Friday, August 19, 2016

An Autumnal Post

Leaves are an autumnal motif, and even though it's still the middle of August, it's seeming very autumnal around here. Summer break officially ended yesterday. I was back at school, checking in books and sorting through all the library's mail.

We got a mountain of magazines, as usual, which needed to be opened, cataloged and filed. So I worked mainly on that. One of our library subscriptions -- to Harper's -- has petered out for no apparent reason, so I'm trying to figure out what's going on there.

Overall, it's good to be back at work. I've missed the routine.

Of course, a standard question among my co-workers is, "How was your summer?" A tricky question for me, given Dave's recovery from major abdominal surgery and my dad's brain surgery and subsequent death. It's been a crazy three or four months.

But usually I just say, "Oh, it was fine!" I'm trying to spare them my negative experiences.

And truthfully, overall, the summer was fine. I had a good visit with both parents before Dad died, and I was able to squeeze in lots of fun activities and see many old friends.

My stepmother wrote yesterday and asked how I was doing with Dad's death. I told her the adjustment is a process, which is certainly true for both of us -- indeed, all of us in the family. Interestingly, I find that my chief emotion has been anger -- not rage, just a low-level simmering -- at the fact that Dad was such a heavy smoker for so many years. Not just a smoker, but a defiant smoker, insistent on the pleasure he received from his cigarettes -- which ruined his teeth, his lungs, and ultimately, his brain.

I just don't understand tobacco or smoking. I don't get why, when a person weighs health and family against a momentary, completely unnecessary, poisonous pleasure, they opt for the latter. Of course, I'm sure they don't frame the issue that way. They somehow think they'll be the one smoker who gets away with it, who doesn't get sick.

My view is probably simplistic. I've never comprehensively studied the psychology of addiction, and it's not really my place to scold. But it is a mystery to me.

Anyway, it's good to be back at work. Back in the groove. We still have another week or so before students return, but there's plenty to be done to get ready!

(Photos: Hawthorne leaves from our lawn, dropped by our neighbor's tree.)


  1. A tricky question indeed - I think you handled it well with your response, some of these people may be unaware of your father's death and might be mortified if you told them.

    As for smoking, it's an addiction and not easy to quit; I can also see why you are angry at your father's stance. It's all so complicated the way we make our decisions and live our lives, especially to other people.

    Spotty old autumn leaves.


  2. Tut tut Steve! "Hawthorn" doesn't end with an "e" unless of course you are referring to Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864).

    Smoking remains a horrible blight upon the world - driven by profit hungry tobacco companies. It is a tragedy that such a clever man as your father was not clever enough to give cigarettes the boot. I actively hate cigarettes - the stench and the stupidity.

  3. I feel the same way about addiction. It's one of those things that I can't really understand. Sometimes I wonder if I have my own addictions that aren't good for me but, I can't really put my finger on any. Would a love of chocolate or travel or photography be considered addictions? I don't think so. I'd have to eat a lot of chocolate to make it really bad for me and travel and photography are very good for me. The travel part might be bad for my pocketbook but it's certainly good for my mind.

  4. Tobacco has contributed to virtually every death in my immediate family, so I can relate to your feelings completely. It also was a factor in my prematurity and low birthweight, based on what we know now. I have read that the variety of chemicals in cigarettes are as hard to stop as a heroin addiction, and if you can begin to understand that brain chemistry has a huge hand in this and that everyone's is a bit different, that explains some of this, though it is far more complicated. Please do not pretend everything is fine if it isn't, just be careful to whom you disclose my experience people are as ignorant about grief and grieving as they are of most other things...I hope you will enjoy the year ahead.

  5. I think there are different answers to "how was your summer" depending on the person asking. But I think you already get that.

