Self-improvement makes me cranky

Oh, great. Another blog post where Vanessa just talks about herself. Bleh.

Shut up. You love me. I’m awesome.

Wow. I wrote that little hypothetical argument with the theoretical “you,” but it totally sounds like the inside of my head. That’s tremendously unsettling.

Sorry. I’m all scatterbrained and out of sorts. I’m trying to quit smoking. I know this may not be a blogworthy subject, but it’s bringing up all kinds of interesting questions. Introspection. Self-analysis. Icky things like that.

This started because I had a really weird moment the other day. I was driving down the road and I thought to myself, “If I get to live to be an old lady, that means that I’ll have time to do a lot of cool things. I could learn to speak Chinese. I could rebuild a classic car. I could walk across the country.” This is a weird moment because I don’t usually think that far ahead. Like, old lady far ahead. I can think maybe someday future kids or maybe someday future bookstore, but that’s about where it all gets fuzzy for me. I’m very comfortable with my own mortality. It’s inevitable, and death can just show up on your doorstep uninvited whenever he wants. It’s why I’ve written my own eulogy many times and keep a current will. But I had this unexpected little string of extra-long-term thoughts and I got a butterfly flutter in my gut, like you do when you’re excited about something. I don’t get excited like that, physically, very often. I get nervous a lot, but that feels different. I’m much more familiar with being nervous. Anyway, point is, if I want to live that long, I should probably not beat up my body quite so much. I’ve only got the one, you know. Such as it is. And the grossest thing that I do to it is smoking.

Ugh. It’s so fucking gross. My teeth are all jacked up. I smell like an ashtray. My fingernails are yellow. And it’s completely unfulfilling. The only thing one gets out of smoking cigarettes is the enjoyment of smoking cigarettes. That’s it. There’s no bonus. There’s no upside. It’s not like smoking weed where you get the extra added benefit of being high at the end. There’s no reward system to smoking except you get to keep wanting to smoke. Seems fallacious. In retrospect. Oh! And it’s ridiculously expensive. Let’s do the math. I pay $7.50 per pack for cigarettes, now, in California. When I started smoking I paid about $3.50 per pack, in the 90s, in Virginia (the holy land of smoking). I smoke half a pack a day now, but at my worst I smoked about a pack and a half. So let’s call that an even pack a day at $5.50 per pack, just taking the median numbers because I suck at math. Over sixteen years that’s $32,142. That’s almost half my college education. That’s three used cars. That’s a down payment on a house. That’s a good chunk of the therapy my children will certainly need. That’s money that I pretty much just set on fire. And as much as I love watching things burn, that figure hurts to look at.

That’s a little off-track. Money is good motivation because I seem to be consistently broke, but this should really be more about my health. I’m not a terribly self-aware person, in a physical sense. I’m extremely clumsy. I don’t give a shit about clothes. I tend to think that I’m invisible in social situations (which is either an unhealthy delusion or a superpower, I haven’t decided yet). I ignore my body most of the time and pay way more attention to my brain. And if I’m being brutally honest, both of them need (and deserve) work. That’s the crossroads where I find myself, hoping to reconcile these two concepts. Because I just turned thirty, right? Physically it’s all downhill from here. So I’m trying to train myself to think of my brain as just another organ in a bigger system (which is really hard) and to think of my body as being a healthy vehicle to carry my brain around in (which is actually more difficult than the other thing). It can’t be one or the other, it has to be both. Neither is more or less important. Although every time my brain goes to shit, my body follows. Oddly, having always had a less-than-healthy body, I never thought of it as also being directly related the other way around. But it is. Obviously. And I’m not talking about how I look, by the way. Let’s just clear that up ahead of time. I have allergies and asthma and a weird heart thing, as well as depression and anxiety which affect the body more than most people think. One of my legs is shorter than the other. I’ve got a fun inventory of exciting skin conditions. I have freaky tiny hands. Not a great combination of factors. So I’m just not really “connected to my body,” or whatever enlightened thing I’m supposed to say. I think of it more like driving a car. Or that lifting robot thing from the third Alien movie.

My mother was a champion bodybuilder in the 80s. There’s a long list of awesome things she’s done, but I think that’s the weirdest. She’s a total badass, my mom. But her being a wicked hot health nut made it very difficult to be an awkward little fat kid with glasses and braces and asthma, right? “Hey, sweetpea, let’s go lift weights! Let’s go to an aerobics class! Let’s go for a run!” Sounds like fun to her, torture to me. I wanted to be an athletic kid so I could hang out with her, do things that she would think were a good way to spend one’s time, and make her proud of me. As opposed to sitting under a tree, reading books, eating my secret stash of Oreos, which sounds like little Vanessa’s perfect day. I’m not good at all that sporty stuff, though, and I don’t like doing things that I’m not good at. I really tried, I swear, but I couldn’t help hating it. I tried to play softball (and got cut from the team three years in a row). I tried to play volleyball (and broke my nose twice). I even tried cheerleading (they did not appreciate sarcasm or eye-rolling from the goth girl). See the problem? I’m physically much more suited to playing games like chess, Magic, and what-can-we-turn-into-a-bong?.

