Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"10 of these delicious treats a day"

So it was like magic, Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford came miraculously to my hand and though I have not a minute to read anything non-work-related the book sort of just inadvertently fell open for me to read the perfect letter, it was like the fruit falling into your hands in Milton's Eden before the Fall. (The collection's edited by Peter Y. Sussman, who has some nice bits of the letters up at his website.)

I've always had a thing for Jessica Mitford, but reading this letter was comically like reading something written by myself--my alternate self--not that you would want often or always to be reading something written by your alternate self, but in this case it was absolutely delightful, and I am irresponsibly going to type in the whole letter instead of grading papers (those who know me will find it peculiarly apt--don't worry, I'm not going to take up smoking again):

April 20, 1985

Dear Arlan,

I believe you said that I should ring you on Friday? Instead, I'm writing on Saturday. Somehow I rather hate to telephone doctors for fear they are in the midst of curing somebody from a DIRE DISEASE, or setting broken legs etc., hence might find it a dull distraction to hear from a self-indulgent old soul who hasn't the brains or the will-power to give up smoking....

In a way, just writing to you the other day with FULL CONFESSION may have been Step #1, i.e. a splash of determination.

On Wednesday, 17 April, I went & fetched the disgusting chewing gum & pills from Chimes.

On Thurs, 18th April I started doing all that, ditto Fri. 19th & today, Sat. 20.

Now here's the amazing thing: I was fully expecting to be a quivering mass of misery (like last time, only perhaps worse), unable to work, concentrate etc. So it came as a delightful surprise that it wasn't a BIT like that; in fact it's now Day 3, and actually I'm feeling perfectly OK, qutie ordinary & not in any agony.

A couple of observations: The fall from grace was rather gradual, not precipitate. Started with the odd puff from somebody's cig. at a party. Then--oh dear--Bob had brought home from Mexico a little package of cigars, which I smoked up. Wishing to replace them (as I hadn't asked him for them) I bought a few more--and, alas, smoked those. Next I found these really heavenly things called Sherman's Cigarettellos which I hid (I am sorry to say) behind a shelf of Bibles & prayer-books, thinking that's the LAST place anyone would look. I was having approx. 10 of these delicious treats a day--vs. about 30 a day in the dear, dead old days of Chesterfields.

Needless to say, the incredible kindness of Bob and Dinky over the original horrors of quitting--not to mention other friends, & even the nice lady at the liquor store who was my source for CHESTERFIELDS & who said "Good for you!" when I told her I'd quit--were a bit of a knife in the heart, when I became a CLOSET SMOKER.

I do think that the lifesaver for the hopeless, abject addict may be that absolutely horrible chewing gum.

I've had about six a day--the literature says "Do not take more than 30 a day"--not bloody likely!

I've also had about 2 a day of those pills you ordered; but those seem to have no effect whatsoever.


Thanks VERY much for bothering about all this, Decca


  1. As a follow-up to the question about your studiousness during undergrad years... what exactly was your GPA? You hinted that your transcript was patchy, but was the grade range? Did you have any B's, C's, D's, unffocial withdrawals, INC's, ABS's or flatout F's? I myself performed somewhat schizophrenically during my early undergrad years, yo-yoing from a 4.0 one semester to beneath a 2.0 another, then recouping myself, and falling apart all over again. I skirted the abyss of academic oblivion a number of times due to this, but always saved myself from the precipice of probation by putting in an exceedingly good performance following a bad semester, keeping my GPA just above what would've resulted in my dismissal/expulsion.

    I understand Ivy grad schools are kinda ruthless in expecting their applicants to have high averages, so I find it slightly hard to believe that you were as negligent as you claim.

  2. Also, do you HATE any faculty members at Columbia? My mother used to be a professor, and she said that often times, there was quite a bit of bad blood between professors, who too tactful to confront each other publicly or openly about a slight, would backchannel like it was their job, scathing and maligning their enemies every chance they got. She also told me that far from being places of high-minded discourse, most university faculty lounges were full of embittered pedants who would gossip about the trivialest, most inane things, quite at odds with their persona in the classroom.

  3. Lastly, and I'm sorry for all these questions - lol - but did you ever witness a disagreement among faculty members that became physical, perhaps a full-on donnybrook, with lots of chairs being hurled, swearing, and general bedlam and chaos, with a hoarde of other professors getting involved, picking sides, and slugging it out?

    I remember tuning into a pre-recorded broadcast of a Russian debate forum posted on YouTube in which a Russian professor, speaking to a crowd, was caught, mid-sentence, out of the blue with a wild punch from an aggreived colleague, who apparently had be heckling, harassing and interrupting the lecturer throughout his presentation. It was pretty funny, nearly half the panel joined in. They all looked rather disheveled and haggard after the rumble, a couple of wigs and toupee laying on the floor.

  4. I take it you're applying to graduate school--good luck! For obvious reasons, these aren't the kind of questions I am going to answer on what is after all a public forum!

  5. Sorry sorry sorry! My apologies. I get overenthusiastic when I found a source of insider knowledge about the graduate school admissions process/professorial experience.

  6. No need to apologize--and you can always e-mail me at my Columbia address if you've got more particular questions I can help you with.