Sometimes the way we orient ourselves toward the world changes quite subtly, as when our background state changes from contentment to slight irritation, so that some of what happens around us suddenly appears slightly annoying, offensive or threatening. (Jan Slaby)
I've been sort of lying to myself a lot. Like even right now, I'm sitting here lying to myself. I say to myself every single day that I'm not a smoker. That I could give or take a cigarette. I don't need to smoke. And then at around midday, actually probably, if I'm honest, its earlier, I start thinking of all the scenarios in which I would quite like one. Scenarios like waiting for a mate on a street corner, or accompanying a coffee in the sun, or even sitting on my window sill before anyone else wakes up, (yeah that early). Having a cigarette becomes a romantic scene cut straight from the 'cool' or 'ironically arty' part of the biographical film about me, it feels deviant, a vice that connects me vaguely to imagined toxic hedonism. The funny thing is I've never really considered myself an addict to anything. And yet, I really am. I'm an addict to all the things that distract me from the grey, from that overwhelming (privileged curse) of existential emptiness. I'm an addict to the biographical film that strokes my ego and yet shy away from every iphone camera held dangerously close to my double chin. So to rewrite perceptions of narrative.
Such vanishing acts of the self can bring about a disquieting sense of mutuality.'(Akiko Busch)
I recognise something profound in addiction and that is the desire to vanish. In the split second when the decision is made to have a cigarette, or rather to take myself away into a parallel universe of my own making, I recognise my need to be elsewhere. Not here. I recognise the two, or at a push ten seconds, in which the first swirl of smoke enters my lungs and dizzies my brain. I also recognise something perhaps less profound and more enticing in that moment; having a cigarette is a chance to have a chat to a different self. In the first two drags on that rolled up bit of tobacco, I inhale and exhale a mantra: everything will be ok. I say this to this different self without even really thinking about it, and sometimes when my anxiety is next level, I focus my gaze on a tree or a cloud and I remind that self that I'm alive and that I'm just a tiny, inconsequential piece of the texture of the universe or some other eye rolling, bullshit statement like that. To smoke; grounds me. Which is why I do it entirely alone, in privacy or maybe secrecy. I smoke when I am sure no one can see me. In that moment or two, I disappear.
In Akiko Busch's book: How to Disappear - Notes on invisibility in a time of transparency, she discusses the desire for energetic shifts; when control dissipates and inside the mind is a relief so real, so complete, so uplifting; one can literally fly away. The addicted mind whether to social media, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes etc. Is a mind desperate for reprieve, a mind that feels as though vanishing is the only solution. That to transcend something becomes some sort of spiritual exploration for anything other than this reality. Here's the thing; the desire to vanish, invisibility: is not a new occurrence —as observed by Busch herself— and yet the eleven chapters she has written are revelatory in their identification of the paradox that is presented by our desire to be visibly invisible in 2019.
Moods are not subjective states of feeling, but rather something we might call existential orientations.(Slaby)
Before I read Busch's book —heightened as I have been for the last eight months by smoking— I was actually quite ashamed of the habit I had developed: inspiring blackened carcinogens to the pinkest, lushest part of my anatomy. Shame, one of those familiarly harsh emotions: added to a dysphoria, and in turn a general heaviness, which left me feeling trapped in a self-inflicted quandary; a battle with my mind, that I was choosing to poison myself. Within the simple, quite everyday occurrence, of taking myself off to have a private conversation, I was fighting idealism; the therapeutic merit of destruction. Prioritising instead the most brutal outcome of the act of smoking: certain shortening of life expectancy. I would look around for others taking part in the same cancer-inducing activity and feel an affinity toward those who had determined their vices outweighed an extension of their years on planet Earth. Sometimes (during particularly bleak moments) I would imagine I hadn't even done the bad thing, rather an invisible friend had. Allowing one version of myself to take the blame; meant I could continue to chastise and debate with myself for hours on end. Which I guess filled some time.
Invisibility can mean one thing, and then the opposite. It enables and denies. It has become a loaded idea. Is it possible to go beyond these meanings to find a larger human value in the unseen? (Busch)
In a society where one word can have several (hundred) interpretations, Akiko Busch unpicks how disappearing could perhaps be the existential solution we have all been craving. And so to the inevitable conversation of data mining, instagram addiction and the pressing demand to share our life stories via an iphone lens rather than experience them first hand. Busch notes that for the generation born under the watchful eye of the iphone camera, (gen Z) a significant distaste for sharing information has developed. A tipping point maybe? I find myself jealously reading about teenagers whose sole desire is to be unseen, when it has become second nature for me to whip out my phone to immortalise hilarity. I perpetually wonder at the consequences of such an action. Just, it seems, as I'm capable of ignoring the side effects of smoking, because all my friends are doing it too. I am starting to connect more with what is missing from my relationship with instagram; gone are the days when I would return home from a holiday eager to show my friends and family photographs of the beach, sea and sunshine I had experienced. Gone are the days of receiving an 'I miss you' text from my mates on the other side of the world, as they seem to be living my life with me via my daily feed. Gone are the days of innocently asking how another person's day has been because the most significant aspects have been uploaded, downloaded and digested by the time we are actually sitting in front of one another.
Often I feel overwhelmed by the technology that connects me with my 'community'; I delete my apps at least once a week. And yet in deleting them, I know that I delete connection. I also delete anxiety, fascination with the other and a fuck tonne of comparison. However I have become so accustomed to online check ins, that I forget to contact all of my friends directly, meaning of course that they forget to check in with me; a fact that causes my loneliness to sky rocket. At times, I'm not sure whether the odd sensation in my stomach is in fact loneliness or boredom. Without constant distractions my mind becomes idle and numb, a wasteland desperate for fertilisation.
Thus, what is boring is such that we are held in limbo and left empty. Boring is what postpones an unexpected fulfilment. (Slaby)
Akiko Busch discusses the imperative to go unseen as being critical, of course we all want to be recognised for our hard work, for our individual talent. However, is the need to be constantly validated by others in fact just a misleading ego massage which distances one self from the other selves. Does being seen make us feel whole? Complete? Proud? Or does it in fact divide us from our perception of who we really are. Because the insta-me, that's not the real me, it's the edited, chopped and filtered me, and yet there are days when I believe completely in insta-me. I believe in the biographical 'arty' film featuring: the smoker, the joker, the midnight choker.
After reading Busch's book I've realised there is a way out of this war with the self, and that is to take a big step back from the self-branding activity I seem to be a slave to. And yes, it does help for work and it does allow my mum to see what I'm up to, but as mentioned, it doesn't make me feel complete. So perhaps in the great balancing act of advertising my neoliberal individuality and my social life, I will spend less time developing my sense of self for others and rather reconnect my many selves together so that we can be chatting far more than just during the fag break. And maybe, just maybe I might be able to quit smoking.