I cracked the seal on a 31 year abstinence.

I quit using Skoal when I was 19 years old. I started when I was 15. My grandpa did the habit for almost 70 years. He was from the old country, a man who worked the steel mills and didn’t trust doctors. He once refused to let a doctor look in his ear because he would charge him if he did. He was just there for the medicine. Later that week, he was politely informed he was not welcome at the clinic.

He didn’t trust dentists, either. A waste of  money. And he never brushed his teeth. Maybe ever. His teeth were a disaster. Eighty years without a toothbrush and seventy of those years marinating in tobacco juice. They looked like rotten logs. But at the age of 80 he still had most of them. A modern day miracle.

But I didn’t start dipping tobacco because of him. All my friends did it so I did it. But at 19, my gums were hurting. The day I went through two cans was the day I dropped the habit. It was not an easy one to give up. None of my friends ever did. And then last summer, 31 years later, I decided it was time to plug back in.

It was glorious.

It was like 31 years went by in a wink. I was right back in the summer of my youth as I systematically rationalized my way back into the habit. The good news, it only lasted a month. The hooks weren’t deep enough for the habit to haul itself on my back. I mean, if I got throat cancer I was going to feel like a real tool.

We’re prisoners to the nervous system.

Most of my motivation comes from sensory pleasure. The more subtle forms come from other things–winning, succeeding, pleasing others, ripped abs, you know the deal–but it’s all in the same pot. Most of the time, I don’t realize self-gratification is the pheromone I’m sniffing. I wish I could turn the compass off. All these emotions that allowed us to survive the hard years of evolution are a bit of an albatross these days.

Wouldn’t it be sweet if we controlled our nervous system?

You know, willed it to not be so hungry. Willed ourselves not to be irrationally frightened, emotionally needy, or unnecessarily cruel. I don’t want to feel the way I do a lot of times. I’m irritated over silly things, holding a grudge that’s not helping anyone, feeling hurt over the slightest oversights. It’s stupid. I would like to say just stop it and stop it.

It’s questions like this that drive my story lines. I also can’t help but imagine how one of my Zen teachers would answer the question. Who is doing the willing?

Solid answer there.

HALFSKIN was my first series to explore this question. Now I’m plunging deeper into that quicksand with the MAZE. What if we could control our nervous system? What if we could synthetically produce stem cells (biomites, Halfskin fans, amma right?) that would put our bodies in our control. Would the world be a better place? Would we be happier?

Is happiness the point?

We interpret the universe with 5 senses. Maybe more, but 5 are all we can measure. And those 5 aren’t always accurate. There’s a lot of research that highlights our delusion. The rubber hand experiment, for one. The disappearing dot, another. So we control our nervous system but we’re still prisoners to the senses.

And senses can be manipulated.

Once under the influence of THC, I had a glorious experience with my wife. Weed, like other substances, magnifies our emotional state. And my wife and me were in a great place. I was full of oxytocin that evening. And every word she said was like a jewel. I couldn’t wait to hear her say something, the words so delicious and lovely. I could not have been more in love with her. Why, I wondered, can’t we just exist in this state every damn day? Why isn’t this our default setting?

We probably wouldn’t survive.

So can our senses be trusted? I dunno. I mean the world was a completely different place when I was in that beautiful space of THC. I was only there for a couple of hours, but if I was there 24/7 for like 30 years, I would have a completely different opinion about life. I would totally not understand depression or fear. If I could will this body into submission, I would put it there.

But we’re products of organic evolution.

So the Maze: The Hunt for Freddy Bills (Book 2) (I changed the title, if you noticed), explores the 5 senses, who we think we are, how we determine reality, and what exactly is true nature. How did all of this begin? What’s the point? I’m more than halfway through the rough draft. And I like the way it feels.

Of course, that’s just my perception.