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Just One

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For as long as I can remember, I've smoked one cigarette in the car on the way home from work.

woman lighting up cigarrette

Amy Brenneman: It is such a minor gesture -- so specific and private -- that whenever a doctor asks me, "Do you smoke?" I answer no, of course not. One a day? Sometimes less; the pack can last me a month or more. When I was pregnant, then nursing, the urge and the cigarettes fell by the wayside, along with sushi, sauvignon blanc and sprinting. But both times, almost to the moment of weaning, my hands reached to the glove compartment for the old, crumbly pack.

I smoke the kind of cigarettes that remind everyone of college, and remind me of college too. "Oh my God, I haven't smelled one of those things for..." "Do they still MAKE those?" "I remember sitting on the steps of Stoughton Hall with you, smoking one of those ..." When not done up for Hollywood purposes, I still look the way I did in college -- more wrinkles and grey, but the same untamed curls and sloppy boho clothes. Seeing me and those cigs is comforting, I suppose.

But truthfully, smoking is not social for me. It's a punch of the clock, a signal to myself that a task is done. Driving home on a pitch-black road in Nevada after playing Clytemnestra with my travelling (and ambitious) theater company, I flick the butt out of the window and watch the red ash bounce off the inky tar. The only spark in an ancient, sleeping terrain.

Last night I drove the 101 after a 16-hour day listening to Dire Straits with the window down, smoking. It's not the smoking itself. I'm sure I'll stop someday, and maybe someday soon. Indonesia, I hear, is not exporting my brand anymore. But til then, it's my moment. The moment that's hard to come by, with kids and husband and workplace and friends. I dwell in an exquisite matrix of intimacies where I can lose myself often amid the needs of others. But then I find me again, lighting up in my Prius after another working day.

Smoking is bad. If you ever show this to my children, I'll deny it all. But finding myself? That's salvation.




next: Principal Under Fire for Offering BJs!
18 comments so far | Post a comment now
mommyof2 January 8, 2010, 9:25 AM

I know exactly what you mean. I smoke about 3 to 4 a day. I feel like it’s the one thing in my life that’s just for me. The 3 min. of peace that belong to me and only me. Not being mom, maid, cook, ect. It’s a poor excuse, but that’s how I feel. My children have never seen me smoke and they never will! I think every mother has some type of escape. Smoking just happens to be mine.

Shannon January 8, 2010, 11:50 AM

I’m the same freaking wayyy! I smoke 2 or 3 a day now… unlike before I became a mom & was out of control with no worries! I have to have my coffee & a smoke 1st thing in the morning now it’s how I start my day. Then another when I put my son down for a nap & another after dinner. Thats it. I should stop. After all I did it when I was pregnant & for the whole year I breast fed, but I too feel that it reminds me of the person I once was. I swear next time I get el preggo I will stop for good.

Christina  January 10, 2010, 9:33 PM

Ok. I handle the one cigarette… it will kill you slowly, but PLEASE stop throwing them out the window! You could cause a fire, and why does the entire world need to be your ashtray? I really respect your work as an actress so this is disappointing and not something children should ever hear about. Go Green - stop all together or at least get your own ashtray please. The world thanks you.

Mik January 10, 2010, 11:11 PM

wow…aside from the smoking, I agree with Christina - what’s with the littering??!!! Even if it doesn’t cause a fire, it makes our beautiful Earth ugly. Bit disappointed, as I’m a gigantic fan of PP and JA.

I’m surprised that you admitted to this

cara January 11, 2010, 1:31 AM

am i the only one horrified by this post? you talk about it being time to do something “for you”… i just watched my grandmother die from lung cancer and if there is any gift you can give ANYONE who loves you, it is never to see how i saw a beautiful and strong woman deteriorate from this disease. stop being so selfish. for a woman who i normally think is brilliant, funny, and witty (and yes, also imperfect), your behavior is just sad and stupid.

