Oh, wouldn’t it be sweet if we could so easily, get rid of all those not-so-terrible, but time-consuming, stupid, irritating and harmful-after-repeated-use little habits? They are insidious the way that they creep into our lives and take up too much space in a very very short period time. I am such an easy prey to them. I welcome them in innocently enough but then find myself totally suckered into The Bad Habit. Maybe I just have too much time on my hands. That’s a very interesting phrase when I think about all those minutes and seconds and hours sitting on my finger tips. (Hmm, how would I explain that one to Nozomi in our weekly English class?) Or, perhaps, just maybe I have to own up to the fact that I was born with a very addictive sort of personality.
I remember back in 1970, when Christina and I were walking through the Black Forest — a very healthy outing to be sure — we decided one day (or was it just her?) to buy one of those cute little five-pack of cigarettes that came out of the machines tucked on the sides of houses in Germany. If you only bought five, you weren’t really smoking, eh? They reminded me of the little packs that were at each place setting at my high school graduation party a few years earlier. Imagine that happening today? The cost alone would be prohibitive. I wonder if the tobacco company donated all those little packs just to get us seniors hooked on smoking cigarettes early in our lives — probably so, eh? Well, I didn’t get hooked then, but I certainly did sitting in those cozy gasthauses along our way where we’d escape to read and write journal entries and keep out of the rain. When we arrived at our destination at Interlachen, Switzerland, a month later, I was a smoker but didn’t quite admit it to myself at that point.
When Christina and I split, her to go to Zurich to study Jüng and me to head to Holland and then back to the States, I’d still pick up those little packs and then, one day, when I was feeling particularly lonely, I bought a whole pack of 20! It was the beginning of the end of my being a non-smoker. I found it was much more comfortable to sit all by myself in a European cafe or bistro with my “friend,” the cigarettes, close at hand. I didn’t start up again right away when I got back to the States, but it wasn’t long after that I found myself picking up a pack now and then. Christina came to visit about a year later and I had my cigarettes on the table. When I offered her one, she said, “Oh, I don’t smoke.” I had to laugh, here she was the one who got me started and I was the one still smoking.
It took me a long time to get over that awful, smelly, very harmful addiction or habit or whatever you want to call it. Read Mediterranean Journey: A Young Woman’s Travels Through 1970s Europe if you don’t believe me. I remember telling myself at one point that when the cost of a pack of cigarettes got to be $1.00 I’d quit. At the time, I was smoking those divine, smooth, no-chemicals (they promised) Sherman Phantoms. They came in a classy little box and were only sold in tobacconist shops. They got to be $1.25 and I still smoked. I lied. I kept smoking until one day, sitting on my lovely terrace in Spain smoking those strong, black Celtas — I get nostalgic just thinking about them — I surprised me and my guests when I announced, “On August 31, 1986, I am quitting smoking.” And I did.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I enlisted the help of a gorgeous, soft-spoken acupuncturist, Dr. Wu, in Washington to help me do this. He explained that it would take six weeks to get the nicotine out of my system. “Drink lots and lots of water,” he whispered to me. I would have done anything he wanted. At the same time, I decided to learn to drive. I would not recommend to anyone that you take on one nerve racking experience when you are trying to give up the crutch you used to get you through such experiences. Anyway, every week, I’d go to my driving class and then drive to Dr. Wu’s office. The instructor would peal my fingers off the steering wheel and get me to the door fast. After an hour of needles, I’d be mellow and cool. When I’d go into work, the lawyers wouldn’t even recognize me until it wore off and someone would ask, “How are you, Ann?” I’d give them a dirty look and then growl out a mean-sounding, “I’M NOT SMOKING! THAT’S HOW I AM.” They never asked again.
I stuck with it. I knew myself well enough that if I smoked one cigarette before long I’d buy that pack. I was tempted to be sure. One time, I was at the Toronto Jazz Festival, sitting at a long table and the guy next to me pulled out a pack of Sherman Phantoms! He put them on the table between us. My fingers itched as I gushed to him, “Cool,” — we were at a jazz festival — “You smoke Sherman Phantoms!” He offered me one and for about 10 seconds I considered it but, instead, said, very politely, “No, thank you.”
So, if I could do that, for heaven goodness sake, what should be so hard about tackling my current, small-in-comparison, bad habits? It’s the perfect time for me to do this. Lent has just begun and will last until the first Alleluia of Easter in six weeks. So, as Dr. Wu knew all those years ago, it’s the perfect amount of time to break a habit no matter what. And, as Lent teaches us, it’s also a good time to do some soul searching about why the hell I picked up that habit in the first place. I don’t want to just end the six weeks, pat myself on the back, and start all over again. I have done that so many times, beginning with my childhood “sacrifice” for Lent of giving up chocolate Necchos — my favorites.
I decided not to tackle all my bad habits at the same time — a sure way to fail if I ever knew of one. No, I’m doing only one at a time. I decided — and this probably sounds pretty lame — to stop, totally, cold turkey, playing brain games on Lumosity for the next six weeks. I can hear my friend, Yogi Judith, snicker all the way from where she is up north. “Why not the wine drinking, Ann?” No, it’s going to be the games. Ever since, my neighbour, Brock, innocently included me in his “family pact” on Lumosity, I have been busy tackling the “challenges” of each new game — or rather, the ones I liked and excelled at. At the end, I was playing the word games so much that when I went to bed at night, I’d still be spelling out words in my sleep. That is crazy. I could sit here at this computer and play and play and play and not get a book read, or a blog written or a house cleaned or, God forbid, a cat petted. They, the cats, noticed to be sure. Rose would look at her imaginary watch and give me one of her scornful, disgusted looks. Yes, it is time.
But, like all habits, it’s not as easy as you would think to stop doing this. Even writing this today, I was tempted to switch screens and just play one or two Flexibility Word Games. What would it hurt, eh? It’s what I’ve been doing when I sit down to write. I remember using the same excuse to keep smoking when I was in the thick of finishing up my degree at Trinity and had papers to write. How could I possibly put words and ideas together on a blank page without a cigarette? But I did. When I quit smoking, I could still write excellent, A+ papers. So, without this game playing, I certainly can write blogs and cookbooks and, who knows, maybe even more stories from my Mediterranean Journey.