Friday, March 4, 2016

"Missing The Message... Again And Again"

“Napoleon’s going to lose!” I bemoan hyper-dramatically to Dr. M, having just started the seventh CD of the seven-disc set of the book Waterloo which I am listening to as I exercise on the treadmill.  Immersed in her morning crossword, Dr. M’s disinterestedly replied,


“Napoleon’s going to lose!” I repeat even more hyper-dramatically than the first time if that were exaggeratedly possible.  To which her belated reaction was,     

“What a surprise.”

Because, you know, it’s history.  And we knew that.

This is the problem with historical writing – no suspense – because we are already aware of the outcome.

“Oh, a new book about the Alamo!  Maybe they’ll win this time!”


This inevitable “fun-kill” is endemic also in cinematic “biopics”, such as Race, which I recently attended and hope in the future to write about, so I shall say no more at this juncture… beyond the fact that Jesse Owens did exceedingly well at the ‘36 Olympics.  I hope that does not ruin it for you.  As it substantially did for me.)

So, okay, fine.  Historical narratives – you already know the ending.  Custer loses and they landed on the moon.  The hope, however, be it a book or a movie about actual events, is in the possibility of learning more about the subject than you already know.  Newly revealed specifics.  Interesting background material on the participants.  A “fresh take” explaining the way things turned out. 

The destination is on record.  But, perhaps, not the whole story.  

Unfortunately, listening to Waterloo, I learned considerably less about the battle than I was hoping to.

And now a small although pertinent side-trip. 

I spoke yesterday about… What did I speak about yesterday?  I know there’s a connection.  I have to look it up.  Hold on a second.  Man, I’m old.

Okay, I’m back.  And there was a connection.

I mentioned yesterday that I do not wear headphones when I am walking on the street because of the impossibility of thinking and listening at the same time.
(Although I did experience knee-scraping evidence of thinking and falling at the same time.)   

I reported that while walking unencumbered by headphones, I came up with two eminently viable blog post ideas.  The implication being that listening to “Books-on-CD” on the treadmill, my concentration is so completely engaged on what I am listening to, l have no residual brain function for thinking.

That assertion, I now admit, is not entirely correct.  Listening to “Books on CD”, thoughts still occasionally slip in.  And the consequences are far from productive.

Using the current example, almost everyone knows that the Battle of Waterloo was fought between Napoleon, Emperor of France and an army of allies led by the English Duke of Wellington and that Wellington eventually prevailed.  Fewer people know – though still a substantial number – that the main reason Wellington won was that the Prussian army showed up in the nick of time to turn the tide of the battle against the French.

Okay, so I go in knowing those facts.  My intentions are to learn more, illuminating gaps in my understanding by listening to the Waterloo CD.

Unfortunately, I missed an alarming number of them, due to the unwelcome annoyance of thinking.  These are not full-blown swaths of information – like when I am not wearing headphones – but thumbnail snatches of insinuating concern.

Here’s how it works.

I am listening on the treadmill when I suddenly think, “Did I remember to take my pills?”  And when I return to my listening, I hear…

“… This, many historian believe, may have doomed Napoleon’s efforts at Waterloo before they began.”

And there you have it.  While momentarily thinking about my pills, I had missed what many historians believe may have doomed Napoleon’s efforts at Waterloo before they began.

I was then required to go through the tedious process of “Reversing” the CD to find out.  (Heavy rainstorms impeded Napoleon from moving up his artillery, delaying the start of the battle, which ultimately advantaged the enemy.  I had missed that valuable tidbit while I was thinking.)

It happened again and again.  To the point where I get tired of constantly “Reversing”, opting instead to remain ignorant of what I had missed and simply forging ahead.  My thoughts, however, refuse to stop breaking in.

I listen to the CD.  And then…

Thought:  “Why is it when I begin to walk faster, I feel these, like, tightening rubber bands around my wrists…”

Then I hear…

“… Who could believe a commanding general would behave so uncharacteristically before a battle?”
And I’m like, which commanding general?  What did he do? 

Listening, listening, listening...

Thought:  “Is that shoulder impingement coming back?  The orthopedist said if it did, they were going to have to…”

Then I hear…

“… Napoleon’s instructions were not followed and we are left with the consequences.”

What instructions?  What consequences? 

Once again, listening... 

Thought:  “If I go back for a cleaning, they’ll see those irritations on my tongue.”

I hear…

“… fought so fiercely, the tide of the confrontation was turned, and possibly for good.”  

What the heck happened!  I missed it!

More listening...  

Thought:  “My annual cardiologist appointment is coming up.  What if they find something…”

I hear...

“Though retreat was a legitimate option, Emperor Napoleon, for those reasons, elected not to.”

And then I give up. 

The Waterloo CD set is almost over.  And although I have gleaned a couple of interesting factoids, if you asked me, “Did you learn anything valuable?” my honest answer would have to be,

“I really need to stop thinking when I am listening to “Books on CD.”

Seven discs about the Battle of Waterloo. 

And what I mainly learned is that I am worried about my health.

(Which I also already knew.)


Fred from Scarborough said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim nee Holder said...

Read your blogs about St John's school in Kilburn, London which made me smile so much as I too went there. Loved the stories and in particular about the amazing eccentric Mr Kinsman. Anymore stories of the same subject?

Simon Zysman said...

I'll follow your blog if you follow mine: