This was a silly prompt. Ask a silly question, get a silly answer. I like this one so much, I tried to read it out loud and by the end, was laughing too hard to continuing talking. So, without further ado …
Originally written for The Happy Quitter, published March 7, 2015. Today is my 68th birthday and quitting smoking was the best gift I ever gave myself. Time to talk about it. I’m surprised I’ve never written about it before now.
In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.
“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies and the whole world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was pretty easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in, not so much the drugs.”
“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “it was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.
“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’
“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said, and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit off and on for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere – usually an office – where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction which lured me back to a habit I understood was harmful to my health, disastrous to my budget (and getting more costly each day). And made my clothing and hair stink of stale smoke. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.
I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes, than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. On some level, I still do. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky. I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.
I am sure right now … after seven? eight? years since I quit for good that were I to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker again. Instantly. It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to the habit of smoking.
It’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.
DECEMBER BOYS (2007)
Movie Review, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
You probably missed it in the theater. It stars Daniel Radcliffe at the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon. The Australian made film also found a big name distributor for the USA and Canada, Warner Brothers. Yes, the same mega movie studio that distributed Harry Potter. If you were the producer of this little Australian project, you might expect you would hit the jackpot with Radcliffe’s star power, plus one of the biggest movie distributors in the world. You’d be wrong.
Filmed down under in 2006, December Boys is based on the novel of the same name. The setting was moved up from the 1930s to the 1960s and is told as a flashback, as it was in the book. This allows the ending to be brought up to modern times. The boys are orphans at a Catholic institution. Four boys (five in the novel) share December birthdays. Each is given a gift of a Christmas holiday at a large beachfront home.
Radcliffe, a teenager at the time, is the oldest of the boys, known as Maps. The other three, Spit, Spark (or Sparks, the film is unclear) and Misty are younger boys of about the same age. Misty is the narrator.
For Radcliffe, this is a coming of age story. He meets a girl who is a bit of a wild child and through the course of the movie you will see Radcliffe smoke, drink and, well, if you don’t know what they were doing in that cave, you were never a teenager. Later, Maps dismisses an inquiry by one of the younger boys about that mark on his neck.
The home of the older couple who hosts the boys’ holiday introduces the element of health problems of one of the adults. It’s a bit of a sad sidetrack to a storyline filled with side tracks. There is also an old fisherman at the sea trying to catch some elusive large fish. Naturally one of the boys get caught in that story line.
Then there’s the young couple who fail to conceive a child. When the young husband tells the priest from the orphanage they are having trouble getting pregnant, you know what the priest will suggest. Misty overhears and determines to be the one adopted. Eventually he tells the priest he was eavesdropping. The other boys force him to spill the story. The little ones try to be model citizens, while Maps knows an older boy will never be adopted.
There are plenty of hi-jinks for the boys. The young man pushing the adoption with his wife owns a motorcycle and gives the younger boys rides along the beach. Misty goes in the water and nearly drowns and our hero comes to the rescue. Do I have to tell you who? There is disappointment and heartbreak in store. Throughout, the single thing the boys share is the only family they know are each other.
In addition to various goofs, some of the symbolism is confusing. And unnecessary. A dark stallion periodically appears, symbolizing something, but I’m not sure what. Misty has “visions” of the future — nuns and the Virgin Mary. It works having Misty picture the future through an empty frame; the rest doesn’t work. Boomers may find the out-of-time 1970s songs jarring.
Radcliffe wasn’t paid a big salary to make the movie. He probably wanted a chance to be someone other than Harry Potter. The character of Lucy, with whom Maps has a relationship, was not in the novel. Perhaps this intrigued Radcliffe. Perhaps it worried Warner Brothers.
When the film opened in September of 2007, it had staggered release dates for Sydney, Melbourne, and London, most likely so Radcliffe could attend. When Warner Brother opened it as a “limited release” in the US, it was on four screens the first week, eight the next, and 13 next. After which it more or less disappeared. Not exactly a grand opening for a boy known round the world. Of course, the boy was known for a specific role and Warner Brothers wanted to keep it that way, at least to the degree they could control it.
