I admired her calm, her mystery, unaware that she mirrored an enigma in me, hidden as yet under a muddle of neurotic insecurities. I didn’t have a clue who I wanted to be. She was a fellow art student, more mature than the rest of us. Her perceptions had a poetic flavour. Her contemplations surprised. I doubted the value of my perceptions. She was not beautiful by any means, with her dull and pockmarked skin. She was no Marlene …
Her eyes, inquisitively curious, were like gleaming coals, deep set. And her movements were a little wooden, apart from one gesture that made her elegant – the way she held her cigarette, the way she cast her eyes upwards and inhaled with deep satisfaction, and exhaled what seemed like all her woes by lowering her head. I had the impression her unwanted thoughts and feelings were ploughed into the ground and recycled. Because after each exhalation she had a Zen-like presence.
I accepted my first cigarette from her and thereby initiated myself into the eccentric tribe of smoking connoisseurs. Our rituals saw us through tumultuous college years. Camel was the brand in fashion at the time, evoking the image of adventurous travelling – desert excursions, vast horizons and hermit-like independence.
It was my caterpillar phase. The eerie red light in the photographic dark room offered a solitude I treasured. Bending over the emerging images in the chemical developing bath I took pleasure in my seeing, my metaphors. The feedback from tutors, who assumed I had planned my compositions, confused me. I hadn’t planned anything. Things appeared as in a mirror …
I was webbing a secret chamber in which to connect up all the dots before meaning would unfold its wings. A kind of trance was needed for that process. Smoking provided the trance. For our group of students any significant discussion required smoke, voluptuous swirls and veils lifting upwards between us. And as the mind raced ahead of itself, excited by ideas, there was the sucking pause, obligatory, to invest a thought with significance before it was voiced along with feathery wisp, ghostly white and blue cyphers suspended against light.
Unedited thoughts jotted down. More elegies to come …
2 responses to “… smoking elegies …”
beautiful word play. Can’t approve of the smoking 🙂 but the description was spot on.
Thanks, Diana, testing responses. Did you notice – most photographs that depict famous people who smoke have cigarettes and cigars airbrushed out of them? Do you approve of the length to which the policing goes? Why not airbrush glasses with alcohol or weapons out of photographs?
The ritual of smoking used to be sacred and is very old indeed. Like with everything, it’s inappropriate, damaging use and EXCESS that’s harmful. And in the case of cigarettes, the vile stuff they put into ready-made ones, notably sulphur and saltpetre that keeps a stick burning even when it lies idle, clouding up small spaces without airflow in no time.