Victory Smoke

I smoked cigarettes for a while. I disliked their taste at first, but I got over that when I replaced my awareness of the smoke-taste with the relief and escape each drag provided. Even after I officially quit, I allowed myself one cigarette at the end of every shift I worked as a waiter. A coworker called it the Victory Smoke. One day, I was driving into work and trying to find one good thing about the coming shift. I didn’t think of the friends I worked with, or the jokes I would tell and be told, or even the money I would make—all I thought about was that Victory Smoke. “That’s no good,” I thought. That one cigarette had all my attention. If I didn’t give it up, how would I see what else was available to me? For a time I missed that Victory Smoke, but before too long I forgot why I had so looked forward to it. When I accepted one from a friend a year later it tasted exactly as bad as the first cigarette I’d ever tried.

Meanwhile, my attention had wandered elsewhere. I had only started smoking, after all, because I’d been looking for an easy way to feel good. I looked and found cigarettes as well as a few other things and more or less stopped looking. Now I was looking again, and by and by I started writing in a way I had not written in many years. I had completely forgotten how I could focus on something that felt good and then find a way to put that feeling onto the page, instead of putting something skillfully and without much feeling onto the page and then hoping that other people would like and then I would feel good.

That was how I mostly wrote while I smoked, and the praise I hoped to receive pleased me as long as one draw on a cigarette pleased me. Unlike the cigarettes, the pleasure of writing from the inside out was exactly as delicious as the last time I’d tried it. Though I’d forgotten it, that feeling hadn’t moved, or abandoned me, or dimmed – it remained perfectly and patiently in one place, burning bright the moment I lit it with my attention.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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