What Was I Doing Again?

It’s been difficult to write blog posts lately.  I start writing them in my head, sit down at the computer, click my word processor button, and while I’m waiting for my computer to boot the program (a whole second), I boot another program.  While it’s booting I’ll have time to check everything on the internet right?  I really should read all of those blogs I follow, and, hey, there’s a link, that looks interesting.  Before I know it, I have 30-50 tabs open on my computer screen.  It’s 3 A.M.  I meant to go to bed by 4 at the latest.  It is time for bed.  But no, I can’t go to bed.  Not yet, because I forgot to eat today, and I forgot to do the dishes so that I could make food.  My work clothes are dirty and I should wash them.  Well, I’ll just start by filling up the sink and doing a presoak.  Then I’ll finish reading the tabs.  No, I’ll have a cigarette while I pace rabidly.  That’ll perk me up, help me focus.  I could have coffee, no tea, no, too much caffeine.  It’s 3:30 A.M. now, and I have to be to work by 2 P.M.  Maybe I should set everything out for tomorrow so that I’m not late for work.

Everything’s all “Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey,” as a well known television Doctor would say.

 

Okay, I’m back inside from my cigarette.  I take off my glasses because they’re steamed up from coming in from the cold, and see my hotpot.  Right, tea.  I fill up my hotpot with water.  I’ll just sit down at the computer again, and then I’ll…well, it would be fun to play a video game, right?  I’ll just shut down the Apple side of my computer and load the Windows partition.  What, computer?  I still have fifteen tabs open?  I’d better read those.  Read 3 tabs, open 16 more.  I should really get up and make dinner, but I’ll just finish reading these.  Of course I won’t open any more webpages.  But this one looks interesting.  Okay, it’s opened.  I’ll read it in a couple of minutes, after I read this other stuff.

 

There’s that eerie water sound.  Oh, tea!  I wasn’t supposed to make tea, because that has caffeine and I need to sleep.  I guess I could drink something herbal.  I’m supposed to be making dinner.  There are those dishes in the sink that I’m supposed to be washing.  It’s getting really late.  I’ll just wash the ones I need for dinner tonight.  Maybe I can get up early, or I’ll do them the first thing when I get home from work tomorrow.   All right I’ve washed a pan and plate.  I’ll just set those down right here next to the hotpot.  Oh!  Tea.  Right.  Okay, set that down over there, where I can drink it once I’ve made dinner.

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Crud.  I’m tired.  One more cigarette then I’ll make dinner.  I swear.  Back inside, I finally pour my food into pans and start it heating.  While the butter is melting I might find the time to brush my teeth, and set out a few things for dinner, so I start doing that, but every 30 seconds I’m running back to look at the butter to see if it’s melted yet.  I’m not used to these electric stoves; my timing is off compared to work, but finally I get to dump in the hash browns.

 

I realize I can’t see.  Where did I put my glasses?  One of those fifteen spots I lay them down?  Oh, golly, I have a lot of clutter.  I really need to clean the house.  Tomorrow I’ll…

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The glare from the light in the kitchen is painful and pretty at the same time. Those streamers of light are so interesting. I wouldn’t be able to see them if I was wearing my glasses. I should really find my glasses.

 

I ask Mr. Wonderful if he’s seen my glasses, and the third great glasses hunt of the evening begins.  I should really stop taking those things off my face.

 

The hash browns needed to be flipped, now.  I ought to start the eggs.  Where’s that other pan?  I never washed it, of course.  Resume cooking dinner, but it’s dreadfully dull just waiting like this.  I’m used to have 50 meals going at once.  I’ll read a book.  By the time I finish making dinner I’ll remember the five other things I needed to wash to make/eat dinner.  I’ll set the book down, wash another dish, pick up another book.  Okay.  Dinners done.  I walk back over to my computer and realize that I forgot to bring dinner with me.  I start reading again.  Eventually an article reminds me of something in my house/Mr. Wonderful manages to get my attention.  I glance over.  My dinner is cold.  I eat a few bites of it.  “Five more minutes, please?  I promise.”  I mean what I say to him, but when I look up at the clock another 45 minutes have gone by.  Mr. Wonderful is giving me that look.

 

“What?” I demand defensively.  “If you’d stop distracting me, I could get this done.”

 

He sighs, “Nothing.”

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Yup. Mr. Wonderful looks just like this.

 

I look up from my computer fifteen minutes later.  “It’s not nothing.”

