September 13, 2020

STAY CALM ( but don't breathe so much)

It is September, Fall is here, and Wildfire season is a bit late this year.  In our neck of the woods, Wildfire season usually starts after Spring, but August is often Wildfire month.  Last year was relatively good, but the two years previous were bad.  Air is full of particulate this year.  We have wildfires not coming from the Interior or Alberta, but from the south.  The west coast of the US is on fire, Washington, Oregon and California.  There is an incipient civil war, an incendiary President, and a pandemic featuring symptoms of loss of breath, with the feeling that your lungs are full of jello.   

A few months ago, George Floyd was murdered by 4 policemen in Minneapolis. One stood on his neck while he said he could not breathe.  George Floyd died because he could not breathe, because a murderous racist cop was standing on his neck, because other racist cops watched, and did nothing to stop his death.  

Breathing, and not breathing, are the real issue of this unsettled year.  Sure, we still live in fear.  Fear of contagion, virus, election results.  Businesses have shut down, some re-opened, and many remain closed for good.  Some people are working again, while others are still out of work.  Rents were frozen for some, but those rent-freezes are thawing out.  We are about to experience a flood of homelessness, hunger, increased addiction and never-ending unrest.

For the last few months, during all this upheaval, the sky was blue and birds were singing. The surreal duality has been messing with our minds, causing  increased mental health issues. An epidemic of loneliness is also in season. 

But now, we are deep in wildfire season. The air we breathe is almost unbreathable.   Air quality is two times worse than what worse is supposed to be.  Eyes burn, throats are raw, and I have had a headache for over 2 weeks now.  There is something in the air.

Life itself is breath.   

We are alive as long as we can breathe.  

When breathing stops, it becomes a question of time.  

If one stops breathing for more than 3 minutes, the result is brain injury.  

Over 5 minutes, and life itself stops.  

Many people have shortness of breath right now, and for some people, their breathing regularly stops every night as they "sleep".  I put "sleep" in quotation marks, as eyes may be shut, the room may be dark, it might be night, but often sleep, actual sleep is elusive.  

Certainly the quality of sleep suffers when one cannot breathe properly.  I suffer from sleep apnea, where I regularly stop breathing for periods of time while I sleep.  I remember sharing a room with my boss once in Seattle for a trade show.  He did not want to pay for two rooms, so I had to share a room, although thankfully, we had separate beds.  He was so parsimonious that the next morning when he saw the prices for a hotel breakfast, he suggested that we share an egg!   

He was a famous snorer, and would even fall asleep during meetings in the daytime.  Also while he was driving.  The night I shared a hotel room with him, his snoring was so loud, I started counting the seconds between when he breathed out, and then abruptly, made the snore sound that announced he had once again restarted breathing.  His breaths were about 45 seconds apart.  Counting seconds of a person "sleeping" is not similar to counting sheep; in fact, it is very hard to go back to sleep when another person is not breathing well in the bed next to you.

My own sleep apnea is worse when I have extra weight, or have been drinking.  My poor wife has suffered with me for over 40 years now.  I have tried CPAP machines, that regulate your breathing while you sleep, but the apparatus is so foreign to sleeping, that I always ended up quitting.  

Breathe-Right strips help a bit, but fall off during the night.   Nose breathing is apparently healthier, but breathing through your nose is not as natural as breathing through one's mouth. 

We breathe in , and we breathe out.  The lungs fill, and empty with a regularity, as our hearts keep the beat. One of the ways that I deal with stress is to sing.  All my life, I have gone for walks, made up songs, and sung them to myself.  Over 40 years ago, I started singing those songs for other people.

One cannot sing without breath, although God knows, I have tried.  When one runs out of breath, the words start to fail, the delivery falters, and the tone becomes impaired.

It may sound strange, but there are other ways to breathe, besides the old in/out. 

"Circular breathing is a technique used by players of some wind instruments to produce a continuous tone without interruption. It is accomplished by breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth using air stored in the cheeks."1

The concept of circular breathing was made  popular by Frank Sinatra, but was practiced for thousands of years by didgeridoo players.   Sinatra adopted this technique from Tommy Dorsey, big band trombonist, to improve his tone, delivery and stamina.  

Angus McPherson describes this technique in an article he wrote for Cut Common Magazine, "An air of mystery surrounds circular breathing, as if it's a special club that only the worthy are allowed to enter."  2

Even though I have played music for over 40 years, I have always thought of myself as a non-musician. (Those who have heard me would probably agree. Pa-dump.)  Michael Blake, famous NY saxophonist once remarked, "Dennis doesn't play the sax, he owns a sax." 


I guess I am a Marxist in that respect, a Groucho Marxist, as Groucho once said he would "refuse to join any club that would have him as a member."

I am no longer a member of the Musician's Union, I still can't do circular breathing, and I still own a sax.   

The sky is yellow.

Coffee is black.

I'm a bit blue.

_ _ _ _ _ _.

What should the last line be?  

I feel like a kitten in a sack....

Keeping it clean I'll just say fack....

Feeling like I want my money back....

Winter is coming.  ( I know it doesn't rhyme. )

I am reminded of wise words from the song Jack You Dead by the great Louis Jordan.  So I will give Mr. Jordan the last words:

"When all the breath has leaked out of you

bomp bomp bomp

Jack You Dead."  

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