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« while you aspire | Main | Your Future's Truth »

Breath: The Only Requirement

I wake up pondering. Doing it for months. Reminding myself I'm going to die. It's positively unrelenting. Starting right after a young man on the subway calls me elderly, while chastising everyone else in the car for not offering me their seat. When I’m of the mind, I’m doing fine. Getting out of bed on my own. Working around being trapped inside my birth-date. Of which there’s no getting out. That makes me mad. I’m still breathing. And since breath means life; count me in. 

Then I get an idea. I could be doing it better. Enhancing my life by oxygenating all my cells inside my lower lungs and diaphragm. Giving them what they require to produce energy. Which is what I'm after. Since we humans are balls of that ageless stuff.  

But presently, I feel congealed air locked inside my chest. The vocal folds inside my neck under-performing, leaving me wanting and waiting for my true voice. I got it. I'll learn how to master breath. In deference to Samuel Beckett.He suffered from breathlessness.   

He also got it right. It's breath that keeps us here. It's absence means we're gone. Look at his 124-word play, taking 35 seconds from start to finish called "Breath." There's not a live actor in sight and he makes his point. Opening with a junk strewn stage, dim light, the cry of a new-born. Then stronger light. A recording of someone inhaling. Exhaling. Less light. Then that same brief, faint cry. End of play. End of life. Check his directorial notes if you need more proof.

He uses inspiration and expiration. For their shared Latin root. Spir. Breath. No synonyms here. He's imploring. Leaving me to add the word respiration, derived from that same root. Extracted from my present preoccupation. Understanding the action required inside breathing. Working weekly with a teacher who has studied with Kristin Linklater. A vocal coach who employs art and imagery in helping you free your natural voice. And I've experienced change.

Speaking slower. Verbalizing fewer tangential thoughts. Doing more prioritizing. Emerging from a shadowy woodland into a patch of sunlit greenery. Wishing to say to that endocrinologist who wants me on a pill. “It’s breath. Not medication. That's the way to make yourself right."    

Or, if satisfied with your existing respiratory prowess, and desirous of being reminded of its  temporariness, subscribe to “WeCroak.” An app that pings your phone five times a day at various intervals with a text, “Remember. We’re all going to die.” To amplify, it tags on a quote elaborating on your soon-to-be rotting flesh. While I advise. Note the number five. It comes from an old Bhutanese folk song claiming a happy man thinks about death five times a day.

I do. Then in a second switch to a more upbeat thought.         

“Bones are your body's resonators. With cervical posture pivotal to voice resonance and pitch support. Get to know cervical 1. Or C 1 named Atlas. The vertebra beneath your cranium. Go to C2. Known as Axel. Below C1. Those two allow your neck to go up and down, side to side and in circles."  

Everything the teacher says is new. Especially the head sitting atop the spine. When I've been treating it as if it was a separate entity. Lifting it from the skull. As if it's my mind's doing. Giving myself jaw, neck and upper back pain.  

"Overall postural alignment's necessary for voice production. Pay attention to your spinal cord. It allows for complete body function. Take the sacrum. That wedge-shaped vertebra at the inferior end. Your gravity's center. From head to knees to feet. It keeps you vertical, even as your upper body reaches for the stars. ”  

What I'm getting is:the skeleton unlocks your bliss. I'm going for it. And it's Saturday, June 16. Fourteen of us are at St. Marks in the Bowery. It's 11:30 am. I'm about to do a tour. A couple, he holding a German Shepherd, she a Golden Retriever ask, “Can we take them along?”

Being an animal lover I say, "Yes. But be warned. If they get bored, I'll feel bad. Tell me their interests? “ Neither of them move a facial muscle. The dogs look up. With tongues hanging out. It's hot. I ask, “Did you bring water.” She says. “No. We expected fountains.” I say, “Did you think we'd be traversing Utopia?” I take out my bottle. I empty its contents into the bowl she offers. The humans say nothing. The dogs lap it up.

Thank you. No thank you. No matter. I breathe. I'm going to die. I get happy. Just like how I react when my play is rejected from the Fringe Festival. 

Accepted. Rejected. No matter. I'm going to die. I'm happy. I breathe.








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Reader Comments (14)

I am not familiar with Samuel Beckett’s play about BREATH. It sounds fascinating. I always learn from you. My grandmother once said to me, “We never think about how important our breath is until we can’t catch it.” When it comes to death, there’s the anonymous quote regarding life “Nobody gets out alive.” Finally, a friend told me that just as our birthdays pass by each year, so does another important date... our Death Day, only we don’t know the latter. Life is an endless stream of information.


June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSheila Evans

The only Beckett I ever read was “Waiting for Godot.” I will look at “Breath.” Like Sheila, I always learn from you, too.

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy Foreman

I just saw “Breath” on YouTube. Interesting. Then through the magic of the internet, I was directed to something by Chancel, a French writer I was not familiar with. Essentially, he expressed the same sentiment as Beckett but in words.
To paraphrase: We cry, we live. Such is life. We yawn, we die. Such is life.
Yet again, I learn from you.

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy Foreman

I love this one! You are an in-spiration to me.

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGail

Jane: I can totally relate. I am your age. I was on a bus tour with you 2 years ago. Enjoyed you so much. I find myself very preoccupied with my death (one of these days.) How and when am I going to die. I was an RN---most of my nursing employment was in a long term care facility. I took care of my parents, One would think I would not have my death on my mind so much---after all, I should have a better perspective.. I am fearful---dont want it to happen. Totally unrealistic.
Thank you.

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I laughed so hard when you asked the couple what their dogs' interests were. Just made my breathing and and psyche so much better.

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJan Brier

Thank you for the inspiration and insight. Onward!

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Jane: Being an 'old broad' I especially enjoyed reading these brilliant words!

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Devorah

We share our mortality as a given. Let us speak about it. The obvious is often hidden.

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Thinking about our mortality reminds us to live like we are dying as the CW song says. I think you are a living example of that!

June 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNetta

I needed this. I currently have gone trough a spell with breathing problems and am now improving. Thank you for inspiring me. Tip

June 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTip Biggs

You worry....however, you are out there most days sharing your vast knowledge with travelers that love you. Your wit is so quick - we all love you and enjoy you sharing your thoughts! Keep breathing....I know you....you can do it - for a long, long time yet!! Maria Croft - Goode, VA

June 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Croft

Your message is clear. Time is ticking away. Enjoy it all. Once it’s gone, it can’t come back. The dogs said thank you.
Their owners oblivious to it all.
Wonderful writing. Not only inspirational but informative. I always feel like I’ve taken a college class when I read your work. I always strive for an A.
With love, Anita

June 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnita Lippman

Jane, I absolutely loved this piece! I love our 41 year friendship! Thank you.

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAleta

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