So on top of all that hating-my-body-because-it-doesn’t-work-properly bullshit, I’ve been smoking since high school. Half my life. My dad was a heavy smoker. As are most of the friends that I’ve had since childhood. And my sister, until last summer. And my husband. Not that being surrounded by a thing is any reason to not quit that thing. That would be a cop out. I’m just saying that it’s not the easiest environment to work in. Peer pressure is a bitch, and always has been. Maybe that’s why I smoke in the first place. If I’m going to hang out with smokers, I think it’s important to tell myself that I don’t have to be totalitarian or dictatorial about quitting. I don’t have to pick a cigarette and say “this is the last one ever ever ever,” because that’s just setting myself up to fail, right? Moderation is an easier goal than abstinence. And one every once in a while is worlds better for me than the half a pack a day I go through now. Which isn’t that much to begin with, relatively speaking. In college I would smoke a pack and a half a day, easy, and more if I was drinking heavily. How did I survive college? Seriously? I should probably not be alive.

Now that I’ve spent a thousand words talking how gross and broke and broken and weird I am, I’d like to follow that up by saying that I’m fucking charming as hell. I’m smart and funny and a blast to hang out with. Let me assure you that none of us wants me to die over something as stupid as smoking. It’s a dumbshit way to kill myself. It’s slow and painful and just not dramatic enough, frankly. It’s the most boring kind of suicide ever. And I’d like to think that if I go through this process now, tough as it may be, one day I’ll get to be that fun old lady who speaks Chinese and drives a little sports car she restored herself and has stories about walking across the country. And more. More than I can even imagine now, from where I’m sitting. If I kill myself, I kill her, and that’s not fair. I should give her a fighting chance. Wish us luck.

8 thoughts on “Self-improvement makes me cranky

  1. I wish you a lot of luck with this. I run the risk of being self-righteous here because I am an ex-smoker, but even so…it is a dumb habit. I used to live in the UK where smoking in public is strictly regulated and I now live in Greece where smoking is a popular pastime for anyone at any time. To compound matters my wife is an unashamed smoker so you can see there’s the potential for tension. Having said that, the way I think people should look at smoking is to examine how much you want something to control how you live your life. When I smoked, lighting a cigarette was one of the first things I did on opening my eyes each morning and often the last thing I did before going to sleep. However, were I to translate that to drinking I would be horrified by such behaviour. I do drink (and as things stand I don’t intend to give that up) but I like to think the tail is not wagging the dog and that my drinking is almost exclusively confined to a glass with my evening meal. Anyway that’s enough of me pontificating. All I would say is that if you want to give up smoking you will and the craving is never too bad if you go off and do something else for a while. Good luck and best wishes etc.

    1. Interesting that you would compare smoking to drinking. I tend to smoke MUCH more when I’m drinking, so I’m trying to cut back on both, just for right now. I think that out-at-the-bar cigarette will probably be my acceptable relapse cigarette forever. I can’t imagine sitting outside in the summer, having a delightful beer in the evening, without a cigarette. And if I can have just one and really, truly enjoy it, I’ll be ok with that. Rather than the mindless chain smoking that I do now and get nothing out of but feeling really gross. We’ll see how it goes. Thanks for the good vibes.

  2. Thanks for this. I’m at the “seriously contemplating” stage of stopping smoking, with the threat of graduate acting school hanging over my head, which makes me want to both quit and smoke more. The trick will be getting over my fear of, “What will I do instead?” I have a million things I want to say to you about this post – it really moved me – but I’ll keep it quick and say only that I started doing yoga on a near daily basis after over two decades of relative sloth (book reading under the trees was a favorite pastime of mine as well). Physical activity feels really good for the first time in my life, now that I’ve found a way to move that works for me. Good luck with your endeavors! You are indeed charming as hell, and a great inspiration to boot.

    1. Physicality is so important for an actor. I can’t think of any possible way that quitting smoking wouldn’t help you out in that regard. You’re a super strong, inspirational person. Just remember that one cigarette every once in a while won’t kill you, but you can’t do anything awesome if you’re dead all the time.

      1. I like your sentiment about summer nights and beer drinking – I think that’s going to be my approach. Stopping, not quitting. I admire the fact that my mom was able to stop cold turkey the day she found out she was pregnant with me, picked it up after twenty years when she divorced my dad, and stopped again as soon as she was done venting her stress that way (maybe a year at the longest). We became friends over cigarettes, both going through a tough time together, and even now she’ll have half a one with me.

  3. I know that you can do this. I have great hope for you. I am sending all the positive vibes I can. I’m also hoping “the boyfriend” reads this and it inspires him to quit smoking as well. Because I would like to grow old and have him by my side. I’m sure you feel the same about your man. I love you! Best wishes!

    1. I’m sure he’ll read it eventually. The odds are about 50:50 on the inspiration. Thanks for the good vibes. Keep ’em coming.

Comments are closed.