Russ Sharek, unfiltered

There is no such thing as will-power as understood and used by many people. Therefore, to expect someone to change a habit or belief by the force of will-power is unrealistic. The reality is everything we do is an act of will. Such as, a person who is a habitual smoker, who tries to stop using his will-power and can't. The reason is his will to smoke is stronger than his will not to smoke."

Sidney Madwed

Let's see, who the hell am I? According to the official bio:

Goatee sporting, clove smoking, scotch drinking, emphatically ranting and somewhat unnerving, Russ Sharek seems more character than creator at times. Behind the almost vertigo-inducing exterior lies a dedicated craftsman with such an overwhelming passion for life and art that oftentimes the dividing line between the two becomes blurred in his presence.

Sounds about right, except I quit smoking a while back.

No, really.

Why did I stop making links in my ever-extending chain forged from the better part of a pack of SampĆ¼erna Xtras daily? To be honest I have no idea. Considering I've been accused of being both a Goth and a card-carrying member of the Swing-Era devotee's association of America, it's almost a membership requirement that I wear dark colors and carry a chromed Zippo at all times. Were it not for my better black suit being able to perform double-duty in these circles my dry cleaning bills would be simply astronomical.

My outstanding cult memberships and their respective uniforms aside, I did made the deal with myself a long time ago, as many deeply-in-denial smokers do, that I would only keep puffing away with the proviso that I still enjoyed the experience. One day, more than a few months ago for the disbelievers, I tossed an unfinished cigarette out the window (Yes, I have a witness) claiming that for some unspecified reason it didn't taste right. As the cotton-filtered tube of formerly-clovey goodness ricocheted into a nearby sewer drain, I decided to make a go of keeping my original promise. In a fit of life-altering non-hypocrisy, I gave up my favorite bad habit cold turkey.

Or, more accurately, I Chilled Puffin.

Mind you, recent ex-smokers in the know don't kid themselves. The accepted phrase for my current situation is usually referred to as, "Being out of cigarettes and haven't made it to the store yet." The plan, in its idealistic form, is to have it be a long damned time before I swing by the local tobacconist again. My insistence on the specifically non-committal verbiage I use to describe my new-found lung capacity is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to cover my ass in the event that I chicken out on the experience and run screaming back to the safe harbors of the imported equivalent of Marlboro country.

Now then, allow me to ramble on a bit about Mr. Sharek the currently non-smoker. Other than being in possession of a collection of assorted writing implements that appear to be the sole survivors of an attack by a school of particularly feisty mutant land-dwelling piranha, having no clue what should be done with his non-dominant (and now otherwise unoccupied) appendage whilst consuming alcoholic libations and generally longing for those now-lost opportunities to make a dramatic entrance from within a Lamont Cranston/Count Dracula/Sam Spade/Darkwing Duck inspired cloud of mysterious smoke, he is not far removed from the manic artisan you've come to know and hide your impressionable youngsters from.

Oddly enough, it's the stylistic touches like those I just mentioned that I've found myself craving far more than the nicotine. I really don't miss the smoke-in-the-lungs sensation, in point of fact the idea makes me a queasier than hearing the sentence, "Contemplate this: First Lady Tipper Gore." On the other hand, the fact that I now find myself a lover of a variety of smoke-filled genres who can't generate his own personal cloud often makes me feel almost thematically handicapped.

You see, I figured out my problem. I eased into this sans-tobacco gig sort of accidentally. The pod-person-esque conversion of personality that turns an otherwise happy smoker into one of the far too common haters of all the habit's trappings must have passed me over because I showed up in the nonsmoking section of the restaurant with so little fanfare. Because of this lack of quitter's remorse, I'm not equipped with the generic resentment necessary to have intractable disdain of anyone or anything relating to the subculture. As such, I kinda miss everything about that smoky Casablanca feel, except of course waking up each morning smelling like Humphrey Bogart.

If I had turned into one of these near-zealotous "Church of Don't Smoke that Crap" type of guys, I wouldn't miss all the allegedly cool parts of being a smoker. You know the type of bozo I'm talking about, the five pack a day-er who's doctor, mother-in-law and spouse conspire to force him into shirking the habit at gunpoint. Between the doctor threatening his life, the spouse withholding and the mother-in-law offering to come visit, it's no wonder that 6 months later he's a new and far more righteous man. The internal logic that I'm missing out on, that this guy has had beaten into him is obvious: his life is ruined, and if he can't enjoy his blessed habit then by all that oughta be good and holy no one else on this floating ashtray called Earth is going to partake of the Devil's smoke either. While there are countless untortured animals that are relieved that I chose to forgo this route, had I become the typical non-smoker archetype I could have avoided a great deal of longing for all things related to "having the Camel on your back."

The upshot is I managed to quit smoking without playing a rousing game of "kickpet" with my in-studio feline companion. While this method of quitting the habit may have secured my spot on PETA's Christmas card list, it certainly was bizarre. One minute I'm a happy chainsmoker, and the next I'm a fairly well adjusted non-smoker who misses old habits. The nonsmokers I've shared the experience with have all said the same thing, "congratulations." I get confused by that response because I literally didn't do anything. When people inquire as to the details of how I kicked such a solidly ingrained habit, I tell them I used a combination of the latest advances in agnostic nonempathetic antimatter therapy (I don't know, don't care and it really doesn't matter) and Bic's hostility techniques (I chew on pens) and that seems to impress them. Dedicated smokers don't usually ask about it, they are just thankful that I don't mind sitting in their section of the restaurant.


As many predicted, there has been a return of the smoky haze that traditionally accompanies my dramatic entrances.

A few years after I wrote this piece, I slammed into one of those nasty periods of life where you spend far too much time contemplating homicide, murder and other children's games.

The notion of such pastimes can be truly comforting thoughts in those moments, but I've lived long enough to know two salient facts about myself: I have a distaste for anyone setting my schedule and fluorescent orange makes me look chubby.

With imprisonment being an unviable option that would only increase the odds of me smoking anyway, I took the path least likely to make me someone's battered wife and picked up my old habit again.

At the time, the comforting shores of Marlboro country also had the advantage of occupying my hands. This was a good thing, as it meant I had the time it took to snuff my butt to decide if I really wanted to throttle anyone.

After the darker days passed, I kept the habit out of pure selfish enjoyment. It's really my last vice, and I think everyone should have at least one to keep their virtues from getting cocky.

further epilogue

A few months before the most recent incarnation of The Morpheus Company online portfolio went live, I quit smoking again. Same way as before, cold err...chilled um...well, I just stopped.

I still believe my virtues will get cocky if I don't find a vice to balance them with, so there's no telling what I may end up posting here next.

Further epilogues to be added as needed.

06 / 05 / 2009