Tuesday, 23 September 2014

How I Quit Smoking

I have been smoking for half my life.  And it's no wonder that I took it up.  I grew up with it.  My mom smoked in the house, in the car, in bed.  She would write a note and send me to pick up cigarettes for her at the corner store.  My brothers both took up smoking at a young age and they did the same thing.  The convenience store wouldn't sell cigarettes to teenagers, but they would to me, a kid with a note.  When mom wasn't home, my brothers would have friends over and they'd all be smoking.  How could I not become a smoker, too?

I didn't take up smoking until I was about 18-years-old, though. Up to that point, I think my mom was always proud that I hadn't started and figured that I never would.  And to this day, she's still under the same illusion - unless my brothers have told her and she hasn't said anything.  But I've hidden it from her for the past eighteen years.  I didn't want to disappoint her.  Surely, she would blame herself, and perhaps that's why I felt the need to maintain the illusion.

But I loved smoking.  It was a social activity - drinking and smoking - just like in the song Alright by Supergrass: We wake up, we go out / smoke a fag, put it out/ see our friends, see the sights/ feel alright.  I thought it was cool, rebellious, dark and mysterious.  Weren't all the interesting, intelligent, artistic people smokers?
Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed, Joe Strummer, Ian Curtis

More than anything I began to equate smoking with writing.  I remember one tobacco-fueled all-nighter in university, as I was putting together a last minute philosophy essay, I thought to myself how wonderful cigarettes were.  They kept me company and kept me going.  They helped me concentrate.  I thought at that moment that if I will be a writer then I will need to smoke.  When thoughts of quitting entered my mind I always returned to thinking about writing and how I needed cigarettes to do it.  It's one of the reasons I chose the picture of Aldous Huxley smoking as my profile pic.   
Aldous Huxley
I've chosen a different photo of Huxley without the cigarette for my profile now. 

It's because I've quit.

Yes, it's true. Non-smokers will congratulate me, but I don't need the accolades. Smokers will wish me good luck, but their doubts don't bother me. It's different this time.  It has nothing to do with luck.  I have tried at least once before to quit.  But my heart wasn't in it then. I was still clinging to the notion that it was enjoyable and that as an interesting, artistic person I needed cigarettes. Stupid, I know. But these are the illusions that smokers cling to.

It hasn't been long, only 10 days so far, so we'll see if it sticks.  But I really do feel like I've kicked it. How? Well,  I woke up on September 13th, a Saturday like any other, and just decided that I didn't want to do it anymore. It's not about cigarettes killing me.  It's not about those horrible pictures of diseased hearts, tracheotomies and oral cancer they put on the packs. Non-smokers die too.  It's simply about quality of life. It costs too much money. And for what?  To make myself feel like crap?  So I can get winded after running only a few seconds?  So I can't keep up with my kids?  I realized that I hated feeling like a slave to this habit that gives me nothing in return.  They don't relax me.  In fact, I feel less grumpy now that I've quit.  They don't aid concentration.  I can write without cigarettes.  I'm doing it now.  And I don't have the distraction of wanting to go outside for one. 

Is it really that easy? You can just decide to stop? Well, yes. I was never a heavy smoker, (half-pack a day) so the level of my addiction may not be that deep. But I think any smoker could do the same thing.  I had a little help from Allen Carr, but I mostly came to these realizations myself.  You can't quit smoking if you still regard it as a source of pleasure.  You won't be able to quit if you foresee it being a massive feat of willpower, trying to stay away from the thing you love and want. If that's the case, you will go running back.  You can only quit if you change your perception of smoking. It's a trap. It gives you nothing. It puts your money into the hands of corporations whose only service to you is to shorten your life-expectancy and make you feel perpetually gloomy and unhealthy. Smoking is gross, not romantic. It's foolish, not intelligent.
Leonard Cohen
They say ex-smokers still crave cigarettes every day for the rest of their life. I don't know if this is true.  I have had only a few cravings, but nothing too serious so far.  The thought of smoking actually repels me right now.  It is interesting that Leonard Cohen, who quit smoking in his fifties, has just recently, and quite deliberately, decided to start smoking again at the age of 80.  I guess he has held onto his love for smoking even after almost 30 years of abstaining.  Now that he is an octogenarian, I guess he doesn't feel he needs to worry about his future so much. Well, good for him I suppose. Maybe if I live to 80 I will look at cigarettes in the way that I used to - as props and aids for the deep and complex philosopher, artist, musician and writer.  But for now, no thanks.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

My Influences.

