Confession: I miss smoking

9 Dec

I’ve often wondered what it is that keeps me from writing a novel or a collection of short stories. Inevitably it’s A.D.D. or my sheer lack of motivation, but I prefer to pretend it’s something much deeper than that, perhaps something I can simply acquire by going to the store, or better yet, buy it on-line from Zappos. I’ve seen plenty of movies involving accomplished authors, and as I began to look back at these characters for clues of what makes someone a published, successful, writer, a trait emerged. At first it wasn’t easy to see, but after awhile it was as clear as day and it hit me like a brick – all great writers are smokers.

I remember back in college when it seemed like all I did was write words on paper and I smoked then. Why did I ever quit? David Sedaris quit, but when he smoked it provided him with plenty of content, and when he did finally quit, he wrote half of a book about his journey to become smoke-free.

I remember my first cigarette clearly. Nine months shy of my 18th birthday, I bummed a Marlboro Red off of a friend. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d ever felt cooler than the first time I lit up that cigarette, except maybe the first time I lit up in front of a girl who smoked. I’d pretended to smoke thousands of times before, but somehow the awful taste of tobacco just made me feel so much cooler than all of those times I’d lit a fake cigarette made out of marshmallow, or simply held my fingers up to my mouth in a thin horizontal V.

I wasn’t too graceful with my first cig, but my years of pretending and watching R-rated movies had given me some clue of how to properly flick the ash from the end of my phallic torch. The awesomeness I’d felt with my first few drags quickly turned into what can only be described as flu-like symptoms. Before I knew it, I’d ditched the cowboy-killer into a 20-oz bottle of Cherry Coke and jumped in the nearby lake to cool off. Cold sweats seemed to plague every inch of my body. Although I didn’t throw-up, I came close; and yet this was not the last time I smoked.
I took up smoking full-time my freshman year in college, and although it took me awhile to settle on my brand, after a brief love affair with Winstons, I settled on Camel Lights. I’m not sure why now, but I’m sure it probably had something to do with the packaging. I didn’t live in a smoking dorm, but the first girl I dated in college, who smoked Marlboro Mediums, did. It seems so ridiculous, thinking back on it now, that universities offer smoking rooms to kids who aren’t even 18, but what do I know; maybe they were simply trying to craft dynamic writers at an early age. Hey, maybe if I had picked a smoking room back then, I’d be getting paid to work on chapters for my new book instead of writing for a building trade publication.

Over the years I grew skillful with smoking. Mouthfuls of smoke, which at first caused occasional fits of coughing, were eventually transformed with ease into perfect circles or allowed to slowly leak from my mouth and pulled into my nasal cavity via a French-inhale. All of this lasted about two glorious years until a nasty whooping cough which lasted two-weeks and made my lungs feel like they were going to fall out of my chest every time I inhaled even the tiniest hit of a cig encouraged me to quit. I might as well have stopped taking creative writing courses at that point and changed my major from journalism to phys-ed. It’s clear to me now more than ever that when I put out that last, beautiful, cigarette, I put out my dreams of ever becoming an accomplished author.

Of course like any one-time cigarette smoker, there hasn’t been, up until this point, a LAST cigarette. There are the occasional hits, puffs, drags and in extremely rare circumstances- entire cigarettes; which to this day make me feel just as light-headed and drenched in cold-sweats as they did on that very first night I choked down that Marlboro Red.  Maybe its these little rendezvous with lung cancer that are the only thing keeping my creative juices flowing, and the only way I’ll ever complete an actual collection of writing is to rekindle my love affair with cigarettes on a daily basis.

The only problem with this theory is that in order for me to crave a cigarette, I have to have a healthy alcohol buzz. So, logic would dictate that if I need to smoke to write, and I need to drink to smoke, I must also drink to write. There are a few things that bother me about this formula; aside from the obvious health risks, there are additional strains that would be felt on my wallet.

Cigarettes are now close to six dollars a pack and a 12-pack of good beer, which I would have to insist upon if this diet were to last, runs around $16.99. Lets say I smoke a pack and drink 12 beers a day, five days a week, because this would be my profession; I’d be looking at around $6,000 a year. There is the possibility of writing that amount off as a business expense, but I would be screwed trying to justify the receipts to the little Korean market around the corner from my house.

Recently I decided to test out my hypothesis. After a few beers, a cigarette started to sound appetizing and I bummed an American Spirit off of a friend. Now, an American Spirit is no cowboy killer, and thankfully so, but there is an odd sort of cosmic connection. People who smoke Marlboro Reds tend to be the exact type of smoker young hip people who smoke American Spirits never want to become.

As I grabbed a smoke from the yellow pack—that had a graphic of an Indian, feather not dot, smoking from a pipe that looked similar to a steamroller I used in college to smoke pot—I began to twitch with excitement. I had a small notebook and pen at the ready for the inspiration that was bound to flow like the smoke from the end of my cigarette.

Immediately after lighting and taking the first hit of the cigarette I felt amazing. I was ready to open up my notebook and write, clutching my pen with the same hand that now held my cigarette, I attempted to do just that. But by the third hit, I wasn’t feeling the inspiration so much as I was feeling the onset of a headache. I capped my pen and put my notebook back in my pocket. A few hits later, not even halfway through the smoke, I put out the cig. I felt like shit; I was done. I needed a glass of water.

In the morning my sweatshirt smelled like cigarettes, as did my T-shirt, my fingers and what’s left of my hair. I began to think about my hypothesis—that all great writers are smokers—and I began to realize how stupid it sounded. The longer I sat there, the more I thought about how I had come to such an idiotic conclusion, and before long, I began to write about it. Before I knew it I had written an entire essay about smoking and it all started with one cigarette. And then it hit me like a wall of smoke, all great authors are smokers.

– Daniel Savickas

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One Response to “Confession: I miss smoking”

  1. Emily Dettling January 26, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    Dan, oh, Dan.

    Motherfucker! I just wrote on myspace, this moving comment about how I quit smoking, (and I am indeed happy about it), and then I saw you were leaving, which then led me here, to your wordpress blog.
    I am a journalism student now at UNR, and my writing does indeed lack. I look back at one evening in Hawaii when I wrote a ten page essay, while sitting on the veranda of my humble hotel room in Kona, Hawaii. I smoked at least 10 cigarettes in two hours. I also drank Corona. It was bliss, in a very strenuous challenging, and unhealthy sort of way.
    But, I’ve learned to write without cigarettes, over the years. And even though I still smoked, I no longer felt the need to pair the two.
    I recently have been struggling with writing, feeling enormously disappointed my abilities, and now I wonder: is it because I don’t smoke and write at the same time?
    Well, I guess, perhaps I will never be a great author.
    But, fuck it! At least I won’t smell like shit, lose the ability to enjoy life after age 50, and suffer from severe oxygen deficiency.
    Seems like a fair trade-off.

    I still have the last copy of your ‘zine. Probably will for a great while.

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