Today all I can think about is the most terrifying and horrible day of my life. It was exactly one year ago. It was the last time my Dad ever held my hand. The last time he ever looked into my eyes.... He did these things as he convulsed in pain from the mini-strokes that were slowly and painfully killing him - despite the high doses of drugs coursing through his veins. Staying ahead of the pain was our collective goal for the past six months but this day we seemed to be loosing the battle. It was the first day of many things that would never be again.
My father smoked from the time he was around 14 and aside from a few failed attempts he didn't stop until a couple years before his 80th Birthday. Finally with lungs like black tissue paper and three aortic aneurisms about to burst at any moment he finally followed his surgeon's advice to quit. I remember what it was like to watch the rotation of pharmaceutical commercials on NBC Nightly News with him. A commercial for some drug boasting its ability to treat COPD would come on and he would say " Oh, COPD? I have that". He said it pleasantly, not just acceptingly. He was clearly in denial about what it meant to live with a disease that could kill you. I never knew exactly how to respond. I was living in comfortable denial too. One commercial after the next, the diseases and drugs would vary but his commentary and attitude didn't. The only disease he had that there was no drug commercial for was lung cancer. With that disease his denial faded in and out. He would often say to us with total conviction "I really don't believe I have cancer! I don't FEEL sick". Unfortunately I never felt the luxury of denial with this diagnosis. And some days I felt happy my father was living in denial and other days I was concerned he didn't feel the urgency of his final days. I didn't know how to respond. It frustrated me. I didn't want him to "waste" a single day. Who the hell was I to decide how he should spend his last days on earth? I stopped feeling that way the first time I saw him really feel the fact that his final day was coming. I never wanted him to feel that way again. And all I could do to help him was tell him what he meant to me. Really meant. It surprised me how easily the words fell out of my mouth. We are not a vocal family when it comes to our feelings. I know - weird considering we are of Italian descent!
(Tommy Ton photo via JAK & JIL)
In six month's time my dad's cancer spread from his lungs to his adrenal gland and then his bones and then they stopped looking.
You may think 80 is a full long life but you don't know how youthful my father was. You don't know how much he LOVED life! He used to say "Life is for living" and quoted "This old world we live in, sure is hard to beat. You find a thorn with every rose, but ain't the roses sweet". Were it not for his total zest for life he would never have made it through all the health complications he suffered the last ten years of his life. They were all directly related to his lifelong smoking habit. Totally self induced. Totally unnecessary.
Some people live to be 100 and smoke their entire lives. Some people never take a drag and die of cancer at an early age. Some people smoke, quit and crave it every day and then get hit by a bus and die anyway. Life is short - why not indulge? I feel this way about cheese despite having "dangerously high cholesterol" since the age of 24. I have my own vices so who am I to lecture the close friends of mine who smoke despite the facts. But I worry about them. What my dad went through, and what his friends and family witnessed didn't have to be. That's what keeps passing through my mind. It simply didn't have to be. But he had his first cigarette high before they knew the consequences. So why do my friends smoke?
(Paz de la Huerta portrait by Terry Richardson via terrysdiary)
The Surgeon General released a shocking report a couple weeks ago.
They are calling it "The Epidemic":
- every day in the US 30 kids pick up their first cigarette
- the overall number of teenagers smoking is down but the rate of decline is slowing
- 88% of smokers start in their teens
- 600,000 middle school students smoke, 3 million high school students smoke
- 1,200 people die every day from cigarettes, for every death 2 young adults start smoking
- when you start younger, you're likely to be addicted longer
- 3 things happen when you start smoking at a younger age: 1- cardiovascular damage 2- stunted lung growth 3- shortness of breath
- nicotine is more addictive than heroin
- the 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes are what kills you
(Kate Moss portrait by Terry Richardson via terrysdiary)
Chilling news, this epidemic. I'm sure there are many factors that contribute to the results of that report but the one that strikes me most is the images we are fed daily. Not to single anyone out but there are two sites I visit daily - they are the sites belonging to my two current favorite fashion photographers. You likely know them: Tommy Ton - whose inspiring images of street style are taken to the next level and have made stars out of "fashion people"; and Terry Richardson whose work is in just about every fashion magazine out there. I have personally seen his work exhibited at "Art in the Streets" at the Geffen Contemporary and "Terrywood" at OHWOW Gallery. I admire their work. I believe in their images. I'm buyin' what they're sellin'. My guess is so are young impressionable minds. And images of smoking isn't just all over the internet but TV (hello, Mad Men!) and movies... Ciggies are dramatic props. Smoke swirling around is sexy. They draw attention to the mouth - hot!
(vintage Odille dress hand painted by me!)
So, before I get too rambly or worse, preachy, I'd love to hear why you think this epidemic is growing. What can be done about it? I've seen some pretty terrible commercials with labored breathing as of late. In Canada they've had frightening images of lungs on their packages of cigarettes for years (and exorbitant taxes as well) and yet I have plenty of family and friends over there who still smoke... Smoking bans vary from state to state and even city to city here in LA county but trust - it's getting harder to find a place outside of your home (and some apartment buildings do not allow smoking in your apartment or even on your balcony!). Maybe if I were an important image-maker I'd consider some of the images I was putting out there...
The only forms of expression I have are through this blog and my personal style. So I guess this is my way of trying to get through to friends, and family, and anyone reading because no man is an island!
Please, I'm worried about you! Stop smoking... form a nice healthy cheese habit!