The black hole between okay and fantastic


I quit smoking about 20 years ago.

(Go ahead, applaud. I’ll wait.)

Thing is, while my 2-pack-a-day habit wasn’t doing me any favors, neither was it impeding my life in any major way. You X- and Y-ers might not know this, but back in ’87, you could still smoke most places, like…indoors. In your hospital room!

Plus lots of other people smoked, too, so you had your pick of people to date and hang out with and drink with who were also smokers. And, save the bronchitis I’d had a couple of bouts of in years past, smoking hadn’t really affected my health yet. I looked fine, was in reasonably good shape, and since a pack still cost under twenty bucks, smoking barely made a dent in my hefty, ad-hole salary.

Still, I’d come of age after the surgeon general’s thumbs-down, so I knew I’d have to quit at some point. I was switching jobs and figured it was as good a time as any: start at the new place with new habits. So I quit right before I started.

And then I farted for a month.

No, that’s imprecise, I sat in a methane miasma of my own making for a month. Or longer. In a cubicle, that’s a “room” with no ceiling, people, surrounded by brand-new co-workers who had no idea I did not always smell like a dead rat the horse shat out. I sat, head pounding from withdrawal, chasing my farts with matches as I wrote jingles and taglines and blurbs, grinding my teeth, chain-sucking Halls Menth-O-Lyptus tablets.

And that was while I was at work.

Every minute of every day for the first three weeks was a living hell. I had a mantra, one that worked so well, I wound up using it again several times during bad breakups:

If I can make it a minute, I can make it an hour
If I can make in an hour, I can make it a day
If I can make it a day, I can make it a week
If I can make it a week, I can make it a month
If I can make it month, I can make it forever

The basic point is, my life went from being…well, if not perfect, then pretty good, to a whole lot better. In between, however, was another story. In between, there was the Big Nasty. A great big stinky sodden mess of upheaval that there was no way past but straight through. And I get why we give up there: really, I do.

I reorganized my apartment around the end of last year. And because I am on the non-robust side, any serious reorganizing requires me to empty all critical bits of furniture of all their contents. And because my apartment is also on the robust side, this means that for a time, everything ends up in a gigundous heap in the middle of the apartment. Only it’s not the middle: it’s the whole freaking place, one big shitheap of all my crappy, earthly possessions, lying inert in a mass like we just had a 7.2 on the Richter scale.

Also, I timed this really, really perfectly back in December, which is to say, right when it gets dark. So it’s dark, and it’s cold, and it’s the end of the year, and I’m lying in the middle of a shitheap. And this grand vision I had for the total reorganization and streamlining of my life is not only not working out, but the mess and the darkness have conspired to show me that I am, in fact, an idjit, that my furniture will only fit into ONE configuration, that change IS impossible and I am both an ass AND a boob for daring to think otherwise.

So I sat in the midst of the rubble and I cried a little. And then I started hauling around furniture anyway. And wouldn’t you know that by gum, those old sticks would go together differently and I did get everything put away and when I was done, it was not only not just okay, it was fantastic. Fantastic!!!

Why bring this up now? Because I’m in a hole. It is maybe not so black and deep as Fartville or The Night My Furniture Almost Ate Me. But it is dark and it is vast. It is the great, not-so-great unknown I must cross to get from “okay” to “fantastic.” Okay was okay, too, really it was. I’ve had a good life. But life can be fantastic, and I don’t mean from a swimmin’-pools, movie-stars perspective. I mean the full living of your actual life: being there, doing that thing you do 100%, whether or not it earns you a thin dime. Fulfilling your purpose. You can do a lot of it from the land of okay, but eventually, you gotta go. And that is a scary gulf.

So if you cross…when you cross…stay aware. Reach out for a Halls or a hand or a good, sturdy, safety match, as appropriate. Know it won’t be the miasma forever. Know that even if you can’t see them, there are millions of people crossing their own impassible swamps.

Know that it’s okay to cling to the shore for awhile, but also know that once you strike out, there’s no going back.

You’ll be okay. You’ll be more than okay. You’ll be different.

You’ll be fantastic.



UPDATE: There’s a pingback below, but for those of you who don’t click on comments (and hence, might miss it), Amateur Manifesto has a wonderful post up about her own, current experience with the Black Hole. Strongly recommended.

Image by cheekybikerboy via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. So great!
    Needed this today.
    Have stopped smoking after 44 years — thought there was something VERY wrong with me. How nice of you to share bodily functions, who knew?
    Love it, love it, love it. Still laughing. Okay, I’m back up off the floor.

  2. Carol – Congratulations!!!!! Hang in there, baby. The first part is horrible, but it really does only last a few weeks.

    It is funny how no one mentions it, isn’t it? The egregious flatulence, I mean. But it’s true. You also get stupid constipated for awhile—at least, I did. Nicotine really does a number on your digestive tract.

    Jean – Thanks! I hope so. It just occurred to me suddenly (I really don’t know why) that we’re such a go-go country, but there’s no help for the trudgery (that’s “trudging through drudgery”). God bless Al Gore for taking the internets wide.

  3. Thank you so much for this. I read your blog because I enjoy your sense of humor, but this made me want to cry! I’m in the hole right now – bad review at work, not writing, and starting therapy. Six months from now I’ll be so happy I charged ahead and made changes, but right now it’s horrid. Growing isn’t fun. Change isn’t a high. It’s hard. It’s a help to hear someone knows how that feels!

  4. Sjh – You are so welcome! And you’re right–in six months, you will look back on all this and…well, not be crying, we hope.

    In the meantime, go read some of the funny ones. In fact, I’m going to add that as a tag: the funny ones. So they’re easier to find on these kinds of occasions.

    Today Wendy – You’re welcome! I’m glad I could be of service. Here’s hoping for a bit of grace during the bumpy parts.

  5. Perhaps next time, measure your furniture and room first. Draw the room out to scale on graph paper and cut out scale representations of furniture. Don’t forget to indicate where doors and windows are. Much easier to move slips of paper around than actual sofas and such.

  6. I quit about a year ago, but once or twice I’ve given in to the little styro cups of single smokes by the cash register in convienience stores. Those things are evil.

  7. claire – Hahaha! You mean that “planning” stuff I heard tell about? Yeah. Graph paper. That’s a good one…

    Mahala – Sign o’ the times. Ciggies are expensive enough to sell individually now. When they were 50 cents/pack, the shopkeepers wouldn’t have bothered. Although I have some dim recollection of them being sold individually during the Great Depression.

    Not from personal experience, of course. Friend of a friend kinda thing.

  8. I am NOT going to quit smoking until I am either pregnant or my lips fall off.
    Seeing as “TEH Weiner” isn’t knocking down my door right now to get “TEH SEX”, I don’t have to worry about getting knocked up. As far as my lips falling off, I don’t think I have to worry about that happening anytime soon either.

  9. Great post Ms. C!

    Kudos to you and everyone else here who has either quit or is at least trying. I remember being able to go into the grocery store and by my grandma her cigs MANY MANY years ago, how cheap back then. Now you have to chose between gas (not making fun of you Colleen!!) for the car or your daily dose of cigs.

    You keep us laughing and thinking C, hope your life continues to get a whole lot better!!

  10. steffy – You tell ’em, girl!

    Angie – Thanks! Gotta keep laughin’ or I might commence to cryin’, right?

  11. You’re awesome. Okay, I know, I know, I say that all the time… but hey, I calls it as I sees it.

    Love the post, love the one you link to in the ‘update’… funny how we go through things like this at the same time, and even write about it (I did, recently – both.).

    Love ya – keep that glorious chin up!

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