I started smoking cigarettes when I was fourteen. Reading that sentence now, I am shocked -- mostly because I certainly wasn't participating in any other such risky behavior. I'd been "drunk" once before that (if you count puking after drinking a Bartles & James in the basement of my friend Sarah's house after we snuck wine coolers away from her mom's college graduation party), but I wasn't old enough to drive and I certainly wasn't even planning on having sex until at least after high school.
But I smoked out of rebellion against the stress of being fourteen in 1994, and I smoked because the weirdos at my school who looked like me (and eventually became my friends) smoked, and I smoked because I wanted to be Courtney Love. From her hair and lipstick to her big fur coat and tilted stance on a patent leather high heel, I wanted to be everything Courtney portrayed in the photo on the inside sleeve of Live Through This.
And even after I decided I really didn't want to smoke anymore, I still did. Because I couldn't be in a band and not smoke. And now, long after that thought has passed (and I'm in a band and don't smoke,) I wonder: How can I be a writer if I don't drink coffee?
I don't think the idea of being "cool" is an accurate descriptor of the destructive behavior I've used to identify myself. It was never cool to me that Courtney Love smoked; it was just what she did. Like the baby barrettes I still wear in my hair, smoking was part of her undeniably attractive aesthetic to teenage me. But as much as I wanted to smoke like her, I also wanted to push my foot into the monitor and rock my body back behind the microphone like she did. Smoking was just part of the package. But it was in that package that I was forming my identity: I wanted to be in a band.
In my first functioning band, I was the only smoker. It went along with drinking quite well, as I was the heaviest drinker in my band, too. When you play in a band, you often get paid in booze -- but you may also buy a lot of booze on your own time and dime, popping air holes in cans to make shot-gunning a twelve-pack of Pabst over the course of a three-hour practice that much easier. The affection I had for cigarettes in regards to my aesthetic I also had for alcohol in regards to softening (or in some cases, knife-sharpening) my personality.
There's a lot of romance tied to booze's influence on the now archaic-seeming rock-and-roll dream. (Cocaine was and still is laced up in that dream, too, but I knew if I ever tried cocaine, I would die. Because I would probably love it so much, I would do it until I killed myself. I'm glad I didn't discover "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" until long after my super-destructive era, because I would have loved to do drugs to that song.)
I quit cigarettes and booze the same year, and I essentially quit music, too. I didn't know how to be me without the fleeting fame of a signature quadruple tall Absolute Mandarin and soda with a splash of white wine and an orange slice or a cigarette brand so tied to my character that friends could instantly tell I had just left a bar by my Capri Menthol 120 butt still smoldering in the ashtray.
I eventually got over those not-actually defining vices, and started playing music again. But when I gave up coffee 33 days ago, I wondered: What kind of a writer am I without any vices left at all?
The newsrooms I saw in the movies are all but gone. The offices of the "big magazine" (or in my case, the imagined/dream offices of Sassy Magazine, anyway) don't really exist in the way I thought they would when I started journalism school in the '90s. But here I am, a writer doing the job I most love in the world -- next to being bossy.
Working from the comfort of my Macbook Pro at a desk made of eight pillows, my morning ritual would begin -- even before any writing had begun -- with coffee. A fresh pot poured into a mason jar with equal parts milk and a half-dozen packets of Splenda was needed before I could properly open my eyes, let alone utter a word or type a sentence.
But when I decided to go stimulant-free and quit caffeine (and much to my own dismay, quit lightly smoking weed for the time being), I didn't think about the aesthetic-intertwined consequences. I didn't think about the ritual-connected consequences. I didn't think about the self-identifying consequences. I just dove in head first, blinders on, ready to conquer a lifetime of loving coffee without even really thinking about how much I actually loved coffee.
My first word ever spoken on this planet was "coffee"; I was just going to let that go? Staying up late at night trying to finish a story without as much as a cigarette break or a cocktail, and now, without a cup of coffee? Meeting with other writers to discuss what writers we were without a cup of coffee between us? What was I thinking?
It seemed that this life of clean living was actually starting to get dangerously unknown. But then I remembered: When I was a drunk, I was a shitty bass player and an even shittier writer. There's no romance in that. Maybe I will be an even better musician and clearer-thinking writer without any stimulants at all.
If only I could get my ass out of bed without still being crushed by the idea that all I want in this life is a fuckin' cup of coffee.
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