Life Stuff

The Project Engineer Is Present

An artist named Marina Abramovic is performing in the Museum of Modern Art, in an installation called The Artist is Present, where she sits in a chair all day, from the museum’s opening to closing. Apparently, that’s all she does, sit in a chair, staring straight ahead, which is apparently art.

Well, shit. I’ve been sitting in a chair at my job, staring blankly, from opening to closing, every weekday for years. I wouldn’t call it art, but I think it could be considered an art form since I haven’t been fired yet.

Some photos of the artist and museum visitors, who are allowed to take turns sitting across from her. Interestingly, a number of them sitting there watching her sit there start crying.

If you came and sat at my job and stared at me sitting and staring at my job, I don’t know if you’d start crying. I might, but you probably wouldn’t.

Life Stuff

The Quitter, Part 2

If there were a children’s book about me called What Makes Christopher Go?!? it would be two pages long and contain colorful illustrations of a pack of cigarettes and a cup of coffee.  Over the past two weeks I’ve had neither, and it has severely affected my ability to, shall we say, go.

See, I had planned to do a daily running commentary, to mine my quit-smoking misery for laughs, but frankly, I’ve been miserable to the point of not being able to laugh about it.  It’s been a rough 14 days, and my original plan is completely in shambles, but I’ve still managed to not smoke.

The plan was three-pronged.  First, to not buy cigarettes using my natural procrastination.  That’s been working fine. In fact, I’ve been using my natural procrastination to do nothing whatsoever. I knew I could count on it!

The second prong was to to push-ups every time I wanted a cigarette, in hopes of punishing myself into not wanting cigarettes.  This worked pretty well for the first couple days.  Early on in the process, the desire to smoke hits hard and often, probably once an hour.  But it only hits briefly.  The desire is overwhelming but only lasts for a few minutes, then goes away until the next one.

Problem is, after the first few days, the sudden, painful pangs go away and are replaced by low-level yet constant urges. It’s like going from an occasional hard smack in the face, which hurts but quickly fades, to what amounts to someone flicking you in the earlobe, non-stop, all day, every day. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s a constant annoyance and it eventually wears you down to the point that you want to crawl into a ditch and die.  It’s sort of like a car-alarm going off a few blocks away: even though the noise is distant, soon it’s pretty much the only thing you can hear.

So, that’s been fun. Right now, if I did push-ups every time I wanted to smoke, I’d be doing push-ups roughly 24 hours a day. I’d be ripped, sure, but I’d probably also be dead.

Finally, the third prong was to substitute sunflower seeds for cigarettes. And I have done this. I have eaten so many sunflower seeds that the inside of my mouth is basically a tattered, stinging ruin.  The sodium and sharp shells have torn and gouged and shredded and destroyed my mouth to the point where — no exaggeration — I can’t actually whistle anymore.  Each seed is like pouring salt in a wound because it is literally pouring salt in a wound.  My mouth is one big injury.  I was actually reduced to buying jello because it was the only thing I could eat without causing myself pain.

Also, a weird side-effect of quitting smoking is that, for some reason, coffee now tastes and smells like liquid skunk shit. It’s bizarre. I’m almost physically incapable of allowing coffee into my mouth. This means, along with the nicotine withdrawal I’ve also got daily headaches from the lack of caffeine.  Plus, I used to love coffee. It’s like I lost custody of coffee in my divorce with cigarettes.  The entire experience is quite exhausting.

But, apart from the pain of withdrawal and the pain of my shredded mouth and the pain of headaches, I’m doing swell!

Life Stuff

The Quitter, Part 1

I discovered something disturbing the other day. Cigarettes are apparently bad for you! I can’t believe no one ever thought to mention this to me.

So, this weekend, after roughly twenty years, cigarettes and I will part ways.  I’ve tried to quit before, generally with no success, save the time I quit for about eighteen months a few years back. With each failed attempt, however, I’ve learned a little something to bring with me to my next attempt, and I’m fairly optimistic that this time will be the final time.  With a bold new plan in place, I think I will kick them for good.

This will be a cold-turkey approach, which I think is the only way to do it. I tried the patch once, which didn’t work. Having a patch stuck to me all day irritated my skin, gave me bad dreams, and was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t forget it was there, which meant I was constantly thinking about the patch and thus constantly thinking about not smoking and thus constantly wanting to smoke.

