Another Oldie-But-Goodie Flics Its Bic

I was raised in a two-smoker household, but now I find the whole habit puzzling, fascinating, telling. I live in China, so it’s a new — no, it’s a whole old ballgame, one of many ways in which China is very 1960s despite the high-rise towers and the accessorized smart-phones. There is great social pressure on men to smoke, and restaurants have the bluey-grey atmosphere of my childhood. Women, meanwhile, rarely do, but it’s becoming fashionable for the young and superchic women in places like Beijing’s Sanlitun neighbourhood. In this, maybe it’s more like the ’40s, when my mother’s “girls” in the secretarial pool were ecstatic when she lit up in front of them: “You’ve started!

Smoking is a bizarre convention. It’s weird in so many ways. I’m much too highly evolved to engage in such a destructive and wasteful habit — I prefer potato chips — but as smoking became an awkward and shunnable offence over the past couple of North American decades, I started to notice that puffers had some advantages I didn’t, and some wisdom I could’ve used. I just posted an article to this effect from 2005, one of a bunch that never saw the light of publishing day. It’s in the On Second Thought section. Also, the so free and easy to subscribe it’s almost sinful button is just over there on the right.

Where do I start? you may be wondering if you’re new to . One way is to look at Eighteen Great Posts from 2013. You can see the list here, with delectable links if you want to go read them (again). is on Twitter @JamesHowdenIII. Thanks for looking in. If you’re new here, read on to find out more of what is all about

“At First Glance”, where you are now, is the default weblog of this site. Below are two pieces of frustrated catharsis of the trapped-tourist-in-China variety, written from the actually quite lovely city of Suzhou. Below that is my second-ever guest post, a comment from one of my readers that got out of control and deserved a column of its own; it’s about belonging, identity, and it wonders where home is, as perhaps few can put it so well as a North American Aboriginal. There are also book reviews, other travel accounts, a meditation on “tall poppy syndrome”, and several hundred other things. AFG is about everything that makes me stop and write, and there’s lots of it.

Reflections on athletics appear to the right in the “It’s All About Sports” section. I’ve most recently been writing on adventures in running and playing basketball in China, both my own and those of the increasingly hoop-crazy youth culture here. I also gobbled — though I wasn’t able to watch any of it — the NCAA tournament, mainly through reading about the outstanding Canadian kids who joined the American Dance. Before that, the thoroughly outrageous accomplishments of the CIS’s tallest poppies, the Carleton Ravens, had my long-distance attention. ALL the games and all the excuses for sweat-stained excellence interest me, because there is much more to sport than dunks and grunts and numbers.

The third major portion of is called “On Second Thought”, where my BEST OF 2013 list and “Smokers Get All the Breaks” are. I also recently posted an old “lovers in a (slightly) dangerous time”memoir from a honeymoon year in Quebec, but I’ve also written there about my fitful prayer life, reviewed a classic novel, and waxed nostalgic in a good old piece on words that have made me laugh out loud and wonder. Articles in this section are sometimes longer, and usually more fussed-over and less time-sensitive. I let readers know in AFG (where you are now) when I’ve posted there. Also, for those who like quotations, “He Said/She Said” is a growing compendium of wisdom, argument or fun from other minds than mine.

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Comment (1)

  1. Michael Freeman

    You had me wondering about the wit and wisdom found in a smoke; or at least, the smokers that take multiple times out of their busy day to drag a few puffs out to satiate some need inside them. Our habits, our obsessions, our dependencies tell so much about who we are, and where we have come from — not in the physical world as much as to say the travels of the mind and spirit. I wonder why pizza and wings go so well with Hockey Night In Canada, which is pretty much every night for 2 months during playoffs. I wonder why we turn to chips and other grazers when we sit down to watch a movie, or read a good book. I wonder why some get embroiled in the obsessions of alcohol and smut when their day has ended and real life should begin.

    The wisdom of such things is what I thought you were going to write about but, alas, that is not where this posting went. Maybe you’ll get there one day. Or maybe I’m alone in the curiosity about our habits, our obsessions and our dependencies.

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