Edna St. Vincent Millay vs. Early to bed

Millay candle, drips

This is the last day of National Poetry Month. It’s been great to read a different poet daily for the last nine days. Going forward, I plan to continue getting my recommended daily allowance of poetry.

Today, as I dipped into a collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, I remembered the well-known poem that describes my usual modus operandi:

“My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light.”

Then there is the famous saying, “Early to bed and early to rise…”

Years back, I sang in a choir that performed two pithy pieces by Norman Luboff. His amusing collection, “Much More Ado About Nothings,” includes his take on the “Early to bed” proverb.

Luboff’s version goes:

“Early to bed, early to rise,
makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,
and dull,
and a terrible bore.”

Ouch. More like Millay’s point, actually.

Still, tonight, I’m opting for an early night and dullness. More lively brilliance to come next week!


Stand Often for Health

1914 Pegasus & Bellerophon

You know that advice, to get up from your work regularly and stretch?

But in deepest flow, the body’s needs become immaterial. The night might have grown quiet as you catch your third wind, your bladder be near bursting, food something you meant to have hours ago… Yet you keep working. The one thing that matters is the present vision, the scene unrolling before you. Your mind is beyond clear. The pen skips on the page, fingers dance on keys.

You’d stand up if the angel’s trump sounded the end of time. But to stretch? Fuggedaboudit. When things fall into place, who cares about well-being?

I’m all for flow. When Pegasus shows up, I too ride him as long as I can. I limp back to my body, attend to it as to an importuning acquaintance, only when the Muses’ friend departs.

And yet. And yet…

On normal days, getting up, moving often, is something I want to start doing more. Recently I dipped into Staying Sharp: 9 Keys for a Youthful Brain Through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom, by Henry Emmons, MD, and David Alter, PhD. The authors reference Dr. Joan Vernikos, at one time Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, charged with keeping astronauts healthy.

Here’s what they say on page 71:

“We need to constantly interact with gravity and engage our large postural muscles to maintain healthy functional movement, muscle tone, and flexibility. The simplest way to do that is to stand up from a sitting position. That’s really all there is to it—just stand up! You don’t need to keep standing. You just need to stand up frequently.

The key is not how MANY TIMES you stand up, but rather how OFTEN you stand up over the whole course of your day. It is far more beneficial, Dr. Vernikos says, to stand once every few minutes throughout the day than it is to stand up many times in quick succession. Doing thirty squats in a row may seem more worthwhile because it feels like EXERCISE, but you get far more benefit by standing up thirty times spread out over the course of the day.” [bold emphasis mine]

Isn’t that fascinating? There’s an argument for having my drinking water, or papers I need, away from my desk, and finding more reasons to periodically stand up.

And maybe, over time, I can even train the Muses’ friend to continue beating his wings while I stand, now and again, for the well-being of that pesky friend, my body.