(Update: Since writing this, I have quit smoking. I didn't want to, really, but, life is about anything but doing what you want to do. Hopefully that's not true, but, the point is, I gave up the smokes. Enjoy.)
I would like to start by saying that I don't think smoking is a good idea. I know it's a terrible idea. I'm not in denial about the fact that it's a bad habit, and I'll address that later. Also, I don't necessarily suggest that anyone who isn't already a smoker start, and for those of you who do participate in this habit (myself included), it's probably a good idea for you to stop. Children, parents of children, and pregnant women, should not smoke, nor should people with respiratory problems or arsonphobia, or no thumbs (matches are a pain). With those disclaimers out of the way, I can say this: I love smoking. It makes me feel alright.
(Photo by Wayne Miller)
When I was a young lass, I had a number of health problems. One of them was asthma, which was discovered by a doctor my mother took me to after I had complained of severe headaches. The woman with a heavy East Indian accent ran a battery of tests, some of which included poking me with a variety of needles and waiting for something to stick (pun intended) and cause my skin to swell. Aside from finding that I was allergic to some sort of tree sap, that painful test was in vain: allergies were not the root of my headaches. Next it was time to blow into a machine and test my lungs, and "Voila!", there was our problem. I was given an inhaler and instructions on how to use it and sent on my way, wondering why the lung test hadn't come first.
This fact about my body, coupled with bad memories of visiting my father's parents' house and leaving with a cold and bloodshot eyes from so much second-hand smoke, led me to find smoking repulsive for more than half of my life. Also, my mother hates cigarettes, and therefore I hated them, following in her footsteps, like those little kids who hold up anti-gay protest signs that say "I Hate Fags" (again, pun intended...that's the last one, I swear), only less hateful.
Eventually I would reach my late teenage years, as the lucky do, and became friends with Kansas punk rock kids, the only people in my high school who didn't depress me with their sameness, because I hadn't yet recognized that the punks were conforming in their own way. The punks I knew smoked not only to look tough and cool, but also out of boredom. Cigarettes were a filler for their conversation and something to do while they were figuring out what else to do, and scheming with fake IDs and calling around to find an older sibling to buy them took up a good chunk of time as well. It was an activity, a conquest, and an art.
I enjoy watching people smoke, and seeing their different methods. A brand can tell you about a person (David Sedaris has a great primer for this here), and also how they pack their cigarettes, and how fast they smoke them, and whether or not they French inhale. How many they smoke and whether or not they smoke in their home can also be informative. The people who smoke cigars and pipes or drugs but will not smoke cigarettes and, in fact, find them revolting, is something to note as well.
One of my first boyfriends, Reid, started smoking long before I'd met him through our mutual friend Terry, who had a mohawk. Reid was sixteen, a year older than myself, and one night in the summer he skateboarded to my house. We were living with my grandparents at the time and we sat on the back patio, on the porch swing. I offered him an Otter-Pop and had one myself, and we talked about music and the people we knew and he smoked. I hoped my mom wouldn't come outside to find him there so late in the dark with her daughter, smoking cigarettes, and he kissed me. His mouth was cold and tasted like cigarettes and Little Orphan Orange.
I started smoking a cigarette or two every weekend when I began going to rock shows in Wichita. I recognize that it seems like I came to this habit because I was hanging around with the wrong crowd, but it's more that the act itself began to appeal to me more. I have always been and am still fiercely self-conscious, but with a cigarette in my hand, I began to feel less so. Still, being underage and living at home, I knew it would not be wise to get addicted to something that would get me nothing but disappointed lectures from my mother, so I decided not to add it to my Angsty List Of Reasons To Hate Life And Talk About Getting The Hell Out Of This Place.
My lungs were given another pardon when I started dating Bryan, who despised cigarettes and gave me dirty looks when I smoked them with his sister in Mexico, and who shook his head at me when, after an argument in our hotel room in Venice, I walked the winding sidewalks to a store and purchased a full pack of my own (my first, and how monumental) and chain-smoked them, leaning against a pillar around the perimeter of the Piazza San Marco before finding my way back to Hotel Noemi. I would like to say that once at the hotel, I apologized for storming out and we made up, but I believe I spent the rest of the afternoon in stubborn silence, my throat sore from smoking so many cigarettes in succession, watching the same BBC news report about Rupert Murdoch buying some soccer team over and over again.