 

“Huh?”  Mr. Wonderful has given up on me and started playing a computer game.  I can’t think with all that noise.  I glare at him.  He rolls his eyes and puts on headphones, but I look at the clock and finally the panic clicks.  The effect of my procrastination has finally dawned on me: if I don’t get my act together now, work tomorrow will be like slogging through waist deep sludge.

 

“Fine,” I say, forcing myself to shut my computer down and dragging my dinner over to the television next to him.  “Let’s watch something.  I need to eat anyway.”

 

I will do everything I didn’t do today tomorrow.  I mean it this time.  I will be better.  I can’t sleep for thinking about the thousands of ways I will be better.

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This is probably how other people see me. Worse, I believe it about myself.

 

The next morning when I wake up and stumble groggily around my house, I will find a cup of tea that I never drank, a plate half full of food on the floor next to the couch, five books on the counters/dining room table/sitting on a chair.  I won’t know where my keys or glasses are.  I will be frantic that I am going to be late again, even though I set my alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier than the day before.  I can’t figure out where my coat is.  When I go to put on my work clothes, I realize that they are still dirty and I forgot to wash them.

 

I will do it all when I get home in the evening.  Except that I won’t.

 

But…this whole scenario?  That’s if I even get to my computer.  I think I might need my ADD medications back.  If only I could focus long enough to find my phone and call my doctor.

Deadlocked

I’m standing on the other side of the door, trying to reason with my mind, which always seems to have at least half a dozen reasons why it won’t do what I want it to do.  I want my mind to grant me access (It’s my mind!  Come on, already!) so I spend considerable time arguing with it, constructing logical arguments, and building creative keys from scratch so that I can barge my way in.  Most keys only seem to work once; winning a debate usually results in ominous silence.

I imagine my mind’s part of the conversation is something along the lines of:

What’s that?  You want to actually write something?  Well, that’s too bad.  Haven’t you heard you’re closed for construction?  Why?  We had to replace the lock after the last time you broke in.  Oh, and did I mention that tomorrow I’m taking a mental health day?

Curse you, brain.  I’m not a victim of a writer’s block, not really.  The logical part of me knows that if I sit down and write something, even if it’s crap, eventually the crap will get better.  I’m a victim of myself and my perfectionism, complete with constant questioning and self-doubt.  Being a victim of myself seems silly, but there it is.  Why can’t I just kick myself in the pants?

I think about writing all the time, but lately I haven’t been doing any.  I could whinge on about being sick, or all the things I keep trying to do instead, because they are, after all, really important, doncha know?  My old self wouldn’t have bought it; heck, my old self wouldn’t even be in this mess.  Old me would have ignored the pile up of dishes and trash, if not the paying of bills.  She would have told Mr. Wonderful she needed half the evenings in the week just to write and that he’d have to find his own something to do, would have called off sick even though she wasn’t just to get a writing day, and would have a notepad or laptop with her anytime she could have been writing while doing something else—and then she would have forgotten what the other thing she was doing was.  Now I go outside for a cigarette and rehash the same plot points in my head, search hopelessly for a meaningful blog post.  I don’t write a word, and if I do manage to sit down and start something, I wind up scrapping it for one of the following reasons: incoherent, stupid, potentially offensive, boring, and where is this going anyway?

At some point, I confess, I became disgusted with old me.  It’s not that she was a bad person, but she was a little arrogant, at least when it came to writing.  Old me would never have plotted or outlined or researched something she wrote or even recognized that those things could have utility or apply to her.  When old me wrote, she would look back and be reasonably satisfied with what she wrote, maybe even elated.  A few days later old me would decide she could do better, oh yes, but she hadn’t found something loathsome in every word she wrote, sometimes even before it spilled on to the page.  Old me thought she could figure everything out on her own, and blast advice and planning.  She had a story to tell, and she was going to tell it.

I loved that story too much to continue destroying my storytelling through hubris, but I curtailed my pride so sharply that I let my perfectionism take control to the point of inaction.  I’m so afraid of failing my story and characters that I can’t even toss out a sentence, but if I don’t write, won’t I be failing them in the worst way of all?

At least this blog post is something…about not doing something.  Heh.

Hysterical Reading

If only these women used their energy for household chores, childbearing, and pleasing their husbands, they wouldn’t be in this mess…or so the experts of the age would have said. Some pursuits, such as reading, were blamed for exciting the fragility of the female mind and driving the afflicted mad.  By the way: SOME OF THE THINGS IN THIS BLOG POST ARE NOT RATED PG OR MIGHT BE OFFENSIVE TO SOME.

