The Packet of Despair and Something(s) Else(s)

I just realized that the title to this post has a double meaning. I won’t tell you how just yet. That’s called foreshadowing.

It’s been a while. I’m posting because of procrastination really. I am avoiding my packetly duties. If you know the packet I speak of and you have your own to attend to, DO NOT READ THIS POST AND, INSTEAD, FINISH YOUR PACKET.

Everyone knows what a packet is really. My packet happens to actually be called a packet in this case, but you all have or have had your own packets I’m sure. At the Vermont College of Fine Arts we have a packet due every month. Each packet contains the bloody and tear-stained words that we have chosen to commit to writing. We arrange these words with careful precision (or last minute panic) before attaching them all to an email and pressing the send button at exactly the minute our advisers have asked of us, which is usually at 8 or 9 in the morning. We then sleep for two days or play video games for many, many, MANY hours while awaiting the return of our precious, golden, chocolate-covered babies only to find that, when the children come back home, they were really just all a big ball o’ sweaty mess.

The wee babes we nurtured come back to us butchered.

This guy…

Dylan Thomas - Smoking of course

…said it best.

Now my saying shall be my undoing,
And every stone I wind off like a reel.

~Dylan Thomas, Once It Was The Colour Of Saying

Our most chiseled and polished down work often becomes our own undoing. At least, it has been for me.

Take this most recent packet. After my July residency in beautiful Montpelier I began my very first absurd, potty-humor-filled attempt at a middle grade novel. In the first chapter, my main character, Jimmy, is pulling a prank on a telemarketer (thanks for the inspiration, Steve). The character and his father have an ongoing contest to see who can come up with the best prank to pull on telemarketers. His father is first introduced when he races down the stairs to grab the phone only to be beaten by Jimmy who then goes on to pull the best prank ever (you’ll have to read it someday…if it is not thrown into one of those red bags along with the used needles and liposuction waste). This whole time, his father, who has yet to say a word, is standing nearby, stifling hysterics while tears roll down his cheeks. He then…wets himself. When I wrote this, and every time I read this part to someone, I would have to stop for a minute because I’d be laughing so hard at my own brilliance. See…the dad’s just this guy who hasn’t even really been introduced yet and then we see him peeing his pants. He’s peeing his pants! That’s funny stuff, man!


Someone wetting themself


Quick side note before I continue. I applied to VCFA after some years of being an elementary school librarian and getting to know some of the faculty members’ books very, very well. In fact, I can honestly say that some of the best children’s book authors alive teach at VCFA. I still get moony every time I hang out with any of them. I wrote papers about their books in my kid lit classes for crying out loud.

Anyway, one of the deciding factors for my application was that an amazing author by the name of Franny Billingsley teaches there. I had written a 10 page paper on her book, The Folk Keeper. If you haven’t read it yet, please, stop reading this monstrosity of a blog and read it now.
(She also has a brand new book out that is awesome and amazing and it won her the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor and it is called Chime and even though it has kissing and love and gooey times, it is also a dark and swamp monster-filled, boy-likable book. Buy it here.)

She is also my adviser this semester.

Here’s what Franny, one of my heroes in life, had to say about the dad wetting himself:

I love potty humor, but the dad peeing didn’t make me laugh because there wasn’t any context for it.

Context?! CONTEXT!? He’s PEEING!

My point: It is our best efforts that cause us the most trouble. Ergo, don’t ever give it your best.

My 2nd “Packet of Despair” came today. I have failed. I have smoked.

I HATE Ayn Rand. Just look at her with her cigarette and her big ol’ fountainhead.

Stupid Ayn

I was having a horrible writing day. I have 6 days until packet 2 is due. I’m freaking out. And then I come across….randomly I tell you…this brilliant quote by that horrible woman:

“I like Cigarettes; I like to think of fire held in a man’s hand.
FIRE, a dangerous force, tamed at his finger tips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what great things have come out from such hours. When a man thinks there is a spot of
fire alive in his mind – and it is proper that he should have the burning point
of a cigarette as his one expression.”

~ Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged, 1957)

So….0 days since last accident. There is tomorrow I suppose.

Until then, picture me: Cigarette in hand on the back stoop, hunched over, one of my feet propped up on a step. I’m looking out at the moon whilst taming fire.

‘I wonder what he’s thinking,’ Ayn asks.

I’m thinking, quite seriously, about the context of a grown man wetting himself.


