Two things got me to quit. I started tapping on a fourth pack and I lived with a guy who never smoked. (We will be married 35 years in a few months). His friends didn’t smoke either, I always had to hunt down an ash tray when I went to their houses. This was before friends and family had you take your secondhand smoke outside. Partner and peer presser was a strong thing but that I was so addicted to the ‘habit of smoking’ made me uncomfortable.
I wondered, what must it be like to not smoke? Imagining a world without my three-plus pack a day habit was impossible.
“Talk,” he said.
“Oh, of course,” I said feeling as if the nicotine had already worn holes in my feeble brain as well as my lungs.
That was 36 years ago. I won’t go into how I actually quit, (oh yes I will), suffice to say that God stepped in and gave me the flu. If I smoked I felt sick. After a week of nothing but ginger ale and Saltines, I decided if I didn’t take advantage of the fact that I was already one week in to not smoking, I would never be able to quit cold turkey again. (This was before there were drugs to help you get over the hump).
I never smoked again, not once, never ever. If I had not quit smoking when I did, I am convinced I'd be bankrupt or dead.
Which has me wondering now, what it’s like to not (habitually) write, to not (want) to write, to not take pleasure in my by-lines or the quest for a title page, to not think about writing when I’m not thinking about writing? If I don’t leave the house with a head full of ideas or a quick focus on one, I panic. What would I do during my evenings (like right now) if I were not sitting here tapping away?
“Talk” to my husband? I don’t think so, he’s upstairs watching TV from the inside of his eyelids.
What if I had not started writing my first book during the hell-week of ten years ago, when I took on a new, very demanding job, my dad was dying, my strong mom became an empty husk of neediness, our oldest went off to college and we delivered our youngest to her very first dorm room, in a place she did not want to be. What if, in my empty house and changed life, I had not placed my ass in a chair every night and put my MC in a car headed west away from her own miserable life? She was alone but I rode shotgun. I gave her a new life, while not realizing at the time, I was wanting any other life but my own. What if I didn’t have that book to edit when my mom past-away seven months after my father did?
That book saved my life, and yet, (after a hundred or so queries, which did not garner one request for a full), you’ll never get to read it.
What if I didn’t write a second book and a third book, or the hundreds of op-eds and essays that have put a little change in my pocket? What if I stopped writing before I became a columnist, before my picture accompanied my column and strangers recognized me over the broccoli endcap at Stop and Shop? As difficult and frustrating as writing is, as tough (and enlightening) as rejection can be, I cannot even imagine a life without my words being carefully and deliberately placed on a page.
So, I guess if I get the flu and subsist on nothing but ginger ale and Saltines, I’ll still write. The skill, from synapse to fingertips, takes me away just like my first novel did. It saves my life every single day.
Does it save yours?