Remember when “the experts” said that reading and intellectual pursuits gave women hysteria?*  Or that fairy tales and those “dreadful” fantasy stories led to a weakened mind, incapable of coping with reality and the day to day minutiae of life?

Thankfully, I don’t.  Not those exact things at least; although, once long ago in a health class, I stumbled across similar thoughts in a textbook that claimed obsessive readers were blocking out their problems and refusing to cope with them and that said act led to depression and social isolation.

What a load of hogwash!   That was my first thought, because I was very fond of my 2-4 book a day habit.  Besides, at this point (middle-school) I was still trying to read through my school’s library before I finished high school, and that’s a lot of books, which equals, as you can probably guess, a semi-truck or four of reading material.  Of course it wasn’t a very realistic goal, but I was rabid about it at the time despite the heckling of my peerage, at least until I ran across Piers Anthony**.  After slogging through the first two of his books, and looking despondently at the two shelves full of them to come next, I decided certain revisions to the goal were in order.  At least Ad, as in Douglas Adams, came before An.  That made the entire project worthwhile.  I think there were a few more of Joan Aiken’s books on those shelves, too, but I’d already had the joy of discovering her.

Speaking of Joan Aiken, Dido Twite’s chronicles were recently reprinted. Here’s one I’ve long been especially fond of.  I was originally attracted to the author because I couldn’t resist a title like “The Stolen Lake”.  How do you steal a lake, anyway?  Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

When the British author Douglas Adams first expressed a desire to combine humor with Sci-Fi, others were quick to express their doubts that anyone would embrace or want to buy such an unheard of thing. The Hitchhiker’s Guide and the other books, which I believe started out as a radio show, have since been reproduced in multiple media formats, and they’re endearingly popular. British Sci-Fi has never taken itself too seriously since.

Not unlike the present day, however, at the time I was besieged with unpleasant obsessions, and desperate for any small clue as to how to best avert these disturbing thoughts and feelings.  Eventually I gave, I’m ashamed to say, a trial effort to this silly advice.  After all, I thought, maybe I did read too much.  Surely I could afford to cut down to a book, or only half a book, per day.  Or even less…

A world without words is a shallow comfort, and without a well spun tale, I, at least, find myself without armor, as I have learned to my detriment.  I am seeking solace in books once again, even if I no longer have the same number of hours to expend in the effort.  My one vice (besides smoking), these last few years, has been the indulgence of purchasing coffee on my weekend at a nearby bookstore, and unsurprisingly, perhaps, while waiting for my coffee to be brewed, I engaged in compulsive fits of spendthrift upon seeing all the books I would read “someday”.  I can assuredly say that my library now numbers more books that I have not read than books I have, and it has occurred to me, now that I am in need of diversion, that I might as well make “someday” today.

Even though every book I’ve read in the last month ended with some note of sadness, they have buoyed me up, granting me a pleasant diversion from the normal tone and subject-matter of my thoughts.  Still, I found it a bit odd that every book I read ended with some melancholy, not only because that is the very thing I am trying to get away from, but because I often hear complaints that books seem to end “happily ever after” along with the belief that it would be a great novelty if someone actually wrote something with an unsatisfactory conclusion once in a while.   The most important thing, however, is that the books have been stimulating.  I wish I had written down some of the better quotes for everyone else when I had the chance; now I’d have to reread each book in entirety to catch them again.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith happened to be the first book on the shelves that I hadn’t yet read.  I was given this book as a parting gift ten years ago by someone who said they’d enjoyed it immensely and thought I’d find it engrossing, too.  In the years following, while I tirelessly re-read every Patricia McKillip novel I own and many other favorites, someone actually took it upon themselves to make a movie, which is reasonably faithful even if it is, by necessity, unfortunately divested of the author’s charming prose and some of her best insights on writing, procrastinating writing, and writer’s block.   I’d probably be most likely to recommend this book to young women who like writing and are suffering from the pangs of unrequited first love, but the eccentricities of the characters, quick wit, and a daughter who locks her father in the crumbling ruins of a tower dungeon when his inability to write destroys the family’s chances and fortune could broaden a potential audience’s scope immensely.  The protagonist holds Jane Austen in high regard, and parallels could be easily drawn.  I must confess, however, that despite all of the book’s charms, my favorite part was how it smelled.***

Patricia McKillip’s prose, when dissected, seems simple, but her mastery of metaphor and description, and her ability to show instead of tell, are superb. Every line is magical and poetic. I hold her work in the highest esteem (read: with breathless awe). If you’ve never had the pleasure, try Alphabet of Thorn. The cover above (Song for the Basilisk), like so many of her more recent works, was illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft, and for once, it is possible to judge a book by it’s cover!

