Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Book Notes

I found this book on the list from Having recently read Being Mortal, having recently had to accept the frailty of old age as I watch the grandparents and parents age, and having recently noticed just ALL THE GREY HAIR I've had (really, I've had it for a while, shaving my head rather brought them out), reading this book didn't seem too far out of the current progression.

I am glad I did.

I highly recommend this book. All my family members are getting this book, possibly others. I might buy many copies of this book for the library at work, I think it's that great of a great book.

The book's description includes the paragraph:

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures."

Not my pain


The summer after I graduated high school, I was at work (in a bookstore, of course), when a personal call came through for me. I thought the call odd, and answered it, to hear Jenn tell me Ben had died. He was on a plane that had crashed the previous day, wind shears, one survivor, not Ben. Telling me at work seemed smart: I walked into the bathroom, cried for a long while, cleaned up, then went back to work, moving as numbly as I could, just needing something, anything, to keep going.

Ben's funeral wasn't so much of a funeral, there was no body to view, as a memorial. I remember being seeming the only person there crying. I couldn't understand why no one else was crying. Half the people there, and not just the boys, didn't have any evidence of having cried at all. Ben's mom at one point mentioned the graduation gift that was still on Ben's bed, unopened.

No one was crying.

For some of us, it was our first introduction to death, and they weren't crying.

I was confused and even more upset.

Three days ago, we began receiving the emails that, oh, god, none of us ever want to receive.

"... becky brought pro into the hospital yesterday and it doesnt look like he will be leaving this time ..."

"... They have found that the disease has progressed more than they realised and he is not doing well. The doctors have estimated that he has about three days ..."

So, here I am, completely stymied, at a loss.

And crying.

This isn't even my pain, and I'm crying.

Crying, because here's the imminent loss of an amazing person. Someone who is quick with the joke, generous with his time, as intense as needed, and just amazing to boot. He's this amazing person, and he's dying and it isn't fair.

It isn't fair to Becky, who is a wonderful person. It isn't fair to his kids. It isn't fair that someone who is good dies of something as stupid as pancreatic cancer. It's their pain, and I can't stop crying.



Good lord, have you looked at the price of textbooks recently? That Death class I've been following recently, has a reading assignment for five page in one book for one class session. Five pages. Buy the whole book for five freaking pages. I looked through all of the class reading assignments, hoping there would be a second reading assignment from the book. There wasn't.

The hardback book is $37. The softback book is $16.

$16 for five pages. Not that you would know this when buying the books before class starts.

I'd be so annoyed at the instructor for this, if I hadn't had the syllabus available to check before hand.

Time to see if the library has a copy.

Or if the rest of the book is worth reading.



I found out today through reddit (a website that is finally starting to wane in my attention space, but is still very strong), that Yale has posted many of its classes online. In particular, the reddit link pointed to the philosophy course on Death.

"With so much death" around me, I've been thinking more than I ought to I suspect about the topic of my death. I want to believe there's more than just this world, that there might actually be a purpose to all of this, but I can't. I can't believe, nor pretend to believe, there exists a life force out there that gives one flying whit about the outcome of my life. Yes, there may be a life force, I'm not convinced of an absence of such, but I'm pretty sure if it does exist, it doesn't care.

And it certainly is not the vengeful god of those who wrote that big tome of historical fairy tale fiction and conveniently left out the parts that disagreed with what the people with arbitrary power wanted the peons to believe. You know, the ones who killed other people who disagreed with the line that the world is flat.

Yeah. My "god." Not so vengeful.

Yet, I'm convinced there is somewhat of an end. Whether it's the complete cessation of this universe as far as I'm concerned, or merely the waking up to a sterile lab and realizing it was all a dream and I'm not done yet, I have no idea.

But I'd like to have some idea. Some inkling that, while it may not give me comfort at night, will give enough peace of mind to actually finish what I came here to do.

Not too much for a philosophy class on death, eh?

I wonder if I can get a friend or two in on this.

P.S. That book had good parts. In particular the ones that mention guidelines on how to behave in a society where no one actually needed to be told how to behave properly, because they were already behaving properly without all the coveting and the killing and such. But that's a different class, to be sure.

Not the intended way


I've been intending to lose about ten pounds or so for the last year. I haven't been having much luck until this week. I can honestly say that being completely stressed, heart thumping, head aching, gut wrenching stressed is so way not the way to go about losing the weight.

I'm down about three pounds from not eating, this week alone. This is so way not healthy. For the record, I despise people who abuse my good graces, treat me like shit, subject me to verbal abuse, then expect me to "play nice." A note to said people: you don't have the upper hand, don't think you do.

It would still suck


Back in 1986, January 28th to be exact, I came home from school upset. We had watched the Challenger tradgedy on a television a teacher had brought into a classroom, and we watched it over and over and over again. I wanted to talk about the accident, and so sought out my mom when she arrived home from work.

In particular, I wanted to talk about Judith Resnick. She was everything I wanted to be. She had a 1600 on her SATs (I was young, this was very important to me), was an engineer (biomedical, before that was a real major), and had a PhD. She was beautiful. She was musical (a classic pianist) and athletic (a runner). And she was pioneer: an astronaut in a male dominated field.

Everything I aspired to be (minus the astronaut part).

Mom's first words about Resnick were, "What a waste."

I immediately responded, "No, it wasn't a waste. It was a loss. She was doing what she loved to do, how could that be a waste?"

Mom looked at me, surprised, then agreed, yes, it was a loss, but not a waste.

On my way out the door today, I thought about that moment, about how I insisted that dying doing what you loved wasn't a waste. And I can't help but wonder, will I die doing what I love? Will I die playing ultimate? Or hiking? Or reading? Or gardening? Or programming? Or designing?

