Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Have a Cigar

I was at a wedding party Saturday night when the sweet aroma of cigar smoke wafted to my table. It was a lovely bouquet, a wonderful call to smoke. (I know, others find cigar smoke a skanky, nasty odor that could make a Siberian Husky lose his Alpo.) Having a full meal and, being that it was a celebratory event, I thought that a stogie was in order.

Bloodhound that I am, I followed the smell and procured a fine cigar from the party's host. I sat down and puffed away. I hadn't been drinking, but since I am not a smoker, this cigar produced a fine and satisfying buzz, however light, and I felt rather good with the world once the final embers were extinguished.

The next morning, at about 7 a.m., I awoke with a rather vicious headache. Worse, it felt like someone was mixing industrial chemicals in the stomach. I popped a couple of aspirin, went back to bed, awoke again with a headache, stomach ache, and a general malaise that even the thought of sex could not alleviate.

Instead, I lay prostrate on the couch all day, watching Posh Spice cheer on David Beckham, watching Beckham Bend it Like Beckham, then the epic Portugal-Netherlands battle, in which the referee handed out more cards than a manic salesman at a trade convention.

Time to write!

Wife, who is out of town, pointed out that Saturday also marked the sixth anniversary of our own wedding reception (though not the wedding itself -- long story). "You haven't smoked a cigar since then?" she asked. Nope, I replied.

"You're getting too old for that," she said.

If this remark did not plummet me into despair—oh, the thought that a few leaves of tobacco becoming a minor case of the D.T.s the following morning—it made me aware, in a way, of my own mortality. I am barely over 40 and can't handle more than a few drinks, any red wine, and even a single cigar.

It was only the thought of writing a blog about the despair of aging that got me going; the idea of revising the novel or other endeavors in the Art of Fiction is enough to make me ill. I find this distressing in several ways.

Youth is wasted on the young, George Bernard Shaw said, and as my fiction writing has improved immeasurably since I was 25 or 30, my health has not. Not that I am a Proust in the making, but there is nothing more discouraging than having one's body break down even as the mind reaches full bloom.

(I was telling one of the guests of honor at the party about my blog, and how I don't like to write about myself, my health, or my neuroses, and here I am writing about myself, my health, and my neuroses. I just hope he doesn't read this. In fact, I hope nobody I know reads this.)

But as a writer, I wonder, with no real reason, how many more times I will have cigar-borne hangovers, or other ailments that would have been easy to overcome in my 20s.

The worst thing about feeling like crap—vomiting, diarrhea, head pounding, hungover, death chills, Brittney Spears on TV—is that you're probably going to feel that way at least 50 additional times in your life; live long enough, and you'll make it to 100 years and 100 instances in which you'd wish you had kicked at least a quarter-century earlier.

Former novelist

If you don't have energy, you're not going to write, and gone are the days when I could come home from work, fire up the computer, and write for two or three hours straight. Instead, I end up "unwinding," reading, watching tube, doing Sudoku, and, two or three hours later, end up trying to construct two or three feeble sentences before I collapse. (And we don't even have children).

It is rare for the writer to produce great works of art after age 75 or 80, but it has been done and certainly should be undertaken. Should I worry that I'm going to die before I get my work done?

Oh, I'll say it again: don't answer that. But it does make me wish for one thing: that I could have been 40 when I was 20.