I tried the nicotine gum, which sounded good: chewing on something keeps your mouth busy all day. While I’m sure I’ll be chewing gum during this attempt, it won’t be nicotine gum, because you don’t just pop in a piece of nicotine gum and chew away to your heart’s content. There are rules.

You have to chew the gum a certain number of times, then park it between your teeth and your cheek for a certain amount of time, then chew it a certain number of times again. Keeping track of each piece, how many chews I’ve given it, how long it’s been parked in my cheek… it’s all very scheduled and precise instead of the mindless chomping I need. The last thing I want to do is spend all day thinking about how I’m quitting smoking. It’s the same problem as the patch.

So, I’m flying solo: no prescription drugs, no crutches, just stopping using the following plan, which I call my Three P plan.

The three P’s of quitting:

Procrastination: This is the keystone of my methodology. I will use my natural procrastination to help me quit smoking by never actually quitting, just delaying my next cigarette indefinitely.

See, I hate bumming smokes off people. I hate it. I think it’s rude and I’m always annoyed when someone does it to me. It’s like going up to a stranger in a restaurant and asking for a bite of their steak. With my anti-bumming policy, the only way I can smoke is if I go buy my own.

Something else I hate doing is literally everything else. If there’s one thing I love to do, it’s nothing. Putting things off is second-nature to me, so why can’t I just put off buying cigarettes? Forever!

Anytime I feeling like I really need to smoke, and find myself thinking about buying smokes, I’ll just tell myself: “Okay, fine, but not right now. Put it off until later.” When later comes around, I’ll put it off again. And again. This practice of procrastination has kept me from going to the dentist and learning Javascript for years; I don’t see why smoking should be any different. I’ve trained myself for years to be lazy and unmotivated, and now it’s finally going to pay off. In lung dollars!

Punishment: Of course, there are times when my need for nicotine will overpower me. When my brain will be all but demanding that I have a cigarette. When I might be in such dire straits that I actually consider asking someone for one. This is where I will have to retrain my brain.

The plan is, when my brain decides it absolutely needs nicotine, I will give it something else: push-ups! Every time my brain tells me it wants and needs a smoke, I will instead drop to the floor and give it the agony of doing as many push-ups as I can (granted, this is not very many, but I’m sure dropping to the floor and doing push-ups a couple dozen times a day will increase the amount of push-ups I can do). I’m hoping that my brain will eventually realize that asking for nicotine equals getting a lot of pain instead, and will eventually stop asking. Hopefully not too quickly, though, I’d like some well-sculpted biceps and triceps to go along with my new well-sculpted lungs.

Sunflower seeds: Okay, this doesn’t start with a P, but it’s the third prong of my attack, and the Two P and One S plan isn’t very catchy.

I’m not simply addicted to nicotine but the ritual of smoking itself; doing something with my hands and mouth. And what better way to kick the disgusting habit of smoking than by picking up the disgusting habit of crunching on and spitting out sunflower seed shells? It’s gonna be a real pleasure to be around me for the next couple months.

One of the places I always feel like I need to smoke is while driving to and from work. In my half-hour commute I usually have three or four cigarettes each way, sometimes more if there’s traffic. Last week, however, I started eating sunflower seeds while driving, and it fills in nicely. Added bonus: cigarettes don’t come in zesty ranch flavor!

Finally, I’ve come up with a way to face the incredibly thorny issue of deciding which cigarette will be my last. Planning a set date and time to quit smoking is a terrible idea, because how can you pick your last cigarette? Knowingly smoking your last cigarette is a sure way to make that last cigarette taste like crap and feel completely ordinary, not the perfect, tasty, wonderful cigarette to end a smoking career with. And I can’t just pick one at random because I have no willpower, which was what got me into this mess in the first place.  That’s probably why I’ve put it off for so long; it never feels like the right time, it never feels like the last one. But at some point, there has to be one.

So, I’m leaving it to fate. Friday night, after work, I’m letting fate decide my last smoke. After every cigarette I have, I’m going to roll a six-sided dice. If 1-5 comes up, I’m not quitting yet. I can have one more.  When 6 comes up, that smoke I just had was the last I’ll ever have. There will be no hemming and hawing, just a decision made by the dice, probably followed by me bursting into tears and unhappily stuffing sunflower seeds into my mouth.

That’s the plan! It goes into effect this Friday night. If you’d like to subscribe to my Twitter feed and keep track of how miserable I am in real time, feel free.