Saturday, August 15, 2015

Smoking May Increase a Writer's Concentration

Paul Bowles, Oscar Wilde and Patricia Highsmith

A number of famous writers smoked while they wrote. For example, Moliere said, “Whoever lives without tobacco doesn’t deserve to live.” And Oscar Wilde related, “A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?”

And a study conducted by scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Physics and Mathematics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences found the writers may smoke because smoking may have the ability to "boost concentration and imagination". However, the researchers also found that "heavy smoking damages the brain overall". 

Like Mark Twain and Freud, to possibly have the best of both worlds, you may want to consider giving up cigarettes like Andrey Vinelander, Ada's husband, who "had for years a two-pack smoker's fruity cough, but [...] when he spat a scarlet gob into his washbasin, he resolved to cut down on cigarettes and limit himself to tsigarki (cigarillos)." 

Brad Rodu posted on Tabacco Truth:

...the Kaiser Medical Care Program, one of the nation's largest health care maintenance organizations, provided the answer in 1999 by publishing an excellent study on cigar smoking in the New England Journal of Medicine. They followed 16,228 never smokers and 1,546 cigar smokers - all men - for 25 years, and compared rates of several diseases among them.  Cigar smokers were divided into those smoking less than 5 cigars a day (let's call them moderate), and 5 or more (heavy).

Compared with never smokers, heavy cigar smokers were shown to have increased risks for several smoking related diseases.  They had higher risks for heart disease (Relative Risk, RR = 1.6, 95% confidence interval, CI = 1.2 – 2.0), emphysema (RR = 2.3, CI = 1.4 – 3.7), oral and pharynx cancer (RR = 7.2, CI = 2.4 – 21.2), and lung cancer (RR = 3.2, CI = 1.01 – 10.4).

The good news: Moderate cigar smokers had only a slightly higher risk for heart disease (RR = 1.2, CI = 1.03 – 1.4).  Those smoking fewer than 5 cigars daily had no significantly increased risks for stroke, emphysema, oral/pharynx cancer or lung cancer.

The comparable health risks of smokeless tobacco (ST), cigars and cigarettes are shown below. 

Thus, just like with most things, moderation appears to be the key. It's advisable to smoke less than or equal to five cigars per day and not 22 like Twain

If you decide to smoke cigars while you write, I would additionally advise you to follow Mr. Bill's advice:
  • Beverages (e.g., espresso) are good accompaniment for a cigar
  • If you find yourself salivating...spit most of it out as opposed to swallowing it
  • Do not smoke a cigar as you would a cigarette. (i.e., Like Clinton, do not inhale.)
  • Take a puff every 30-90 seconds
  • Lastly, and arguable most importantly, never smoke on an empty stomach or you'll end up like the Berlin clerks in Nabokov's "Beneficence": [...] Berlin clerks were leaving their his eyes, the turbid nausea that comes when you smoke a bad cigar on an empty stomach[...]

If you're concerned about the effects of smoking cigars on your stamina, Micheal Jordan shared the following in the July/August 2005 issue of Cigar Aficionado, "Not many people know about it. When they read this, they'll know that each and every day for a home game, I smoked a cigar. I wanted that feeling of success, and relaxation. It's the most relaxing thing." That's correct, the greatest basketball player to, thus far, ever play the game smoked a cigar before every home game. And he mentioned that before the interview he worked out after he had a cigar. 

Edward Hopper's Nighthawks (1942) Featuring Phillies Cigars

If you're a starving artist, you may want to smoke Macanudo Ascots cigarillos (i.e., mini cigars). They're more expensive (e.g., $18.95/10) than machine made cigars like Phillies and Garcia y Vegas, but they're less expensive than premium cigars, which can go for more than $18.95 for a single cigar. 

(Phillies have a processed wrapper which according to Famous Smoke "are made from so-called sheet binder, a homogenized tobacco product in which large quantities of tobacco are broken down and reconstructed into a sheet of “tobacco paper,” as opposed to an actual tobacco leaf, which has been cured, fermented, and aged." Consequently, the Phillies "leafs" leaves an extremely strong tobacco smell on the hand(s). The Garcia y Vegas are made with a natural leaf wrapper, but the tobacco may be mixed with paper and other chemicals.) 

It's important that one "toast" his cigar before (fully) lighting it, which in many cases is very difficult to do especially with the winds coming off the Hudson and East rivers. A butane wind resistant cigar lighter is a more realistic lighter for use outdoors. (Cigar aficionados swear by butane lighters, which they claim doesn't harm the taste of the cigar.) But a regular lighter will suffice. 

Ranald Macdonald of Boisdale London: 
How to Light a Cigar via The Wall Street Journal

Interestingly, Kipling's "The Betrothed" is a poem about a poet who decides to cancel his marriage ceremony after his fiancĂ©e forces him to choose between tying the knot and smoking cigars. 

Lastly, 111-year-old Richard Arvin Overton is the oldest verified surviving U.S. World War II veteran, he is the oldest living man in the United States, and he, counter-intuitively, smokes twelve (12) cigars per day.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Are You a Lonely Writer?

Joyce Carol Oates reportedly said, "Writing is a solitary occupation, and one of its hazards is loneliness. But an advantage of loneliness is privacy, autonomy and freedom."

Richard Ford reportedly said, "Writing is indeed often dark and lonely...."

But Hilma Wolitzer reportedly related, "Writing fiction is a solitary occupation but not really a lonely one. The writer's head is mobbed with characters, images and language, making the creative process something like eavesdropping at a party for which you've had the fun of drawing up the guest list. Loneliness usually doesn't set in until the work is finished, and all the partygoers and their imagined universe have disappeared."

And in terms of having friends, Proust scorned friendships and according to Szeftel in Pniniad, other than attending a few soirees with other Cornell professors, Vera was enough of a friend for Nabokov. 

(Quotes source: