Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Cruddy Politics

I haven’t gotten overtly political in my cruddy world, at least not the blog one, because there are a million political blogs out there and 9,999,999 of them are better done than anything I could hope to throw together. Why? Well, I’m a little lazy. Outside of school-required research papers, I’m no fan of digging up actual facts or quotes. I much prefer to make things up.

But ever since this Palin shit has hit the media fan, the voices in my head have been shrieking rebuttals to all the hockey moms and pundits and right wingers who have suddenly seen the feminist light and are screaming sexism about every criticism leveled at Madame Palin. Every morning while I attempt to practice yoga to soothe my tortured soul, letters to the editor unspool in my head. What exactly is a hockey mom? Why do we give a shit what kind of mother she is while ignoring what kind of politician she is? (Aside: make no doubt that if one of the Obama children—should they be at an appropriate age—was knocked up that the Republicans would be screaming bloody murder about their parents’ lax morals.) Don’t get me started on Maverick-My-Ass-McCain.

I am depressed at the continuing race to the bottom of the political discourse. Not to mention the short memories of the American public. The Republicans have been in power the last 8 years. The country is in a downward spiral because of their greed and war-mongering. A new set of Republicans will not change a thing but rather accelerate the spiral. They continue to dangle abortion and gay marriage in front of conservatives, using false dichotomies—either you are against abortion or you want to kill all babies—and scare tactics—if gays can marry, you will turn gay. It’s enough to make a gal tear her hair out. Or compose letters to the Oregonian never to be sent (150 word limit? Cracker, please. I can’t even say hello in 150 words or less). A prize of Cruddy Political Excellence to anyone who can edit me down to 150 words.

My Letter to the Editor:
Note to McCain/Palin supporters: unless you are a 7-house-owning member of the Republican elite--the party that brought you the last 8 years of war, economic downturns, and record deficits--you are being taken for another ride. More accurately, you are the horses dragging the McCain chariot towards tax-cuts for the rich, escalating war in the middle east, and continued corruption in the white house while the right wing dangles their usual raft of divisive issues—abortion, gay marriage—and downright lies before your eyes. John McCain has changed his position on issues from abortion to tax cuts to immigration to appease the extreme right wing of the Republican party. Any traces of the maverick he once was have disappeared in his clamor for the presidency. As for Palin, she began her vice presidential run by lying about her supposed objection to the “Bridge to Nowhere,” a project she supported until it was clear it would not receive congressional support. No matter, she kept the money anyway. A McCain presidency would mean four more years of war, economic turmoil, and the continued lowering of the standard of living for the middle and working classes. For true change, consider Barack Obama. Obama and Biden have the right blend of idealism and experience to affect true change for average Americans, us folks who make do with one house.

My short take:
(A feature in the Sunday Oregonian that invites readers to try their hand at pithy, political statements.)
Introducing the new Phyllis Schlaffly for the millennium: Sarah Palin. Two women who have built careers on rolling back rights for all women.

PS—I’ve been reading Syliva Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job, which encourages metta (loving-kindness) meditation. When she asks us to extend our metta wishes to people we don’t like, the manically smiling updo-ed Palin pops into my mind. Not there yet, but working on it. In this insane political season, may you all find ease.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I Quit (Again)

(Sorry for the lag in posts. Vacation, working on the new novel, and a heavier load at work has been keeping me from the crud. May this humble post tide you over until I find the time to get cruddy again.)

Two days ago I bid farewell to my toxic, forbidden love: cigarettes. Again. For the past 8 years I have been an on-again-off-again, casual, 3 cigarettes with a glass (or 3) of wine kind of smoker. I reassure myself that I will not tumble back to my pack-a-day habit because, when not sipping a fine alcoholic beverage, I find cigarettes disgusting and stupid. My cigarette stance is the height of hypocrisy. During the day I step by packs of huddling smokers between campus buildings, tossing off dirty looks like they toss their butts.

“The sign says 20 feet from the door,” I hiss under my breath.

In all fairness, do you know what 20 feet looks like? Me neither, which is why I am an artiste instead of an engineer. And most of those smokers look to fall on the artsy side of the spectrum so maybe I’ll redirect my blame at the campus policymakers who fail to demarcate the acceptable smoking places.

One day the pavement of this country will be striped with fluorescent orange lines marking where each brand of person can stand: the smokers, the overly perfumed and cologned (Iranian fellows who cluster outside Mr. Crud’s office door, I’m looking at you), the body odorific, the Patchoulied. (Is this the seed of an odor-based dystopia? A reason to resurrect the Odorama cards a la Polyester?) But for now, we police ourselves and do a pretty poor job of it. Some smokers are indignant about the limits put on their puffing freedom. I’ve never been one of these. The shit is harmful to the smoker and everyone else in the world. If you don’t feel like a slave for dashing to a designated smoking area in an airport like I used to do, then your denial is too deep for any of the tax hikes or increasing number of cordoned off smoking areas.

