When you’re in serious pain while waiting for medical treatment, you twist and turn and look every which way for relief; you behave in ways that you wouldn’t when in good health; you learn things you didn’t expect; you perceive and understand in new ways.
The other day I read a newspaper feature on the anodyne effects of proper breathing. See what I mean? I already knew how to breathe. Not to brag, but I’m pretty good at it. Still, according to some highly-credentialed people, there is always room for improvement. Do it right and good things happen. So I’ve tried it, but it hasn’t done much for me, and I’ve put it in the same category as, “Good Lord, man. Get a grip,” like characters in old British movies say in a pinch.
Visualization is another such pain killer. Just imagine you’re on a Greek beach spending your lottery winnings, and your spinal arthritis doesn’t hurt at all. Maybe I’ve misunderstood how this works, but I’m quite sure that I’ve always been as accomplished at imagining stuff like this, particularly winning the lottery, as I am at breathing. So, though I’m skeptical, when it’s too soon for another pill, and I’m really getting knocked around, I call up T. S. Eliot – “Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future” – and think about sex. It works better than just breathing. But not as good as Tramadol.
In intervals between surges of pain, I read. Just now and for the foreseeable future, I’m enjoying Andrew Gant’s history of English church music. I find it both charming and edifying – not a bad combination – even though my musical training is insufficient to allow me to appreciate it fully. So, it’s slow going. I can hardly get through a page without looking up something. On its face, that’s no way to read, is it? It makes a normally pleasurable activity seem more like a chore. Not to me, though.
A typical interlude with Gant went like this.
At 4:06 I started in the middle of page 136. At 4:07 in a section on William Byrd, I came across , “Will Kemp…praised the singing of the town waits.” I looked it up. Waits were street singers of Christmas carols in Elizabethan England. Incidentally, I came across “wait” as an active verb often used in the bible and devotional writing to mean preparing for something by being keenly aware of everything one is surrounded by. That set me to thinking about Lent. At 4:16, I returned to Byrd and immediately came across “recusancy, “which upon examination turned out to mean not merely returning to Catholicism as I had thought but also simply not attending church, i.e., the Anglican Church. Recusancy Laws were passed in 1558 and not repealed till 1888. (Enforcement varied from time to time.) At 4:25, contrafacta were noted as a specialty of Byrd and Tallis. Contrafacta , it turned out were vocal compositions written in both Latin (for Catholic use) and English (for Anglican use) but musically identical. Further – Elizabethan England was officially Protestant but Roman Catholicism continued to be practiced in homes and “in the woods.”
At 4:35, I was interrupted by something, and I put Gant aside, having read and savored about four pages, one of which was music.I said, slow going, but the sidebars made the reading richer. It was a happy homage to the eighteenth century essayist Charles Lamb who was fond of “the teeming, fruitful, suggestive meaning of words.”
In college, I once took an Evelyn Wood speed reading course. I never did get the hang of it.
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Absolutely splendid, Paul. Made my day. Reminds me of my all-time favorite Byrd lyric: “Of sourest sharps and uncouth flats make choice and I’ll thereto compassionate my voice.”. (Come, woeful Orpheus)
I enjoyed your comments about Gant, and it’s for the same reason that I read Blaise Pascal’s Pensées. The words take me somewhere.
I always love your ruminations, Paul, even when they make me sad, as this one did. So sorry about your painful back. Maybe try medical (and recreational) marijuana?