Apparently J.K. Rowling approves, too.

Next up was Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (comprised of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) and why I have never read it before, I can scarcely begin to guess.  I meant to, I really**** did, but other books kept calling to me.  One of the best reasons for this trilogy’s success, besides it’s fantastic flights of fancy (armored polar bears, charming animal sidekicks linked to one’s soul and personality, warring angels, a journey to the world of the dead, and a knife that cuts portals into parallel worlds), is the way philosophy about our origins, consciousness, and beliefs (and the age old skirmish between science and religion) twines throughout the books and changes with culture and experience.  I prefer to think of the book as a fantasy story, with an interesting philosophical take, but some religious persons have denounced it as heretical (which perhaps Philip Pullman might have meant; he is, supposedly, an avowed atheist).  Sometimes, I’ll allow, the dialogue got a bit clunky, but the orchestration of the plot, and creative devices make the books well worth the effort despite any small shortcomings.

An image for “The Golden Compass” movie. See? Armored polar bears, just like I said.

The last two books I read were classics.  For many of you, they probably need no introduction or synopsis, for The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott are commonly available and cited fare.  The Scarlet Letter, of course, concerns a young woman forced to bear an A on her bosom after being charged with adultery when she gives birth to a child that cannot be her husband’s and the different routes through which she, her lover, and spouse find penance and ultimately resolution.  Ivanhoe is the tale of two parted lovers who reunite by the virtue of chivalrous duels and other deeds of valor in restless old England, where Normans and Saxons are still at violent odds, the Jewish are viciously persecuted and loathed, and the Templars are at their full might.  Neither book is historically accurate, and they both borrow from the tales, mythos, and superstitions of the time, for Ivanhoe doesn’t hesitate to craft firm characters of Robin Hood and King Richard, and The Scarlet Letter makes much of  “the black man” placing his mark on witches as they make nightly vigils into the forest depths.  I’ve always been charmed by classical writing, although it seems a dying form; it seems that few authors, nowadays, are given the liberty to wax poetically for pages on end, no matter how pretty their prose or form.  Perhaps this is desirable; few people I know seem willing nowadays to slog through a book that does not get to the quick of the action or a point quickly, no matter how worthwhile the final effort.  If you’ve made it this far, you can probably tell that I’m not adverse to the long-winded approach.  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of those rare modern instances I’ve chanced upon where a book reminiscent of classical prose and it’s cousin verbosity managed to not only get published, but thrive.  Perhaps there is some hope left despite the current obsession with instant gratification.

I’m not surprised that the novel took a decade to write; I’m surprised that an agent didn’t pronounce it too difficult to sell by modern standards. I can only assume she had an astoundingly well crafted query letter and synopsis, or that modern readers have more moxie than we’ve been given credit for. The book is excellent, but it might take, oh, one or two hundred pages before it really starts to grab you.

Thus concludes my recent reading list, although I think my adventures in book-land, rather than being a testament to old theories, have strengthened my sanity and rendered me more fit for worthwhile pursuits rather than weakening my “fragile” constitution.  Depressed?  Listless?  Fatigued?  Or maybe you are feeling as if you’ll start screaming and having fits like a mad-person?  Perhaps you ought to try reading more; there’s nothing quite like a book for drowning out worldly troubles and stimulating new thoughts and discussions.  A person could even get lucky and find the answers they were looking for all along.  I promise the practice won’t make you hysterical, even if some books may make you laugh hysterically.*****

*Did you know?  The term hysteria comes from the Greek hystera meaning “womb”.  The Greeks apparently believed that hysteria was an illness only females came down with due to a mysterious dry-up of those “humours” and a wandering uterus.  Treatment involved fumigating the vagina to lure the uterus back to its rightful place, sex, and making sure that woman had another baby, already.  You know, until she eventually died in childbirth or had so much to do she couldn’t make any more trouble.  Later treatments involved…well, I’ll let you look that up for yourself if you’re really interested, but don’t say I didn’t warn you that the topic isn’t necessarily rated PG.

