The sun is outrageous. The cold is outrageous. I nearly lost my fingers walking my dog this morning. Not really. But, reality only serves to protect fiction from appearing to be too real so: really.
We were meant to go to the park. We walked twenty minutes and I forced my dog to turn around, yelling “I CAN’T DO THIS” to the naked streets, panicked, images of my pale, dead body on the sidewalk taking over my brain, and in between breaths the unusual need to say “hurry we’re almost there” as if my dog actually wanted to go home, which he didn’t, which is why we took forever to get home and I almost died. Really.
I failed at walking. I failed my morning.
Have you ever walked without a purpose because sitting at home provoked the type of urgency that only a walk could subdue, numbing the restlessness with a type of existential validity: Hey look everyone, I’m walking and, hey look everyone, that’s kind of an accomplishment, and hey look: Just look. At me. So I know I’m here.
This cold is a commanding controversy for me. I walk literally numb and, in so doing, I awaken a lot of pain. And fear. My numbing agent is making me feel too much.
Walking is the only (potentially) non-deadly vice I can think of.
Earlier this year, when I was quitting smoking (for the final time, everyone pray because it was true hell and I cannot go backwards again), I was dating a marijuana farmer. A legal marijuana farmer, as he would put it, growing for one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Canada.
“I am legit Big Pharma,” he would tell me.
He was a really fancy drug dealer. And, I was quitting smoking. We were the greatest pair.
He’d ask. “So then what’s your vice, if you don’t smoke, what, like, do you fucking vape like a fucking vape-lady.” (“Vape-lady”, soon to be superhero, probably, probably not).
“I drink a bunch, I guess.”
“A bunch? haha haha How much is “a bunch”?
The truth was, not at all.
I have an undiagnosed and eternally annoying pain problem. It takes over my whole body, annually, usually in the autumn/winter months when the world is dark and I am frustrated with my apparent lack of progress in life (no matter my actual progress). When my body is in pain, it cannot do the usual work that our bodies do to repair themselves when we smoke and drink and so smoking and drinking makes me very very depressed. I am always quitting smoking. I am always “not drinking today”.
Sometimes, my abstinence is organic. When I truly am not smoking, I truly am not drinking as the two go hand in hand. The idea that we always need at least one vice, as my loosely-compatible-almost-dating-me-guy made me believe in that moment, is troubling.
The way I see it, vice is dependent on two things: Emotional needs and recreational opportunity. We can factor money into that equation but, let’s pretend that money doesn’t exist and “resources” are just things that we prefer.
Appreciating life choices in a mathematical context sometimes helps me deal with my bad habits, if I allow mathematics to be completely abstract and therefore allow the outcome to make sense to me purely in theory but, then again, if it’s my theory: It’s real.
In the case of vice we can formulate an equation
Where, ‘x’ represents the value of Depressive Symptoms in an individual
(i.e. Loneliness + Hopelessness + Grief +whateverthefuck else is happening to a person who feels desperate and lost and pitiful, whatever it is, let that be ‘x’)
Where, ‘y’ represents a measure of the individual’s capacity for recreation (time + independence)
Where, “V” represents the value of the individual’s vice (let’s accept that there is no built spectrum of damage indicating the values of devilish pleasures such as nicotine, alcohol, narcotics, sugar, and whatever else you find yourself smoking, huffing, popping, licking, let’s all pretend we’ve agreed to understand that all of them are shitty but the amount of your pleasure that you ingest, that is your V)
The key to negating V, then, is to become either busier or happier.
I have come to understand that a positive rise in both mood and activity level (therefore a negation in recreational time) is terrible. It provokes a short term mania, spinning the individual into a flux of that overwhelming feeling we get just before we tank back into depression.
DO NOT get high on increased activity.
Rather, if you choose to increase your activity level so that you are simply “too busy” to drink (for example), make sure you maintain a stable mood, no pleasure, just simply “doing”, “being”, a very active existence without emotive imposition.
I don’t mean that you should become a robot. I merely mean, it is harmful to activate our accomplishments and activities with too much emotion because too much emotion provokes too much emotion which instigates:
A negated x.
