Seven Quick Takes, Vol. 3: Participles

1: Quitting
A few weeks ago, I decided that I was going to quit smoking for New Year’s. But this time it would be different. I wouldn’t leap into it on a whim; I’d spend time, between now and then, consciously thinking of reasons to quit, and how life would be without my beloved ciggies. By the time 2012 rolled around, I would already have mentally quit. It’d just be a matter of the physical part. I even made a list of Reasons to Quit and put it on my fridge. It included things like “It will make your mother happy” and “You will probably avoid a long, gradual, agonizing death. Probably.”

Then on Jan. 1 I went, “Yeah, but I like smoking,” and lit up, and that was that. I have more important things to think about.

2: Counting
I found a countdown widget for my phone. You put in the date and it tells you how long until that date, or how long it’s been since that date. So: it’s been 50 days since I joined Kung Fu, 80 days since I looked at porn,1 20 days since I did the other thing,2 and 5 days since my last confession. I keep meaning to come up with a reasonable alibi for when somebody picks up my phone and ask what the numbers mean.

By the bye, I don’t mean to brag about the numbers, but I figure it’s a little bit like an AA meeting around here, and a little back-patting is okay in that setting. Did I mention Clean of Heart? Yes, I did. Well, I’m mentioning it again, and not just because of the Amazon revenue.

3: Running
But speaking of martial arts, here’s a scene from Ong Bak which is probably the greatest 33 seconds in the history of cinema:3

4: Reading
I am rereading George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. After that I plan to reread The Princess and Curdie. Because they’re the best books in the world. Not only that, you can get ’em for free on the interwebs, because they’re old, and stick ’em on your phone, very suitable for bedtime reading.

One reason I love reading MacDonald is that he makes goodness so attractive. Evil is always exciting from far away, but boring up close; good is the opposite. But how often do you come close to someone so good he glows? That’s why we need writers like MacDonald. A few chapters and suddenly you remember what you’ve been fighting for, even you also remember how far away it is.

5: Stretching
Why didn’t anybody tell me how good stretching makes you feel? Just kidding, my friend Rivka has been telling me that for ages, but it took Kung Fu to make me actually do it. I guess it’s the same thing for any kind of change that takes place in your body: you’re so used to thinking of your body as always basically the same — whether you’re too skinny, too fat, too stiff, too tired, or whatever — that any tangible change for the better (like being able to touch your toes, or [!!] the floor) feels like a renewal of hope.

6: Moving
This is my last month by myself in this apartment. In February I’ll be moving into a house with two other guys. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. It took me about six months to adjust to this life. How long will it take to adjust back? But I’m excited, too, not least because said house has a basement where I can keep my motorcycle and hang my punching bag.

7: Whining
Do any of you deal with chronic back pain? I’ve got sciatica, pretty bad. The stretching helps, taking aleve helps, heat helps (sort of), but is there any such thing as a permanent solution? Doc says no, but I don’t think he cares as much as I do. I’ve even been thinking acupuncture. What has helped you?

1 Is it a good idea to keep track like this? I find that it’s encouraging, but of course eventually my plan is for the countdown to be moot.
2 Still don’t like that word. Guess I’m a prude.
3 Or maybe just the history of Thai cinema.

22 Comments on “Seven Quick Takes, Vol. 3: Participles”

  1. Lori says:

    1. Sciatia … NUCCA chiropractic has been an amazing help to me on a different sort of chronic pain, so maybe it would help you? They don’t do all the big twisting & cracking of your back – it’s a very subtle treatment.

    2. Quitting smoking … I quit 10 years ago and I still miss it! I get nearly angry when people claim they don’t miss it at all – lol! BUT I do feel so much better; much as I enjoyed it, I know it was stupid (and so do you). So fire yourself up again, treat it as a fast, and get it done. (Helping out your mom here!)

    Welcome back – I missed your posts!

  2. Br. Andrew says:

    I still smoke, but to be fair, I’m not an addict. I smoke because I like it, and sometimes I don’t like it for a month at a time (this tends to happen after I’ve spent a night in a bar that allows smoking with another smoker, and I go through an entire pack in 5 hours). But, related to what you said in #2, I’ve noticed that, for me, sometimes going to have a cigarette is enough to get me away from the computer and, er, that other thing. Yes, it’s just as much a problem for men in religious life* as it is for the average Joe. But you probably already knew that.

    *-Yes, I’m a brother. No, Andrew isn’t my real name. And I haven’t spent a night at a bar in quite some time, lest anyone be led to scandal.

  3. Babs says:

    Sciatica- try also to eat an anti inflamatory diet along with what you are doing. It’s VERY hard, so u may want to offer it as a sacrifice and commit to it for a defined period, like 6 weeks.

  4. Karyn says:

    I wonder if you’ve ever heard of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, dedicated to the pursuit of chastity. The link is here:

  5. Michael Kirk says:

    I’ve got sciatica as well down my right leg. I recently interviewed a chiropractor on our local Catholic radio station, and he said that–at least in my case–chiropractic could have an answer. Just for further context, mine is caused by my L-4,5 vertebrae being loose and causing pressure on the nerve (or something like that). As a side note, the doc talked a lot about how he loved his work because all he did was put the parts of the body where they belong and let God and the body take care of the healing.