**Apologies if there are any fans of Piers Anthony out there, and apologies to the author himself.  It’s a personal thing, as in I just find it a little interesting that so many of his books seem to involve 40+ old men in sexual relationships with girls (or women in the bodies of girls) between the ages of 12 and 15, prostitution, and what I can only define as rape scenes that seemed well, bordering more on erotic fantasy or trite simplifications than true consequences for the people involved.  It was a small sample, admittedly, and my memory could be wrong, but as a fourteen year old girl, I found it all a bit repugnant.  Also, author afterwards informing me that the book I just read was written in less than a month don’t tend to increase my favor.  I’m not asking for years or decades necessarily, but a little more care and attention wouldn’t have gone amiss.  If I’d actually found something I liked about the book in question, I might have been impressed by this fact, but instead it only added to my collective distaste.

***Surely I cannot be the only person who ventures into libraries on occasion simply for the smell.  There is something about the paper and bindings of old books, slightly perfumed, somewhat musty, that nearly causes me to forget the original allure of their contents.  I’m sure I look a bit odd wandering about and picking up random books simply so I can inhale them, but the pleasures are worth the confused looks from strangers.  Dear scent-makers of the world, while I’m normally a fragrance free person as of late (Celiac disease can make one frightfully sensitive to added scents and colors over time), I would be overjoyed if someone would bottle this smell.

****In long overdue accolades to Anne of Green Gables, I’m liberally employing italics today.  I received the first of the series from my 4th grade teacher, and was baffled by the frequent shrieks and howls of merriment from my sister and mother when they read it.  I took the novels seriously at that tender age; what could possibly be hilarious about Anne’s language, circumstances, or the occasional tragedy of her situation?  Years later, having finally “got it” Mr. Wonderful  was forced to listen to me read the entire series out loud to him so that he could “get” me (he also found the series amusing).  At ten, I was very much an Anne-type personality; thankfully, I’ve learned to laugh at myself, too.

*****I mentioned Douglas Adams, right?  If it’s laughter you’re after, give The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the other novels of the series a try.

I’ve Never Heard You Laugh Before

I still don’t understand how I missed it.  It’s plain that everyone around me knew; it was obvious.  People kept asking me, and I kept shaking my head saying, “No.  No.  I would know.  I’ve been there before.  I know what it feels like, what it looks like.  I’m just tired, overworked.  I just need to stay positive.”

Then, on St. Patty’s Day, a friendly acquaintance of two years remarked, “Hey, I’ve never heard you laugh before,” and finally, the denial was washed away.

I’d forgotten that depression took many forms, that knowing it once, even presumably conquering and surviving it, even a library worth of material on the subject and a degree in psychology did not make me immune or an expert.  My first depression was a soggy, tear-soaked affair that started at the age of 4 and lasted until I was about 16, followed by recurrent aftershocks for the next few years and drenched, much of the time, by an obsession with suicide.  I’d mistakenly decided that depression, for me, meant having an inflated appetite, a love affair with self-harm, and a daily bawl-out.  Not once in those years did I lose interest in, or the ability to do, the things I cared about.

Today is different.  Today I can say I’ve barely cried in years, that the world is covered in a gray, numb pall, tinged with occasional irritation and outbursts of hostility.  The interests I once sought refuge in are all but forsaken.  I can’t remark on the last time I played an instrument, or wrote, painted, or drew regularly.  Video games have all but fallen by the wayside; the sewing projects in my closet have been neglected for nearly a decade.  I don’t know when I last went on a walk, took a hike, went sledding, ice-skating, or swimming, or felt joy over scenery or delight in a pet or other animal’s company.  It is obvious even to the occasional check-out clerk that I’ve become flaky and distracted, incapable of concentrating.  Food is an abhorrent entity; sleep is a blessing I cannot give myself permission to indulge in for long.  Yet I have never, in all the time of the great second depression, thought of harming or killing myself.

Worry not, dear readers, for there is a silver lining to this otherwise, um, depressing story.

I was laughing that day because I had allowed myself the relief of knowing that I am going to quit my job someday soon.  I am going to quit no matter how much I like my coworkers, or how much I love the adrenaline rush of a job well-accomplished under what feels near impossible circumstances, or even how much I feel I need that extra $2-$3 per hour.

