When I quit smoking I had to find something else to do other than smoke cigarettes while writing. For a long time, I thought this would be IMPOSSIBLE. Because so much of writing means staring in despair at a blank computer screen, waiting for the words to arrive. And somehow, holding a cigarette meant I had something to do while waiting, and the computer was always obscured by this huge haze of smoke. Ah, those were the days…
I was an enthusiastic smoker. I LOVED smoking. Two of my favorite people in college even taught me how to smoke freshman year, and while they no doubt thought I was the dorkiest person in the world since I arrived at college without this know-how, they kindly guided me on how to ape their sophistication. And when I mean sophistication, I mean it whole-heartedly. These two friends of mine seemed so worldly, so jaded, and so, well, cool…I really wanted to be just like them. And they smoked, so I wanted to smoke too.
Yeah, OK, peer pressure is bad. And smoking is BAD FOR YOU. So let’s make it clear that I do agree with all those things.
But so much of life is more complicated than a surgeon general’s warnings. Both my parents smoked. It was the bad, glamorous 70s and my earliest memory is my dad rolling down the window on the Mercedes so he could light up after church on Sundays. There’s a picture I still treasure, which shows my family on the beach in the Philippines. We’re all looking windswept and sun-kissed, and my dad is lounging on his back, with his aviators, and a cigarette dangling on his hand, and there’s mom, in her swimsuit, a cigarette on her lips. My parents loved fun: they threw all-night parties that lasted until ten in the morning in their restaurant/nightclub, my dad played poker with his friends until dawn (and the action would get so heated, one friend famously bet his vacation house–and yes, handed over the keys when he lost!). They lived life TO THE FULLEST. They traveled the world, shopped in Hong Kong and London, and they smoked. Another memory: my parents walking through the airport, their duty-free bags stuffed with cartons of Marlboros.
When I was growing up, my mom would smoke while doing her hair and putting on her make-up. She had a gold ashtray on her dressing table. I thought nothing could be more glamorous.
Then we moved to the States, and my dad quit smoking, and a few years later, my mom did too. Part of it was the result of assimilating to America–in the suburbs, fewer and fewer people smoked, and my younger brother, who was learning about the evils of smoking in school, would throw my mom’s cigarettes in the toilet when he found them.
But I was determined to live like my parents, and while they both were upset when they found out I smoked, they also understood–they had been young once too.
My husband has never smoked. He has always hated smoking, and when we first met, he tolerated it (after all, he moved into MY apartment) but gradually, over the years, he has nagged me to stop, and I don’t smoke now because of him.
I’m glad I don’t smoke anymore. My clothes don’t smell. I don’t have a cold that lasts for two weeks. Plus, It’s not the same–my friends from college have quit too (although we do sneak the occasional guilty cigarette when we get together), we’re all getting older, we’re trying to have kids, we realize we’re not immortal. You can’t even smoke in New York anymore. Sad. Now all the clubs smell like body odor and beer. Ick.
But I’m never going to be one of those people who are angry that other people smoke. Or who lecture people not to smoke. I think it’s gross that tobacco companies have made their cigarettes so addictive. But I do believe in personal choice and responsibility. It’s a learned habit, and it’s one you can break. It was my choice to start smoking, but it has also been my choice to stop.
I guess I’m thinking about smoking because I am sitting here writing the LAST chapter of Masquerade, and I really wish I had a cigarette to celebrate. But I’m glad I don’t.