Jonathan Franzen Once Wrote Something Similar About Smoking*

I was a smoker for a very short time. My cigarette-buying phase lasted two or three years in college and even then, most of my cigarettes were social or finals induced. I would frequently give away packs of cigarettes in an effort to smoke less. After I graduated college, I stopped buying packs, and in the next calendar year, I resolved to stop smoking completely. 

Obviously, smoking is the worst by every metric, including health, appearance, and the capitalist machine. And let’s not forget the smell. The other night, the guy next to me in yoga was a smoker. I could tell because his sweat smelled like tobacco.

I haven’t bought a pack of cigarettes in a half dozen years, but I still smoke about three cigarettes annually, and I enjoy them all. Just yesterday, I considered getting a pack from a 7-11. I didn’t. I was at work and I would feel indicted by the smell on my fingers for the rest of the day. Plus, I would have nothing to do with the other 19 cigarettes. I still sort of wish I could have bought a loosie. Absurdly, I feel like a cigarette would have turned the day around, or at least made it into a day I smoked a cigarette.

I don’t know how people who really smoke ever quit. I was never chemically addicted to cigarettes, but I did, and do, structurally enjoy them. For people whose days are incremented by tobacco, I’m not sure that passing desire for a smoke ever really leaves them. It hasn’t quite left me yet.

The other thing I’ll say about smoking is something my friend once said upon quitting for his 24th birthday: “I feel like I’ve accomplished something: I’ve given myself an addiction and weaned myself off of it.” It’s one of those quotes I remember more than him, though now he remembers it as something I remember.

I think about that line when things don’t work out. For instance, in my first year in Denver, a job and a passing relationship fell a part at about the same time. And while both were disappointing, I did feel like I had accomplished something. I had built something in Denver that could be, and was, destroyed. I smoked a cigarette the day I got laid off, and I didn’t regret it at all. 

*That Jonathan Franzen essay can be found here or in How To Be Alone