It’s not worth it.  I made myself a promise many years ago when the clouds lifted at last that I would never put myself repeatedly in an otherwise avoidable situation that made it difficult to be happy.  Happiness was my first priority, and remains so to this day.  I will not let that change, and I won’t let even a sign of improvement in my workplace erode my resolve.  I will take my time to insure that I’ve found a new, stable place of employment that is right for me.  I will dig out, brush up on, and utilize every one of the techniques that helped me overcome my depression in the past.  I’ll find more if I have to, because I want, and believe I deserve, happiness.

So, stay with me, fellow bloggers, and be assured that I will soon be unveiling a better, happier me.  If you, too, are feeling a little down in the dumps (or stranded down a well somewhere), perhaps we can learn from each other.  I’m confident that together we can and will conquer our depression.

Up In Smoke, Part 2: Assessing the Severity of Addiction

There’s no such thing as a wasted attempt to quit smoking, although in the past I’ve certainly felt ashamed, even humiliated, by my failure to maintain smoking cessation.  The longest I’ve ever managed to quit smoking?  Three weeks.  Still, it is a fact that the vast majority of would be quitters fail in their first attempt to quit smoking, even, alas, their next several attempts.  To some, trying to quit and failing may seem pointless.  At its rosiest, trying to quit and failing is often seen as little better than a few days or cigarettes of less lung damage.  I’d argue that attempts to quit, and the following failures, are necessary for the final achievement.

At least in my case, I didn’t realize the extent of my addiction until I tried to quit.  At any point in the daily cigarette routine, the gentle pull of addiction, the feeling that says “Go out and have another cigarette; wouldn’t that be a nice way to top off that cup of coffee?” feels more like a want than a need, something I could willingly disregard at any time. The first two hours after a cigarette, before the half-life of the chemical expires, where the smoker can still feel the nicotine’s effects to some extent, often go by without a thought.  When a smoker is sick, sleeping, or temporarily engrossed in another activity, they can spend several hours without a cigarette with barely a second thought.  Such moments, unfortunately, are more rare than they might seem.  I find smoking has taken up an almost ritualistic niche in my life, demanding that I pay more service to it than any other activity, no matter how well loved those other activities used to be.  In my first year of smoking, I thought that, come winter, the negative temperatures and howling snowstorms would overcome my desire to smoke.  Instead I began exposing myself to -40 below wind chill and blizzards ten times a day for ten minutes at a time.  I was no longer able to pretend that smoking was a pleasurable diversion, or that I had the sort of control I thought I had.

Conscientious efforts to quit revealed a still bleaker picture.  What felt like a gentle pull after an hour or two, or at first waking, developed into a ravenous hunger, then an all-consuming obsession.  I was not prepared for the pathetic, quibbling excuses my mind concocted to defray my willpower’s rapidly crumbling defenses, or the onslaught of the actual effects of withdrawal.  I’d done my homework first, and laughed at the withdrawal symptoms.  They didn’t seem so bad!

Depending on the type of cigarettes, how many cigarettes one smokes a day, the addicted person’s genetics, and their habits, it’s likely some would-be quitters have it easier than others.  My first attempt, at only five normal cigarettes a day, had manageable withdrawal symptoms.  It wasn’t pleasant, but I could tough it out.  The only problem with the ease with which I quit at that point was the illusion that quitting smoking was easy; I could do this again later any time I wanted, and hey, I kind of wanted a cigarette now.  I relapsed, and at present, I now not only smoke somewhere between 10-14 cigarettes a day, but each cigarette contains 75% more tobacco than the cigarettes I smoked when I started.  In translation, withdrawal symptoms from a ¼ pack are a cakewalk compared to what essentially amounts, with the added tobacco content of my new brand, to an entire pack of cigarettes a day.

I did, however, learn something from my first attempt to quit smoking, and the dozen(s?) of attempts thereafter.  In my latest attempts to quit I’ve barely lasted a day, and at best a few before the withdrawals are too severe to stand.  I could, of course, go out for nicotine replacement theory, because it seems to work so well for some of the other people I know, but quitting smoking seems to be an individual thing, and so far cold turkey seems to be the most effective for me.  I still know that I would require more willpower than I know I have currently to overcome a brain used to a pack of cigarettes a day screaming at me to smoke.

