Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Research is personal... kind of

I get this question a lot: why does my research so often revolve around substance abuse? Students who are flirting with the idea of making me their primary advisor tend to ask this, as do journalists (yes, I interview a lot), junior faculty, and folks at dinner parties who wonder what it is I do much of the day. Of course, as I put together my tenure and promotion packet, it's a question that stares me in the face.

Lots of reasons. When I first drifted into my doctoral program at Brandeis University (the decision to obtain my doctorate was not quite a conscious one; rather, like most of my life, it was a tributary that opened up and which in my curiousity I decided to paddle down), some of the best and most generous minds in the field made research opportunities available to me. Research areas have glitz appeal, with some more definitely more glamorous than others. Back then, when I was wet behind the ears, substance abuse and its sibling mental health were NOT the sexy darlings they have become today.

But mostly I fell into this field through the subconscious realization that it was personal. I'd seen the use and overuse of certain substances - tobacco, alcohol, drugs - among family members and friends. Their use intrigued me; mostly, I wondered why they used, what pains they were masking or truths they were seeking. Being practical, I decided to exploit my pharmacy training and specialize in prescription drug abuse. And that is what I am 'famous' for: studyng the fine balance between medical and non-medical use of medications that have medical utility and can get us high.

But I don't study tobacco. I don't study alcohol. And if you ask me why, I'll answer: it is too personal. My heart aches too much when I see someone gasping for air due to emphysema, or I see a young, beautiful kid with a cigarettes dripping from her lips, or another rolling in his own bourbon-smelling vomit. But seeing a smack deal go down in the Lexington Market parking lot, a kid bleeding from scabby track marks, or someone's beautific smile after getting their methadone from the Carter Center don't really faze me. I even talk to a lot of the junkies and buy one woman a coffee every now and then.

So when I contemplate conducting my studies, I keep them 'safe' and focus them on the substances - heroin, cocaine, OxyContin, Vicodine - that haven't touched me or those I love. Yet. I avoid tobacco studying and alcohol because all I can keep in my mind are the people close to me who have died or who are dying from the effects of these socially sanctioned addictions.

Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to do the research. But certainly not today.

I'M READING... John Irving's A Widow for One Year. Fabulous. I love his characters, especially the doomed Eddie O'Hare and four year old Ruth Cole. Back later with more after I finish.

Just completed an anthology of sorts - OFF THE PAGE. Writers Talk About Beginnings, Endings. Edited by Carole Burns, based on her interviews on with Martin Amis, Michael Cunningham, Charles Baxter (yeah!), Joyce Carol Oates (double yeah!), Marisha Pessl, Walter Mosley, Margot Livesy, Gish Jen, Alice McDermott - and more, more, more! If you're a writer, read this - it will provide you the reassurance and inspiration that you write for all the right reasons.

From Michael Cunningham, one of gazillions of little gems..."I've come to believe that a novelist is more than anything else someone who refused to stop writing and who can stand the disappointment."

I guess I'm a novelist...

Keep writing. Keep living. Peace, Linda


  1. wow, what a topic. i'm sort of convinced that everyone has her addiction. and on various levels. keep writing and living indeed!

  2. I love the Cunningham quote. I guess I'm a writer, too. I refuse to quit.

    Interesting post on the drug issue. I, too, am interested in what void addictions attempt to fill, and why people become so dependent on their substance that they can't break free.

    Good stuff as always. Take care.

  3. I know I'm addicted to writing :^)

    But seriously, I do believe each individual has a propensity for addictive behaviors - and exposure to the 'right' substance at the 'ripe' time can potentiate that innate propensity. Addiction definitely involves both nature and nurture - which makes it a difficult problem to beat.

    Thanks for popping by, Stephen - you've been missed. Peace, Linda

  4. Incredibly well-said. Personally, I cannot entertain the notion of doing drugs, because my family is full of addicts, sellers, users, convicts, roll the list on and on. I too believe that we all have an "addict" switch in our brains, and it takes just the right catalyst at its most favorable setting to flip it on.

    I love the site, and your words, Miss Linda. Hope you don't mind if I stay awhile :)

  5. Hope, thanks for popping by. And for the kind words. Pull up a chair - the strongest stuff served here is coffee - and the occasional chocolate. Peace, Linda