outwait outrun outwit


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I started smoking around the time I was proofreading my thesis. It was a joke at first, to take on the much-disliked habit of my husband, until it wasn't.

I say "around", as if the act of smoking was not connected to the process of thesis-editing. That process involved not only re-reading and finessing thought, but also overcoming whatever massive doubts regarding one’s work. I began to crave a cigarette for the way it intervened in my schedule, providing a wave of sparkling euphoria my scholarly efforts could not. A cigarette breeds others, despite protestations that you lack an addictive personality.

Limitations would recede as I perched the pinch of tobacco onto a tiny piece of paper, caressing it into shape, before massaging the tobacco into its cocoon. I'd lick the end and seal the deed into a decent form, the only form of the cigarette. Oh my little pretty! This, I thought, is a good use of paper.

I loved the pause before I lit up, when I would contemplate its perfection. A cigarette is always ideal in the mind of a smoker, even when it is imperfectly rolled. It is ideal because of the pleasure it provides, which no writing of one’s own, how much worked upon, can offer.

I also loved the cigarette's hiss when flame kisses tip, as if it had a mind of its own, its own body, a corporeality that I could make my own, just by drawing on it. It was unlike one’s own writing, which as a draft, exists in a vacuum. In the hiss burned anxiety and despair, replaced by a wonderful sense of being.

Unlike the thesis, I could walk the cigarette: up and down along the side of my house, staring at the bees buzzing from flower to flower and the swifts flying overhead. It was a companion, unlike a thesis, which is an enemy, the recalcitrant asshole in my life. You can observe nature while smoking. To write, however, you need to keep your eyes on the screen, away from sky and earth.

The limited life-form of the cigarette is regrettable, but I could find solace in its brothers and sisters. Meanwhile that bastard of a thesis will live on, in bound form, searchable by database, the material evidence of one’s stupidity, unless one burns down the library it is housed in.

I suppose I shall have to give up smoking, at some point. Insert here some muttered warning about the dangers of smoking. But in such times—infernos, "unprecedented" tropical storms, the melting Arctic—I wonder, why give up this? it's killing only me.

Only one lovely stick of death today: it was all my fury, sucked down into my lungs, turned into ash on the strength of my inhaled breath.


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