    I'm completely with you on the smoking - and I'm married to a smoker. He quit some months before we got married but once he found himself under a high level of stress at work, he started again and continues to this day, although he has cut back, at times a lot, at other times only a little. It certainly is a relationship challenge, and it's a good thing he has a lot of good qualities and has no other negative ones! From what I've read, apparently some brains are more prone to addiction than others, and to those that are, nicotine can be harder to give up than cocaine. So I try to accept it while trying to encourage him to try quitting. And hey, he puts up with my stuff :)

    So I do get your anger about your dad's smoking. At the time he started, though, there would have been less of the negatives known about it, and he would be well hooked by the time anti-smoking literature started becoming common. He was very likely doing the best he could with the knowledge and resources he had (personal qualities he was born with, values he was raised with and took on, etc.) Most people do about the best they can with what they have, when you boil it right down. Just offering another perspective. It's what I fall back on when I need to forgive someone. But everyone has to find their own way.

  6. Addiction is real. People who never been addicted have no idea. I was a former smoker. Quitting was one of the hardest things I did in my life.

  7. I have heard reformed alcoholics and recovering drug addicts say cigarettes were harder to quit than anything else. You've had a tough few months, friend. But I suspect, like my husband, you suck it up and keep going. You don't waste energy railing at the fates. But they say anger is sadness turned inside out. You are grieving. We all grieve in different ways. I wish you peace and send you love.

  8. Well, you certainly had quite a tough summer. No wonder your gastritis flared up in the middle of it all. Here's hoping and wishing that your autumn will be glorious and in a calmer and lighter mood.

    My mother ultimately died of being a heavy smoker, she had other issues but that's what killed her. She was a scientist, she knew. But I think she was helpless.

  9. If it makes you feel any better- my Dad was a teetotaler, wuit smoking when he was young, ate well, excercised...- he died anyway...and, you are right, it is such an adjustment, I still want to pick up the phone and ask him stuff, listen to him list the things he had for dinner- rag out on politics...for you, it is a major and important loss, and will feel weird forevermore . Anger can sometimes bail you out, Anger saves you from despair sometimes. works for me, I like anger!


  10. Alphie: I have told some people -- those I'm more friendly with. But yeah, it makes for awkward conversation!

    YP: It's a horrible blight, but I think the tobacco companies will ultimately lose the battle. People are smarter about smoking now than they were even a few decades ago. As for Hawthorn vs. Hawthorne, I'm not going to correct it, just to piss you off. :)

    Sharon: I wonder the same thing about myself. Am I just not seeing my own addictions? I may be addicted to coffee, but that's about as bad as it gets in my case, fortunately. An interesting question!

    E: I understand the chemical addiction component, or at least I'm aware of it. (Whether I truly understand it may be open to question.) But I mean, people quit all the time. So, yes, there's a biological need to smoke, but it's not unbreakable. You have to WANT to break it, and what I don't understand are people (like my dad) who don't even want to try.

    Jenny O: It's certainly true that there was less understanding of the harmful effects of smoking back when my dad began (as a 14-year-old!). On the other hand, the dangers were well known by the 1960s, and as I said, my dad basically decided he enjoyed it and that was that. Your words about forgiveness are wise, however.

    Red: But you quit, and bravo for that!

    37P: Anger is sadness turned inside out....that's an interesting idea. I'm sure this is indeed all part of grieving.

    Sabine: Isn't that fascinating? That a scientist would smoke? Or a doctor, as is the case in my family. I just don't get it!!

    Linda Sue: Well, that's absolutely true. We all die, don't we? And maybe my anger reflects an unrealistic reliance on the idea that we can stave off death, at least for many years, through healthy living. I know that's not always the case.

  11. How can students at The American School have any faith in their favourite hunky photo shooting French speaking librarian when he randomly adds vowels to words? I am not pissed off, just bitterly disappointed.

  12. As usual, YP makes me laugh...

    It's been a hard summer for a lot of folks, but I think yours has been tougher than most! Grief is a strange & capricious beast - it will rear its head in unexpected ways & at unexpected times.

    I know that I'm addicted to sugar. It would really benefit my health if I'd just drop it from my diet altogether, but I'm not very motivated. I'm so glad I never started smoking!