I had reason to say this today: I wish I smoked.
I mean, I don’t really wish I smoked. I cannot bear the smell of cigarette smoke, and I have no interest in a permanent hacking cough, heart disease, or lung or mouth cancer. I just wish I had a vice like smoking that was socially acceptable.
For example, often I will participate in mediations, either representing clients or as the mediator. At times, these mediations can get long and hairy. By hour seven everyone’s nerves are frayed. Often, a party who is a smoker will say something like, “I just need to step outside and have a cigarette.” They do, no one tells them they can’t, and they come back looking visibly more relaxed, if perhaps a bit stinkier.
I’m jealous of them. I wish I had a reason to step out of a stressful situation for ten minutes and do whatever it was that calmed me down.
None of us in my office smoke. We do, however, keep packs of bubblegum cigarettes at the office. Whenever one of us is obviously having a difficult time on the phone, one of us will walk over and offer the frustrated individual a cigarette. She will pop it in her mouth and blow the powdered sugar out of the tip in an exaggerated way. It’s a joke. It makes us laugh, it breaks the tension, it lets the other know we sympathize with her plight, but it isn’t quite the same as the actual vice.
I’ve given a startling amount of thought to this. I’m not much of a brain-altering substance person. I don’t want chemical release in any form, prescription drugs, or even alcohol in these situations. I like to be in control of my faculties in stressful situation, or at least as much control as my addled brain will let me have. I need my wits about me. I’m not giving that up to a bottle: prescription, over the counter, or long-necked.
I think what appeals to me about smoking is this: first, you get to physically remove yourself from the situation. No matter how far you are from the exit, you get to go outside and get some fresh air, and people will just wait for you. (Of course, smoking in ‘fresh air’ de-freshifies it as soon as the match is struck, but that’s another rant for another day.) You get to experience a sensual pleasure that involves the regulation of your breathing.
I’m pretty sure that if I could step outside, grab on to a doorframe and stretch my spine (my favorite stretch, which I am tall enough to do in most – but not all – doorframes) and practice my deep breathing in silence I could get the same effect. Un-conditioned air, processed clean by trees and greenery, and not having been recycled through everyone else’s lungs, especially when paired with sunshine or pretty stars, has the tendency to sweep the cobwebs out of my brain.
But how do I do that? How do I just stop what I’m doing and tell other people to just hold up and wait for me by saying, “I need some fresh air” and then going to hang on a doorframe or bend over in a boring blue suit and touch my toes and take deep lungfuls of air without looking or sounding like a complete idiot? Especially when odds are good that there isn’t actually any fresh air because standing right next to me will be someone with a cigarette.
I propose this: during the course of any day, we all get two time outs. Time outs are not to last more than 15 minutes each. We can use our time out cards whenever we want, and people, even people who outrank us, have to respect them. Just like in basketball, when the coach or a player calls time out the clock stops short, in real life, the clock just stops. If you won’t honor someone else’s time out, it is a technical foul, and you have to give up two of your own time outs. During time out, no one can question what we are doing (so long as it is legal) or make fun of us (to our faces) for whatever stupid ritual calms us down as individuals.
Go ahead. Suck your thumb. Cuddle your teddy bear. Sing “I Will Survive” at the top of your lungs. Drink your chocolate milk. Eat a Cadbury Egg. I don’t care. Just come back with your head clear, and we can get things done.
Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Told You…” is set to be released in the Fall of 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.