by Stephen Jay Schwartz

It’s a strange, strange world. I saw a guy in a bar a couple months ago with a fake cigarette in his mouth, this little electric light on the end of it pretending to be fire. I figured it was some kind of placebo stick to help people ween themselves off smoking.

Yesterday I picked up my own addiction placation device (a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum) from the local gas station and saw the electric cigarettes for sale. I asked the attendant if they contained any nicotine, thinking maybe, like the “patch,” the device doled out just enough juice to keep a smoker in the game.

“Yeah,” he said. “This one holds about four packs. When it’s done you just replace the filter tip.”

Four packs? There’s no weening involved at all. It’s just a smoke-less cigarette. You might as well keep a set of works in the glove compartment and shoot the nicotine directly into your vein before hitting the bars. That’s smoke-less, too.

I don’t know, man. The world keeps movin’ along. Crazy shit keeps getting invented. Like the Internet. How long has it been around now? Eighty years? And computers? I remember using those IBM Selectric typewriters, thinking, fuck, I’m flying!

I’m really not that old, am I? I don’t know, my wife and I were in line at this local club last year, hanging out with the other club-goers, and someone said something about Justin Bieber, and one of the guys next to me said, “You could be Justin Bieber’s dad.”

Haven’t hit the local club scene since.

I idled at 1000 mph when I was young. I couldn’t get there fast enough. I’d heard rumors about people “settling down” as they got older, no longer interested in setting the pace for the rest of the world. I remember the song My Generation by The Who, with the lyric, “I hope I die before I get old.” It was my battle cry.

And, yes, I know that “old” is a state of mind. And yes, in my head I’m still in my twenties. I get all that. I even believe it on occasion. But, I just gotta say…sitting back and taking a rest sounds really good right about now. Stepping back, and out. Calmer waters. John Lennon wasn’t that old when he wrote the lyric, “I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.”

The world changes fast. Every new thing seems vitally important at first. We all grab it, just to keep up. But, really now, so much of that is just marketing. We’re conditioned to respond. It’s the American Way.

I’m not always sure I should share the thoughts that spin through my head. I mean, this is supposed to be a blog for mystery-thriller authors to discuss the craft of writing mysteries and thrillers. But sometimes I’m just not into talking about the craft. And sometimes the craft involves pulling back and observing the world and letting these little observations filter into the stories we tell. Filter like nicotine, four packs a pop. After all, we gotta set the pace for the rest of ’em.


  1. Zoë Sharp

    Interesting post, Stephen.
    Yeah, we have been conditioned to slaver when the latest/newest toy is dangled over us, but I can't say people I pass in the street look happy for it.

    The affluenza epidemic is raging.

  2. Jim Winter

    Steve Hogarth of Marillion had a take on this. He was still in a British New Wave group when Marillion was big in the 1980's (Remember "Kayleigh"), and still relatively young when he joined the band in 1989.

    He said in a later interview that, back when his daughter was born, he'd never, ever be like his parents. He would respect his children's musical tastes and even be into what they were into.

    Flash forward about fifteen years ago (he says in the same interview), and Hogarth says, "I was wrong. Where are all my chord progressions? It's all rhythm now!"

    I saw that interview and realized it was the same for my mom, who hated psychedelic music after growing up on rockabilly while her mom loved big band and thought Jerry Lee Lewis was something akin to Marylin Manson at his peak. (Well, actually…)

    And Zoe, I've had my affluenza shots, but I occasionally need a booster.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I heard something a long time ago that makes sense about the slowing down – that for the first half of your life your eyes are looking outward, and in the middle of life you begin to turn your eyes inward. It's the difference between achievement and excellence, is what I think. (and being from So Cal "Excellent" always has a little of that Bill and Ted meaning for me!).

    Look at it this way, Steve. ANYONE could be Justin Bieber's dad. Or mom. That's no reason to stay out of clubs!

  4. Alaina

    As someone who has friends who use electronic cigarettes, I can explain their appeal: no smoke. Therefore, no second-hand smoke. Here's a device that they can safely use around children, non-smoking friends, and people with asthma or allergies. A few of them also use it to take a few quick puffs inside, sneakily, without worrying about setting off smoke alarms or being noticeable in places they shouldn't on rainy days.

    Doesn't help them quit so much. But I'd still call it useful.

  5. David Corbett

    I remain forever grateful that I studied math in college, for the group of professors I had — mostly men, sadly, but a sprinkling of women as well, all geniuses — transcended any notion of hip with their sheer brilliance. Having watched the film PINA recently and seen her in her later years still creating stunningly resonates with the point I'm trying to make, one Alex touched on with the inward/outward metaphor. The more I base my life on how creative I am, the less I worry about being au courant. In such a fad-driven world, that sounds naive, but I think it's the other way around–it's naive to think you can somehow keep running along the treadmill of fashion until death kicks you off.

