08 June 2013

Look At It: Don't Blink, Don't Smoke

I am renting the TV series "Mad Men" from Netflix while attempting to stop smoking cold turkey.

At a time and in a place where I feel reduced by circumstance to two primary pastimes as go-to sources for psychological and intellectual stimulation and sustenance:  writing and playing piano -- both activities that have been closely pegged to cigarette smoking for the last 40 years of my life.

It's been noted before (on this blog and elsewhere) that for smokers, cigarettes are like friends. Best friends really because of their uncomplicated, non-judging loyalty and reliability. Who/what else has been there no matter what, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, good times and bad?

Here's a paradox of the relationship:  this friend can in one moment grant a compelling insight that sparks creative invention (so much of the writing here has come this way); but over the long haul, for most of the days and nights of the relationship, this friend suppresses feeling, hiding me from Truth and Truth from me.

In "The Shitty Handshake," the second gritty portrait in Paula Bomer's  Baby and Other Stories, a woman quits drinking. Or tries to quit drinking. With some weeks of sobriety under her belt, she abandons polite convention with her sister-in-law for the first time and tells her the truth. The sister-in-law invites her to join the family for a holiday getaway.
"Thanks, Alexis. But I don't think I can make it. You should check with Dan, though. I'm sure he would love to go."
"You have other plannz?"
"Actually, no. I just don't think I'd be comfortable, but thanks. You have Dan's work number, yes?"
... "You wouldn't be comfortable?" Karen could hear her sister-in-law adjust her headband.
"I'm sorry. But why not?" ...
"Because I'm not comfortable around you and your family."
"I'm sorry." Alexis said, with absolutely no conviction. Indeed, it was one of those sorrys that really meant fuck you.
"No need to be sorry. I'm just not comfortable around you and there's nothing either of us can do about it."
"Well, but why not? We're always so happy to have you," she lied.
"Because you are a bitch and a snob."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm not comfortable around you because you're a bitch and a snob. There's nothing anyone can do about that at this point. It's just who you are, what you are. A bitch, and a snob." Karen's ears started to ring. A current of electricity surged through her and the lights in the kitchen flickered. The truth was that powerful. ...
When she got off the phone, she was so high she realized she didn't need booze. No, she just needed to tell the truth. It was such a rare thing, the bald truth, especially since she'd gotten older. Of course, the feeling wore off, just like the effects of alcohol do. ...
Bomer, Paula (2010-12-15). Baby & Other Stories (Kindle Locations 286-294). Word Riot Press. Kindle Edition. 
I know this "high". It's unpredictable and uncontrollable. Just every now and then, taking a deep breath like any other deep breath and SURPRISE! -- on the out-breath all traces of uncertainty or artifice leave me. I see myself and the world around me with an uncommon clarity. And if you ask me anything in that moment, I am powerless to respond with anything besides plain, uncontaminated honesty.

It is strange, how separation from my "best friend" -- paradoxically the same "best friend" who carries the words and ideas and feelings I need for inventive creative work -- sets the stage for transcendent vision and truth-speaking. [Researchers are looking at this and related phenomena through less romantic lens; they study "the effect of nicotine on brain activity."]


In part because I'm missing my "best friend"
and in part because after 10 months in Holly Springs I am still essentially an outsider here and spend most of my time alone
and in part inspired by Bomer's brilliant narratives about the interior life of Introverts

I'm thinking about alone-ness lately. Thinking that feels sane, stripped of nostalgia and emotion. 

A big new idea: seeing my family as a clan of loners, a bunch of people related by blood who could not (why?) forge strong social bonds with each other. Examining my lone-wolf nature as a learned, socialized characteristic. Wondering if any of this is transmitted genetically.

I don't know how far I can go with this investigation 

without smoking.

It's like I need my Friend to hold my hand while I face the truth about what kind of Friend s/he is. 

It's like only without my Friend can I see how alone I am and fully feel that alone-ness and wonder about it...but I need my Friend's company to think deeply or do any writing about the process.

This is boring.