"I quit!" or, the fallacy of sudden change

quit button As a big ham from way back, I confess to being a fan of the dramatic gesture: the defiant, definitive, triumphant human equivalent of the exclamation point.

But the dramatic gestures that are so fabulous in, well...drama, usually fall flat, ring false or, worst of all, boomerang on you in real life. You piss people off unnecessarily and/or leave a mess to be dealt with later, either by others (various and sundry fallout) or yourself (egg on face).

(Just so we're clear, I'm talking more of the you-can't-fire-me-I-quit type of gesture rather than the symbolic (or actual) saving-the-puppy-from-the-burning-building gesture. Although sometimes the latter can backfire on you, too.)

What I'm ramping up here for is a little apologia. Long-time readers are familiar with my battle to stay on the SCD; long-time readers with good memories might even recall I specific instance where I declared that I was Done. My god, what fun that post was to post! I even got off on searching for the exact perfect depiction of the enemy to illustrate my hubris.

From my vantage point of 10 months down the road (and 10 lbs around the middle), it's easy to see the folly in pronouncements like that. I absolutely meant it at the time, though, and the feeling was so much like other times I had quit quit quit, how was I to know this would be the time I would not not not? Even the circumstances were the same, I pointed them out in the post:

Back in September of 1987, I met my friend, Karen Engler, for dinner in Lincoln Park. I asked her what was new and she entertained me with amusing anecdotes of her crazy job du jour.

She then asked me what was new; I said, “I quit smoking.”

“Really!?! When??!”

I checked my watch. “6:30,” I said.

Allowing for a few minor tweaks and edits for storytelling's sake, this is almost a verbatim exchange. And it stuck! I threw away a pack of cigarettees, told my friend about it at dinner that evening, and never smoked again! Well, there were a couple of drags off of friends' smokes some 15 years later, and a weird sometime-cigar during the height of my marriage (which coincided with the late-80s cigar-smoking fad), but okay, let's say one puff per year over spread out over those 15, and I only inhaled once.

So what happened with the SCD? For that matter, what happened with the GTD, the YBYY, the great decluttering project? I used to be a person who made up her mind and then got things done; where the hell did that person go?

The truth is, that person was a big, fucking pain in the ass. She was all about the black (or the white). She was ruthless in her pursuit of everything, to the exclusion of everything else. She was a girl out of balance. She succeeded, yes, but usually at the expense of something else. That girl could dot "i"s and cross "t"s and make pronouncements and be sure she was right, even if she wasn't.

That person stayed too late at work and too long in relationships (sometimes quitting is not quitting--there's a zen koan for you to suck on.)

That person put this person in the hospital. This person, on the other hand, with all her foibles and bobbles and missteps, with all her questioning and doubts and fears, with all of her warts and wrinkles and inconsistencies, got both of them out. Got them healthy. Got them happy. Got them writing and creating and yes, failing, too--sometimes gloriously, even.

There is no quit button; there might be a start, and maybe even a restart (or hell, you can learn the key combination pretty easily.) If I look back on the oh-so-clear examples of quitting, even that wasn't quitting: it was a point in the process of stopping one habit and picking up another, a slow process of change that began with a (failed) attempt at quitting some 12 years earlier (funny how I didn't blog about that part.)

I'm changing now; I guess you are, too. I guess everything is. And there are little things that end up being big things, and big things that end up being nothing to speak of.

The bad news is there's no guarantee. The 12-steppers got that right: one day at a time.

The good news is that the dramatic gestures you see other people make, the bad ones, like asshat traffic moves, temper tantrums, and other boorish behavior, don't mean we're all doomed. They just mean you caught the pimples on the ass of change. (Like that? I got a million of them.)

I can be forgiving. I can be tolerant.

I can start again right now.

Right now...

xxx c

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