    Youth is so wasted on the young.

  6. Sarah W

    I've never been a clubber or a partier, so I don't miss it now that I'm too busy, tired, or babysitterless to go out.

    But have reached the point in my life where I deeply regret all those naps I refused to take as a child — and I'd like them all back now, please.

  7. Gar Haywood

    Kicking back to reflect for a while… Yeah, that sounds like writing to me.

    As for being ahead of the curve where fashion and technology are concerned — I couldn't care less. I like to find what works and stick with it. I want to KNOW what's the latest and greatest in everything — music, technology, literature — but I'm rarely compelled to immediately be a part of it.

    Lately, I've been very content to be the coolest "old guy" anybody knows. It ain't much, but it's a living.

  8. Lisa Alber

    I had a ton of fun in my 20s, but when I look back on that era I associate it with a tinge of desperation too. Trying to keep up. Trying to hit all the in spots. Trying to be attractive because it really was all about the mating game.

    And now, here I am in my 40s, still unmarried, but not desperately seeking anything (except inner peace–and a publishing contract. :-)) and I have SO much more fun. When I'm out with my friends, I'm WITH my friends. I could give a shit about scoping the scene behind their shoulders for the cute guys. It's such a relief!

  9. Gordon Harries

    Yeah, the world does turn fast, but the song (to quote another band) remains the same.

    There was a case recently here where a famous footballer had an affair with a girl, the tabloids got a hold of this but were prevented from outing him by his getting a ‘super-injunction’. It didn’t matter; he identity was already a trending topic on twitter. This was hailed as a victory for democracy, but it didn’t matter. It was fluff. Smoke and mirrors. A public distraction whilst the real decisions, the decisions that affect out everyday lives in a concrete way remain as shrouded in autocracy as ever.

    Personally I’ve found that I’ve only gotten happier as I’ve gotten older. I find that I don’t care about the churn. About twitter and facebook or rolling news cycles, it’s all rolling thunder. A way of telling you that “Newsflash! We still don’t have anything to say!”. Instead, I try to dig into the constants. Spend time with the bands and books and films that have always meant something to me, figure out why. I find the more I do that, the more the rest falls away.

  10. Schwartz, Stephen Jay

    Zoe – I love your word smash-ups. Wasn't it you who created another of my favorite words, "neandering?" I think it defined people walking slowly in front of you when you're in a hurry to get somewhere – a combination of neanderthal and meandering.

    Jim – I really tried to keep the same attitude as Steve Hogarth, but lost faith in the music and the movies both. Except for the certain exceptions, the music has lost its sense of "story," (the lack of chord progressions being one aspect) and the films lack dimension. I don't think you could make "Midnight Cowboy" now, and no one would want to see a movie based on the board game "Battleship" back in the 1970s. And, try as I might, I can't get behind the fashion of letting one's pants hang down to one's knees, despite the fact that it's so very, very cool.

    Alex – oh, I'll still go to the clubs. I just won't go to the ones where everybody is nineteen years old and carries a fake ID.

    Alaina – Actually, I think the electric cigarette is a pretty cool invention. No smoke, no ash, no second-hand smoke, no chance of catching the bed on fire, no burn marks on your forearms. I do think it's amusing that there's an LED light at the end, however, to give the smoker some sense that he's really smoking a cigarette. I mean, that's just silly.

    David – I'm with you all the way on that. As authors, when we rush at the fads we do ourselves a disservice. It dates our work. Writing should be universal and timeless. It's a balancing act – because we also need to anchor our work in reality, and that means being specific about the world our characters inhabit.

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Sarah – aren't we supposed to need less sleep as we age? Or is that a myth? Maybe I have that to look forward to when I reach my eighties.

    Gar – it's funny, but I'm enjoying being the "coolest dad" to my kids, for the very brief time that I can fool them.

    Lisa – I've noticed the same evolution in my life. I've definitely become calmer and more self-secure. It's a process, to know oneself. Each decade I discover more of who I am and what I want in life. And yet I'm also aware that I know less about everything around me – wisdom teaches me to doubt the things I so adamantly proclaimed in my youth.

    Gordon – words to live by, my friend. There's a lot of bullshit out there to filter, and yet our life experiences provide us with bullshit meters to detect it all. It's taken some time, but I've generally surmised the difference between shit and Shinola.

  12. Lisa Alber

    I hear you, Stephen. The more I know myself, the more I realize I don't know much. I'm more of an agnostic in life, and I see more shades of gray, for sure.

  13. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Lisa – shades of gray is the motif of my current novel. Ultimately, it's about loss of innocence – the innocence being the concept that things fall into two categories: good and evil.

  14. Pari Noskin

    A kid in our office uses one and, at least, he doesn't stink of cigarette smoke anymore. That's the only upside I can see in this newest toy . ..

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