Smoking, or Why Do Terrible Things Seem Romantic?… set the mood: Bukowski – Modest Mouse

July 25, 2007 at 5:18 am Leave a comment

“My air sacks are feeling better already”

When I started my diatribe on smoking and my inability to exit myself from its carcenogenic wasteland, then intention was to look at why it is that we have developed this feeling that smoking is somehow romantic and powerful, and not just an addiction like any other. The media is certainly to blame, and I wanted to find out how they, along with cigarette manufacturers, were able to manage this cultural perspective*

Of course, the rant also included a detailed history of my smoking patterns, which seem to underscore a strong link to the men in my life, past and present. This I surely knew, and then realized that it held a link to something more.

Rather than query the obvious (media in bed with Philip Morris results in young children buying Popeye candy cigarettes at the corner store leads to…people like me), I thought more about the idea of being tormented and that kind of sex appeal, since the men in my life have that in common too. I think of James Dean films, the leads in Withnail and I, Humbert Humbert of Lolita fame, further back there is Soren Kirkegaard the father of existentialism. All sexy, all alluring, all complete head cases.

I don’t know if they are viewed as misfits and therefore powerful by men, but I’m sure many women find them attractive for their brooding nature, their tormented souls that are understood by no one except perhaps the one perfect woman who can walk through that door and change them forever. Because this is what women do. They save the man whose soul is dying. That is why women like men who are messed up, because they want to save someone in order to feel useful.

Shame on us. Thinking we have the power to change other people. No good woman could walk into Withnail’s life and coo at him and prepare him a hot meal only to have him say “My God! My thirst for alcohol has left me completely thanks to your undying love for me! Where is that old can of lighter fluid? I shall toss it into the streets post haste and we shall walk to the park, hand in hand, to feed the wolves under the warm sunshine.” Wouldn’t happen. He’d push her aside the minute a bottle of brandy was sniffed.

Of course, everyone tells us we can do it, particularly men. I’m not sure how Rebel Without a Cause would have ended had it been written by a woman, but it’s amazing how quickly Jim turned into a wonderful sensitive guy once Judy started giving him notice. Okay, he was clearly sensitive in the beginning, what with being torn apart and all by his manly mother and frilly father, but in reality this guy would have suffered severe depression. I’m attracted to a man who can cry, but not when it’s more than I do (that’s not to say I cry often, but when it happens I try to make it count).

Let’s see, he got cut up in a knife fight, took part in a chickie run (I don’t care what era this is, I don’t see how any woman would have stood by with a smile on her face when her boyfriend decided that driving straight towards a cliff is the best way to show up the new guy), was arrested for public drunkeness, things that would be more annoying and tiresome in real life than the way they are romantically portrayed in the film.

After having read the life story of Kirkegaard, along with selections of his work, I have to say I’m into the guy. This could be because after rejecting his fiance he pinned for her for years, so much so that the latter was buried next to him upon her death. It appears he never forgave himself for having left her, and bemoaned existence thereafter, vowing to never love again.

This is hot for two reasons: he felt terrible about leaving his love, and gave his heart to her always despite not being able to be with her (undying love), and two he is attractive because he’s just the type of guy I (or any other wonderful woman) could coax into giving love another chance (makes me feel special). Of course, it all ends in a round of misery because he’ll always be alone (with his sadness keeping him warm at night) and I (and you, and every other woman) will feel the pang of failure when unable to free his heart from its cage of despair.

Humbert was sexy no only because of his description of himself, which I’m sure we all believed (“handsome hunk of hollywood manhood” read: tormented soul), but also because he has been drawn to young girls ever since an unfortunate experience as a child when, upon prospecting his first sexual encounter, is riped away from his young love, and must molest children in order to feel whole. Unfortunately for him, pedophilia is no answer, as it only creates a longing for more pedophilia, but it is also illegal and dehumanizing.

