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September 17, 2014
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Cigarettes: two years later


The stack of old hard drives at Henry’s apartment took me back immediately, my own hand-scribbled “ABBY DOC” written sloppily on each of them. In their cases, the hard drives look like old VHS tapes. There was a stack of seven of them, a massive amount of information, though I remember that I only needed to have four of them plugged in at a time. The film was eventually to known as “Catfish.” But for two years, it was “The Abby Doc” around the office.

This was before any of us ever thought parts were being faked. Before we ourselves even knew what it was or what it would be. Back when we were trying crazy things like voiceovers and sit-down interviews to help tell the story. Before we figured out how to shoot the e-mails and profile photos off the computer screen, unlocking the many characters who existed only in the virtual world.

I remember many times struggling with the edit, pacing in front of the building at 373 Broadway, cigarette in hand, often even talking to myself. Those cigarette breaks were usually fairly productive. Strangely, with editing, many ideas come when you are not sitting in front of the footage. In those days, I could never have imagined not being a smoker.

That was before the bet. Faithful readers will remember (http://www.riverreporter.com/issues/10-03-18/columns-reel.html) my two-year bet with Henry that got me to quit smoking. Well, it’s been a bit of a struggle but last week I made it. It’s been two years since my last cigarette. Actually it’s been a little longer.

To say that it’s been difficult would be an understatement. It’s been life changing. It’s presented itself in so many different and surprising ways: personally, socially and even physically. But do you want to know the craziest thing of all? I still crave cigarettes.

I’ve been a little hesitant to celebrate my two-year achievement, or even tell anyone. The bet was a huge comfort in the fight against smoking. There was a little voice in my head that said, “You can’t have one because you will lose the bet.” And now it’s time to face the facts. “I won the bet, but I still can’t have one.”

But here’s the thing. I’m right back in that place during the editing process. I’m in the thick of a documentary, struggling to put it together. Making good progress and then feeling like I’m nowhere. The highs and lows are huge right now. I’m right in that place where smoking a cigarette seems like a really good idea.

And that is the most scary thing about cigarettes. There is no denying the power they yield when, after having no tobacco in my system for two years, there is still something appealing about having a cigarette. I don’t mean to give you the wrong idea; I won’t have one. But the fact that the craving is still there is a little insane. Still, I’m healthier, I’m in better shape, and I overall feel so much better. I did it! Pay up!

Okay, enough of the gloating. My plan is actually to pay it forward for a friend of mine who still smokes. I’m going to take most of my winnings and make a bet with him. Hopefully, it will be as helpful for him as it was for me.

And the film will come together; they always do. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you have to trust that the film will show you what it wants to be. The hardest part, to be honest, is sitting there all day and waiting for that to happen, especially if you can’t go outside once in a while for a smoke.