  6. Gabriel says:

    I smoke a pipe meself. It’s this awesome, long-stemmed, Gandalf-looking thing. (Apparently the style is called a church warden, which only adds to the cool factor.) But I only smoke about once a month, or a little less, on average. It isn’t after all very good for you, that we know of, and it’s dashed expensive.

  7. jp says:

    happy new year, steve.

    your posts are always so pleasant to read.

    stretching really is great…frees up the blood flow.

    I don’t experience chronic back pain, but my boss has sciatica and she swears by deep water exercise, and also frequent deep tissue massage.

  8. Joe K. says:

    I find moralizing things appropriately can be helpful for making big decisions in life. It can also be very unhelpful, but yeah. Don’t take this as overly preachy if at all possible. I think this whole issue has been on my mind because I’ve recently made a new friend who smokes too much.

    There are two, I think, important reasons why you should smoke less or quit altogether. One, smoking too much will likely harm you in an irreparable way or kill you. Continuing an action that will cause great harm is an offense to the virtue of prudence. Just as an obese person should avoid overeating, a smoker should avoid oversmoking. It is near sin (and sometimes probably grave sin) to continue acting in a way that is contrary to one’s natural end when you know the action is contrary to that end. Of course, if you could smoke just so little that it wouldn’t be adverse to your health, then it would be completely fine. (This seems exceptionally difficult from what I know of cigarettes, though—see the second reason that follows.)

    Second, the more interesting and more important reason why you should quit is because a person can only be good in life if he is able to free himself from vice, and smoking is clearly an exceptionally powerful vice. A person must be temperate in all things and able to control all overwhelming urges or desires for pleasure if he is to be successful in anything he does.

    This is the way virtue works; you can’t compartmentalize it. That is, if you are not temperate in one thing, you have much more trouble controlling other, unrelated things. I can’t be gluttonous with alcohol and expect to be temperate in everything else. And if I try to be, it will be much more difficult (and often near-impossible) than if I were temperate with everything else. You see this all the time with people who are gluttonous. They are simply less capable of keeping their lives together Even If their particular vice has nothing directly to do with their apparent life problem. Likewise, a person who is a coward in everything he does has much more trouble being courageous when it really counts.

    I actually find it kind of interesting that people are mentioning that they go to cigarettes when they want to avoid that “other thing.” To me that makes little sense. (Of course I understand the idle hands thing, but that’s not really what I mean.) You are simply replacing one vice with another without ever developing any virtue. I think cigarettes are especially dangerous in this way, as many people go to them when they want to relax or calm down in a difficult situation. They train people to Not be temperate; instead they train people to get the quick buzz they want and move on.

    (I am not saying that the person above me who smokes once a month instead of doing the “other thing” is training vice; I am speaking more generally. He would probably be training vice if he smoked every time he had a sexual urge, though. I doubt this is the case, seeing as I have sexual urges a little more than once a month.)

    I think it’s very important for a person to periodically abstain from things they really enjoy, even if those things are not necessarily immoral in and of themselves. Of course, you shouldn’t always abstain; it’s just a matter of appropriate exercise. I Do think you should Always abstain, though, if it would be overly difficult to resist the temptation to be gluttonous. This is just another issue of prudence. I think this is how most ex-smokers and ex-alcoholics live, and it seems necessary.

    Again, these things have just been on my mind; I hope I don’t come off as a jerk. I have no idea how much you smoke, so this may be overmoralizing, but it does seem like you smoke a little too much if you are so seriously thinking about quitting.

  9. Liz says:

    The only thing that helped my sciatica was ice, rest and a hefty antiinflammatory known as voltarin. That combo worked when everything else failed.

    Good luck on the smoking. I quit 11 years ago and did it in stages over 9 months. If you decide to try again and are interested I’d be happy to tell you about it.

  10. jason taylor says:

    I am skeptical of that. Why put a burden on yourself that isn’t even mentioned in the Bible when you already have enough of a cross to carry? That is like putting twenty-five pounds of rocks into your backpack before climbing Mt Everest when the gear you actually need is enough.

    Nevertheless, if you feel you must, far be it from me to discourage you. You sound like you are braver then me and I hope you do well.

  11. Amy rustand says:

    I quit smoking 8 years ago with the help of an anti-depressant called Welbutrin, that doctors found had a side-effect that somehow made you not even think of wanting to smoke. My family practitioner suggested it, so ask your doctor, he/she would probably know the name. I was instructed to take it at half dosage for a week, while still smoking, then switch to full dosage and not smoke. It was amazing, I literally stopped thinking of wanting to smoke. I was instructed to take it for about three months to ‘break myself of the habit’ which was enough time. I did have a couple side-effects, though. Nothing big, just dry-mouth and thirstiness, to the point that for 3 months I walked around always with a bottle of water in hand, and some insomnia. After I stopped taking the drug, the side-effects went away immediately. I highly recommend this route…why try to quit the hard way if there is help out there to make it easier?

