody, you can publish a not nice story about that guy, and you could finish off his career at a stroke of a pen. I’m not even sure that the Prime Minister of the UK has that power. (Rupert Murdoch is widely regarded as a big asshole because he turned The Sun into an organisation who does this sort of thing.)

That is also the reason why he managed to keep his alcoholism under wraps: because he was always capable of taking revenge on editors of other newspapers if they tried anything funny.

But I found most remarkable about his story is that he managed to change the political orientation of the Sun. Once he found out that his real parents were leftist activists, he decided to make the viewpoint of the Sun more liberal. Eventually, he managed to quit drinking before his wife died of cancer, and be at her side.

In a perverse way, therefore, I find that his story is uplifting. In spite of his alcoholism, he was able to reach the top of his career. In spite of his working for the Sun, he managed to do something good for gay rights. At the end of the day, he managed to overcome his alcoholism.

And that is the paradox, I think, of a lot of people who manage to rise to great heights. They do it in spite of a weakness. It’s even possible to say, they do it because of that weakness. Like that asthmatic who knows how important it is to win the struggle to breathe, and later on becomes a world swimming champion. Like the man who was born of a humble background, and is blind in 1 eye, but becomes the Prime Minister of Britain (but not for much longer, I think – this is Gordon Brown). Or the street kid who, in spite of having grown up in a brothel, whose health is atrocious, and who has a string of unhappy love affairs, is nevertheless one of the best loved singers of all time in France. (Edith Piaf).

In a way, the third story is the mirror image of the lottery winner, who got a windfall, and it turned out to be the greatest curse in his life.

I don't know much about alcoholism but here's what I know. It's a little strange that something that most of us can consume without that much harm can end up wrecking peoples' lives. I don't know how it happens, but one of the symptoms is delirious tremens, or the "shakes", where if you don't get enough alcohol, your body will seize up and start shaking. You need alcohol to function normally, and of course, this constant drinking is the thing that makes your alcoholism even worse.

Some of you might remember a film more than 10 years ago called "Leaving Las Vegas", which was also the rare times you heard "Nicholas Cage" and "Oscar" being mentioned in the same sentence. It was adapted from a book about a man drinking himself to death, written by a real life alcoholic, who committed suicide 2 weeks after finding out that it was going to be made into a movie.

I'm halfway through it, but it describes the routine of an alcoholic. The trick was to make sure that you had alcohol throughout the day. You had to be very careful to stock up at 2 am when the bars close, because from then, it's 5 hours to 7 am, when the earliest bars which serve alcohol open. Then at 11 am you don't have to confine yourself to the crappy bars that open in the morning, you just hang around any bar you choose. From there it's "hor seh liao" until 2 am.

If you feel disgusted reading that, I did too.

My sis described to me what it was like treating alcoholics. Basically they weren't allowed to give them alcohol. So what do you do when the shakes come on? I suppose she just injected them with something that had alcohol in it. After all, alcohol is unlike many drugs, in that withdrawal syndromes could be fatal. There's probably no such thing as cold turkey when it comes to alcohol. You just have to drink a little bit less every day.



Blogger Nat said...

Where do you come off comparing Sun with the New paper. Sun has great 3rd page articles ;)

3:31 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Maybe I should not have made that comparison. In terms of trashiness and sex factor, probably the Shin Min is a better comparison.

10:22 PM


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