Saturday, March 28, 2009

Self-Obsessed Drivel

The interwebs are an odd country. The few posts here "about" quitting smoking have mostly generated constructive comments, interesting suggestions, cheerleading, etc. Someone sadly too chickenshit to identify him or herself (which is precisely what I get for allowing anonymous comments) wrote: "What self-obsessed drivel! So you were dumb enough to smoke for many years. Why should the rest of us, who were smart enough not to pick up a fag, be tortured with your detox story?"

And this is an excellent question! Indeed, why should the rest of you, indeed why should any of you, be TORTURED with my detox story?

I have no ready answer for this most incisive query. Except for the hearty rejoinder that has become universal internet currency: if you find my detox story torturous, don't fekkin' read it, ya wanker.

Or some several variations thereof.

And yet. The comment did serve a salutary purpose. For one thing, it had me reflecting, yet again, on how true it is. All blogging is actually really just self-obsessed drivel. I mean, isn't that what blogging is? So on a meta-level, yes indeedy. What self-obsessed drivel! Obviously.

And on a particular level, it's also true. Stories about addiction and the struggle to recover from same are oh-so-tediously boring and ridiculous. They are perhaps the new archetype of the worst kinds of sensationalist, self-absorbed, exceptionalist story.

Smoking specifically is such an idiotic cultural arena. People who pick up fags and then insist on tarring their lungs and destroying their hearts and tasting/smelling like ass for years truly are total and complete morons, at least in this particular regard. So it is difficult to have sympathy for those who finally snap to how idiotic they have been and then whine on and on about how dreadfully difficult it is to stop doing this unquestionably moronic behavior.

Then there's the Confessional Society thing. The Oprah Winfrey-ization of all of our personal and private struggles. The Who Gives a Royal Rat's Ass response is not only appropriate, but refreshing. As my friend Willy Blake transcribed from Hell: "Damn braces, bless relaxes."

So today, as March draws to a close, as I celebrate 10 weeks without cancer sticks, as I reflect on $500 saved and 2,000 cigarettes not smoked, as I gloat over my continuing liberation from the likes of RJ Reynolds and their Thank You For Smoking duplicitous PR bullshit, I solemnly swear that I'll not blog more about what it's been like to quit. Well, not much more. Maybe a bit. Could be, for the next several months. Sorry.

For example, it continues to floor me how powerful the grip of the cravings is. Weeks ago, supposedly, the nicotine molecules were purged, the receptors died off, the physiology of it all was restored to normal. Yet, my repeated desire for a smoke is awe inspiring and humbling, as if a terrible black-winged nicotine demon has me in his heart-clutching grasp several times a day, sometimes for minutes on end. I am emerging from the regularity and ferocity of these cravings slowly, but their force is truly a wonder to behold. I'm told that this will be the case for at least the entire first year, in all likelihood. If nothing else, these tidal cravings illustrate, once again, the angry-Poseidon-ish nature of the mind. "You're not physically addicted anymore!" one of my students said and I thought "that's the least of it." What a mystery. You'd think I'd be able to mind my own mind. Cheeky bastard has a mind of its own.

My irritability, tendency to isolate and curmudgeonly growl have all definitely come to the fore. I don't think I've been very good company, particularly. Which is too fucking bad (he said not to those within earshot but to himself). As I'd rather be addiction free and unpleasant than on my way to an accelerated, horrifying respiratory death and Mr. Sparkles. Not that those are the only two choices, except that they are, a lot of the time. Exactly how it was that cigarettes aided me in being available to people and in being more extroverted, I have no idea. Not in the same way that alcohol did. But some other way.

Which reminds me: aren't you glad this isn't an AA/Recovery/sobriety blog? Because oh how it could be. Oh what fun it would be to be. And how how I reserve the right to make it so. Especially considering how I have yet to find a recovery community here in good old Scarizona. How much fun would it be if I were to blog relentlessly, torurously, narcissistically about *both* recovery from alcoholism and years of smoking? Ah what great fun, what great originality!

Yet, there's more to life than becoming less mentally ill. I said to myself just this morning, looking at my spring-turgid and budding cacti, "hey, there's more to life than becoming less mentally ill, you know."

