I think I need to start smoking: or how to be an artist without a Gauloises hanging from your mouth.

Simone de Beauvoir - avec Gauloises.

I was rather disturbed to find out recently that some folk I admire are giving up smoking.

I was startled to say the least. No matter what anyone says, smoking remains the hallmark of cool. It’s as synonymous with art as booze, and as chic as any Euro fantasy.

Besides my obvious initial concerns (the loss of revenue for large faceless corporations and a drop in “cool” for those I admire) which are the same I think we all have when  a dear one suggests they want to give up smoking, I had some broader concerns after giving the issue some thought.

Clarice Lispector. Smoking.

What about the health care professionals who are kept in a job because they have to care for the ill as a result of smoking all their life? (approx 48 billion a year is spent in smoking related health problems – approximately $11.00 of the cost of your cigarettes goes to health care professionals and their industries).  The local tabac merchant, and all the other smaller stores that make the bulk of their revenue from cigarette sales. What of the poor governments loss of revenue (approximately $4 per pack) the drop of approximately 12.4 billion dollars from the advertising industry in the US alone (I think they’d notice this decrease, don’t you?) not to mention the drop in work for the legal industry. Tobacco is grown in 21 states of the United States, a leading producer of tobacco along with China and India. Think of all those farms and farmers, all those small communities kept alive – schools, libraries and hospitals because the local farmers grow tobacco.

Margurite Duras and Michelangelo Antonioni. Both Smoking.

And finally, the most poignant argument of all – almost everyone in Paris smokes.

Or is that all just bullshit?

If existence precedes essence, then I need to smoke in order to ‘be’ the writer I want to be.  I know how the writer I want to be appears, because it has been determined (in essence preceding existence) by the writers I most want to emulate. Above you can see images of them  smoking in the years before I took to the passion of writing. If I am determined by what surrounds me (according to Spinoza) the pressure to give up smoking is in direct confrontation with my experience of free will. It is in the world being a mirror of my free will that I am obliged to react. To overtake myself. The question here, is what self am I overtaking? Am I oppressed by my desire to give up cigarettes or my desire to smoke them in the first place?

Like Sartre’s waiter, I need to ‘play’ at being a writer until whatever (mysterious) criterion has been fulfilled that will have my inner self belive I am a writer. Scoff if you will, but this is a small charade that works for me. I had a blissful afternoon of writing today, in an atmosphere conducive to writing. Sometimes it is my desk and sometimes I will go mad if I have to look at my desk any longer and sometimes I need to play at being a writer just to feel its direction on my skin for the smallest while. Existence is defined by my concrete interactions with the world. Is it completely absurd that writers usually drink and smoke to excess? Of course it is – but again (if you adhere to the tenants of existentialism) that absurdism gives the action more meaning and puts us in touch with the basic humanity of existence.

Then, of course, we get into the nature of the cigarette itself. Should we roll our own?  Can I still be an artist if the Gauloises are replaced by B & H extra mild?

And here comes the unpalatable truth. I have actually tried to smoke at several points in my life, and always given up in bitter disappointment, because I just can’t do it. I tend to be a very healthy person.  The slightest upset in health regime sits poorly with me.  I’ve never been able to smoke properly. I get too sick. For the most part, I’ve had to hang out with artists who do smoke, drinking in the second-hand, and wishing my little healthy body could tolerate it a little more hard-core.

And perhaps at the end of the day that is the source of my disappointment. Those around me giving up smoking results in me giving up the possibility of smoking. If I don’t see it, I wont remember it and horror of all horrors – I wont’ miss it. Perhaps my primal cry is more about the final shedding of the connection I have with the old artist image that fed me for so long. Just as I know the day of the depressed artist is over, perhaps the day of the drinking, smoking artist is over also.