Once night falls and I have a drink or two (or 3) in me, I go googly for the smoker set. My people! I huddle along with the other smokers and suck on my sweet cancer stick. Although since experiencing secondhand smoke while pregnant, I feel guilty whenever a lady sporting a bump steps by. The super-smell power of pregnancy makes passing even a single smoker a gag-worthy event. So for the pregnant and small children, I make an effort to hold my cigarette above their heads. More a gesture of “I know what I’m doing is deadly and totally stupid” than an actual secondhand smoke avoiding heroic act.

I’ve quit several times in my storied smoking career. The big quit was summer of 1997 shortly after my doctor threatened to take away my birth control pill prescription if I failed to quit smoking. I weakly argued that the smoking-related blood clot warnings didn’t apply to women under 35, which I was at the time.

She shot me an icy glare, “35 comes faster than you think. Quit by your next appointment or we’ll have to reevaluate your birth control options.”

I left the office with tears of anger spilling from my eyes. Who the fuck was she to tell me what to do with my body? Bitch. I whipped out a smoke and puffed heroically as I stomped up Burnside towards my charming and smoke-stinky studio apartment. After the initial anger faded, I realized that this was as good a time as any to let the cigarettes go. They did make me feel like a slave to the habit and the evil companies that had the marketing wisdom to hook me in my teen years. Every time I lit up, an annoying voice in my head who I call “the Puritan,” castigated me for doing something so bad for me.

“So you think you’re healthy? Ha!” the Puritan sneered.

“But I exercise and eat right,” I whimpered.

“But I exercise and eat right,” the voice mimicked me like a 13-year-old. “Tell that to your tar black lungs.”

I resolved to quit. This was not my first try. A year earlier, I went the Nicotine gum route and promptly lost my shit from all the Nicotine coursing through my system after my first day’s allotment of gum. I got jittery, dizzy, and felt like I’d been drinking too much Robitussin. The next day, smoking a cigarette seemed like the healthier option than returning to the gum. Later while enrolled in the Free and Clear program paid for by my insurance, I realized that I had actually been taking in more nicotine with the gum than I did while smoking my light cigarettes. I also realized that most of my addiction was not physical but rather psychological. I wasn’t sure if this was better or worse.

With the Free and Clear program I successively switched to lower nicotine brand cigarettes until I was smoking Virginia Slims Ultra Lights, which felt like smoking polluted air. The day that I threw my last pack of the embarrassing Slims away, I awoke and tossed on my hiking shoes for a walk around the city. Change your habits. Do something out of the ordinary, the brochure urged. I rewarded myself for quitting cigarettes by getting stoned and buying a bunch of Adam Ant records before splurging on a huge pile of books at Powell’s and Pad Thai from Bangkok Kitchen. Baby steps.

As the novelty of quitting wore off, I got antsy. Walking by the convenience store around the corner from my apartment became a Sophie’s Choice chore. I was still on summer break at the time and not working thanks to the insurance settlement from a car accident in June that left my car “totaled” but drivable. In lieu of a real job, I took a few temp gigs and lived off the proceeds of the insurance settlement. Thus my days were yawning empty holes of lost chances to smoke cigarettes.

Since I was also a newly proclaimed WRITER, I decided to funnel my cigarette-deprived pain into my art. I wrote a vengeful horror story in which a young girl—could that be me?—attends a junior high school dance at her swim club and dances with one of the popular boys that is out of her social reach. The whole time they dance a crew of rat-faced popular girls chant insults at her, insinuating that cute, popular boy #1 is only dancing with her as part of a prank. The queen bee of the rat-faced bunch is drunk (of course) and ends up drowning during an illicit deep-end swim while our protagonist watches. Chaos ensues. The protagonist gets away with her inaction and after a bout of mild guilt, decides that bitchy popular girl had it coming. It was God’s way.

Killing off popular kids through fiction helped me quit smoking. Could this be a new method? I should probably suggest it to the artsy college lurkers.

After a few months of no cigarettes at all, I slid back into having a few when I went out to shows. A couple with a beer here and there. Mostly I bummed off the folks who’d been bumming off of me for years. All was well in the kingdom of occasional smoking. I was big into cardio kickboxing at the time so I would pay dearly for too many cigarettes with shooting pains in my lungs and an instructor barking at me to work harder. For years I remained a truly occasional smoker.