Right now I’m withdrawing.  My brain, used to the fuel of at least ten of my current brand of cigarettes, is being forced to make do with two and a half, in half cigarette increments instead of full cigarettes at a time.  While I wish that I’d managed to make it through today without a single cigarette, I know that my throbbing headache would be a migraine.  My stuffy nose, sore throat, and hacking cough would be the worst cold I’d ever had.  I would not be able to see my screen to type this.  I shouldn’t have driven anywhere today as is, because my vision is quite fuzzy enough.  My lungs feel as if they’ve been stuffed with rocks.  I’m sore all over, cranky, irritable, and if I didn’t know it was withdrawals, I’d be certain I’m coming down with the flu.  All that, and all I had to do was cut a cigarette a day.

As much as I whine about the withdrawals, I’m mostly shocked that I’m having them at all, and disturbed by just how dependent on stable, high levels of nicotine my body really is.

And yet…

Suddenly, I can taste my cigarettes again, and they taste terrible, of course.  I haven’t enjoyed a single drag, and I’m smoking comparatively little enough that there isn’t a positive abatement in the withdrawal symptoms when I do.  Every foray outside (I refuse to smoke inside or in a vehicle) is unpleasant.  I expected to have to fight to reduce my cigarette consumption, but instead the very act of reducing the number of cigarettes I smoke is sensitizing me to just how abhorrent they really are.  I’m finally washing the jacket I always smoke in because I can no longer stand the smell.  It’s progress.

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An Edit:  When I wrote this post I was apparently reading too much into one of the contest runner’s comments.  The news is the contest doesn’t actually start until March 10th.  I apologize for any misinformation or confusion.  Now there’s more time to practice, right?

I thought I’d let my fellow writers in on an opportunity.  Tomorrow, probably sometime in the afternoon, NPR will be announcing its Three Minute Fiction Contest (3MF for short), Round 8 on All Things Considered.  You’ll probably have about a week, maybe two after the announcement of the contest to get your entries in.  There is a new challenge each time, and there are rules and guidelines, so pop over to the highlighted link above for details.  If, after reading through the information, you still have questions, pop over to the Facebook page, where your lovely fellow contestants and 3MF will do their best to answer any pressing queries you might have.

Dear readers, you may be wondering why you would bother doing such thing.  For one, the contest is a fun way to challenge oneself and stretch one’s writing muscles.   Writing a short story may take less time than a novel, but there’s the added issue of choosing the appropriate words, dialogue, and squeezing a meaningful message or image into a much smaller space.  In short, writing a short story can be an excellent exercise in pruning superfluous fluff or developing any writing skill one feels might be lacking.  Ah, intrinsic motivation!

Of course, if you’re a finalist, your story will be published on NPR’s website.  If you’re the winner, it will also be read on air, and (this is just a guess from previous rounds) you’ll probably get a copy of the judge’s book and an interview with him.  This time the final judge is purportedly Luis Alberto Urrea.  I know, I know: it’s not exactly cash is it?  When I entered the contest the last round, all I really wanted was to set a goal for myself to write a piece, to a set criteria, edit, hone, and submit it well before the deadline.  Winning wasn’t really a dream of mine; I just wanted to write a short story for once and limit my tendency to ramble on.  I should tell you, though, that despite what I believed initially, a follow up piece on previous winners of the contest revealed that they’d reaped unexpected rewards, including, in at least one case, a reputable agent.

I really do suggest, if you’re looking for a positive, helpful, and enjoyable writing community, that you stop by the Facebook page as well.  I’m very fond of that charming mixed batch of strangers (and no, they don’t mind newcomers or healthy competition), so make sure you’re nice!

Ahem.  I may have gotten a little excited.  I’ve been waiting for this a while, you see, but I do hope to see some of you there.  Hey, I think the contest is open internationally, to published and unpublished authors.  Did I mention that?  Or that I might not be around as much as usual for a week or two while I weep tears of frustration over my keyboard?

Okay.  Shameless free advertising accomplished.  Have a wonderful day, people!

Update: I appear to have been mildly misled or confused.  They do usually announce these things on the weekends, so I’m thinking they meant Saturday afternoon.  I suppose we’ll see, but it’s soon either way.

Sherlock Holmes could Guess my Job in an Instant

English: Statue of Conan Doyle's most famous f...

Image via Wikipedia, a statue representation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary character Sherlock Holmes

Ah, Sherlock Holmes.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary cocaine snorting and violin loving sleuth could guess one’s occupation, source of distress, recent activities, hobbies and foibles with an uncanny, marvelous accuracy.  As so many know, his ability is explained by astounding powers of observation, and the knowledge to put the clues to good effect.

