Ice crystal on the Paso Fino

Twenty Words During Lockdown, Day 9: Alcohol

By Pam Houston

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These 20 words were assigned to Pam Houston by her friend, the writer and photographer Kyle Wolff, as part of Project 2020 (Quarantine Edition). She gave Pam and others a word most mornings, and the assignment to write to that world and either take or find a photo to go with it. These 20 words and photographs by Pam Houston are appearing daily in through June 20, the summer solstice.


April 7, 2020


By some miracle beyond my understanding, I didn’t get the gene. My parents were both drunks. I use the word consciously. In a normal week they together went through three fifths of vodka. In a bad week, the numbers could go anywhere.

My father broke my femur when I was four in a semi-drunken rage (maybe just a rage), my mother was too drunk to care when (for nearly ten years) he dragged me with him into the shower. I say none of that to sensationalize anything, and hopefully not to trigger anyone. I am not angry or bitter, I have just learned that when it comes to abuse, facts work better than euphemisms.

I drank some in college because everybody did, but I didn’t care about it. I drank some at writer gatherings over the years because if I didn’t everyone looked at me pityingly and I didn’t want to have to explain. About ten years ago I realized I didn’t have to keep drinking for anyone else’s social comfort. Now I am a situational drinker and when I say that I mean maybe ten drinks a year. I had a few drinks when I went to Iceland because they make their own gin and I wanted to ingest everything Icelandic. I had two drinks at my own bachelorette party because Sarna used my favorite Fever Tree ginger beer in the Moscow mules. I have not had a drink since the pandemic began and only a very few during the Trump presidency because I have been in survival mode since I first heard he was going to be a candidate, and a person in survival mode needs all of their senses alive.

Most of my friends drink, but I have steered my life away from those who drink a lot. I don’t like to be around drunk people. And not being around them is an act of care and kindness I have decided to allow myself.

So much damage was done to me as a child, and while alcohol was not the reason, it was often the excuse. I have grown out of that damage, and to a certain extent am free of it. In other words, I could probably drink reasonably safely. But I don’t. As I think about it now, not drinking is a kind of freedom. It is the freedom to get up at 7 a.m. on a frosty morning, bundle up, go outside, and photograph the ice crystals on your Paso Fino’s back.

Ice crystal on the Paso Fino



Pam HoustonPam Houston is the author of the memoir Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, which won the 2019 Reading the West Advocacy Award, as well as five other books of fiction and nonfiction, all published by W.W. Norton. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level on a 120-acre homestead near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. A book co-written with activist Amy Irvine, Air Mail: Letters of Politics, Pandemics, and Place, is forthcoming from Torrey House Press in October 2020.

Read Pam Houston’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by and Trinity University Press and view a video of Pam reading her Letter to America as part of a Dear America town hall.

Photos courtesy Pam Houston. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.