Smoking Jacket

I don’t smoke.

Actually, that’s putting it too mildly. Not only do I not smoke, but if I were around anyone who was smoking, I’d have a really hard time sticking around. I’m pretty allergic to the stuff.

Needless to say, my home does not smell like smoke. At least, it shouldn’t.

Every night, after the cares of the world have been abated once more by yours truly (note: author’s actions may or may not actually be helpful) I arrive at home and begin working on things. It doesn’t matter what kind of things that I work on, only that I must be present in my home for this part of our story. As my college writing teacher used to say: “Our hero begins by doing something.” This was one of my favorite classes in college, and not just because of the great writing advice I learned; it was a time when I could sit down and make sense of the world. Things just worked when I was in those classes, because we had to hammer out words even when we didn’t want to, when we didn’t know what to say. We had to write, because we were paying for the class. We had to write, because our teacher would ask us to.

I felt like I had to write because I had no other option. Everything works better when I’m writing.

I’ve started, but not finished, a lot of articles about writing. There have been times when I mused over quirky approaches, marveled at humble sayings, or just plan wanted to scream because someone was cranking out words faster than I was. These were all good reasons to start something, but not good reasons to finish anything. It wasn’t the same as being back in my college writing classes, when you had to crank out words. It was more like being stuck in a room with way too many people all yelling for your attention. My hands would – and still do – fly to my ears to try and block out the noise. This meant that they were not on the keyboard, however, so very little writing ever got done. Which also meant that crowd in my room got louder and louder every day.

I live alone. I don’t smoke. Just the same: I can’t hear, smell, or see anything in this part of the film. The negatives have been seared, snipped, spoiled.

Every night, when I get home, I put on my jacket. This may seem strange to you, but I have a very chilly apartment right now, so I need to wear it. Try not to be distracted by the odd costume change for our main character in this scene.

My apartment has been chilly as of late thanks to two factors:
1) My neighbors smoke.
2) It has been chilly at night.

The apartment building that I moved into this month has central heating and air. I have a nice little closet with a nice little unit, which promises to heat and cool my atmosphere for a small fee. I pay this small fee every month, but only if I use the nice little unit. So far this month, I have not used it much at all. Therefore, it has been chilly in my apartment.

Why haven’t I used this little unit? Because my neighbors smoke. I don’t smoke.

Every night, as I don my jacket, I pick up a slight scent of smoke in the sleeves. I can’t stand that smell, which usually means that I grab my trusty Febreze bottle and try to keep smiling even though I smell terrible. I generally have a brief spout of depression, ranging somewhere between Hamlet and Eeyore, which passes in moments. This happens almost every night, whenever I wear the jacket.

Because, you see, I don’t smoke. My jacket just smells that way. Really.

I recently told one of my friends that I have a near-irrational intolerance of smoke smells. Not the fun cook-out-on-the-grill-with-family kind of smoke smells, but the kind that is reserved for cigarette fumes passed through central air ventilation systems in recently populated apartment buildings. You can smoke if you like, but I don’t want to own a smoking jacket.

One of the completely irrational things that I think about, every night, as I don my smoking jacket, is what would happen if my family or friends were to be around when I wore those clothes. I work really hard to make sure that smell isn’t an issue when anyone else is around; the very idea that I have a smoking jacket really bothers me.

I don’t smoke.

Perhaps this seems odd to you, dear reader, who is neither forced to smell my smoking jacket nor deal with the emotions that crash down on me every time I wear it. That’s fine, really. But for the last week and change (since I moved in to the nice new apartment building) I have only dared use the nice shiny unit in my nice little closet two times – one of those times was the night I woke up to 56 degrees and very few blankets. Not good. Still smoke-ridden.

I’m working on the problem, but I still have to wear that smoking jacket every night, right after coming home from saving the world (note: author is definitely not telling the truth this time).

Every night, I think about that smell. I sit and work, stand and clean, pace and think, wondering the whole time if this bothers anyone as much as it bothers me. Then I stop moving my hands for a few moments, just long enough to hear the chaos of the crowd in my room, and get back to work. As long as my hands are moving, I don’t have to listen to them tell me how awful it smells, how disappointed everyone must be that I haven’t figured out how to fix this problem yet. That’s what our hero does: fix problems for people. Yet, every night, he goes home and puts on his smoking jacket, which is pretty much driving him crazy. He’s a patient guy, even if a bit irrational at times.

When I was in college, my writing teacher taught me about making the people in the room calm down so we could do some work. These voices could be the opinions of others, or perhaps fear of success or failure, but it’s more likely that those voices are just little wisps of smoke in my jacket. I sit there, pondering how to save the world tomorrow (note: this is getting out of hand) and all I hear, see, and smell are those tiny bits of someone else’s ashes that drifted into my apartment. These voices managed to work their way up the pipes, float right past my shiny little heating and cooling unit, then fix themselves firmly onto my smoking jacket.

It didn’t used to be a smoking jacket. I don’t smoke.

One of the best things I ever learned about writing was not to quiet the voices, but to learn how to truly hear what was being said. The idea that we have to ignore the sources of noise or confusion is completely unhelpful. Sometimes there is a room full of people because they all have things to say, because there are real issues that need to be addressed, because the main character in this flick hasn’t been listening. If all he does is cover his ears and try not to breathe, how long is that going to last?

I don’t smoke, but right now I do have a smoking jacket. With a little time and effort, I think that can be fixed. It’ll take a lot of cleaning; working to fight the infection at the source, instead of refusing to acknowledge the nice little closet this new apartment has. It’ll take some growing and learning to take my hands away from my ears (when I can really smell my smoke-ridden sleeves) and putting them back where they belong; in front of me, doing the work. I don’t guess that it’ll be easy – like admitting a room full of voices – but I’d really like to not wear this smoking jacket any longer.