Consider: If x remains stable and y negates (i.e. recreational time decrease), then
A negation of vice. Win.
On the other hand, maybe, instead of hiding behind activity, you prefer to decrease your depressive symptoms, a delightful thing to do, theoretically, much less repressive than a decrease in y because as opposed to covering up your emotions with work, you can actually visit your emotional weaknesses and improve them, if that’s your thing, while keeping your activity level basic and stable.
Good luck, friend. Good luck with that strategy. If you can find the formula for achievable happiness, let me know.
I am not sure that love counts. Love is too temporary.
I have felt love once.
There is a lot of supportive love in my life, family and friends who are phenomenal people but I have felt a romantic and resounding love only once in my life, lifting me out of myself and making anything else useless, stupid, a complete waste of time. Other than that feeling, that feeling of “I don’t need to do anything with myself because I have love and that’s everything”, I cannot think of another way to improve my mood past the point of vice.
And, problematically: Love is a vice. Maybe.
Maybe it’s just an emotion but maybe it is a vice.
I don’t know. I am not a love expert because I keep working too much.
In that case, x must always be balanced by a decrease in y.
The answer: Keep busy, chums. Or, smoke.
The point of these mathematics is to demonstrate that our need for vice is negotiable.
The marijuana farmer who insisted that I need a terrible thing in my life to keep me stable, had no knowledge of my capacity for activity or, further, my capacity for healing. (He also had a vested interested in marijuana so, I’m not sure discussing the euphoria involved in not smoking was really worthwhile).
I don’t even have that knowledge of my capacities. I do not know how much I can do for myself.
I do know that, since knowing him, I have decided that I am a writer and I must write all the time. I made that decision: I am a writer. I will write for the purpose of crafting an inclusive world for women to live in and I will not stop writing ever. Goodbye cigarettes. Hello the “occasional drink”. Inner peace and any junk similar to it, greetings.
Except that: When I feel I have nothing to write, I feel like numbing myself. When I fall behind in my writing, I hide in Vice. I steep in pain. I overwhelm myself with distraction and it takes me a while to get back to work. I think, all the while, “At least I have my vice.”
But, what if my vice stops working?
This morning, numbing walk completely painful and therefore a failed vice, I returned home and hugged my dog while watching three hours of television and wondering if I should go buy a bunch of wine, rip off my nicotine patch and go wild.
I walked the dog again. Tried again. I wore two layers of everything this time (three layers on my feet if you include the boots). The walk was shorter and more controlled. We went to the pet store. I got a coffee. We came home.
I made sure to stretch. My hips are cranky and, moving them, I felt an immense release. The release did not provoke happiness. I am not any happier than the woman who was on the couch this morning but: I saw my pain. I can’t move it completely. I cannot accomplish the kind of organic happiness that just sort of fills my body and makes me feel like I am in love with everything, I have had that before, I believe it exists purposefully for us when we need it but it won’t happen today.
The sun is so beautiful, my desk faces such a stunning amount of light, I have sat down. I am working.
I recently saw a Hannah Moscovitch piece within which her character speaks “If I am awake, I am working”. It helps her nerves. A “workaholic” she called herself, as if it were vice but it cannot be vice.
Working cannot be vice, not for an artist, because it is not a numbing agent.
I feel sick when I work, I feel like a beehive, working and buzzing with the kind of order only I understand and when I stop, I do feel like I should go back, like I should finish, like I should create a completion, like I didn’t do enough.
I do not feel drunk.
I do not feel repressively satisfied.
I do not feel like I ignored all my loved ones and embarrassed myself past the point of recourse.
I just feel purposeful. And, like I should go back and renew my purpose.
I still really want to smoke and I do not know how to fix that.
I was fine for a couple months and somehow the urge came back to me, hard, and I do not know how to fix it.
I do know that I have been putting off projects for a couple weeks.
So, a return is in order.
Last night, I paced through my apartment reading Austrian literature until night became Night and I had to go to sleep.
Maybe that’s the ticket for me: A bodily devotion to storytelling.
I am better than the woman on the couch. I think. I am a woman at her computer.