It didn’t make much money. Of course. In the U.S., it grossed about $100,000 during its three-week release in September 2007. The film cost an estimated $4 million and grossed around a million dollars (U.S. and Australia) during its theatrical release. It’s currently available as a digital download from Amazon, used on DVD.
December Boys got mixed reviews. The confusion of the story lines mixed together was criticized. Immortal film critic Roger Ebert said, “There seem to be two movies going on here at the same time, and “December Boys” would have been better off going all the way with one of them.” One thing critics agreed on: young Daniel could play someone other than Harry Potter.
The “coming of age” story with Lucy and Maps was created for the big screen. Perhaps therein lay some of the problem of plot development. It might have been better to skip the extra plot and have Radcliffe play a boy who everyone looked up to, who came in to save the day when there was trouble for any of the other characters.
Oh wait, he was already doing that. Rather successfully too.
Daily Prompt: I Have Confidence in Me – Are you good at what you do? What would you like to be better at?
Funny you should mention this. I was thinking, yesterday evening, that I’ve been writing for so many years … my entire life except for a few years before I knew which end of the pencil made marks … it has become like breathing. I just do it. I don’t plan projects, don’t struggle to say what I mean. Don’t get writer’s block. I can’t remember any time when I couldn’t write, though I have gone through periods when I didn’t want to write.
I blog because I’m going to write regardless and I need something to do with all those words. I love blogging. It’s the only writing I’ve done which isn’t a long-term project.
“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” is my motto these days. For writing and other stuff. What I don’t write today will wait. Tomorrow is a new day, a fresh slate. I can choose to write what I want. No thousand pages of unfinished manuscript is lurking on my desk while a printing deadline glows menacingly in the background.
Photography is a bit different. Pure pleasure. I’ve been an enthusiastic amateur photographer since I was in my early 20s. Although I earned a few bucks taking pictures here and there over the years, calling myself a professional photographer would be a considerable stretch. I gave it a brief try and hated it. I love taking pictures, but when there was a client in the mix, it stopped being unfettered fun and became work. Which, as we all know, is the original four-letter word. Just ask Maynard G. Krebs.
What else would I like to be good at? I’d like to get better at casting magic spells. I need more and better magic in my life. Otherwise? I’ll do my best to keep my existing skills sharp. Everything else? Nah. I’m retired.
I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.
To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive.
And they have to look good while doing it. Without a break for lunch or even a bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.
His days off were Wednesday and Thursday. That meant we had barely a few minutes after work to meet and greet each other. Everything else waited until vacation. By which time Garry was exhausted and needed two weeks of sleep to recuperate so he could go back to work again.
The good part of his job? He loved it. I think everyone in the news business is an adrenaline junkie. The thrill of getting the scoop, tracking down the story, coming up with a different angle on something every other station is also doing and sometimes, finding new information to crack open a case. Garry loved his work. He didn’t love every single moment of it, but he loved most of it, loved knowing he could make a difference, shine a light into a dark corner and fix something that had been broken.
When I married him, I married his work. No whining about him missing all the family events, never being around to help with the housework or the shopping. I knew from the get-go I’d be keeping his dinner warm for whenever he got home. That was the deal we made.
One day, I got a call. A major corporation was looking for a technical writer to create documents for various computer programs aimed at end-users. Entry-level stuff. For me, this was a piece of cake — with icing.
I went to the interview. Bad part? It was a part-time job, paying a retainer. I would be paid for 20 hours a week at $25 an hour, which was less than my usual rate. But it was a retainer. Freelancers know there’s nothing better than a retainer. I might work all 20 hours, or no hours. I would not be required to go into the office. Ever. I’d work from home or wherever I and my computer might be, including the back porch of the house on the Vineyard.
Although it was half the money I’d been earning, I could take free-lance gigs to make up the gap.
I took the job and never looked back. When I accepted it, I figured I’d be working most of the 20 hours. It turned out there wasn’t any work. Or almost none. Weeks and months went by. I would call to find out if maybe they’d forgotten me. Didn’t they want me to do something? No, everything is fine, they said. No problem. We’ll call you. Once in long while, they did call and for a few days, I worked. It was almost a relief. Even though it was writing I could do in my sleep.
