Facebook reminded me yesterday that it's been twelve years since I quit smoking. I posted about it with a note that if my quitting smoking were a child it would be headed toward middle school now.
Quitting smoking is a proud accomplishment for me and one I hadn't thought I could do.
Once I started smoking, quitting felt impossible. Addiction runs on both sides of my family and that tendency is one which is difficult to overcome.
Knowing that addiction runs in my family makes one wonder why I'd ever start an addictive activity in the first place. It's something I've thought a lot about in the years since I quit smoking.
It would be easy to say a lot of banal reasons led to my smoking:
peers who smoked
an eating disorder that made the "not wanting to eat" side effect of smoking desirable
heartbreak over a really bad breakup that left me devastated and needing a distraction
looking cool ala every It Girl in a 90's movie/tv show/music video.
The root of the desire to smoke started earlier than any of those reasons. It started with my goal of becoming a writer in the first place.
On the infrequent occasion that I caught an interview with a famous author growing up they had many things in common.
First of all, they were almost always male authors. Nothing I could do about that- I've always known I'm a woman inside and out.
Successful authors wore glasses, favored conservative sweaters or plaid shirts, talked with their hands, and seemed shy while speaking with the interviewer.
On most of those aspects I fit right in:
We moved frequently when I was a child- usually a new school each year, sometimes twice a year. I was shy to the point that I had no friends because by the time I was comfortable enough to speak with my peers we were on the move again.
Even before puberty I prefered modest sweaters and shirts.
If I didn't talk while moving my hands then I couldn't speak at all.
Another thing these authors had in common? Most, if not all, of them smoked.
(They also drank like fish and used hard drugs, but somehow I never pictured those activities as something which made them successful.)
Growing up it was normal to see people smoking in restaurants, stores, cars, movies, and tv shows- including the news.
Authors sat across from interviewers puffed on cigarette after cigarette. They left smoky trails floating through air with every hand gesture.
So when I pictured being a writer, smoking was one of the attributes I associated with a successful author.
Times have changed and my view of what a writer looked like expanded.
My writer friends & acquaintances are split evenly between male and female; those who wear sweaters, t-shirts, or fancy dresses; some have tattoos and piercings and some would never want those. Some celebrate big achievements with whiskey/champagne/their favorite craft beer; some celebrate with food and don't imbibe alcohol.
The one thing they all have in common? Save for the very occasional cigar, none of them smoke.
I'm glad times have changed and that my view of writers as a whole changed along with it. It is emotionally and physically damaging to picture writers as the cliche I imagined growing up. If I didn't fit into all those boxes then could I ever call myself a writer?
I struggle with calling myself a writer and likely always will.
Writing is a career rife with imposter syndrome- even authors I consider wildly successful have confessed to wondering if they're good enough or only hacks.
But at least now when I think of being a writer, I don't imagine myself having to be any one way.
Whether I favor dresses or t-shirts, talk with my hands or don't, wear glasses or contacts, have tattoos, or celebrate big achievements by adding to my already overflowing library doesn't make a difference in whether I can call myself a writer.
And in none of those versions of myself am I holding a cigarette.