Where I’m Calling From*

Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

I know, I know. I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been sick and having family problems, the combination of which has zapped my energy.

Also, there’s just not a lot to analyze politically these days. Politics seems to have devolved even further, and less and less information gets through. The blogosphere has changed journalism for the worse, its amateurisms and reactionary thought processes infecting the fourth estate at nearly every level. It was bad enough when journalists were buddy-buddy with politicians, but hid it. Now they’re out in the open with it, writing naked defenses of what should be indefensible, picking fights with readers on Twitter, and the content is all he-said-he-said-Palin-said bullcrap. I’m so frustrated by that!

I’m also frustrated by indicators that things are getting worse for us Main Streeters. The market recovered. Gas Prices are going up. Commodities (the shit we need, as opposed to want) are going up. In other words, business is booming once again, but no jobs are being offered. Who needs us when you’ve got China, Malaysia, etc.? There’s so much more, but I just don’t want to think about it.

The point is, I feel powerless. I am powerless. And that, too, zaps the energy.

Raymond Carver wrote about this, the working class condition, the view from the outside, with such tenderness and beauty. In his short stories he captures the futility, the shamelessness and blamelessness of a life with fewer options, marked as it so often is with poor choices. He understood that redemption could be found even here. Sadly he lost his life due to lung cancer at just 50 years old. Carver was a life-long smoker.

That’s where I’m calling from today. Facing down 40 in six weeks, feeling pretty hopeless about the world, and quite frankly feeling the urgency to reform my own poor choices. Like Carver, I often turn to writing to ease my aching heart. Here’s a poem I wrote, inspired by Carver and my own poor choices.

Christmas Tree Ashtray

Once in a while I clean our Christmas tree-shaped ashtray.
We use it year-round, and its glossy whiteness, speckled with
70s-style green and orange craft paint is usually hidden
by the densely packed ash of our countless cigarettes.

It was a gift from a friend, upon the death of his grandfather,
one of dozens stacked in the basement of the dead man’s house
and since forgotten. That friend himself has long now given up smoking,
and as I clean, I ponder quitting. My friend tells me how much better he feels,
how much more he can do, now that he’s kicked his habit. I want that feeling.

I am going to be 40 next year.
I have smoked for twenty-seven years. Do the math; I have.
I will not be a 40 year old smoker.
I cannot be a 40 year old smoker.

I’m too smart to be a 40 year old smoker.
I know the risks, every single one. How could I not?
I read voraciously, even the warnings on packages,
And my daughter has inundated me with the statistics for years.
I guess if I am to do this right, and to give them up for good
I must confess that I have not been careful with her health,
that I have selfishly clouded her childhood memories
with my smoke. And I will not make excuses for that.
It is inexcusable.

My lungs are, no doubt, blacker than black dirt by now,
and I worry constantly that cancer is setting up rows
in that fertile soil. I have a permanent cough, too,
the first vestiges of what will develop into full blown COPD
if I keep smoking. Already a squirt of piss escapes my bladder
every once in a while, and no doubt the shits will follow
if I keep smoking. I must face this.

I know all this, and yet
still the ashtray sits this December 23,
a knick knack that’s finally found its season,
clean and white and speckled,
with a freshly lit cigarette, wafting up smoke.

But I will not be a 40 year old smoker.
You watch.
The New Year is just a breath away.


*Where I’m Calling From is the name of a short story by Raymond Carver, and the name of the collection of stories in which it appears.


4 comments on “Where I’m Calling From*

  1. Cynthia Ruccia says:

    Hey AnnaBelle—–I was an almost three pack a day Marlboro smoker for 10 years. Loved every single one of those darned smokes. But I quit using a system put together by Smokenders. I was even living in Louisville when I quit. It was an interesting system where you spent a week cataloguing every cigarette you smoked, and learned how to quit smoking one cigarette at a time. There were a bunch of different catagories as to why you smoked each cigarette, and they had figured out from easiest to hardest what each category was. You worked on the easy categories first and did preparation for the hardest. By the time you were done, about 8 weeks later, you were armed with all kinds of techniques so the fix would work. I spent $500 which back then was a fortune for me. I knew if I paid money—-big money for me—-I would stick it out.

  2. Anna Belle says:

    Cynthia, thanks for sharing your story. I have also made a heavy investment to help. Tomorrow I start the electronic cigarette, which helped my brother quit. I think this will work. Hope so!

  3. Anna Belle says:

    PS: I broke the Christmas Tree shaped ashtray this weekend (an accident, perhaps a divine intervention.) We’d had it for about a decade.

  4. Carney Floyd says:

    I will not be a 40 year old smoker.
    I cannot be a 40 year old smoker.
    Good quote.
    keep it up !!!!!

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