The Atlantic

On Writing, Smoking, and the Habit of Transcendence

Gregor Hens’s Nicotine describes a life spent chasing moments of heightened power.

Source: Kenishirotie / photomelon / Fotolia / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

Writers have long found rich fodder for their work in their leisure pursuits. John Updike, writing about golf in The New York Times in 1973, described the pastime as “a non-chemical hallucinogen” that “breaks the human body into components so strangely elongated and so tenuously linked, yet with anxious little bunches of hyper-consciousness and undue effort bulging here and there, along with rotating blind patches and a sort of cartilaginous euphoria.” Sketching out a particularly lucid paragraph about the act of preparing for a stroke, he confessed, “got me so excited I had to rush out into the yard and hit a few shots, even though it was pitch dark, and only the daffodils showed.”

Updike’s experience of transcendence while playing golf—his sense of tapping in to a kind

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