The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, January 14, 2008

A week of comforts (in 4 slow movements)

It’s been body-to-head combat this past week or so, starting with some benign yet bothersome medical nuisances—a cornucopia of coughing, sneezing, migraines and dizzy spells—a battle-loss I’m sure most of the country is losing this cold-season, and one that required rather a lot of soothing from my somewhat-amused doctor, trying to redirect my certainty of pending doom. Benign is a good word in these cases, she smiled. Fine, but I reserve the right to whimper a bit, and try to find some small comforts beyond the excuse to laze around.

Fittingly, I later learned our repertoire this season for the chorus I’ve recently joined is lullabies. I, the sole non-mother of the group, was initially unimpressed. My childhood was hardly filled with gentle matronly singing whilst I swung sweetly in a cradle. (Hmm, maybe that’s why being ill makes me so whiney.) Miriam, our choir leader (and a new mother), did not disappoint, though, choosing a nice selection of songs from various cultures, including a gorgeous version of the Welsh “Suo Gan,” which some of you may remember from the film Empire of the Sun. And even the more traditional songs she selected have such fascinating arrangements I never would’ve imagined that after one practice I’d become a lullaby-lover.

By Friday, miserable from a week of bed-to-couch TV and DVD (in)action, I sought the comfort of the lovely Pandora, my latest favourite online music source. Since none of my current stations—not the James Brown, nor the Staples Singers; not the Bob Dylan nor the 60s garage; not the Tom Waits nor even the French chanteuses—would comfort the low-grade migraines still menacing me, I set out to create, initially, a Mozart station, and discovered this festering disease can be lulled into a sort of sleep by Haydn’s symphonies. A little wiki-ing and I discovered he was a gentle, relatively ego-less man; someone both admirable and soothing; someone who lived a long and prolific life. Someone I could admire. And now, I think I’m a Haydn-lover.

Skimming Internet headlines yesterday, desperate for something to take my mind off this aging flu-ridden body and mind, an unexpected cure for what’s really been ailing me: not enough writing and the subsequent guilt. The tidbit, about an 88-year-old ballet dancer who started dancing at 77, reminded me of a friend who at 38 decided she wanted to be a saxophone player after a relatively successful career as a poet and performance artist, and who 4 short years later is receiving scholarships and accolades for her abilities. Granted, she works hard at her craft, but nevertheless, late-bloomer stories are always comforting to the over-35 folks, stuck in a world gagging for prodigies.

I then came upon a most comforting 2006 Time article, better than any of the medicine I’d been taking: “The Surprising Power of the Aging Brain”, in which a 65-year-old new composer comments, "At a certain age…you either get older or you get younger. If you get younger, you venture out and take risks." The article reassesses the previous belief that the human brain “reache[s] its peak of power and nimbleness by age 40”, and that possibility is bound to disturb anyone lying about the house brooding. But the article reassures us (for surely only the over-35 set would bother read it, aching for some middle-age comfort): “Far from slowly powering down, the brain as it ages begins bringing new cognitive systems on line and cross-indexing existing ones in ways it never did before.”

Considering Haydn lived a remarkable and active 70 years in the 18th century, and that some of our most respected writers didn’t publish until into their 40s, I’d say there’s rather a lot of comfort from reading these new findings. And just like that, it feels as though the chills have subsided and the head is clearing, and the voice may just be able to make it through tomorrow's practice.

Now maybe, just maybe, I can get some writing done.


(Image courtesy of Portland's prolific RadRobot, who I hope doesn't mind me borrowing his image; it so perfectly expresses how I've been feeling. Do visit his site and one his many stores.)


Blogger Anne C. said...

I've been thinking about risk-taking and aging a lot lately. My concern is that I take up new activities (last week, hulahooping, next week, who knows? figure skating?) as a procrastination technique, to ensure that I never, ever do what I really want to do, which is write.

But then I see how your choir has been a source of inspiration for you. How could that be a bad thing?

Anyway, take care of yourself, and hope that you're feeling back to normal soon. (p.s. I doubt very much that anyone sang me lullabies either, but it was probably for the best!)

Mon Jan 14, 07:14:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Get well soon, Tamara!
I love Haydn, ever since reading Charles Rosen's "The Classical Style". And it was really cemented when I learned to play (not well, I'm afraid) his late Ebmajor sonata. He really is quite brilliant. He's extra special- because usually 'brilliant' goes along with 'gloomy' in music circles, and he's that rarity- a happy genius.

Mon Jan 14, 09:20:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Thanks, guys.

Hulahooping, Anne? How's that going? Are you saying you don't know how to skate? I thought it was an easterner's rite of passage.

I'll look for the Ebmajor sonata, Andrew. There's so much to discover!

Mon Jan 14, 10:18:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

"Aging"(don't make me laugh, you tadpole)is making you more introspective, or is it the flu? (My life always passes before my eyes when I'm sick.)I have loved Haydn since I was a kid taking piano lessons, but I never bothered looking him up.

Hope you're better soon, singing away and trying even more new things.

Wed Jan 16, 04:38:00 pm GMT-5  

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