  12. Liz says:

    Just a note about wellbutrin…I tried that too (Zyban was the name) but couldn’t tolerate the side effects. I didn’t think about smoking, that’s true. But the only way I can describe the feeling was that I felt like my brain was turning inside out. It did go away as soon as I quit taking it.

    Just my experience.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Just gonna say that my aunts suffers from sciatica and as she is a nurse (and had tried many things so far) she was talking to one of her doctor friends and they told her that there was an injection she could have into her sciatic nerve. I believe it was considered a last resort, but she had the injection and has been pain free ever since, (about two years, I believe).

  14. Sarah says:

    Regarding the countdown, and your footnotes… I have been wondering the same thing. I keep mental track of how long it’s been since I’ve committed certain sins too, and have often wondered if that is supposed to help. I think it might.

    Finally, I have gotten into the habit of calling masturbation, well, by it’s name, in and out of confession. I have found that it helps me own up to it more fully. Especially since I always confess it to the same priest, who knows all about my struggle with this particular thing; calling it something else would seem evasive and affected.

    But back to the countdown thing, especially as my confessor spends as much time encouraging me not to give up fighting it as he does telling me HOW to fight it, I do always feel a little consoled when I fall into it again and can think, “Okay, but you made it a week longer than last time. You’re getting better. If you keep pushing it a few days farther back at a time, maybe it’ll be gone for good someday.”

  15. Peter J says:

    Funny coincidence. Recently I happened to start keeping track on my calendar of when I do “that thing.” (Inconspicuously, of course. I can’t come up with a reasonable alibi for those little m’s.) I’m considering adding other data, like stress and attraction levels I feel for each day. After I gather enough data, I’m hoping to find some correlations.

    How do counselors fair with it all, I wonder? They describe how to fight temptation and doing “that thing,” but are THEY “clean?” Are there people out there who succeed at being “clean?” I gotta tell ya’, it all feels rather sisyphean (in the truest sense of the word).

  16. Pat says:

    Just rereading MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin, too. I think you MacDonald fans would really appreciate this article:
    “C.S. Lewis regarded the Scottish Congregational minister, George MacDonald, as his ‘master’, and especially a master of the mythopoeic art, of the kind of writing that ‘gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives.’”

  17. George says:

    Wow Steve, I have that back pain thing too (complete with sciatica). For me it is from a herniated disk between my L4/L5 vertebrae. I am actually getting treatment for it again now. I saw an orthopedist, they took an MRI and X-rays to confirm the herniation. Now I am taking epidural cordisone shots to reduce the inflammation. The shots have greatly reduced the pain. I need to do more core work to strengthen my muscles so I don’t hurt the back again.

    Anyway, consider epidurals if you have a herniation. They will help you heal, though they themselves don’t cause the healing. They just let your body heal.

  18. Inspired says:

    As a medical doctor I cannot condone smoking or any other alternative medicines when dealing with sciatica – afterall, modern science knows everything and everybody knows that everything is explainable only by proven tangible things. Not at all like faith and religion. wink.

    Seriously sorry to do another post Steve just enjoying the give and take – I promise I’m not Comment Stalking!

    Sure – as a doctor I’d say give up the smoking – but then I totally agree with Br. Andrew ‘s awesome post and I’d say there are worse things then dying of cancer;)

    As for chiropracters – just be careful who you choose – I’m an emergency physician and have in my short practicing life already seen too many ‘over manipulations’. One of my best doctor friends swears by her chiro but need to ask around a lot.

    The steroid injections George talks about have been very useful for two good friends of mine with similar issues. Doesn’t fix the problem but makes it liveable. And in a way, makes you holier as you won’t need to swear as much or be grumpy all the time! You should definitely consider it before you move back in with flatmates…

    Anyhow – I’m tired and should have been in bed ages ago – I blame your site!

  19. Ann says:

    It’s not prudish to dislike a word if the word is for something that’s objectively immoral. Disliking a word for something that’s okay, would be different

  20. Theresa says:

    Hi Joey,

    I can’t call you Steve because I knew you in college as Joey.

    Re: # 1.) I quit smoking 6.5 years ago when I was expecting my first son. I’m now expecting my fifth son, and when I read #1 I thought, “D@mn straight! I do fondly remember my smokie treats, even though I know I’d feel woozy and sick if I lit one up again today.”

    I’ve read this blog off and on for about a year now, and it’s been interesting and inspiring to follow your journey and consider things from your perspective.

    May God continue to bless, guide, and enrich your life with His grace!

    TB, formerly known as TC

    1. Theresa says:

      Oops…that was supposed to be “formerly known as TE”

      I confess to losing a few brain cells with each passing day.

      1. Hah, when I saw “TC” my first thought was “Who’s TC? This sounds like TE.”

        Nice to hear from you.

        Love & Barley

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