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Curtis Hagedorn

Curtis Hagedorn
Brooklyn, New York, USA
March 18


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AUGUST 22, 2011 1:58PM

Life After Quitting, More or Less

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"Winners never quit and quitters never win." 

Most of us were originally taught that less-than-nuanced version of the consequences of quitting, probably under the same assumption that we were led to believe in Santa Claus -- that there's plenty of time to discover life's hard truths.  Some time later, depending upon our level of skepticism and/or success in our childish endeavors, our parents finally came to the conclusion that we were "old enough to make our own decisions," usually as the backfired-reverse-psychology conclusion of a protracted disagreement -- and we chose independence over security like good little Americans.  The question of whether that desperate childhood-ending move by your parents was encouraging your transition into responsible adulthood or simply giving up on you -- quitting -- is pretty much everyone's personal origination myth. 

After you were cast out of the Garden of Parental Control, the weight of your future lay squarely upon your own shoulders, with any input from family, friends and professionals now falling under the blanket category of "help and advice" and their handmaiden, "guilt."  Certainly you could decide to quit marching band, cross-country, church, college -- it was your own decision -- as long as you realized that decision was the pinpoint upon which your entire future was balanced.  Any sense of relief you may have felt in quitting that thing you hated was now almost immmediately replaced with the seeds of regret for that adolescent "road not taken" -- the one that has made "all the difference" and turned you into a cranky old egotist living at a New England crossroads, or at the very least NOT a rock star or a tennis champ or an arbiter of popular taste.

When I was in my twenties I frequently proclaimed that I "never wanted to quit anything completely."  "Quitting" seemed to me like admitting I'd been wrong about something -- the ultimate defeat.  Quitting tends to mean "I failed." It means your life has gotten out of control.   I still tapdance around being in the "process" of getting my life under control -- Yoda and I would certainly have a heated discussion about "Do or do not, there is no try," probably resulting in his telling me I was old enough to make my own decisions.

Ask anybody who knew me in college and they'll tell you I was a drinker and a smoker.  My favorite photograph of myself back then was taken by a talented friend of mine who now runs a TV station in Chicago.  It shows me in profile -- long before my chin decided to become part of my neck -- wearing mirrored sunglasses and a carnation in the lapel of a blue linen suit, with a Dunhill Denicotea cigarette holder between my lips:  sort of an effete Douglas MacArthur.  And, if I remember correctly ( as far as I remember) that day continued with the consumption of copious amounts of champagne.  Fade to black. 

After a montage blessedly summarizing about twenty years or so, fade in on today, where I can confidently tell you that I've quit smoking and drinking.  Except that occasionally -- maybe once a quarter -- I'll meet some friends at Excelsior, our local bar, and have a few drinks and buy a pack of Dunhills (my brand since they were a whole 6 dollars a carton at Tiny's in Northfield, Minnesota.) I'll smoke two or three about halfway down over the course of the evening while leaning on the parking meter outside, and leave the rest of the pack on the bar when I go home. 

So I "quit" the negative parts of smoking and drinking -- the excess -- a long time ago.  I'm perfectly willing to admit that this is not something everyone can do.  But "quitting" also implies really understanding what is pleasure and what is excess...you don't have to quit "loving," you have to quit "loving too much."  That's why Jack Twist says "I wish I knew how to quit you" with such anguish to Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, instead of "I wish we could negotiate a more equitable relationship."  He's already tried that and it didn't work.  Jack is caught between a rock and a hard place...so to speak.  Of course from the outside, he would have been better off just quitting.  Therein lies the root of drama, whether it's Sophocles or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

You may know in your heart what you "need" to quit, but you have to consciously decide what you "want" to quit.  And you have to really want it.  I "quit" drinking because circumstances led me to realize it was necessary to be conscious most of the time.  And I quit smoking because of the money.  But until I figured out why I wanted to quit, no amount of negative consequences or being lectured or shunned or confronted did much but increase my sense of my own bravado at flying in the face of so much disapproval.     Or, as my mother would say, you "can't tell me anything."

To end on a positive note, here's how I quit smoking, perhaps it will work for you:

1)  Figure out how much money you spend on cigarrettes.  For me, at two packs a day at around ten bucks a pack at the end (Dunhills are expensive) it was around $140 a week -- and I can tell you, that was Stage 1 of actually wanting to quit, wondering where in the world I got all that money, late night sessions of digging "good" butts out of the trash notwithstanding.

2) Set up an automatic savings plan withdrawing that amount of money from your checking account every week.

3) Since this alone will not stop you, if you buy a pack of cigarettes, smoke one immediately and throw the rest away.  Permanently.  Toss it into a sidewalk trash bin or soak the rest of it in the sink.  Why?  Because when every cigarette costs you 10 bucks, you're going to stop smoking pretty darn quickly.

4) Do this for two or three weeks and then look at how much money you've saved in a short period of time.  You can buy a flat screen TV!  If this doesn't keep you on the straight and narrow, I don't know what will.

5)  Added benefit.  Even if you lapse, you're only smoking one cigarette, and that cigarette will be the best cigarette you've ever had in your life, far more pleasurable than the other 39 you were smoking without thinking before.


Go West - King of Wishful Thinking

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Humorous look at turning points. Some people (like you evidently) actually stop and turn. Well done.
In college you were a boy genius so defined by drink your other sterling qualities were obscured to the casual observer. It didn't matter as much then as it should have perhaps because your many friends could see the real precious you. I thought you could too but I guess that insight came later. I'm glad you more or less quit. Eliminating excess was surely necessary.

For myself I doubt quarterly indulgences would work. I'm wired to get my freak on given half a chance. When I was a young immortal the risk was imperceptible. Such was the power of denial. These days it takes too damn long to recover from even one misstep.

Smoking, well that's just plain nasty!

Blog on Sweet Prince...
I enjoyed this post: the journey, the imagery, the resolution. I was left wondering if the measured life managing excess also regulates passion. Is freefalling still an option? Keep posting!
"But until I figured out why I wanted to quit, no amount of negative consequences or being lectured or shunned or confronted did much but increase my sense of my own bravado at flying in the face of so much disapproval. Or, as my mother would say, you 'can't tell me anything.'"

Boy, do I relate.

I enjoyed reading this. I'll get back to you if I ever find a way to want to quit anything. It'll be revealing, for sure.
@ConnieMack I'm finding that "quitting eating" is quite a bit more complex :) And THANK YOU to everyone for all the comments, I'm hoping to do this regularly as part of the process of writing a book...still finding my voice.
"late night sessions of digging "good" butts out of the trash notwithstanding." Oh man I've been there. Glad to know I'm not the only one. At this point I am moving to nico gum to handle the humps, with an occasional social cig here and there. I keep telling myself how much I hate smoking, and it's working.
I like your way of quitting smoking. I'm going to remember it (I don't smoke, but still...)
Your observation: "quitting" also implies really understanding what is pleasure and what is excess...you don't have to quit "loving," you have to quit "loving too much..." really strikes chords for me. Pleasure is so often excess. Excess is so often pleasure. Alcohol-free for months now, I'm exploring how it is that we feel pleasure, what we need to do so. Your words help.
@Susan Thank you so much, imagine actually "helping" anyone with something I wrote. What a pleasure.