“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…


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


  1. All right, Missy.

    1. PHEW. P-H-E-and-W. Phew!

    2. Amen!! And how *did* you know *exactly* what this sister needed to read right now?

    3. I’m sitting here surrounded by a stack of showcase stuff. I am overwhelmed by both my tasks and my lack of team support. Worse, having just slept 33 out of 36 hours, I am doing that annoying pendulum swing-to-full-on-pegged-the-other-way thing and am therefore spinning, filled with manic energy that isn’t at all productive. I can’t figure out my system. This is a system that worked for the April showcase. It worked even better for the July showcase. And this time it’s broken. Broken! And I’m sure if I just PUSH myself hard enough, I’ll make it make sense somehow.


    Here is what I just said to Keith before landing on your page: “I have to trust that if I do it half-assed it’s still a better job than anyone is expecting me or anyone else to do. And that if I later need something I could’ve forced myself to figure out today, there are abundant resources for getting that information, and my relationships or–failing that–money will make that information instantly available to me. Who the fuck cares if it’s all properly catalogued and databased and Bonniefied?”


    So thank you for that. All of it.

    Your post was a big, “Hell yeah, BITCH!” for me to read just now. And boy did I need that!

    4. You’re awesome. One day at a time.


  2. Bon – it’s in the zeitgeist, baby. Wouldn’t it be nice if we (and by “we”, I mean me, and people like me) could always slow down enough to see the answer that was clearly in front of us? Or make a little quiet space for it to pop up?

    Ah, well. It’s a process. A kinda-sorta fun one, when I can look at it that way. And when I can’t?

    Running. Primal screams. Punching bag. Big, bad cry. All of the above.

    See you on the other side, sister!

  3. I love this, my friend. In grad school I remember hearing about a developmental phase called “on the way to object constancy,” the particulars of which aren’t important. Your post reminds me that I asked the prof, “At what age do most infants arrive at object constancy?” He replied, “For all of us there is throughout the lifespan a degree of solidness and then shakiness with object constancy. We don’t actually arrive in any permanent and unshakable sense.” What a neat concept! “On the way” to an organized home; “On the way” to a healthier personhood; etc. We’re all on the way. That’s as good as it will ever get. That’s what I’m hearing you say here. Thanks for the reminder. xoxo

  4. You’re awesome, C.

    Last thing I want to do is fuel the “top that!” voice you talked about last time, but heck, I gotta call a spade a spade, y’know?

    Lovin’ it. No, that’s not quite accurate — reveling in it, how’s that?

    You inspire me to write better. That’s all there is to it.

    Love ya.

  5. rattus – xxx back atcha!

    Tina – Thanks! (Although I reserve the right to do a certain amount of changing for the worse, however temporary.)

    Mary Ellen – Always traveling, never arriving. As my shrink likes to say, who’d want to be around someone perfect, anyway? Bo-ring.

    Adam – Revel away! Esp. if it spurs you on. A world of people writing better starts with me and Adam, right?

  6. I like the idea of never quitting, or stopping, just going on to another start… It’s like trying to view the world in a positive manner, but for all of us cynics it’s completely impossible.

    The way you posted, or explained everything, kind of reminds me of how I felt a few years back. Life was dumping it’s self on me, and I was taking a huge hit from my newly discovered anxiety disorder. Great fun that was!

    I think I’m going to try and look at life in starts and starts, rather than stops and complete ends.

    Oh, and so you know, I found this post of yours about Writer’s block on another blog, and posted it on a blog of mine (http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/ywsblog/?p=686) and then the other blog owner linked me back to you. I guess I wasn’t paying attention in her article… Awesome tips, none the less!

  7. Suzanne – Starts and starts is good. So much more positive and useful. Thanks, too, for the heads up on that other blog. It wasn’t me (I *wish* I could come up with such great stuff!) but I’ve at least corrected the error–and perhaps collected another reader.

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