Zen of Recording

Resolute in One’s Resolve Regarding Resolutions for 2020 and Beyond

Steering left through the increasingly frigid winds of Arizona to head north toward Utah’s southern border, I am confronted by the undeniable majesty of the afternoon’s dramatic skies stretching out endlessly before me. Purples, oranges, blues and grays cascade and tumble into frothy white bursts of cumulus nimbi, giving the visual impression that the sky it is an ocean unto itself; its waves churning and threatening to crash down upon the earth with all of their blizzardly menace and might. It is a panorama impossibly suspended within an open canvas of pastel cyan, extending upward and outwards far beyond all human periphery.

I travel onward.

I think about that empty canvas—how it’s like a brand-new calendar, untouched and virgin, filled at the outset with only plans and possibilities yet to be manifested. By the year’s end, it will be packed with memories and memorandums. Missions accomplished and dreams deferred. The done, the undone, and the yet to be done are all comingled in a chorus of countdowns and confetti.

Resolutions are made. We’ll lose some weight or travel more. Fight less when we disagree. Just live or be better. Sometimes we succeed… often, we don’t.

At least I don’t have to resolve to quit smoking. I mean, I almost did.
I went through a period recently where I had a bunch of things that were really troubling me and I discovered that smoking a cigarette every now and again helped to relax me and relieve some of the stress and anxiety that I was experiencing. But it also was creating angst and concern within me at the same time. Cigarettes killed my dad and my brother and the experience of losing them had kept me smoke free for last 16 years. In the last couple of years I had allowed myself the rare indiscretion though. One on the patio at a party… a couple in the kitchen with the boys. That kind of thing. This was how I noticed the “beneficial” takeaways and decided I would try to implement an experimental approach of therapeutic smoking.

I went to my girlfriend, Patricia, and told her of my plan. She listened patiently and then quietly told me she thought that was a really bad idea. I agreed and dropped the proposal, but a couple of weeks later, I borrowed three cigarettes from my buddy and nursed them for over a week. A puff here. Another there. Maybe a whole cigarette, if I wanted to reward myself for some small accomplishment like sweeping out the garage or something. After a couple of weeks, I had graduated from bumming them off my friends to purchasing my very own pack, although I still tried to ration them out over a two week period. Predictably, my tobacco consumption increased, but not for the exact reasons spelled out on the packaging by the Surgeon General: chiefly, that nicotine is highly addictive and the manufacturers make sure you’re getting plenty of it, to insure that their customers keep coming back for more.

No.

I kept smoking because I freaking love cigarettes. The smell of someone smoking one. The confident assuredness with which one undertakes the act of doing so. The smoothness of the paper. The firmness of the filter. That instant, gratuitous satisfaction you glean from the very first drag and the bittersweet feeling that accompanies the last. All of it.

Not just any cigarettes, either. You’ve got to have your brand. Your size. Your packaging. There’s something so self-affirming about going up to the counter and saying “I’d like a pack of Marlboro Light 100s. In the box, please.”

Stepping outside the store and peeling off that red cellophane strip around the top, the next ritual begins: The “Pack.” You grip the pack of smokes upside down in one hand, with your thumb and middle finger on either side and your index finger running along the bottom of the pack. Then you bend the wrist of your other hand back, holding the heel up. Then you sharply smack that pack against the heel about 8-20 times, until the tobacco is packed so tightly toward the filter that there’s a good ¼” of empty space at the tip of the cigarette, making them easier to light outdoors and insuring a longer, more even burn.

Movies can show you a lot of the other attractive facets of smoking: How you strike and share a match in the wind. What kinds of lighters to use and how. Conversational gestures properly facilitated by a hand that can correctly, coolly hold a cigarette. When and how to extinguish one within myriad given circumstances, i.e., flicking, stubbing, crushing, curb dropping, boot heel twisting, cherry removal for later consumption, et al.

One thing films can’t do (thankfully) is adequately replicate that impossible to remove stink on your fingers and in your clothes. Or the yellow nicotine stains on your teeth and skin. That cough when you wake up or the sore throat when you go to sleep. That feeling that not only are you not taking good care of yourself, but are actually doing something destructive!

I tried to hide it, make it my own private thing that I was doing for my own reasons, but the knowledge that I wasn’t really fooling anybody, including myself, just compounded the shame of it.

I conducted this experiment for five or six weeks, which was a couple of weeks longer than I wanted to. I just didn’t want to let go of the enjoyment and that ease of tension. Once I quit, I didn’t have a craving or a longing for them. I just…stopped.

There are lots of habits we hold onto as part of our songwriting or recordings and performances. When we see them as things that hold us back from the potential we long to fulfill, we grow and move that much closer toward accomplishing our own goals.

Happy New Year!

Sven-Erik Seaholm is a recording and performing artist, songwriter, and producer. Contact: kaspro7@gmail.com

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