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I made my New Year's Resolution early. I've promised myself that I won't smoke indoors anymore. I've been going out on the patio to puff for about two and a half weeks now, and I find the experience dramatically different.

I smoke less, yet savor smoking more. It takes more effort to light one up when you've got to do it outside. It could be cold, or raining, or windy, and you really have to think about how much you need that cigarette when you don't give yourself the luxury of a convenient indoor ashtray.

Today, however, the day was none of those things. As I stood on the patio, smoking, I stared up at the clear, crisp winter sky. So blue, so sharp. Only in the winter in paradise does the sky attain such a quality of ... of honesty. There's nothing there but the sky itself. No contrails, no smog up to visit from LA ... not even a cloud mars the brutal honesty of the sky. There's just the sky and the hard diamond of the sun, glinting and glaring into me.

It hurts to look at it right now. So I look down at my feet, watching ash swirl around in the gentle breeze. I'm standing in the shadow of the monster satellite dish next door. Caught in it, impaled by a symbol of humanity, I realize that I'm afraid to look up beyond the shadow; afraid to turn my eyes back to the sky and the sun. I'm scared to be honest with the sky, afraid to be honest with myself.

I crossed the line from motivator to manipulator, and attained a deep and disturbing cynicism as a result. It's hard for me to trust people; I no longer understand what moves them, I only understand that I can make them move.

It's a terrible gift, empathy. It's so easy to take understanding of others and twist it into personal gain. I felt lucky to have such a gift, told myself I'd never abuse it. But in a flash, a personal, defining moment, I did just that.

Life hasn't been the same since.

Now, caught between sky and shadow, between empathy and ennui, I wonder if it's too late. To ... unpervert this gift I have. Become a motivator again. Reclaim all that I was proud of, yet not forget this lesson.

I don't know if I can. I don't know if I should.

Until I do, I'll remember being right here, completely balanced, utterly caught between sky and shadow.

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