I wake incrementally, as though surprised by morning and uncertain how to proceed. I emulate a friend who slept, undrugged, through a Los Angeles earthquake, only to find mirrors cracked and lamps knocked over in his hotel room when he finally woke. Each morning mirrors my life -- slow to start, late to bloom, a plodder not a sprinter, though the body outdistances mind and mood. Caffeine and sunshine infusions ease some of the daily grimness. Here’s what Alec Guinness says in A Positively Final Appearance (and it was – he died one year after its publication, in 2000, age 86):
“For me there are two salves to apply when I feel spiritually bruised – listening to a Haydn symphony or sonata (his clear common sense always penetrates) and seeking out something in Montaigne’s essays. This morning, in spite of the promise of a bright cloudless day, I woke curmudgeonly and disapproving of the world and most of its inhabitants. Montaigne pulled me up sharply: `What we call wisdom is the moroseness of our humours and our distaste of things as they are now … Age sets more wrinkles on our minds than on our faces.’ I don’t care about the facial blemishes but the wriggly, acid convolutions of the brain must be smoothed away somehow. Two or three days in a Benedictine monastery might do the trick.”
I’ll take Haydn under advisement. A saner choice, certainly, than Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose passing in December belatedly brightened an otherwise drab year. The composer will be remembered for describing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as “the biggest work of art there has ever been.” Not surprisingly, he died of heart failure.
Montaigne’s essays already sit on my night stand, beside the lamp, alarm clock and other useful books. Guinness quotes from “On Vanity,” an inspired choice. Montaigne seems to have shared our slowness to rouse. Later in the essay he writes:
“I am hard to set in motion; but once under way, I go as far as anyone wants. I balk as much at little undertakings as at great ones, and at getting equipped for a day’s trip and a visit to a neighbor as for a real journey.”