What authors do I consider to be my influences?  I've given it a lot of thought.  These are the one's that grabbed me by the brain as a child, and as a young adult, and have yet to let go.  They have shaped my thinking, my perception of the world, and are direct influences on the novel I am currently writing.

I have to admit that most of my influences trickled down from my brother, who was seven years older than me.  It was his books that I picked up, for the most part.

However, the first book I bought on my own, at a book fair in elementary school, was The Forest of Doom, by Ian Livingstone.  It was the third book of the Fighting Fantasy series, which was also co-written by Steve Jackson.  They were a "choose-your-own-adventure" sort of book, except that it also incorporated dice rolling and keeping track of stats on a piece of paper.  I went on to buy more and more of these books.  I was already familiar with Dungeons & Dragons through my older brother, and I would eventually shelve the juvenile Fighting Fantasy books, and pick up a Player's Handbook and a Dungeon Master's Guide (so perhaps I should also mention Gary Gygax as an influence,) but these books were mine, my first real independent reading.  They were my first portal into the fantasy realm.  My imagination was stimulated.

Next came JRR Tolkien.  I read The Hobbit when I was twelve and The Lord of the Rings shortly thereafter.  I reread Lord of the Rings at least twice.  I was captivated by Tolkien's descriptive ability: the strange lands and far-off kingdoms, magical creatures, brave warriors.  But truly it was Frodo's journey, his struggle, his relationship Gollum and the stalwart friendship of Sam Gamgee that stuck with me most.

Fritz Leiber must stand as my all-time favourite for his stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.  I have a ripped, torn and beaten copy of Swords Against Death which is like an old friend to me.  I have reread that more times than I can count. I read him now and see that he writes in a style that no-one would dare try in this day and age.  But to me it is magnificent prose.  And the camaraderie between the two heroes, like Sam and Frodo's, is an ideal of male friendship. It is competitive and not always necessarily 'friendly' but in times of danger their deep connection always remains strong.  They share an unspoken sense of loyalty to one another.

This theme of male friendship is also found Arthur Conan Doyle's stories of Sherlock Holmes as told by his loyal companion Dr. John Watson. I have read every one of his adventures.  The eccentric, unfathomably intelligent detective is a unique and timeless hero.  It was one of Watson's declarations that inspired the book I am writing.  He said, "Holmes, you are a wizard!"  And I thought, "What if he was a wizard?"  Thus was born Melhos Locke ("Melhos" an anagram of Holmes, and "Locke" a play on Sherlock.)  I've wondered if this is too obvious.  Edgar Allen Poe's story The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and others are also, for obvious reasons, influential.

Though, I never left fantasy behind, I did start picking up some of my brother's other books.  And what's next for the angsty teen...Existentialism!  Albert Camus' The Outsider and The Plague, Fyodor Dostoevky's Crime and Punishment, Franz Kafka's, The Trial.  I gobbled up these tales about futility and the absurdity of existence.  

Then I discovered the likes of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, fantasists,  fabulists of the highest order who remake reality and seemingly broaden the horizon of what's possible, including what's possible in writing
.  Reading these authors I am always filled with a sense of awe and wonder.

I should include George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's  Brave New World, two distinct visions of a dystopic future both of which still seem highly plausible.  In fact, the latter seems highly prescient looking around at our world today and is part of the reason why I use Huxley's picture as my profile pic (also because my middle name is Huxley.)

It was Plato's Allegory of the Cave in The Republic which got me interested in philosophy, made me yearn to learn higher concepts instead of being figuratively chained to the wall and forced to watch shadows.  So I studied philosophy in university and have many favourite philosophers.  But it is perhaps Friedrich Nietzsche that I loved the most.  His philosophy is often misunderstood, and perhaps I don't fully understand it myself, but I find it to be rebellious, joyous (gay in the old sense of the word) and poetic.

And speaking of poetry, perhaps I will mention a few poets.  I am in no way inclined toward writing poetry and I have a hard time 'getting' it, even though I understand that the whole notion of 'getting' poetry is not the way to approach it.  I see it as an art-form that I am out of my depth in.  Still, I know what I like.  I was once given a book of American poetry by a friend and I fell in love with Walt Whitman, e.e. cummings, Carl Sandburg among others.  But perhaps most influential on me was a Canadian-Hungarian poet named Robert Zend and his book called Oab.  It is an experimental type poem-story where the actual letters (oab) come to life and have adventures on the page (a typesetter's nightmare, I'm sure.)   I took from it a sense of joy in writing and that what we write, what we create, are not static things.

And so there you have it.  These are the core ingredients that have contributed to the formation of this interesting wizard.