For more than four years, I got a regular paycheck for which I did nothing much. I did other free-lance stuff here and there. I had to bring a laptop with me when I went on vacation, just in case. It was the dream job. I was getting paid and didn’t have to work.
One day, I picked up the Boston Globe and discovered the division for which I worked was being disbanded. Apparently someone noticed that no one in the department actually worked. So I called my boss, Anita.
“Anita,” I said. “I was reading the Globe this morning. Does this mean I have to look for a new job?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “We all do. But you’ve got three or four months, so you should be fine.” I couldn’t believe it. They were taking away the best job in the world. I was going to have to go to work, show up at an office. Stay there all day. What a horrible thought!
I went job hunting and found what would turn out to the best real job I ever had. The best colleagues and the greatest boss. But it was work. I had to think (a lot), learn (like getting a masters in advanced object linking in a couple of weeks), synthesize, design documents, write them. Back to meeting deadlines. Although my extended paid vacation had not lessened my skills. I was as good as ever, but never again would I feel comfortable in a 9 to 5 job.
Merely having to be in one place all those hours made me itchy. I got the job done — and done well — but I was ruined. No regular job felt right. Not until retirement would I find myself as happy as I had been during my retainer years.
Written by: Laurie R. King Narrated by: Jenny Sterlin Length: 12 hrs 22 mins Unabridged Audiobook
I’ve been a fan of this series for some years. I have read all but maybe one or two of these wonderful modern Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell novels. I have enjoyed every one of them and hope Ms. King never stops writing them.
Dreaming Spies is the latest in Laurie King’s brilliant modern tales of Sherlock Holmes and his intrepid and scholarly wife, Mary Russell. While on a sea voyage to Japan — intended as a vacation — the journey transforms into a convoluted, multi-faceted hunt for a blackmailer, a priceless book, and a document that can save or destroy an empire.
As the intensity of the chase increases, Holmes and Mary form a peculiar alliance with a mysterious young Japanese woman. Twists and turns of plot abound. Nobody and nothing is who or what they seem to be. It’s impossible to know who is the hound, and who the fox.
I have always wanted to visit Japan and now, I feel as if I have. I was originally planning to read it as text, but this has not been a good year for my reading print. I finally gave in and acquired the audiobook. I’m glad I did. Jenny Sterlin, who has been the narrator on this entire series, is wonderful. As she always is. She will always be the voice of Mary Russell to me. The wife of Homes and the teller of this and all of Laurie King’s Sherlock Holmes-Mary Russell books.
You don’t have to read the books in order, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt if you did. Each book in the series stands on its own.
Laurie King is an exceptionally literate writer. The elegance of her language is one of her most attractive qualities as an author. In many places, her prose is almost poetry, lyrical and as silky as a rose petal. I recommend the book and the series. If you like mysteries which you cannot predict, enjoy vivid descriptions of exotic climes, I think I can say without reservation you will like her novels.
If you always hoped Sherlock might meet a nice woman, get married, and get a life — in these books he does exactly that. All of your favorite Holmes characters will drop by for visits. Holmes doesn’t lose any of his detecting abilities. He is still Sherlock Holmes … but more human and more humorous than he was in the old days. Meanwhile, the world believes he is fictional … and that’s the way he prefers it.
Dreaming Spies is a great read. Every book in the series is good. Absorbing, exciting, unpredictable. Beautifully written. Summer is coming. Take a few with you on your next vacation. Print or audio, you won’t be disappointed.
DOG BONE SOUP is the long-awaited “rest of the story”of Shawn Daniels from the original short story, “Pure Trash.” It’s particularly long-awaited for me because as soon as I read the short story, I wanted to read this book. The only problem was, Bette hadn’t yet written it.
But she did it. Dog Bone Soup is available for your reading pleasure. And what a pleasure it is.
Bette has the purest, freshest writing style I’ve read in many a long year. Reading her prose is like peering into an exceptionally clear, deep pool. It looks like the bottom is close enough to touch, but those waters run deep.
Bette Stevens is a class act, an author who knows how to tell a story. Her characters are real, so true to life, they practically leap off the page. In Dog Bone Soup, style and the story are blended to perfection.
