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I’ve been smoking without ever quitting for the last 20 years, plus 5 years before that (but I hadn’t learned to inhale so it doesn’t count).  Over the years my habit has gotten heavier and lighter: in high school, it was whenever I could sneak one, in college, it was at least a pack a day and lately it’s been 3-5 per day except when drinking when it could be doubled.  I’ve never quit before because I don’t like to make vain promises to myself or anyone else.

A few events precipitated this decision, going back at least a year or two.  The first was a dinner in New Brunswick, NJ with the two women who, back when we were 12, introduced me to smoking (in the woods behind the A&P), taught me tricks on how to hide the smell, and how to shoplift packs from under the counter at the Mini-Chek.  One of them also turned against me at some point during middle school and I became the target of her intense bullying for a little while.  It’s always weird to see those people grown up, going on wine trips to Argentina, getting engaged, and generally being lovely and kind.

During the dinner, I asked them if they still smoked and they kind of laughed and said “Not for years!”  It made me feel like a bit of a chump, to be honest.  Here were these women, all mature and living healthy lifestyles, and me still clinging to the stupid habit they’d taught me all those years ago.

I think I’ve smoked all these years to prove to the world that I’m not a goody-goody, and to make damn sure that I’m not becoming my mother, who never smoked a single cigarette in her life.  It might be premature to say that I don’t feel the need to prove myself in this way anymore, but it’s something like that.

The next event that made me think about quitting was a dream where I was all rolled up inside a cigarette being lit, inhaled and smoked by some giant being.  It was so vividly disgusting and frightening that I woke up in a panic thinking I’d never smoke again.  But I did.

Then the day before Election Day this year, I suddenly knew it was time.  Everything just seemed to be coming together towards the decision.  I was riding my bike and kayaking a lot, cooking brown rice and CSA veggies, dating a non-smoker, etc. etc.  I’d always thought that I’d have a natural stopping point when I got pregnant: since that hadn’t happened I think I just kept smoking.

So I decided that if Obama won, I’d quit.  After work on Election Day, I was shopping in some consignment shops on 7th Ave. in Brooklyn.  I told the owner of the first shop that I was going to quit if Obama won, and that after that I’d treat myself to a nice new (or new-to-me) handbag and get rid of my old smoke-smelling one.  She was super-encouraging, told me she’d smoked for 25 years and quitting was the best decision she’d ever made, then offered me some Nicorette that an employee had left there.

In the next shop I went into, a customer (who shoplifted a winter coat from the shop later on) was in a discussion with the owner about what else but quitting smoking!  She said something that I now have pasted on my monitor at work: “Every act of self-control leads to self-respect.”

So I was expecting (praying) that Obama would win, but maybe after an extended period of chad-counting and litigation.  It came as a major shock that it was announced that same evening and I started to panic a bit.  I still had 17 precious cigarettes left in my pack and I thought I’d have time to finish them off!

The next day on my way to work, I passed a fabrication shop on the next block.  I’d done some work with them in the past and a guy who works there once gave me his last cigarette when I really needed it.  So as I walked past, his buddy was out there smoking and I told her my story and donated the pack to the shop.  I felt like she really got the whole poetic justice of the situation.  It felt good.

Now I’m off the gum and after a week of feeling like everything was completely upside-down, that I was turning into an uptight bitch and overreacting to everything, I’ve achieved some equilibrium.  I did buy an electronic cigarette just in case for the trip up to my family’s for Thanksgiving.  There are so many triggers when you go back into those old patterns with family, ways they can wind you up like no one else can, so many times (such, as I’m experiencing right now, while writing!) that having a smoke is so habitual and comforting.

This will be the first year for a very long time that I won’t go outside after Thanksgiving dinner for a smoke.  I love everything about that moment: the cold upstate air, the peaceful farm landscape, the fall smell of dried-out grasses and woodsmoke, the solitude, the snuggles with cats and dogs locked outside until after dinner when they are allowed back in to lick the plates.  I think this is what I will miss most about smoking: the fact that it has allowed me to get away from the crowd and just be by myself for a moment, just observing my surroundings, taking a break from doing and get back in touch with some of the magic all around me.

Maybe I’ll go out there and have a few puffs on my electronic cigarette.  They don’t have to know that I’ve quit just yet. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Curtains: My old green curtains paired with sheers made out of the sari from Jackson Heights.

Throw pillows made with African/Dutch waxprint fabrics, $3.50-$6/yard from P&S Fabrics and another store nearby on Broadway south of Canal Street.

Table: Pink cloth is a $1.99 Ikea clearance rug.  Turquoise placemat, $2.99 Daffy’s clearance.  Vase (which is either the same or very close to a Crate & Barrel one I coveted for years and regretted not buying), $4.99 at Salvation Army.  Flowers, $5 from Union Square Greenmarket.  Brass tray with engraving of clipper ship, $2.99 at Salvation Army.

You can spot the duck head on top of the bookcase.  Not sure where its permanent place will be but it will tell me in due time.  Also to do: replace upside-down lampshade!

The light in the apartment is still so gloomy but does take on a nice pink hue from the curtains.  There was an article in the NYT recently about apartment envy which is epidemic among New Yorkers.  “For such an intellectually advanced and culturally diverse population, we sure are easily impressed with dishwashers.”  My list is longer than most.  In order of desire.

  1. Natural light.  The kind that makes you happy just walking into a room where a slanted beam of light is glowing ever-so-optimistically and makes having a cup of tea into a rapturous event.
  2. A balcony, roof deck, back garden, terrace, deck, porch, courtyard, or even a fire escape!
  3. A dishwasher.
  4. A beautiful view.  Currently, living in Bay Ridge, I’m dreaming about a view of the Narrows, the body of water between us and Staten Island, and being able to watch the barges, massive container ships, ferries, sailboats and glorious sunsets from my own pad.
  5. A sewing room.
  6. A working fireplace. HahaHahaHahaHa.