Will dying doing what I love make the loss any less painful?

Because as near as I can tell, the dying part of the equation? That's the part that sucks.

Good dog! Bad dog!


Annie killed a rat today. It might have been a really big mouse. And she didn't really kill it, so much as caused its death. As much as I want to say, "Yay, Annie! Good girl!" I'm mortified by how the rat died, and can't cheer her on as much as I want to.

Kris and I have been starting work on on the house. Before having the front yard landscaped, we replaced the sewer line, and figured we'd best paint the house, too, lest the landscaping be trampled by the painters. We're also having the whole house rewired, since we have exactly two grounded outlets in the house. I made arrangements for quotes for house painting and an electrician to come out, see what was up with the house, and give me quotes.

The painter came first, at 9:30. We walked around the house, looking at the various walls. When we approached the south wall, Annie and Bella were madly hunting. Noses to the ground, they were dashing up and down the yard along the fence, frantically following a scent. Bella would pause every once in a while and howl, but kept sniffing. I thought little of the event.

Having walked around the house, the painter guy and I went into the kitchen for a separate quote. The kitchen has been in the same state of incomplete surface remodel for the last two years, and I was tired of it. I'm sure Kris was even more tired of it than I was, having looked at yet.another.unfinished.project of mine for more than two days (possibly the cause of the household rule, "No more new projects until you finish the old ones." Either that room, or the bathroom, or the bedroom, or the office or the living room. One of those rooms.). The painter guy left and went to his car to write up a quote.

After twenty minutes or so, the painter guy gave me a quote, brieftly reviewed it, and left, just as the electrician was walking up. Excellent timing on everyone's part, and I started the house tour again, this time with the electrician. We went out back to discuss the electricity meter, which unfortunately, was installed poorly and allowed water to run along the exposed wires inside the meter. Lovely that.

As I turned to walk back into the house, Annie came running up to me all bouncy and excited. She jumped a bit, took two steps away looking over her shoulder back at me, then returned to bounce again when she realized I wasn't following her. "What is it, Annie?" I asked, looking up to where Bella was.

I walked over, and realized the dark grey object I thought was a stick on the ground by Bella was indeed not. It was a rat. A very wet, soggy rat. As I stood there amazed, it tried to stand and escape. Not thinking, I cried to Bella, "Get it!" and she ran over to it, howling. Annie was quicker, ran over over, picked up the rat and flipped it up. It turned in the air and landed with a soft splat on the concrete. Still alive, it tried again to get away.

Since the electrician was waiting, I went back into the house and finished the tour of the house, what I wanted done, which rooms would get ceiling lights, how many circuits, where would we add outlets. I asked for a lot of changes, figuring I could scale back as needed.

When we were done, I went back out to the backyard where Annie was still playing with the rat. It wasn't moving any longer, so I pinged Kris, let him know what was up, and told him I'd be throwing away the body. We chuckled about the whole thing, and I left to get a small bag. On my way out the door, I recalled Priyanka's dead squirrel incident, where she poked a "dead" squirrel, which wasn't quite dead enough, and it turned on her, latching onto her finger. She required a series of rabies shots and a lot of stitches. No thanks.

I walked back to the garage for gardening gloves, and walked back out to the backyard. As I crouched down and looked at the rat, I realized it was still breathing. It turned and looked at me. My next reaction was complete horror. This small creature was still alive, and being tortured by my dogs. Kris' dogs! Each breath was labored. I messaged Kris, exclaiming surprise at the fact the rat was still alive. He reaction: "Whack it with a shovel! One whack, dead!" I expressed my horror at the thought: the dichotomy of the situation not lost on me: I was perfectly fine with throwing away the dead body, but I wasn't willing to kill it.

Rats aren't particularly attractive creatures to me, Disney personification not-withstanding. The tails are kinda gross, too. Ick. But the thought of whacking the thing over the head with a shovel mortified me. I called Doyle to see if he'd come over and help me out. He was willing, but a short while out.

I found our shovel, and went to get the rat. Sure, the rat was going to die, but I didn't have to let the dogs gum it to death. I tried for a good three minutes to pick up that rat. It was limp and relatively unwilling to scoop up onto the shovel. I eventually managed to get it half on the shovel, and carried it folded over on the edge around to the front, dropping it on the driveway next to the jasmine. The dogs weren't too happy with me, as I took away their kill. I am, however, Alpha Dog, and I get the food, not them.

While I sat there, waiting for Doyle out front, I watched the rat. It's breathing was labored. A neighbor walked by, and stopped to talk to me. Her immediate reaction when I told her my dog had killed a rat, was, "Yay!" but when she realized it wasn't quite dead, also paused. We talked about inconsequential things, and, as I looked up to talk to her, the rat died. Scooping it up onto the shovel and into the bag was easy at that point.

The rat's death bothered me a surprising amount, it still bothers me, and will probably continue to bother me, as I think about it. Yes, I recognize the circle of life, the hunter and the hunted, the ridiculousness of the personification, and the destruction the small creature could wring on my garden and backyard. I know these things, yet watching an animal die was hard.

The older I get, the more I am aware of my own mortality. Working on busy work becomes more difficult. Having as much clutter as I have becomes harder. Letting go of things becomes harder. The thought of any of my family dying is crushing, yet I know it'll happen, and the older I get the more imminent such and event becomes. I want to hold all of my friend and family close and stop change from happening. Take this moment and keep it.

Yay, Annie caught a food stealing, potential rabies carrying rat. Oh, my, god, she killed another being. I can't resolve this dichotomy.