And yet I’m sure most readers of Lolita felt sorry for this man, a man who has been driven from a normal, respectable life, to something torrid and sinful (and not in the good way) and disturbing. Who did I hate when I finished that book? Lolita. That’s who I hated. Little slut. But this sentiment is rather preposterous. Okay, she was a 12 year old hooch who used him for money, but she’d also been totally abused by the guy for years. But I still hate her. This is worrisome to me.

“Yeah I know, he’s a pretty good read, but who would want to be such an asshole?”

I can’t put my finger on what started all this. Clearly someone is to blame for having romanticized decaying human spirit, making it all seem dandy to hate the world and wallow in sadness all the time. Whoever it was is laughing now I’m sure.

Seeing all these men who just sit around thinking about how unfortunate the world is, unsure of why life has treated them so poorly (despite the fairly universal knowledge that if you’re sitting around drinking your sorrow away in an unending and very vain search for happiness at the bottom of a bottle, then you probably don’t have problems that are all that depressing — like having to walk miles in bare feet for food, or having your hand cut off because you didn’t bring in enough diamonds this week (cause that’ll teach ’em for next week).

Although cultural images of pain (a perfect example for myself would be the intensity in which Selena claws at the bottle of pills during an anxiety attack in the film Dolores Claiborne. She downs them with alcohol, and shakily collapses into a ball on the floor of the bathroom. There is something about her chainsmoking trauma that is appealing, leading me to believe she would play me beautifully in the film about my life, which makes little sense as I’ve never been addicted to anything remotely harmful) are rampant, there was a sense of this sympathy towards the dammed prior to moving pictures.

Wuthering Heights is one of those novels that has you questioning the entire time why it is that Heathcliff is so fucking attractive even though he’s a bloody arsehole. And not only that, in the end he dies a changed man, still broken hearted but less of a jerk, and is buried next to his lady love that he never had in life. So even women encouraged this kind of behaviour.

So after pushing romanticism aside, it has become clear to me that brooding in self pitty and loathing is not all that appealing. Yes, feeling emotions other than happiness are an important part of being human, but boo-hooing oneself perpetually is quite tiresome it seems. I mean, I’d argue against this fact if I had undergone some horrid childhood or been stained by terrible things as a teen or young adult. But truth be told, there is little that has happened to me that should make me feel as though I must drape myself in black and listen to downer music in order to convey how deeply misunderstood I feel.

In fact, misunderstood isn’t how I feel at all. I mean really, how depressed and misunderstood do you think Tom Waits feels? He’s a storyteller, he’s not singing about how horrible he thinks life has treated him.  He charges $250,000 per performance for Christ’s sake!

*I’m not saying that everyone agrees that smoking is sexy or alluring at all. This idea has changed somewhat into a different view of smokers. Although in reality many people have quit successfully and joined the pack of smoker exhilation movement, it is still a common thing on television, particularly on period shows (for obvious reasons), but the true facts (smokers cough, cracked voice, aged appearence, excessive salivary and mucus production, and CANCER) that spawn from constant tobacco use are rarely shown in gruesome detail.

As an aside I should point out that I’m not much of a smoker presently, and that ever since the occasional butt has caused my chest to feel as though it is about to collapse, I’ve decided to curb my desires by running every day, since I feel shitty when I smoke and run, but less so when I’ve not had a fag in my system for a period of time. And when I mentioned I am not, and have never been, addicted to anything harmful, it was not a lie.  A physical addiction to smoking I have not, a slight psychological comfort (read: addiction of mental proportions) is present, and I blame the above representations (along with many others) for making me feel that as a writer I should chainsmoke and drink like a fish and be miserable.

Additionally, the comment about Tom waits’s charge should not be misconstrued as a belief that money makes people happy.  It doesn’t.  But I don’t imagine that Tom Waits could have kept his marriage and his music together for so many years if he were a depressive alcoholic of the kind presented in his music.  That is all.


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An Open Letter to Customers… set the mood: Float On – Modest Mouse So tired… let rambling ensue… set the mood: ugh… the rhythmic sound of my snoring.

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