I’ve read a lot of books about rural poverty and for some reason, all those stories are set in the south. This is as far from south as you can get and a timely reminder that poverty is not regional. It’s everywhere, from the biggest cities to the hidden hamlets where tourists never go.
Shawn Daniels’ story is wonderful story. It’s growing up and coming of age for a poor kid in a dysfunctional family. His world is cold and hardscrabble. A drunken father, a vanishing mother. Foster parents with no love to share, teachers who can’t see past patches and poverty. Yet somehow Shawn forges a road of his own. Armed with courage, humor, and grit, he grows into a strong young man with solid values. And a future.
Sometimes, very little is enough.
No matter how it sounds, there’s nothing depressing about this story. How come? Because Shawn Daniels hasn’t a shred of self-pity in him. Despite the challenges he faces, Shawn is never down. Not depressed, discouraged, broken, or beaten. This kid has grit. Determination. A solid grip on his own worth.
Where does it come from? Mom, sometimes. A few others who see Shawn’s value and give him a hand along his path. A personal, hard-wired toughness that lets him see past the life he is living it to the life he wants — and for which he is willing to work. Mostly, it is Shawn’s own sharp intelligence which enables him to understand his world. It lets him trust his judgment without bogging down in unearned guilt. He makes smart decisions.
It’s a great story — and it’s far from over.
About the author
Inspired by nature and human nature, author Bette A. Stevens is a retired elementary and middle school teacher, a wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. Stevens lives in Central Maine with her husband on their 37-acre farmstead where she enjoys writing, gardening, walking and reveling in the beauty of nature. She advocates for children and families, for childhood literacy and for the conservation of monarch butterflies (milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat).
Bette A. Stevens is the author of award-winning picture book AMAZING MATILDA; home/school resource, The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!; and PURE TRASH, the short story prequel to DOG BONE SOUP.
Dateline: Uxbridge, Massachusetts
It was an ordinary day. A sunny day in southern New England. Cool. Almost crisp. The leaves had changed and shone bright yellow and orange. Autumn. The best time of the year.
An ordinary day. Except, we ran out of half-and-half.
In most homes, this would have been no big deal. It would surely not have been an emergency requiring an immediate trip to town. But in this household of addicted coffee drinkers, no way we could get through 24 hours without half-and-half for our coffee. Someone — okay, Garry — would have to buy half-and-half.
The nearest shop only sells tiny containers and sometimes, has none at all. So it was off to Hannaford’s.
Hannaford’s is our grocery store. We don’t own it (I wish), but it’s the one we patronize. Not big or fancy. Even for Uxbridge, it’s a modest store, but that’s one of the reasons we like it. It’s part of a small Maine-based chain. Prices are pretty good and the produce is usually fresh. They offer locally grown products in season. You don’t need a special card to get discounts and they offer a 5% discount to Senior Citizens every Tuesday. Most important, they are close to home, easy to get to, and have ample parking.
I was in the middle of a book — I usually am — so I didn’t pay a lot of attention as Garry went out. Not a big deal. Just half-and-half. Maybe pick up something for dinner. He came back a couple of hours later, a bit longer than an errand like this should take. Garry looked amused. Maybe bemused.
“There is shock and confusion in downtown Uxbridge, today,” he announced.
“Shock and confusion?”
“Yes,” Garry said. “I thought it might be delayed PTSD from 9/11 or changing seasons. Everyone in Hannaford’s looked stunned.”
“Stunned? Because?” I questioned.
“The credit card readers were down. You couldn’t pay with your bank or credit card. Everyone had to pay cash or use a check. They looked shell-shocked. Thousand-yard stares. Stumbling, vacant-eyed around the store.”
“Holy mackerel,” I said. “I can only imagine.”
“You could see them mumbling to themselves. They kept saying ‘cash!’ I could tell they were confused and unsure what to do.”
“Wow,” I said. “How dreadful! What did you do?” I asked. Garry seemed to have survived with his sense of humor intact and brought home the half-and-half.
“Oh, I paid with cash. I had enough on me.”
He went off to the kitchen chuckling to himself. I hoped everyone would be okay back in town. A shock like that can haunt people for a long time. Cash. Imagine that. Everyone will be talking about this for weeks.
The day the machines went down at Hannaford’s. That’s huge.