Elizabeth A. Havey January 11, 2010, 8:00 AM

Amy—the smell takes me back to college, you are so right. Those innocent days when they were just starting to know the downside of cigarettes. But please don’t smoke. We want you around for many years. I remember on JUDGING AMY you were always yelling at Maxine when she’d sneak out for a smoke. You can work on finding your true self while driving, by listening to music. Stuff some CDs in that glovebox instead.

Yasmine January 11, 2010, 7:35 PM

WHOA! YOU smoke? Thats so fierce. Smoking is in-style and looks rather cool. I told my mom once I turned 18 I would pick up a bad habit and smoking has crossed my mind but the side effects: dark lips, the smell, yellow teeth oh and DEATH kinda turned me off. Be careful.

Yasmine January 11, 2010, 7:36 PM

WHOA! YOU smoke? Thats so fierce. Smoking is in-style and looks rather cool. I told my mom once I turned 18 I would pick up a bad habit and smoking has crossed my mind but the side effects: dark lips, the smell, yellow teeth oh and DEATH kinda turned me off. Be careful.

Yuck January 13, 2010, 1:49 AM

Smoking is SO LAME. I cannot even put into words how much respect I just lost for you. Stupid and disgusting, frankly.

Ana Woja January 13, 2010, 6:22 AM

Oh come one u guys! You’re talking like she’s the only one smoking in her car! Lighten up a little bit!
I am a smoker too, does that make me selfish?I don’t think so. Amy is a person like everyone else, and should be allowed to do what she likes. I’m sure we all could do so much better in life, and that doesn’t involve a cigarette! Think about everything u do wrong. If u realise ur perfect, then u can judge!

Kate January 13, 2010, 9:38 AM

I applaud you for owning up to it! And also, for being able to only smoke one or less a day, considering how addicting it is.

Looks like we have some judgy judgers on here…ignore it! Do what makes you you!

anon January 13, 2010, 8:44 PM

I can not believe you people who are slamming her for smoking and acting so self-righteous as if you don’t have your own personal poor health habits. Seriously? Do you eat red meat? Are you overweight? Do you drink alcohol? Or have unprotected sex? Do you exercise at least a half hour each day? Do you do crosswords to prevent dementia? Don’t worry, whatever your sneaky little secret is, society will eventually turn on you, charge you higher health insurance premiums, and treat you like trash. And you will deserve it because YOU are the ones perpetuating this blatant form of discrimination.

cara January 15, 2010, 12:45 AM

to anon:
its called TOUGH LOVE. the only reason anyone is upset is because 1, amy has influence and is probably inadvertently validating this behavior in others. 2, we want her to stick around! 3, it’s not discrimination.. it’s trying to remind a very smart individual that her behavior is beneath her. 4, if these same people are on pro-obesity websites (and they DO exist), then yes, we’d all be hypocrites. i hope people are discouraging all of the bad habits you listed above.

smoking is just taking life for granted.

carlota February 5, 2010, 6:01 PM

Amy, I just say this..I will light up a cigarette in your name..now..and enjoy it ..while I pay a silent tribute to life..and the beauty of the human soul..btw ..just remembered what Paul Auster recently said “the truth is invisible”.thanks for sharing.

Kristen March 24, 2010, 9:44 AM

I think its ridiculous that people are saying they are “losing respect” for a person for smoking 1 cigarette a day. Give me a break! I didnt know there were so many perfect people in the world! everyone, and I repeat EVERYONE has their vices…get over yourselves!

Jimbo April 6, 2010, 1:31 PM

Amy, I’m a big fan. I think it’s cool that you still smoke. Don’t let anyone else tell you how to live your life!

Beatriz August 1, 2010, 8:06 PM

It’s so pathetic that “losing respect” comment. Seriously. I have more respect for you now, for admitting this to hundreds of people.. For having that moment of finding yourself. Good for you!

Ten Tees January 9, 2011, 9:30 AM

Good info! Good reading. There is a observation to offer about t-shirts.


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