I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a creature of habit. I like routines, and hate it when people change them on me. As a creative person, there’s this image artists and writers like to present that they’re free spirits and don’t hold themselves to set routines. However, there’s a good chance that even those hippy type artists have some sort of custom that they do before they get into their groove, whether that’s fixing a cup of tea or wearing a certain pair of socks. Even athletes have their own pregame rituals they enact before they perform their athletic sport of choice. Famously, Michael Jordan always wore a new pair of sneakers before each game, as he believed they helped him play better. I can attest to this as I, too, would wear a new pair of shoes before I started writing, until the credit card bills started piling up.
“Can’t you find something cheaper to get your creative juices going?” asked my wife as she glanced down at the most recent credit card bill with a grimace behind a massive pile of shoe boxes.
So I took up pipe smoking. Turns out it’s slightly cheaper than buying new shoes every day.*
It’s not surprising that pipe smoking and creativity are closely associated. Sure, nicotine is a stimulant to jump-start the brain, but I believe there’s more to it than that. As new pipe smokers learn, there’s a ritual to pipe smoking, and that process can likewise be used to enter a creative head space.
When I use the word ritual, I’m not using it in the sense of performing some sort of magical rite. I don’t put on a black cloak with the various pipe patches I’ve accumulated, place a mask of The Briar Report’s avatar on my face, go down to my cellar while chanting the three pinch method in Latin, and retrieve a Diablo pipe (RIP Diablo) and Cult Red Moon tin from an alter filled with pipe tobacco scented candles and a ram’s head made from pipe cleaners. We pipe smokers are of the eccentric stock, but that might teeter on the edge of madness.
The ritual I’m referring to is more along the lines of a routine or procedure in the non-religious sense. There is a process to smoking a pipe that goes beyond grabbing a random pipe off the rack and rummaging for a tin or jar. It requires thought and takes in account the pipe smoker’s mood for the day. Every pipe smoker most likely has one, whether they know it or not, so I’ll use myself as an example.
When I’m going to go out and write for the night, I put on my smoking clothes (my version of a smoking jacket) and fix myself a cup of iced coffee. Once I have my drink and laptop ready, I head to the pipe corner of my basement and look over my pipe rack with reverence. Normally, I’ll pick between two to four pipes for the night, depending on how much time I have. This isn’t as simple as one might think, as there’s a lot to consider when choosing a pipe. Do I have a limited amount of time to write? Then I’ll focus on pipes with smaller bowls, otherwise I’ll grab at least one pipe with a larger bowl. Do I want to smoke a specific blend like Exhausted Rooster? Then I’ll grab one of the pipes I’ve devoted to that blend, like my Peterson 05. Do I want to smoke a cob toni— wait of course I do! so I’ll grab my Patriot or Twain and add that in.
Next comes picking my tobacco line up for the evening. Usually, the pipes I’ve picked out determine what blends I choose for the evening. My routine as of late has stayed the same for the past few years: start off with a VaBur blend like Old Joe Krantz, Haunted Bookshop, or Bayou Morning. Then I’ll pick a VaPer or Virginia, like Stokkebye 1855 or Orlik Golden Sliced. For the third pipe and others, I pick whatever strikes my fancy for that day. Some days I’ll pick a favorite Lakelands, or Navy blend, or if its cooler out, a nice English.
Regardless of what I choose, I’ll pack my pipes all at once and bring them out to the garage for the evening. There’s something calming about packing a pipe with tobacco. Unlike other forms of smoking, packing takes thought and intent. I don’t mindlessly smoke a pipe, rather, I take the time to think about what I’m about to smoke, and carefully fill the pipe to the right consistency in the bowl. It should be remembered that a pipe should be relished, rather than consumed and thrown away. There’s merit in this, as sometimes while filling a pipe, I’ll realize that I’m not in the mood for a pipe that night, and go do something else. I’m not a slave to my pipes and tobacco, and you shouldn’t be either.
Once outside with my pipes, laptop, and drink, the ritual can begin. All the necessary items are here before me. There’s the pipe tobacco, which is to be smoked. Next is the pipe itself, which holds the tobacco and delivers the smoke to the initiator and participant of the ritual. There’s the pipe tamper or tool, which the pipe smoker uses to stoke, tamp, and nurse the flame so that it stays burning. Finally, we have the match or lighter to light the pipe, because you can’t smoke a pipe without fire.
After setting everything up, I’ll grab my Bible (ESV if you’re curious), and light my candle, followed by my pipe before devotions. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to spend some time reading the Word and not put God in the back seat. I’ll read a few chapters before heading over to Proverbs and read the chapter that matches with the date. Admittedly, sometimes I rush through it, but I try to a lesson or focus on a verse during my reading. Nevertheless, it’s a good way to leave behind the baggage from the day and start afresh with a clear head.
Now, with my devotions finished, and my pipe nice and going, I open my laptop and write for a few minutes before calling it quits and head to bed. On average, it takes about a month and a half to finish one of these blog posts, and that’s not counting the other projects I work on concurrently.
Kidding aside, I spend about an hour or two writing, though it can feel like minutes. Time has this uncanny ability to speed by when you’re focused and doing what you enjoy. Would I have more time to write if I didn’t have this ritual? I suppose, but it’s worth it to relax at the end of the day, musing over my keyboard surrounded by a cloud of pipe smoke. If I’m lucky, then I’ll be deep inside my story world, typing and puffing, then tamping every few minutes or so, before continuing on. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but as someone with ADD, my pipe actually helps me as when I fidget with tamping my pipe, I’m less likely to wander away from my work and get distracted with something else.
This goes on for a half hour to forty-five minutes, a mixture of smoking, then tamping, and typing, before at last the tobacco has turned to ash. After dumping the ash, a pipe cleaner goes into the pipe, and I grab my next pipe to start the process all over again. This is why I fill my pipes all at once, so that there’s little time between pipes to disrupt my flow. Once all my pipes are empty, I finish what I’m working on, then pack up and reluctantly head back in, wishing I could stay out for one more pipe.
I’ve had this ritual going long enough that it’s stuck with me. If I’m smoking a pipe, my mind wants to work on something creative, or to grab a book and read. That doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a pipe on it’s own, or that I can’t read or write without a pipe; but if I’m in my garage with a pipe, I’m reaching for something to work on. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you have any rituals or routines for when you plan on smoking a pipe? Is pipe smoking part of another ritual of yours? Let me know in the comments.
Until next time, happy puffing!
*Not based on true events.