Most occupations alter our appearance and behaviors in subtle (sometimes obvious) ways.  Here are a few potential clues one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time might use to souse out what I do for a living.

  1. Shake my hand.  If you turn your hand to the side, so that your thumb is pointing up and the majority of your fingers are almost obscured behind the index finger, the uppermost two joints of the index finger of a cook will be calloused, somewhat ridged, with slightly deeper and darker lines.  This is a result of wear and tear from skillet flipping and the frequent use of spatulas.  During the clasping, shaking, and parting of hands, the tougher skin on these fingers would brush against the potentially softer underside of the other person’s hand.  Also, while I was extending my hand he would have the opportunity to notice that the tips of my fingers and palms are considerably more flushed than the rest of my hands, indicating frequent exposure to heat sources.
  2. Let’s play Hot Potato!  With a real hot potato, the kind wrapped in foil that’s just finished baking in a 400 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for about an hour.  Take the potato out of the oven and hand it to someone (or throw it and hope they’ll catch it).  If your average, sane, person catches the potato, they’ll let it drop almost instantly, right?  Possibly with a cry of horror or outrage.  “Why would you do that?”  Someone who cooks for a living, on the other hand, will probably hold onto it for a little longer, and at best mention that it feels kind of warm.  After about three to six months, anyone playing with hot oil and heating elements on a daily basis develops “kitchen hands”.  The first time a drop of oil from the fryer splashed on my arm, I bit back a hiss and lived with the blisters pooling under my skin for a couple of weeks.  By the time I slipped and dipped my hand up to the wrist in the 350 degree stuff a year later, I was content to yank my arm back out of the fryer and forget about the incident in less than five minutes.  No permanent effects.  Mr. Wonderful shudders a bit when I dip my fingers into boiling water periodically to test if the noodles are done or to submerge that bit of vegetable that’s sticking up and not cooking evenly, but hey, at least I don’t have to wash as many utensils, right?
  3. Check out my forearms.  Slightly less resistant than my hands, one can still find the occasional burn scar here.  More telling: the length of the hair.  Close to the wrist, hair will be slight or nonexistent, but gets gradually longer or more evident towards the elbow.  The reason is linked to ease and speed: it’s much faster, and easier with practice, to flip or swirl the contents of a sauté pan than to mess around with spatulas and spoons.  While I’m flinging pan contents around, hot water and oil will inevitably splash on, and melt, the hair off.  Heat and flame from gas burners and the grill will singe any excess hair away.  Mmmm…special spice (Kidding!  The hair that burns off isn’t suspended above the pan or food…promise).
  4. Observe my clothing and drink choices.  I’m the weird person wearing jeans and a sweatshirt on a ninety degree summer day.  I often order hot coffee or tea, or something with extra spice.  Industrial kitchens regularly exceed 120 degrees, and after one spends enough time in them, their resistance for and tolerance to heat will increase, while their ability to deal with lower temperatures will decrease.  Fluffy blankets, winter pajamas, hot beverages and foods are some of my favorite things now.  When my tolerance for the heat of the kitchen isn’t enough and my coworkers and I find ourselves on the verge of heatstroke, the fastest, longest-lasting way to cool down is to emulate fellow humans who live in consistently warmer climes, and that means eating or drinking hot or spicy food, thus stimulating the sweat reflex.  I used to be annoyed when the Chef walked into the respite of 85 degree mid-winter joy, only to announce with chattering teeth and a great deal of shivering that he was turning on the heater.  Three years later, I’m one of the heater’s greatest patrons.
  5. Check my freezer/cupboards.  Everyone always seems to assume that the home cooked meals of a professional cook must be a glamorous, luxurious affair.  Sometimes they are, but all too often, they’re not.  It’s not that we dislike cooking, but honestly, after 10-18 hours, five days to seven days a week, without the hope of a vacation in sight, the last thing I or my coworkers want to do when we drag ourselves home is whip up a fancy meal.  Most of the people I work with admit readily to their freezer’s contents: frozen pizzas and easy microwave meals, boxes of ready make macaroni and cheese, and stacks of To Go boxes dragged home from banquet leftovers or an employee meal they didn’t have time to eat earlier.  One of my coworkers hasn’t had a working refrigerator, plate or fork in his apartment for well over a year.

 

Is there something you do, hobby, career-or otherwise, that’s left its clues on you?  Share below.