A Life in Smoke
"I accepted the certainty of my untimely death with gallows humor and a calculator. I'd read somewhere that each cigarette you smoke knocks seven minutes off your time on the planet. To amuse myself, I did the math: 153,000 cigarettes = two years of my life, up in smoke."
Julia Hansen first lit up at nineteen. Twenty years later, she was editing books about health -- and smoking a pack or two a day. She denied her son fast food, but smoked in the house and car; curtailed his video games, but lit up at his soccer matches. Despite repeated attempts to quit, she always crawled back to her beloved menthol lights. Smoking had become a metaphorical chain around her neck, shackling her to an early death.
Haunted by a nightmarish vision of her future -- her son at her deathbed, begging her not to leave him -- Hansen devised a drastic quit method. She bought a 72-foot length of chain that was "unwieldy as a corpse" and locked herself to a radiator in her dining room. What followed: seven days of cold-turkey misery, comic absurdity, and revelation as Hansen stepped from behind her wall of smoke to face her addiction to nicotine -- and some painful truths.
Clanking around her house like Marley's ghost, white-knuckling cravings, and struggling to understand tobacco's unyielding grip on her, Hansen confronted her life in smoke: fractured relationships, lifelong battles with alcohol and depression, and a profound sense of emptiness. On day 1, the chain was her addiction to nicotine, each link a story about cigarettes and self-loathing. By day 7, it had revealed its ringing, rattling truth -- that every smoker has a story, and it always centers on clinging to a comfort that can kill you. In the end, Hansen's story was painfully simple: She smoked to survive her life. And then, to save it, she quit.
Fierce and funny, honest and utterly absorbing, A Life in Smoke is Julia Hansen's evocative and inspiring account of the extreme measures she took to quit smoking -- decidedly not recommended by the medical profession.
Hansen, an editor of health books, wanted to quit smoking and realized that it would take drastic measures to stop. In November 2003, she and her husband, John, bought a 40-pound, 72-foot steel chain the rasp of its dragging links intended to underscore her battle with nicotine and he shackled her to a radiator in their Pennsylvania home every day for a week. In seven chapters marking each of her days enchained, Hansen explores her experience of withdrawal and delves into her memories of the life that led to this self-imposed bondage. She describes her mother's daily cigarette, her father's abandonment, her stepfather's reticence, her time writing porn and health advice, her battle with alcoholism, her son Daniel, her divorce and a lifetime of friends and lovers. As the title alludes, each memory floats in a haze of smoke, punctuated by flashbacks to the burn and beauty of individual cigarettes. Hansen's writing is skillfully rich in detail, but for readers, the very premise of chaining herself to a radiator is itself like inhaling that first cigarette to some the very idea is distasteful, to others intriguing.