When I returned to Kansas a few months later, I picked up the habit full-time. Living with my parents for the summer, I would only smoke when I drove to Wichita to hang out with my friends. After getting my first apartment alone, I smoked more, sitting on the sidewalk outside my door, swatting away bugs and realizing that I, too, had fallen into smoking out of boredom. My friends and I would meet for coffee and light up, punctuating our sentences with the flick of a lighter, adding exhalations where commas would go.
Being on the road during my ostrich riding gig (which I've yet to figure out how to explain in prose) increased my habit, again, out of boredom. By the time I moved to New York, smoking had become a fully-developed part of me, like an extra limb that I would ignite when I got the urge.
This is where I honed the skill of defending smoking to people who, as is their right, think it's a risk not worth taking. The smokers of modern New York are corralled in pens outside of bars and made to examine our lifestyle choices as we freeze in the frigid temperatures and sweat in the muggy, just to inhale toxins that we know could kill us, as the odds suggest is highly possible. Yet we continue to puff away, with the kind of defiant pride found in children denying themselves pleasure to prove some sort of point.
Though proud, I fancy myself as considerate as a smoker can be. I'm sure to walk away from groups of non-smokers and children when I light up, unless these people have chosen to walk with me, in which case, they are agreeing to tolerate my smoke, though I am careful to blow it away from them. If the wind chooses to blow it in their direction, it's the wind's fault, and I am not to be blamed. I will not light a cigarette near a person who came near me and didn't know that it might happen (such as a stranger sitting on a park bench next to me, while I am reading a book and in between cigarettes).
Still, I can't deny that I am contributing to careless second-hand smoke often, as I light a cigarette almost every time I:
-leave a place
-have been at a place for more than an hour and am not watching a film
-complete a difficult task
-emerge from a train station/am about to enter a train station and am not in a hurry
-have just finished a meal
-know a stranger is looking at me
-think a stranger might be looking at me
-think about the possibility of a stranger ever looking at me
-wonder what a stranger might think were he/she to look at me
-think the stranger might think that my arms look fat in this shirt
-think not to think so negatively about myself
-think about how I should talk about this in therapy
-think about therapy
-think about death
(Photo by Peter Marlow)
The last one is an odd thought to inspire one to smoke a cigarette, I agree. For someone who contemplates the end of life as much as I do, it's amazing that I would even consider smoking. And this is where my logic becomes a bit strange. Other than appreciating the act of smoking (lighting a cigarette, puffing on it, inhaling it, tasting it, and holding something in my dominant hand), I believe that death has a bit to do with why it's so important to me.
Having known people who have perished from cancer (not lung, that I know of, but cancer is cancer), I am well-aware of the suddenness of it, and the "Why me?" aspect. Being a hypochondriac atheist who is resigned to her fate, whenever and however it may come and knowing for myself that I will not find comfort in the old fall-backs ("This is just God's plan for me", et al.), I would kind of rather have a reason. If I get cancer, and I definitely hope that I don't, I will be able to say, "Well, Jodi, I told you this would happen. You shouldn't have smoked." If I were to have never smoked a day in my life, even if I were to be diagnosed with some sort of cancer that had nothing to do with smoking, I would feel like a victim. "But I never even smoked!" I would say, and the grim reaper of my imagination, who takes the shape of a giant crab, would laugh and say, "It doesn't matter! What a prat, you are!" and I would immediately croak.
Perhaps this is just all an excuse for not putting forth the effort to quit something that I thoroughly enjoy, but know is terrible. I went through the D.A.R.E. program and have seen the posters in the subway cars featuring the woman who smoked and had to cut off all of her fingers. I've encountered people with holes in their throats, still sucking the nicotine down through their wounds. And I've heard all of the speeches, so save them for someone who won't just sit there in pigheaded silence with a sore throat, watching the news.