Monday, August 23, 2010

The Inspiration to Quit

The Ace of Wands is a card that signifies energy. It’s the new inspiration, the new project, the start of something big. It’s not just an idea or thought but the urge, the surge of fiery energy that pushes us into something new and different. OK, yes and sometimes it’s that 2”x 4” that we hit ourselves over the head with to get our own attention. It’s the match that lights our attention, helps us warm to a concept. It’s the lightning strike of impulse. It’s the “grip” when you get a grip on things. It’s life force itself.

This Monday morning, it’s a cup of very strong tea to give me the jolt I need. I think I’m still recovering from Friday night’s Day Job festivities that didn’t end until 2 a.m. Saturday. At 2 a.m. the veneer of civilization had worn off for me and when the team, who had been working every bit as long as I had and more, asked for my input I blurted, “I AM DONE!” At least everyone laughed. I had voiced the common thread for the evening.

While a long Friday night like that can lower my I.Q. for an entire weekend, I did still find the energy to do some things I wanted to do. Saturday afternoon, I zipped over to ArtCentric in Benicia, California to execute a ceramics project that had stirred my imagination. While I was there, I was inspired to ask the owner about alternatives to a half-formed thought that been bouncing around in my head. Then I hit the office supply store for a couple of experimental Avery labels. And, since it was so close, I dropped into Michaels to solidify an artistic impulse which manifested itself into a Fiskars paper trimmer, very handy for future creative efforts too and perhaps just the solution to my label situation. Avery may make a million different labels but the size I am looking for is just a little smaller than what I found. Inspiration! Trim!

My father used to complain that I was burning my candle at both ends. Being a true fire sign, I was annoyed that there were only two ends to burn. I wanted to do more, not less. But my energy runs out like everyone else’s. It’s just when I’m done, like Friday night, I’m really done. An old boyfriend used to tell me I had two speeds, On and Off. Well, that seems clear.

Not all of my impulses are creative of course. I used to smoke. I can’t imagine smoking now, but I smoked on and off for almost 15 years. And then I quit.

Like a lot of teenagers, I started smoking my mother’s brand of cigarettes because they were “handy,” meaning I didn’t think she would notice if I took a pack of her Pall Mall Menthol Longs from the carton. I had pretty well convinced myself that my smoking wasn’t just to look cool but it probably was. I smoked instead of eating. I gestured with my cigarette for dramatic emphasis. I Bogarted my filtered cigs while playing cards in the university student center. Smoking was “normal” when I was a child. My mother always had one lit in the ashtray if not being actively smoked. But I also remember being horrified watching my father, who did not smoke, light a cigarette to use for 4th of July fireworks the summer I was 13.

I would stop for a while, then start again. One time when I was a reporter for the university student-run radio station, I had returned from a particularly unproductive student council meeting. I was annoyed that the student council had chosen to table discussion of anything meaningful in deference to some trivial topic. I roared into the radio station newsroom, headed for the teletype room, flung my coat on the floor and stomped on it. One of the DJ’s came out to see what the commotion was, a cigarette dangling from his lips. I looked up at him and glared, “Throckmorton, GIVE ME THAT CIGARETTE.” He did, without hesitation. He apparently could identify a dangerous animal when he saw one. He had no wish to be collateral damage. And I smoked again.

In my mid-20’s I switched brands a couple of times and landed on Arctic Lites. They were long, menthol and “lite,” that lie we told ourselves about a cigarette actually being healthier than another. I went on my first international trip, to Bermuda, and was scandalized by the ridiculously high prices of cigarettes there, $1.00 per pack. Arctic Lites had a peculiar manufacturing flaw that contributed to my quitting smoking altogether. About halfway through the cigarette, the burning ash would fall off. This happened at the least convenient times, most memorably into the skirt of my then-favorite dress while I was driving on the Interstate. My dress was ruined, of course, and chasing a wad of fire while you’re driving is something like having a bee in the car. I lived, at least, and no other drivers were harmed in the process.

Cigarettes were a crutch for me like they are for anyone who smokes. They got me through a bleak moment when I had agreed to help my landlord boyfriend clean up one of his student rentals. I took the kitchen and discovered the boys from last semester had left a can of frozen orange juice in the unplugged refrigerator freezer. By the time I got to it with my rubber gloves and cleaning potions, the cardboard sides of the once-frozen now long-thawed OJ were moving, seething, undulating with (God help us) maggots.

The refrigerator was next to an open window and all I had to do was reach in, seize the horror with my Playtex Living Gloved-hand, make a 90 degree turn and drop the thing out the window. It took me three cigarettes to get up the courage to do that. Mmmm, maggots. To this day, I don’t know how I did it.

However, the dress incident and others were starting to weigh more heavily on the “con” side of smoking for me. There were all the places I would not smoke. I wouldn’t smoke in my car anymore because of the falling ash trick. Even though we were still allowed to smoke in the office then, before it was banned, I didn’t want to smoke at my desk. I didn’t want to be the girl at work who set her desk on fire. One of the professors at the university had done that, solidifying his “Mr. Magoo” reputation. That’s all I needed, to be Magooed.

Finally, my eyes went bad. It wasn’t because of the cigarettes, of course, just genetics. I turned 30 and my vision deteriorated so rapidly that my optometrist started to worry I might go blind. When my eyes stabilized, I treated myself to those newfangled plastic contact lenses. And something about getting contacts and smoking just didn’t mix well for me. I started to count all the reasons and places I would not smoke anyway and figured out that the price of my cigarettes would pay for my contacts. Add to that, the incidence of heart attack and other bad things happening to most women who smoke takes a steep climb at age 30. Halfway through a pack of those unreliable Arctic Lites, I quit, never picking them up again.

Later, diagnosed with asthma, I was glad I didn’t prolong my self-destructive and expensive habit. I’ve come full circle and am now one of the folks who are horrified when people do smoke, although I still have sympathy with my smoker friends. I do remember what it was like.

A few years ago, I had the chance to be a judge at the local junior high science fair. One young man had done a survey to find out the most effective reason to quit and the most effective method of quitting. He had a personal stake in the study. His mother had agreed that once he found out the best way to quit and why, she would. This good kid, not particularly nerdy or scientific, was inspired by his love for his mother and his desire to keep her with him as long as he could. He surveyed many people and tabulated the results: The best way to quit and stay that way was, he found, to quit “cold turkey” for health reasons. And his mother quit. I gave him the highest marks for his project, not because he was the most scientifically advanced, but because he had used inspiration and love to employ the tool of science to improve the lives of those around him. Now that’s a project.

Best wishes.

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