For example, music.

Yesterday at school, a very talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist student of mine asked the seemingly innocent question: "So what sort of 20th Century innovative composers would you recommend?" I always ultimately feel sorry for students who ask me questions like this, as I always end up shoveling cultural references at them ton after ton, until they look like they want to say (yet politely don't) "enough already, man, get a life, holy cow, enough enough!" We promptly headed to YouTube, whereon we discovered excerpts from or versions of Ionisation by Varese (this version conducted by Pierre Boulez; there are a few versions up), Metastasis by Iannis Xenakis (with agraphical score, the audio is low, so pump up the volume), the famous Requiem by Gyorgi Ligeti (with funny still photos from 2001: A Space Odyssey), Penderecki's Threnody on the Victims of Hiroshima with suitably plain black video (conducted by Penderecki himself), Stockhausen's "Helicopter" String Quartet, and last but not least, George Crumb's Black Angels.

By the time we finished watching these, either entire or in snippets, my student was deeply enthused. "Why doesn't anyone teach us about this music?" was one of the plaintive questions. To which I had no answer.


the unreliable narrator said...

Frieda Hughes, on cigarettes (with picture!):

"This is the last packet of cigarettes I smoked. I have a problem with anything ruling an individual, such as an addiction. I went round the world on a Dutch freighter once, but my whole life was spent thinking, ‘Where am I going to get my next cigarette from?’ I thought I’d wait until the stress was over before giving up smoking, but stress is never over. Life is stress. When I gave up, my rage and despair were unbelievable. I cried for weeks."

You are my knight in shining armor.

Greg Smith said...

The point of a blog is to write about one's personal experiences. The dumb-ass that doesn't like it should pick up a newspaper.

Mixtape Jones said...

You, among others, taught us about that music at CSF...and it looks like that might not happen anymore, either. Granted, I can't verify that it has BEEN taught there for the last 10 years or whatever, but...Anyway, grateful for the chance to have learned.

Chris Rich said...

Hi Peter,

You musta run into a troll bot from the creeping commentariat. They were on their way to clutter up 538 or something when they stumbled Stochasticactus and having discovered it was about musical arcana and desert fauna, lobbed a stink bomb and went back to seeking better troll meadows.

I did a piece on a 'new' approach to description writing on demanding music. May all be well with you.

Julia said...

It really is the limit that someone would bother to read your blog, which is hardly inescapable, and then complain about what you have to say. Maybe next people will just show up at our doorsteps and complain about how clean we keep our floors (um, I really hope that doesn't happen). Also, it's actually of interest to those of us who know you to hear how goes it with the smoking (not to mention those of us taking some sort of vicarious motivation from it to hear how goes it. On the other hand, perhaps you really should stop talking about yourself so goddamn much on your own blog and do something useful with it, like give us all stock tips or, better yet, explain to me, once and for all, the steps wherein we arrive at categorical imperatives. I mean, is this your blog or mine? Seriously. I think it should be mine.
Oh, I guess there's no such thing as blogs anymore, so please discount everything I've just said. I was going to post this anonymously, but I thought you might be able to figure out who it was anyway.
Congratulations on your 10 weeks; I think, no, I know, how huge an accomplishment that is.

ambrose mensch said...

Enjoyed that. Thankee. Mark AGI 97

JB said...

There is no internet law stating that all blogs have to contain self-obsessed drivel about one's personal experiences. If a blog is filled with self-obsessed drivel, it says something about the blogger.

pwlsax said...

You say you have no answer why Varèse and such are not taught. I have a theory, which isn't an answer, but it's a step towards one.

Music like that serves no socially useful function. It makes no money, it reassures no bourgeois esthetic, it instills no performance craft values, it uplifts no group identity. It doesn't pull its own weight except as art, and that makes us nervous, so we don't talk about it.

peter breslin said...

pwl, I'd only disagree with instilling no performance craft values. The virtuosity needed to play Varese or Xenakis or whatever is jaw dropping. The rest of what you say makes sense. Since education is actually about maximum conformity and maximum social utility, what gets taught is entirely reproducible and directly utilitarian.