Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Two months ago I got a bad cold or an average flu. The other day I was visiting a friend in the hospital and the presiding doctor said that he thought he had a "street virus," meaning a common virus. I like the term "street virus." The doctor was from India. Two months ago I got a bad cold or an average flu. It laid me out for a couple weeks, but I still managed to get most of my work done. I didn't miss any teaching responsibilities, though I did cancel some conferences with students, and missed one class where I was a student. It made life unpleasant for a couple weeks, but it wasn't the worst, as I've been sicker for longer periods of time. Rest, eat, drink, and eventually get better. Always though when I get sick I have to stop smoking and the complications of not smoking, at least for my system, means not being able to sleep at night. I'm not sure why this happens, but my theory is that whatever the gizmo is that wants a cigarette keeps pestering me, such that there's a little alarm going off somewhere in the mind/body conglomerate called call "Tyler" that keeps me from sleeping. After about three nights the ringing quiets down and the physical addition of cigarettes more or less passes. The psychological addiction however is still very much in play, and eventually when health returns I find my way back into the habit via this reason or that.

Psychological is not really the right word for it though, as addiction is so much more than a dark little module that some folks, usually the poor and the weak, are unfortunate enough to pick up. "Psychological" suggests that addictions are something ugly added on to the perfect glowing spheres that are the selves at the center of our god given soul. Less sarcastically however, addiction is as much social as it is a personal choice, made up of the company we keep and the life we live. On Friday nights I usually play music with friends. One of these friends is a smoker, one is a smoker when there's cigarettes around, and one is me. The conditions of playing music are conditions for smoking, and vice versa. Neither activity would be the same without the other. Or those pictures of writers in the middle of the twentieth century sitting in front of their typewriters with cigarettes in hand: smoking genuinely helps the work of a particular kind of writing in that nicotine is a stimulant as well as an efficient way to take a break. Examples aside, my main point here is not just that addiction is a social phenomena, which I assume is a statement that most people could find a way to agree with, but that addiction is intricately tied to one's sense of identity, and that an identity in and of itself is a kind of addiction, one that is much deeper and difficult to "overcome."

If an addiction is a kind of preference, I want this or that, I want this instead of that, I only want this, only this could make me happy; or more simply, I want to feel like this instead of how I feel right now, then these every day preferences for how hot we want the water temperature to be or what time we eat dinner are also kinds of addictions. More broadly, addictions to how we want to feel are tied to who we consider ourselves to be, and the everyday highs and lows, for example, of the university instructor are a different set of highs and lows than the house painter. Just like everything else, we get used to a particular way of doing things, and given the choice, most of us will keep doing things the way we've done things. So when the AA folks talk about having to get a new set of friends, or what it means to "escape" the cycle of poverty, we're not just talking about working harder and making better choices, but we're also talking about a deeply imbedded and complex ecosystem of structurally induced identities that unless one has the resources to up and move and start over, bind us to our selves, whether we like them or not. Or to put it another way, one way to see ourselves are as a habitually formed set of preferences that luckily for us, and for practical and mysterious reasons, is aware of its own existence.

These days I'm not smoking. Not smoking cigarettes or anything else. Not because I want to be "better," a disembodied and vain attempt to achieve an imaginary ideal, but because smoking doesn't really fit into the day to day of how I've been living here in Indiana. The last three months, or year, or last three years really have been all new all the time, but in particular this semester has been the first that I haven't had ten million things to do. Surprisingly, when I have more time to relax I spend less time engaging in scientifically proven unhealthy behaviors. I guess I assumed it would be different, that if I had more time the devil would flow through me, which has been what has happened in the past. I think part of this change is that simply I've grown a little bored with all the distractions that used to occupy me, and more importantly, I'd rather work on a particular writing project or read a book or go swimming or go to bed early. Maybe this is just getting older, transitioning into middle age, but it's also motivated from the sense that I haven't really accomplished anything, and that if I want to leave something behind, since it's not going to be children anytime soon, I may as well get to work. Not that I haven't been working, but in the past it's always seemed like there was time. For some reason it doesn't feel like that anymore.

This shift has something to do with being here in Indiana, getting trained in ideas and habits that will help me create capital for The Man via research or indirectly, by teaching students. But it also has to do with the lack of identities, socially constructed (see above), to hold me. I'm no longer responsible for taking care of animals, for keeping my ambiguously alive father in mind, or for being a boyfriend. Because my friends and siblings are now grown up with kids of their own, I'm also freed of the responsibilities of being a friend or a brother who is constantly in touch or a son (not that I'm not, or can't be any of those things but it's not as big of a responsibility these days for various and complex reasons). Imagined or real, the world keeps moving, and these days it feels a little empty, especially in Indiana. But the upshot is that all this means I can get on with the work, of writing and of developing an academic identity (and discovering all the little ugly habits that come with it). But back to smoking, on and off over the last five years I've dabbled with quitting. In the Fall I quit for close to two months. Two Januaries ago I quit for a month and half. Before that I had quit periodically after being sick or attending a long meditation course. If I actually stay quit this time it wouldn't surprise me, but if I don't I will try not to get mad at myself. I mean, I love smoking, and I certainly will miss it, and do miss it, but I also miss my cat and my dad, and recently I've begun to miss the endless possibilities of being young. Onward,