I am not a Smoker

 

I had my first cigarette when I was 18. I hadn’t drank, smoked, or done any drugs before then. It was my own personal right of passage – I drove to the gas station and bought a pack of Marlboro Reds then drove out of town to the local fishing hole and sat on the trunk of my father’s car and tried to smoke while playing my guitar. I discovered the unpleasantness of smoking in the dry heat with the smoke barreling from the lit tobacco right into my eyes. When you’re holding a guitar in two hands, there’s only one place for that cigarette. I didn’t have another cigarette until later that fall when I was at college – one of the guys I was hanging out with was looking for a cigarette and I had the same pack from 3 months before, hidden in my bag. By then, then were quite stale, so the rest of the cigarettes I just gave to the guy, cause I wasn’t interested in this as a permanent habit.

About a year went by before my next cigarette – I was living in a house with a bunch of friends and we were into smoking pipe tobacco. We would sit on the corner on one of the main roads in town and smoke our pipes, getting chuckles and stares from people. There was one friend in particular I had formed a special bond with while smoking our pipes – he would frequently come over to the house in the late morning, just a few hours after I had finished up a night shift at work, and wake me up and we’d go out for lunch and find a place to smoke our pipes. One late night in the fall, we laid out in the back of his Volvo and he had some specialty cigarettes, which we smoked luxuriously as a chilly wind swept across our bare faces.

I don’t remember buying my next pack, but it was shortly after that night we started smoking cigarettes instead of pipes. In a sense, it was just rebellion. I had grown up so conservatively – I remember my own father being disgusted by someone lighting up a cigarette while they were driving out of the church parking lot on a Sunday afternoon – smoking was an escape from the rigid bounds of my religion. I was smoking because I could and because it was wrong. But even more than that, smoking was a social thing. It was what I did with my friends. [Well, not all of my friends – I kept it from those who I thought wouldn’t approve.] And that was what made it special.

But I also started smoking more and more alone. And it was in those moments I felt conviction. It was in the winter, I moved out of the house with my friends and back into my room in my parents house, and I remember driving home from a night shift, the cold air freezing my fingers in a way that felt like I was grasping the cigarette with my bones, crying because of the weight of despair I felt even then. I don’t know how many not empty packs of cigarettes I threw out the window on the interstate in desperation. But this conviction was my religion creeping in, causing me doubt and grief and shame. Interestingly, that was all my own doing. I doubt I hid it very well, my smoking. I would lead a worship set for church and during the sermon, walk around the neighborhood surrounding the church building and smoke a cigarette and then come back enveloped in the mixed stench of my cologne and the cigarette to lead one last song before sending people out the door. But no one ever said anything about it.

Despite my internal conviction, there was something about it that continued to draw me – and it was [as ridiculous as this sounds – and it is ridiculous] the idea of Joe Cool and the Marlboro Man, of Brad Pitt, Joaquin Phoenix, Sean Penn, and any other celebrity I had seen smoking a cigarette in a movie – it still seemed cool. And I still wanted to be a rebel.

And here I am, 14 years later, still smoking. But finally wanting to truly quit. And also realizing the depth of the hole I have dug for myself. I don’t want to stand in the cold and shiver while raising that toxicity to my mouth. I want to spend my days healthy, motivated, and living with clarity and depth. This 14 year experience hasn’t lived up to the billing. I am not a smoker. That is what I am going to continue to tell myself until it is true.

I am not a smoker.

 

jsf

Breaking Barriers

All around me I see world changers mixed in with the observers. The creators and the consumers. The givers and the partakers. The selfless and the selfish. I have always had a problem with standing by and watching. I mean, I enjoy watching sometimes, but mostly I want to be performing. That was one of the reasons I was so inspired by being the music leader for a church for nine years after leaving college – I got to be onstage, performing, leading people in the ritual of singing. I got to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in church music, sampling secular music to show the deep emotion evident in art that wasn’t written “in the name of the lord.” And it was exhilarating, until it was exhausting. Performing 6 days a week, sometimes two and three times a day, all the practices, preparation, lack of varietal input all pushed me to a place where I was so spent I didn’t care about it any longer with the same passion.

Conveniently, I still didn’t quit, waiting out the hand of another to push me to resignation. I got to use that as a sort of martyrdom [there’s plenty else to this story that I am certain will come along soon enough] even though I was so tired from all of the performance I didn’t even have the energy to pick my guitar up out of its case. It was around that time I quit writing and started reading more and more. It was around that time I discovered that I didn’t have any real answers, that I hadn’t attained any true knowledge I could rely on, and that I needed to stop creating and performing because it was not healthy for me any longer. That move, while needed, ended up taking over too much. Instead of consuming for a little while, all I did was either consume or not participate at all. I entered a semi-blissful state where I had no fucks to give and so I gave none and I received nothing in return except for drunkenness and stale cigarette smoke.

So, I decided to change that, but it is difficult to change something you have allowed to become so ingrained in your existence. Creating is hard work, especially when you haven’t done it in a long while. Your fingers blister like they did when you first learned to play the guitar 20 years ago. The poetry of emotion that used to rise so easily sounds tripe. You sit down to write something out and realise you are going to just go outside and smoke that cigarette even though you’re trying to quit. And then you look in the mirror and search for motivation – what has pushed me all this time before I was washed up and alone?

It is then, after a few hours or days or weeks that I notice some of the little notes I have left myself, scattered around my office, loose in my bag, crumpled in my pocket.

Do the work.

“Nothing will work unless you do.”
– Maya Angelou

Get up and move. DO. Do not sit.

What are you doing?

“Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
– Lord Chesterfield

What am I doing? What do I have to do? Do it.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
– Leo Tolstoy

And then, there are three statements I wrote down straight on my desk to remind myself:
I want to see what I can do.
I want to BREAK BARRIERS.
What am I building?

A few weeks ago I went to a Foo Fighters concert – something I was really excited for and had bought tickets six months prior. The anticipation to see Dave Grohl and the Foo perform was overwhelming and then, there, in the midst of the fog and the lights and the bass pounding into my chest and the screams of the consumers I found myself not wanting to be there, at least not in the crowd. I wanted to be the creator, not the consumer. I wanted to be the giver, not the partaker. I wanted to be the selfless and not the selfish. I wanted to be the world changer, not the observer. I’m not writing about being Dave Grohl on stage in front of 10,000 people. I just want to be the one bringing the content, in whatever form that is – music, words, problem solving, applications. I want to be a bringer of life. I do not want to just be a consumer of life.

jsf