As the New Year Dawns I Realize: We Are All Smokin' Something

On New Year’s Eve, while sitting in our parked car with both boys waiting for Chris to return from the store, I noticed a woman two spaces over. She was leaning against the grille of an SUV smoking a cigarette, and on her feet were a gleaming white pair of those ridiculously shaped Easy Tone sneakers, the ones with 3-inch soles that are supposed to help tone and shape your backside and legs just by walking around in them.

What an ironic contradiction you are, I thought as I watched her take a long drag. You think magic sneakers are going to get you in shape? You know how those shoes will do the most for your health? By stamping out that cigarette.

I immediately considered posting something snarky on Facebook or Twitter about her. But as I worked on the wording in my mind for the perfect biting comment, I realized something that stopped me cold:  I am just like that woman (and I suspect most of you are, too). I have goals and dreams for myself, good ones that would actually probably be attainable if I didn’t also have a two-pack-a-day bad habit that keeps me from reaching them.

My cigarette is self-doubt.

I don’t think I’ll ever measure up to everyone’s expectations, so I stop myself from really trying.  A friend passes along his contact at Parenting magazine and says I should pitch something to her. For a day or two I stare at that contact info and the encouraging email that came with it like it’s a brilliant step — a gift, even — toward a long-held goal. Like it’s a shiny new pair of sneakers guaranteeing the perfect tush. All I have to do is lace them up and walk around.

But then the self-doubt creeps in. I realize in all likelihood that my pitch would be rejected, which wouldn’t be so terrible if nobody knew about it, but my friend will surely ask how it went and he’ll know I failed. Besides it’s silly to even try, I reason, that magazine doesn’t run the kind of stuff I would pitch anyway. Plus I’m too busy with other assignments, real stories that come attached to real paychecks, however small. Suddenly the sneakers I was so excited about start to feel more like a burden. They’re not really going to work, my muddled mind says. Your body needs a lot more help than what any stupid pair of sneakers can do.

So the friend’s email gets slowly buried by others. Instead of polishing a column pitch and intro letter I spend my idle time chatting with friends and mindlessly scrolling over my Facebook feed, feeling the smoke fill my lungs. It burns with counterproductivity but it feels familiar, calming. I take long drags as the minutes become hours of another unproductive night spent on my laptop, and the self-loathing about my bad habit kicks in, which just makes it worse.

My cigarette is self-doubt. And I am a willing slave to how it weakens me. 

I was still watching the woman puff away some of her last minutes of the year when Kostyn piped up from the back seat. “Why is she sad?” he asked. Without glancing back at him, I knew he was talking about her. Her wrinkled skin pulled the corners of her eyes and mouth downward, and her gray jacket hung shapelessly over her small frame.

“I don’t know if she’s sad, honey,” I said. “She kind of looks sad, though, huh.”

“Yeah,” he said. The woman flicked her cigarette to the ground and stomped on it with those giant soles. I watched how her breath continued to puff like a cloud in the wintry weather as she walked to the car door and climbed inside. She didn’t want to smoke inside her car. She wants to look and feel better. She wants to be healthy. But quitting is difficult. Taking control is hard.

She is sad, I thought.

At some point in our lives keeping the bad habit becomes even harder than quitting it. When you have used up all your self-pity, self-loathing, excuses and reasons, you are left with a choice:  Make peace with your self-imposed prison and let it slowly suffocate you, or resolve to break free and breathe only fresh air.

Let this stand not as a trite resolution but a simple statement of intent: This is the year I’m going to kick the habit.

Who’s with me?


Jerry said...

I think your analogy is spot on. Excellent article!

Sheila said...

I don't care where you pitch this one, just pitch it to someone. Everyone, and I mean everyone, can relate to this -- especially me, as I sit here, heading into my third year of underemployment and trying to convince myself that I'm not worthy of a job from an employer who has already rejected me ten (that's TEN) times. Your post has inspired me to go put on my Shape-Ups and polish my resume for submission number eleven :).

Christopher said...

Why would you deny so many people your insight and words? Those words that are true gifts from the heart help people relate and cope, and they inspire and even heal. Never doubt that.

tlc said...

Awesome post. Thank you for your words. I thought about this all day. I do hope that you kick that habit, because what you write could resonate with so many people. I know they do with me.


Steve said...

I noticed a woman at a school bus stop yesterday on the way to work doing the same thing. The Shape Ups on, pink scrubs on (I'm guessing a nurse since since we were near a hospital) and the cigarette flicked on the ground as the bus pulled up. But 10 seconds after I passed her it was out of my mind. I'm amazed at how you can see the same situation and turn it into such an vivid story with a tremendous message. I'm trying to kick my 1 or 2 20-oz Dr. Pepper per day habit, knowing that my running would be much more beneficial if I didn't offset it with all of those empty (but tasty) calories. Everything you write is so well done you should definitely try for the magazine gig as you'd be great at it!

Robyn said...

Thanks for all the feedback and encouragement, y'all. It means the world. You just might help me kick this habit after all!

susan said...

i would renew if YOU were in Parenting! Robyn, I love your writing... I know all about sd, but I hope this year's resolution works out for you... everyone else gets to benefit too!