February 19, 2011

For Moments Like This...

I indicated in my brief personal remarks at the conclusion of the last entry that I would be turning my attention to some long-planned articles. I must first note that I am deeply grateful to those readers who have been remarkably kind and sent in donations. Given the near total absence of new posts in recent months, your generosity is most extraordinary. Please do not think that I ever lose sight of that. It would be only good manners for me to send personal thank you notes; unfortunately, the degree of physical discomfort and even fairly intense pain that I so often feel these days makes that all but impossible. The pain is frequently made worse by sitting at the computer.

And I've been in a lot of pain for the last day and a half. I got up to go to the bathroom at about 3 AM yesterday morning, and then found that I wasn't able to get back to bed. I lay down on the bathroom floor, where I remained for about two hours. The cats came by at one point to see what had happened to me, bless their angelic souls. (They had to rouse themselves from bed, where we all had been sleeping.) I finally managed to get back to bed, where I spent all of yesterday but for a few minutes here and there. This particular pain is located deep in my gut, some kind of intestinal problem (at least, that's how it presents). I've had it before, and I have absolutely no idea what causes it. It goes away eventually, although the "eventually" seems to be taking quite a while this time. At least, the pain isn't as paralyzing now, although my lower gut still hurts more than a little. Well, I'd wanted to lose a little weight.

Why don't I call 911? you might wonder. Especially since, given my continuing heart problems, I could legitimately call 911 almost any time and view it as an emergency. I don't simply because...well, honestly, what's the point? They'll do something or other to alleviate the immediate problem, give me some shots or whatever, and provide prescriptions for medications -- prescriptions that I won't be able to pay to continue anyway. And in the course of all that, I may hear about the wonderful things they could do to find out all the ways my body is deteriorating and what they could do to fix a lot of it -- all things they could do, if I had money and/or insurance that was worth a damn. But since I don't have any money and am completely without insurance, not one of those things will be done. So again, what's the point? They'll make me feel better for a couple of days, and then my life will go back to what it was, or worse. (It always gets worse now.)

So I reserve calling 911 for what I suppose we might call (using today's typically corrupt language) an "emergency emergency." That is, if I think I'm having a major heart event or something of similar magnitude, then I'll call 911. In other words, if I think there's a real chance I might die without immediate medical care, I'll call them. Otherwise, no. Of course, there's a chance I might misjudge the situation. As some damned philosopher once observed: "Oh, well." (I don't just go to a doctor because, surprise, I can't afford it.)

In any case, collapsing on the bathroom floor in awful pain isn't the worst thing in the world, and I didn't think it would kill me. It didn't. Huzzah!

So, about those long-planned articles...oh, I perhaps should say that this doesn't mean I won't comment on current events, to the extent I'm able to. In fact, more than a few events of recent weeks (and related commentary) connect with some themes I'll be exploring in more detail. Some of the articles I hope to complete concern various aspects of tribalism; in that connection (and for the couple of dozen of you who might care), I'll be relying quite heavily on the four articles in the tribalism series, especially on the issues discussed in Part II and Part III. Those two articles in particular contain what I myself think is some of the best detailed analysis I've offered here. I had originally planned many further installments of that series, but then my failing health increasingly intruded on my abilities to fulfill many of my plans. So I hope to finally take up some of the issues and ramifications I had planned to explore.

Much of what I've described above concerning my daily life is extremely unpleasant. So I look for those precious moments that allow me to feel, "Yes, it's all worth it ... if only to experience this." On very rare occasions, I feel something akin to that when I've managed to put an article together in a way that approaches what I had envisioned. But much more often, as is true for many people, I find such moments in art. Since opera has been hugely significant in my life, I'm likely to find those moments in especially cherished performances -- such as this one.

I cannot mention opera and cherished performances without also mentioning Maria Callas. So try this one, too. Those who criticize Callas for her technical failings commonly focus on the very end of Callas's performing career (say, from the early 1960s on), when the technical problems were often genuinely alarming (and very unpleasant listening). Some of these critics will also try to locate Callas's decline as stemming from a single factor, usually her extreme weight loss. But this performance is from November 1957, several years after she'd lost all that weight. And the performance (which, I note, is a rehearsal -- and bless the soul who had the foresight to record the event) is altogether extraordinary: the supreme control, the attention to phrasing and word coloring, the imperturbable poise of the singing, the emotional expressiveness. It's magnificent. And the coloratura, most notably the descending scales, in the cabaletta! Perfection. Even Callas's most vehement critics will acknowledge the miracle of her descending scales; often, you can tell it practically kills them to admit it, but they will. (As an interesting and rewarding exercise, you can compare the 1957 rehearsal to a studio recording from 1949. As astonishing as the earlier performance is, the 1957 one is still better in my view, for the attention to the smallest of details, as well as the general mastery that comes from intimate knowledge of the music over a period of time. If you want to know what Elvira is singing about, see here.)

Whenever I mention Callas, I usually also recall one particular of essay of mine, since it remains among my own two or three favorites of all my articles. So I'll mention it again. That's as close to a personal credo as you're likely to see from me.

All right. I need to go back to bed now, but hope to be back with a new article or two in several days.