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Friday, September 10, 2010

Smoking...like the Principal

It was a cold night, back in school. I was about 13 years old. There they were. I walked in on a bunch of my fellow dorm mates (rhymes with "inmates"?), in my room, huddled around a heater. It was one of those primitive heaters with the exposed, glowing element, only kept out of reach by about three skinny metal rods that ran horizontally, and two that ran up and down. It wasn't unbearably cold to require the heater, let alone an Emperor-Penguin-like huddle, so I was curious. I moved in closer, only to find my roommate rolling up a piece of lined pad paper, into some super, extra, "lite," I-can't-believe-it's-happening kind of a cigar; completely hollow, and with no larger a diameter than a pencil. What? Yes, I suppose I don't have to state the obvious and say that this intended next step involved this rolled paper, and a flame. In this case, the part of the flame was going to be played by the heater, for you see, for those willing to go the distance, it was easily possible to fit something, say like a pencil or thereabouts, in between the canyon-like gaps between the horizontal wires. So, that's when I happened to enter the room, just when they were about to get underway doing whatever it was they were doing. We exchanged glances. A challenge was made. The next thing I knew, I had a two lungs full of burning, aching agony that tasted like ash going in. Smoking. It'll kill you. Slowly. But, for those people out there who continue to smoke,that's obviously the last thing on their mind. On the other side, and this is where I finally explain the strange title, there are those people who spend their whole lives battling the "smoker" tag at times, and embracing it on other occasions. These people, forever confused by the voices in their head, as well as all the well-meaning people around them -- some who give them hell for smoking, others who give them hell while sharing a smoke with everyone talking about how nice it would be to quit -- end up producing mutant terms to describe their habit like "social smoker" or "part-time smoker," never quite understanding that a 'habit' is still a habit, no matter how much of a gap you leave between fixes. Unless a person took a puff and never again took another one for as long as he or she lived, or has always refused a puff in spite of being constantly offered a cigarette, he or she is a smoker.

Having worked rather painfully through this setting up of the post, my next step is to explain the rest of the title, and that's where we address the issue of "frequency". So, my good friend Josh and I were catching up a while ago, and while exchanging notes the "Are you still smoking?" question came up. Now, we didn't have any New Years resolutions this year to quit, but it's one of those things that we confused smokers do; we keep talking about quitting and how much of a failure our previous attempts at quitting have been. So, there we were comparing notes. I said that I was going through the don't-really-want-to-smoke phase at the moment, and that I managed to not to do it more than I actually did it. Then, I congratulated him on not smoking anymore, assuming that he had done a better job of quitting and sticking to it than had I. But, to my surprise, and to his disdain as it turns out, he asked me where I had heard that he had quit. I hadn't heard anything to this effect, so I told him that I was being generous by assuming that he had managed to do what so many before him had strived to do but failed miserably. Me, for example. He reassured me that he was in the same boat, although nowhere near as many as he once used to smoke. He also happened to mention that he couldn't really remember the last time he had had a cigarette, using the word "sabbatical" to good comic effect, I thought. 

Heh heh...now defined by me as 'anything you don't really do for a long time, perhaps a year, popularized by the actions of a certain Principal.'

Without a moment's hesitation, the instant after Josh had said the word 'sabbatical' I chimed in with 'like the principal', and as is often the case with most of our conversations, a new phrase was born. "Smoking...like the Principal." In effect, this post is supposed to be a source of comfort and encouragement for all of those people who are trying to quit a habit, which can range from consuming nicotine in any form, to biting your nails. Remember, it's alright to do it, as long as you learn to do it "like the Principal". If the first step to battling addiction is recognizing that you are addicted, then this is the natural next step for all those who find the "cold turkey" methodology impossible to execute successfully. Well, as far as our conversation went, we had a good laugh about this, and reminisced a bit about school, another standard feature of our conversations. This little joke, however, got me thinking. I say "little" in spite of this long, drawn out laying of the foundation for this little bit of humor, I know, but stick with me on this.

