When I was in my twenties, I was friendly with the conservative commentator and writer Tucker Carlson. I held, and continue to hold, a radically different worldview from him. But I liked and admired him. He was friendly, determined, and knew exactly what he wanted out of life.
I met Tucker in the mid-1990s when I was an editor at The Free Press. The publisher was, in some respects, the driving engine behind the emerging intellectual right wing. It was an exciting and even hopeful time. The right wing voices of conspiracism, climate denial, and nativism had not yet taken hold, and figures like James Q. Wilson, Glenn Loury, Dinesh D’Souza (believe me, he was a lot better then), and Tucker were climbing the cultural ladder. He and I brainstormed a book, which didn’t work out, but we remained friendly.
I have long since lost contact with him. But I was deeply touched by something that Tucker told an interviewer recently — and I think it rescued me at a crucial moment in my life. His counsel was very simple but very powerful. I often tell people to watch for simple things. Familiar expressions become incredibly powerful through application — and only through application.
One Sunday in late 2018, Tucker was discussing his book Ship of Fools with conservative analyst Ben Shapiro on the latter’s online talk show. At one point in their exchange, Tucker remarked in an entirely offhanded manner:
Choices do matter, for sure. I quit drinking so I could be more successful — and it worked.
For some reason, his aside really struck me. Especially given his notable rise to the top of the cable and bestseller spectrum. I have enjoyed great success — but I have hardly led a sober existence. When I heard Tucker’s comment, I had recently divorced. And from the glittery-grimy streets of my Lower East Side environs, I engaged in an increased consumption of pot, booze, and cigarettes, fueling a bit of a 1970s-style Lou Reed existence. Something had to change. Or I would. And for the worse.
In January, a close friend told me that she thought I should stop smoking. I stopped. Cold turkey. Because I knew she was right and that persisting in this habit would compromise my health and happiness. But I was unwilling to make the leap that Tucker prescribed. I have never had what I considered a drinking problem. I enjoyed winding down with a drink (or a few), and also drinking at social events. In the new year, I had started smoking pot as a near-nightly routine. Years ago, I had stopped drinking for 30 days as part of a religious commitment. And I ceased drinking for several months in fall 2009 when my first book appeared, in order to focus, nonstop, on publicity. But otherwise, I had never been clean.
In time, Tucker’s words started resonating more and more with me. I knew that I, in my own way, wanted the same thing that he wanted: success. I also needed to earn more. I wanted to perform at my peak. I wanted to live out my dharma. I knew that I possessed certain tools. And one that I could grasp instantly was what he had prescribed: no drinking. From past experience, I already knew that sobriety would improve my energy, productivity, sleep, as well as my proclivity to meditate and exercise. So, I took up Tucker’s indirect challenge.
I threw the junk away — literally. I told my somewhat New Age-y shrink about my intention and he counseled that I dispense with my intoxicants as part of a ceremony. I should meditate, chant, or do something to ceremonially mark my bridge into a new, clean existence. I don’t actually keep any booze at home, so that was out. I thought about simply flushing my bags of weed down the toilet but that seemed anticlimactic. So, I instead took two bags of good weed, a pipe, and an old ashtray that I found on the fire escape when I moved into the place (and that I had since gotten too used to), put them in the last of the plastic deli bags, said prayers to the Dark Lord (please, just let me explain that another time) and threw it all from my fifth-floor bedroom window into the courtyard/garbage area below. The ashtray hit the pavement with a booming shatter. I had been very careful no one was there. I also went down later and dutifully cleaned it all up. I do not litter. And I felt great.
My productivity skyrocketed. My immediate nights ahead were given to work, sleep, and friends. My budget was better (booze is costly). Money flowed in. I will report back on all of this progress down the road. But my takeaway is: Tucker was right.
Next time you hear something that sounds so simple it could fit on a refrigerator magnet, take a pause. Listen again. Sometimes things may seem obvious or like truisms because they are true — so much so that we are alienated from their depth, and we do not try them. Trying a piece of basic, actionable advice can be the greatest thing that ever happens to you. And if you find that you cannot do it, you still learn something profoundly valuable about yourself. And if you find that you can — you may save your own life. Tucker’s words helped me save mine.