“I thought you quit,” my friends said at parties and rock shows.

“I did. I only smoke when I drink.”

And then at some point I started to have a few glasses of wine every night and the cigarettes came along for the ride. My limit to feel as if I hadn’t smoked was 2. My intake went up and down, stopped and started, but it grew into a mostly daily habit. My new doctor wasn’t super concerned about my cigarette habit. Overall I was healthier than 90% of her patients (thanks again, yoga), and she saw the cigarettes as more of an annoyance than a ticking time bomb. I’ll quit when I get pregnant, I reasoned.

And so I did.

In fact I quit when Mr. Crud and I started trying. But then after I started feeling what I thought were pre-period cramps, I purchased a pack to go with my martini post-haste. The next day I decided to take a pregnancy test to be sure that I was right with reverting to old bad habits. Oops! Positive. After sharing the news with Mr. Crud, I tossed the rest of the pack in the trash. Won’t be needing these for awhile.

I didn’t miss the cigarettes or wine while knocked up. I had no taste for them or 80% of food. When we got the diagnosis that I had miscarried, my mind found its initial consolation in “Well, at least I can smoke, drink, and eat sushi again.” Not a real consolation as we were devastated by the loss, but a lifeboat to grab onto while the reality sunk in.

“Do you think you’ll smoke tonight?” The nurse asked me before the D and C to end the pregnancy.

“Uh,” I blinked away tears.

“We’ll just say yes and not worry about it.”

I know that she meant it would be understandable to have a smoke or two while under such stress, but I took that as a green light to smoke my ass off. I’ll just smoke until this pack is done, I reasoned. My first few cigarettes after the pregnancy break were horrible. I felt dizzy and nauseous. If at first you don’t succeed…so I kept smoking and drinking until it was fun again. I didn’t stop at that pack. Or the next. I used the three months between the miscarriage and the potential try-again time as a no-holds-barred smoke-a-thon. Yep, I started smoking 4 cigarettes a night. Mon dieu!

Last weekend Mr. Crud and I attended a BBQ party at the abode of two of our oldest P-town friends—and old smoking buddies. Most in attendance had small children who zipped about the backyard in various states of undress and sugar rush. I sipped my wine and looked around for a corner to call my own. Where are the other smokers? At the parties of yore, even the backyards would be thick with smoke. After another glass of wine and eyes searching for anyone whipping out a lighter, I realized that I was the last smoker at this party. True, most of the attendants were parents or small children, but really? I cajoled Mr. Crud into joining me in the front yard for a furtive smoke. I puffed away on the front porch until a wee one joined us. I feared the wrath of the organic mother, a species common to Portland, and decamped to the sidewalk in front of the house. As I grow older this has (thankfully, as I want my friends to live to ripe old ages) become more common.

I declared I would quit Monday. Then I came eye to eye with the half-pack of smokes still in my purse. Okay, Tuesday. Still a few left. I put out my last cigarette on Tuesday night and thus far have successfully evaded the convenience store where I once purchased my poison.

My sweet sweet poison. Over the years I have contemplated the hold cigarettes have on me. I have tried the yoga route of being aware how I feel at every moment of the cigarette. The best part is undoubtedly the five minutes before I smoke, when the anticipation for the evening treat builds to a fever pitch. I sip my dinner wine and eye the remnants of Mr. Crud’s dinner plate.

“You done yet?” I ask, hoping beyond hope that he’ll say yes so I can tear out to the back patio and read the paper while I puff away.

The first drag always gives me a slight buzz, reminding me of my OG cigarette at the Catholic retreat where my ex-high school boyfriend and I briefly reconciled over Camel Filters. Part of my attachment to cigarettes is their tie to my youth. When I smoke I feel young—while making my skin more wrinkly, how ironic—and rebellious even though I consciously know that smoking is about as rebellious as wearing Guess jeans. Both are sold as rebellion while lining corporate pockets.

I love the smokers club, that I can have common ground with a stranger by virtue of a bad habit. I love the ritual, the flick of the lighter, the sweet burn of the first inhale. Shit, now I’m making myself want to smoke.

Even as I realize that the rituals of smoking, the connection are all my (and Phillip Morris’) creation, that any puff after the first one doesn’t feel like anything but a sore throat, I still struggle. I still think, I could just buy a pack, as I walk past the Plaid Pantry. Just one more pack. And one pack begot a second pack and so on and so on.

During my lunchtime walk, mere minutes after writing this, I passed the Plaid. Just one, I thought. For once I opted to not add another layer to my hypocrisy.

(Not so fast, lady. A week after penning this missive I returned to my smoking ways, but I’m back among the non-smoking now. 1 month, one week and counting.)