Essential Tools of the Trade

My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.

– William Faulkner

I just finished the last of my tobacco from Oregon. It was a nice, smoky English blend. I’m not sure where the whiskey is packed. But I have paper, and maybe for today that will be enough.

A part of me wants to drive back to Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, maybe in the dead of night. With a well-placed rock, I would have access to every single one of these essential tools of the trade all from one place. (My lovely editor and wife has just informed me that I am officially blogging about vandalism now.)


The tools of the trade right there for the taking.

But something tells me that violating this grand historical site would go against the nature of writing and, most importantly, against the nature of smoking. Rudyard Kipling has a little to say about the camaraderie of smoking in “The Mark of the Beast”

We walked about the garden smoking, but saying nothing—because we were friends, and talking spoils good tobacco—till our pipes were out.

Now smoking in silence is fine, but I don’t think the kind of talking (or writing) a good pinch of tobacco inspires could in turn ruin that very tobacco. But notice how in smoking the friendship of the two characters becomes central and they fall into the comfort of not needing to speak. And if you’ve read this story, then you know that they have a lot to talk about and plenty of reason for anxiety.

Not only would desecrating such a fine sampling of tools of the trade go against the communal nature of pipe smoking, but it should also be anathema to the kind of disposition smoking produces. In a high-minded fashion and contemplative mood (and perhaps on a dark and stormy night), Edward George Bulwer-Lytton proposed that

A pipe is the fountain of contemplation, the source of pleasure, the companion of the wise; and the man who smokes, thinks like a philosopher and acts like a Samaritan.

Surely, after pilfering the can of tobacco from amidst the shattered glass, tamping it into my pipe, and having that first aged draft, my eyes would be opened to the terrible crime I have committed against history, against literature, and worst of all against tobacco. (Here my editor is pointing out that I just associated smoking with moral superiority, and I have nothing to say to her, except the words of Gandalf the Grey in response to Saruman:

Both the silence and the smoke seemed greatly to annoy Saruman, and before the Council dispersed he said to Gandalf: ‘When weighty matters are in debate, Mithrandir, I wonder a little that you should play with your toys of fire and smoke, while others are in earnest speech.’

But Gandalf laughed, and replied: ‘You would not wonder, if you used this herb yourself. You might find that smoke blown out cleared your mind of shadows within. Anyway it gives patience, to listen to error without anger. But it is not one of my toys. It is an art of the Little People away in the West  merry and worthy folk, though not of much account, perhaps, in your high policies.’ From Unfinished Tales

And now my wonderful editor is walking away and harumphing over the fact that I have the nerve to relate her to Saruman when she’s only trying to help my writing.)

There you have it. Pipe smoking is the art of patience, camaraderie, and contemplation. It is the art of “merry and worthy folk” rather than the makers of “high policies.” And most importantly, it is the tool of community-building because it is the tool of writing and writing forms communities.

So, basically what I’m getting at is I really need to find a tobacconist in the Atlanta area.

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

css.php Skip to content