I’m astonished that it’s been two years since I quit smoking. It really does feel like yesterday. Sometimes I feel like I misplaced a whole year somewhere (roughly July 2011 to July 2012). Although I lived it and remember it (and plenty of great things happened during it), I sort of shuffled it into the wrong box somewhere, so that when I am mentally recapping my life, I always come up a year short.
For a long time, I didn’t even want to quit smoking. The thing about smoking is that it’s really enjoyable. You get to play with fire and smoke. The thick foggy sensation in your throat feels really good. You can use it to meet people (some of my best friends are old smoking buddies), and it’s also a good excuse to stand by yourself or to break up a conversation that’s getting stale. And, at least in the beginning, it has interesting psychotropic effects.
But it’s about as bad for you as anything it’s possible to do. There are numerous scheduled drugs (marijuana, LSD, ecstasy, and many prescription drugs) that are safer. Also, after awhile, it becomes a bit of a chore. Smoking when you want to is great. But having to smoke twenty times a day is less great. I think that for every smoker, there comes a time when quitting sort of starts to be on the agenda. I’m not actually sure when that time came for me. I moved from, “I’m not even thinking about quitting” to “I guess I’ll quit someday.” But still, I had no concrete plans for quitting and I never made any serious attempts to quit (except for one, in maybe July of 2009, that literally only lasted for twelve hours).
Anyway, what eventually happened is that in late February 2011, I read Jeff Vandermeer’s book on planning your writing career: BookLife. And that book recommended going through and plotting what projects you were planning on taking on in each of the coming months. So I went through and did that, and I realized that almost every month for the rest of the year was going to have a major writing project.* Obviously, I couldn’t quit smoking while I was in the middle of a project! It wasn’t until I had that thought that I realized quitting smoking was even on the agenda.
After thinking about it, I realized that the only space I’d left open in my agenda was right at that moment—I’d left open a three week period because I was about to switch apartments, and I didn’t want to begin a new project right before a major move. And that was the only room I had. If I didn’t quit smoking immediately, I wouldn’t have any room to do it until the year ended.
The next day, I bought some cranberry juice, some chewing gum, and some snacks. And that night I stayed up late (smoking three packs of cigarettes) so I’d be super tired the next day and would fall asleep easier. At about 3 AM, I smoked one last cigarette and destroyed my remaining ones. And then I went to bed.
Honestly, things were not that bad at all. I felt a bit disembodied for the next three days, but I wasn’t shaking and tingling and my heart wasn’t racing or all that. It was a very easy withdrawal. Over the next month, there was a little bit of forgetfulness and some bursts of irritation. But all in all, that was it.
The major thing that I learned from this experience was that if there’s anything I want to do, I should start doing it right now.
That’s why I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t believe in saving up my resolve for one day. Whenever I tip over that invisible threshold that separates a passing fancy from a real desire, I try to immediately begin taking some concrete action towards whatever I want. I’m not going to have any more time or energy on New Year’s Day than I do now. I think it’s really easy to daydream about how you’re going to spend this vast sum of time that you have in the future: all the days that you’ve yet to live. But really, most of that time is already allocated: you’re gonna be sleeping, working, eating, and recreating. Actually, the future contains no more free time than today. So if something’s worth doing, then it needs to be worth spending energy and effort on right now.
Of course, it’s also fine to daydream. I daydream about all kinds of stuff: writing screenplays and long-form essays and starting joke Twitter accounts and learning languages. But I don’t beat myself up because I’m not doing that stuff. The reason I don’t do those things is that right now they’re not as important to me as everything else in my life. It’s fine to let daydreams be daydreams. There’s no need to turn them into resolutions and then use them to torture yourself.
*Looking back at my plans for the rest of 2011, I can see that I actually accomplished almost none of what I’d set out to do: I abandoned the novel I was going to revise and I never attempted the screenplay I was going to write. Which is another example of what I was saying. I’d set aside my whole future to all these activities, but I refused to give them my present. Of course, since I spend my present quitting smoking (and, eventually, writing and revising a totally different novel), everything turned out for the best in the end.