Day 2: The Origin of this Blog and Still Not Smoking

The Origin Story

My friend Bruce and I were sitting in a wine bar a few months ago while his wife was across from us talking with my then 6-month pregnant wife, Amy. Our conversation went as follows:

Bruce: I’ve got the perfect name for a blog you should write. It’ll be your personal account of the daily trials and joys of fatherhood.
Me:: What? (In my head: I will never ever ever write a blog. Blogs are for self-indulgent people with cats and/or participate in LARP)
Bruce:: Former. Boy. Tells. All.

As he paused at each word, his hand illustrated what it might look like on the marquee of a Hollywood premier. Or a Grand Opening sign in front of a mattress store.

Sadly, I am a sucker for glitzy presentations and all of my previous misgivings about writing a blog immediately left my head. All I could think was: MONETIZE. I was and am, after all, so very tired of not being a millionaire.

I panicked. I thought, ‘Someone much smarter than me has most definitely already snatched up this amazing domain name’. I ran home to check. Fortunately, I was correct in my lifelong theory that there is no one smarter than me . O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I snatched up the name immediately (probably just seconds before a dozen hopeful daddy-bloggers were trying the same thing), and…

And there it sat for the next few months – me, every now and then, logging in with the usual temptation to indulge in whining about my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, white, middle-class existential dilemmas.

I mostly posted pictures of my dog saying witty things, which, I notated for her (she has no fingers).

Smartest Dog in the World

Smartest Dog in the World

Then, even the title started to irk…hmmmm…that is a picture of my son, Avi.

Here’s Darla:

Smartest Dog in the World

Smartest Dog in the World

Anyway. Then, even the title started to irk me. It began to evoke images of some guy sitting down at his computer wearing hot pants and a sailor cap, writing his deepest confessions and fantasies.

Former. Boy. Tells. All.

So I here I sit, whining about my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, white, middle-class existential dilemmas whilst wearing my hot pants and sailor cap. All the while… Not smoking. Day Two.

T-Minus Tomorrow: Why I Am Quitting and What I Am Afraid Of

How bittersweet these punctuations
of flame and gesture;
but the best were on those mornings
when I would have a little something going
in the typewriter,
the sun bright in the windows,
maybe some Berlioz on in the background.
I would go into the kitchen for coffee
and on the way back to the page,
curled in its roller,
I would light one up and feel
its dry rush mix with the dark taste of coffee.

~Billy Collins, The Last Cigarette [segment]

I just made myself a cup of coffee and it’s 4:30 AM. I have 3 cigarettes left, 2 Djarum Specials and 1 hand-rolled Drum. I will go to sleep after this blog goes live and when I awake, I will be a non-smoker.
I’ve been a non-smoker before. Just a couple of weeks ago I was a non-smoker for 5 days. The longest I ever quit for was about 3 months. I think it was for a girl (yuck). Oh, but this coffee is good. And methinks it will be triply good with one of my last smokes.
18 years now. It’s been 18 years. I have smoked for more than half of my life.
Here’s what I looked like when I first started smoking at 16:

Me, a smoker at 16

Here’s me now. I was still smoking when this picture was taken.

Me. 18 years later and still smoking.

Tomorrow, I will talk more in-depth about my smoking history. For now, let’s just say that I’m afraid of what tomorrow brings. I am not worried about withdrawal. I have gone through that many times before. I’m not worried about keeping myself busy.

What worries me most is that, over the last 18 years, I have attached smoking with my creativity. This is presently a HUGE problem for me. I have 2 novels that I’m loving and much much more in the works. When I think about writing, I think about smoking.

A few months back, I asked a good friend of mine why he hasn’t quit smoking yet. His answer was beautiful:

Everytime I smoke, I feel like I’m 16 again

But I’m a dad now. I’m not 16. I have a gorgeous wife who actually likes me. You’d think the decision would be easier. It’s still not.

That’s all I have to say about all that. If you read this blog you can keep up with my progress. If you smoke and write and can’t picture one without the other, I hope you get something out of this. I can’t find ANYTHING anywhere that talks about how to overcome your writer’s block while quitting smoking. Stephen King said in On Writing that it took him a month after he quit to start writing again.

I don’t have a month. My second packet is due in a few weeks.

I gotta go smoke my last smokes. I’m going to start with the clove. I’ll end with the Drum.

P.S. I promise you that this blog will not only be about smoking. I have many other ideas for it. I will try to update my music pretty regularly. Plus I gotta tidy the site up quite a bit.

P.P.S. If anybody reads this and wants to A) Give me suggestions or B) Cheer me on…great. There’s just one thing you have to do for me in exchange. Tell me one bad habit you have.

Till then,