Just had a smoke with S___. She stopped here at cafe as break from her work at lawyer’s office across street. She’s about done—tomorrow’s her last day. K_’s done with her job, and I will be, too, as soon as I finish my stories (it’s not measured in time, as much as in getting this work done). I feel maybe I’m an inspiration—several people have told me now is the time to break away, while I’m young. They tell me to find something I like, that if I’m not happy, it’s not worth it, that sort of thing. Maybe I’m even an inspiration to [my editor] W__ —he talked today, for the first time I’ve ever heard him, about how the years are all similar, they play back like tapes in his mind, and maybe it’s time to throw those tapes out. He even said that maybe he should look for a job at Springfield paper. Maybe aimless pondering, but there’s a real sentiment behind it.
So, smoking—there’s a subject to be written about here. I haven’t smoked for two days until tonight—and as long as I don’t start again—and the first smoke is always the best or the worst—tastes bad after a period of not smoking, yet that is the only one that gives a buzz. Future smokes, the second half of the pack, are just consumption, busywork, unspecified and unsatisfying—same as chewing a whole pack of gum at once—because you have it.
But herein lies a topic for discussion—why is it that I smoke when I chose to smoke, each individual instance? It really got in the way sometimes, like smoking one just before I got in my car to drive home (such as from work). Sometimes it’s just something to do, like during a commercial break in a TV show. I would just think to myself that I hadn’t had a smoke in a while, and that harshness in the lungs—that solidity, that substance—somehow filled a void, met a need. At other times, like why I would smoke during a writing session (not while typing, however, and while writing in the journal, it was just a hindrance, and it wasn’t noticed or enjoyed), this is almost the “break” theory, the pause from work—though it was both procrastination technique and reward for work already done. And it truly was just a break, a pause, a chance to think about what I was to write next—lede or just next transition, next block of text.
And then there’s the smoke that I “need”—don’t usually feel it unless I have the smokes and I just haven’t smoked one in a while, like at the stare fair this week. I don’t get needy from my body (as I do when I’m quitting), but moreso antsy in my mind. Maybe this partly shares with the “something to do”/waiting motivation.
My question here is, why do I want the second one? Almost no other substance I know of—excepting maybe sweets because of my sweet tooth—makes you want to have another. In an evening, I’ll want to drink more than one beer, but that’s almost a sipping thing—wanting to have one handy, nearby always, and at those times, smoking is like that, too—I keep one lit constantly or almost so at those drinking and smoking and talking times.
But The Second One—do I really expect it to be as good as the first? Or is that where the addiction kicks in?
Why do I smoke a second—yeah, probably because the first was good. But that’s too simplistic, doesn’t really apply for me now, as someone who has established a smoking habit. In my case, the reason I light a second is because the first put me back in a “smoking period”—it’s OK to smoke a second because I’m not trying not to smoke, I’m allowing myself to smoke, and so why not live it up in this period of self-granted freedom? That’s what these jags—weeks of smoking—feel like, I think. Then soon it becomes a pattern again: wake-up smoke, before and after drives, before and after lunch, during TV, etc., etc.
Why do I smoke? After the first couple, I don’t even taste them. Is it a habit for its own sake, like breaks during writing? I was sick of cigs by Tuesday a.m. after smoking much of Monday night until 3 a.m., and then smoking more at 7 a.m. But I kept doing it until I was done writing.
But really, smoking isn’t too much of a habit for me. It’s not too deeply ingrained, or I’m not as chemically addicted, or something, or I wouldn’t be able to go even a whole day without a smoke. Sure, I am an addict at some level—like B__ said, I can’t take one because I’ll want another. The way to quit is just not to pick up the next one—there is somehow that reassuring feeling that if you take one, the next is “indulge yourself.”
But I know that I don’t want to keep smoking, that I can’t keep smoking, not only for the long-term considerations, but really I don’t like myself as much when I’m smoking. #1 is the weakness. I’m using a substance. Because it makes me so weak and out of breath, etc., and makes me smell bad, costs $, etc., I’m submitting to the substance. But I also smoke so fast—like I’m sucking these things down. I’m not attempting to make them part of my life—which is what I was thinking today, that deciding to smoke (at least by not quitting) is a large life-choice, almost a lifestyle, because of the prominent role it plays in your life. You have them with you all the time, you’re often thinking of how/when/where to have your next smoke, you’re choosing to not be athletic, or, really, healthy at all.
[From journal of 14 Aug. 1997, Journal 18, pages 210-15]