The question that came to mind was "Why?" Why was it important to quit a habit, in this case smoking? I'm well aware of the facts, if not the figures, about the harmful effects of smoking tobacco, "second-hand smoke" et al. But really, if you came down to cities like Bombay and New Delhi, taking a 5-minute walk around town is probably the equivalent of smoking 2 packs of cigarettes. So, this may be exaggeration on my part, but I seek to illustrate a point. The state of the world is such that in fact, you should encourage people to give in to their vices completely. Think about it, a rising population, scarcity of natural resources, changing geography, both naturally and by the hand of "man", and 'concrete jungles set to get bigger in spite of people being aware of the setbacks...what better case for indulging in one's "bad habits", right? Sure you'll say something like, "But if everyone in the world put down their drink and/or their cigarette and began to help out, we can create a 'better world' so much more easily." And this sounds great, in a very Walt Disney sort of way. Yet, it's undeniable that the world cannot sustain all of us at the present time. We're all alive, yes, but pockets of perennial conflict around the world threatening to spill over to neighboring regions, whatever the root cause of the conflict, isn't "sustaining life". It's "sustaining conflict". Let people go out and indulge themselves. If they indulge themselves way past being able to recognize their "survival instinct", well, then the world is probably better off without them. hypothetically speaking, even if every single person in the world simultaneously turned Buddhist and vegetarian, vowing never to harm another living creature, and they gave up smoking, drinking, and that whole gamut of things-that-aren't-good-for-you, we would still have a crisis on our hands. In fact, it would probably be a lot worse, with so many peaceful, bipedal herbivores fighting tooth-and-nail for that last lettuce leaf. So, ask yourself this question: Why do we do things that are detrimental to us, and continue to enjoy doing them, and why does it matter for those who "don't" to stop those who "do"? Sure there are some of those who play victim and give you the once-in-never-out, mafia story of not being able to stop, but really, do we need more melodrama? Hey, I've toyed with this idea plenty myself, you know, the whole what-if-I'd-never and all that, and I discovered something. Actually, it was something that I have known for a long time. We don't really care. I ask to be excused for including all of us in "we" because I know many of will disagree, but before you do that, just think about it for a second. You have a few causes that you really support, a few more that you are sympathetic towards to, and so on with a progressively diminishing level of emotional investment. You can't possibly care about everything, so you don't. But you don't even realize that you don't care about the things that you say you care about. You only care as much as you're told to care about these "issues". You know, things like "child abuse," "human trafficking," or even more specific issues like the displacing of indigenous people from India's forests because 'Corporate India' wants to have at the natural resources that these forests are sitting on. Whatever the story, and they are stories the way they keep changing on news channels like just another poorly thought out scandal, you switch with what's on at the moment. That's about it. There are a few really determined people who devote their lives to a cause, or more than one, God bless their souls. But, for the most part, you and I are probably of the majority who knows and claims to care, perhaps even sending large sums of money to our favorite charities to get them to help out. But that's always about it. And no, running or cycling distances greater than a few miles for charity is a far cry from taking the time to figure out what the problem really is, and then going about fixing it. 

So, what's the answer to all this? It doesn't matter. No, not that the answer doesn't matter. That is the answer. That it doesn't matter. Nothing matters. Our lives were already meaningless, made even more meaningless the more of us there are around. But that's okay. If nothing else, we should learn to treat this life as a journey. In that sense, no matter if you travel down the same path that other people had traveled long before you, you may end up making the same mistakes. And that's okay. It's okay to not know and make those mistakes because it's your life. Your experiences are your own, and only you will ever experience and understand them in your own way. It may be similar, or even almost identical to other people's experiences. But, it'll never be the same. So, go ahead and enjoy your vices. Don't worry about having to explain them to people, and end up burdening yourself with all this imagined guilt. Rest assured that nobody cares. It's quite a comforting thought, if you really think about it. And, that is something that I've asked you to do a couple of times in this post. After you're done reading this, go out and have a smoke. Who cares if you've only just had one, or if your last one was 35 years ago. So, you're smoking like the Principal. So what? Stop worrying about it. Life's too short for that nonsense. For the last time in this post, think about it, if our Principal "really" cared, he'd have stuck around. ;)

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