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Relief, Dimithry Victor, 2020

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10 December 2023

Smoke Meditation


I think smoking, or rather people’s approaches to smoking, can be incredibly revealing. Why someone smokes isn’t so much the question as it is – how? Do they translate the goods from pocket to hand first, (baccy and assorted paraphernalia or – God forbid – straights, the mark of a casual, potentially aesthetically obsessed, smoker, unattuned to the karmic spirituality of nicotine fellowship), or wait for the comforting acceptance of another smoker? This is the quite literal laying on the table of a shallow identity-facet.

Yet, smoking is incredibly intimate. It is one of the few consistently acceptable premises to speak to strangers – because all smokers understand the need for a cigarette, and the frustration of being unable to provide one for yourself. The good smoker should unflinchingly discharge their duty to provide to those in need. Not as a form of charity but as the playing of their part in the continuation of smoker’s karma; the nicotine-addict’s realisation of the Marxist maxim of “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”. This very specific form of empathy – the understanding of a very particular discomfort, and the desire to contribute to its amelioration – is one of the few remaining communal processes that persist in There-Is-No-Alternative-Capitalist-Realism.

Smoking is a confidence sport, driven by aesthetics, need, time, place, and others – a truly collective activity, even when done alone. Take the solo work cig-break – going out mid-shift, to the mild-to-fair inconvenience of colleagues, to tap into the great psychic wave of adjacent smokers; you experience a true peace. Focus on other things (life, work, stress, misery) will come and go, but the time of the cigarette remains fixed. That’s probably why smoking metaphors are so overdone; it’s just so easy to compare a fag to life or any of its aspects.

What differentiates smokers is why they choose when to do it. To what extent is it for show, or because it’s ‘being done’, or because of a need for peace, or just for something to do. The lens of addiction makes all non-addictive behaviour seem strange and laboured to me. Moderation seems an incredibly excessive thing to do when you can just ride along.

And yet, there seems to be no passion for smoking. I understand the arguments - expensive, dangerous, nowhere near as beneficial for your health as it used to be – but they seem to miss the point. Smoking is only concerned with experiencing the present. Yes, in 60 years, I will probably regret smoking for however long I end up smoking, but in 60 years the world and I will be unrecognizably different.  I would much rather continue to be a member of the smoker’s collective and declare my unwavering support for the Now and the Near-Now, even to my own future detriment. Because I will not be that person – that is a dialogue for my aged-self to have with me, not for me to have with them.  

I probably am some end-some evolution of the free rider, the ultimate talker. This declaration is in of itself at least partially ridiculous. And in declaring so, action and behaviour are immediately underlined by an inherent lack of both – or at least standards for both. Morality and mortality, at this point feels like an increasingly porous internal construct as opposed to any true personal omerta. It feels impossible to hold onto or believe in everything or anything when the future seems to refuse to arrive, constantly teasing us with its doom-omens and the chummy façade of summer weather forecasts.

Smoking is a monument to my ego – an unfortunate, all-encompassing habit; a testament to my vanity and the danger of reaching for an ideal. Although, blaming cigarettes as my main problem, the source of my angst and fears and generally degenerative traits, does sound like shite.

I suppose I smoke because I do. It’s as simple and complicated as that.

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