Oatmeal Days

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


It is currently 16 degrees outside. It is getting dangerously close to the glummest, gloomiest month of the year. It's cold, dark, depressing, endless, hopeless and exhausting.
How to cope?
Well, yesterday, while listening to my iPod, the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony came on, and I was reminded of one of my favorite essays by Robert Fulghum. If I ever needed to get out of my midwinter slump, I'd do exactly what he does.
So click "play" on this little video clip, settle back, and read one of the coolest tributes to one of the coolest pieces of music ever written. And try to let it help you out of YOUR midwinter slump. It's completely up to you.

(seriously, even if you DON'T typically listen to classical, please give this a try-- especially with Fulghum's amazing writing. Volume loud helps. You gotta listen to the very end. It's the part he is talking about.)***

"Talking with a nice lady on the phone. She has a case of the midwinter spiritual rot. And a terminal cold she's had since September 1.
'Well,' rasps she, 'you don't ever get depressed, do you?'
'Listen,' says I, 'I get lows it takes extension ladders to get out of.'
'So what do you do?' asks she. 'I mean, what DO YOU DO?'
Nobody ever pinned me down quite like that before. They usually ask what I think they should do.
My solace is not religion or yoga or rum or even deep sleep. It's Beethoven. As in Ludwig van. He's my ace in the hole. I put his Ninth Symphony on the stereo, pull the earphones down tight, and lie down on the floor. The music comes on like the first day of Creation.
And I think about old Mr. B. He knew a whole lot about depression and unhappiness. He moved around from place to place trying to find the right place. His was a lousy love life, and he quarreled with his friends all the time. A rotten nephew worried him deeply--a nephew he really loved. And Mr. B. wanted to be a virtuoso pianist. He wanted to sing well, too. But when still quite young, he began to lose his hearing. Which is usually bad news for pianists and singers. By 1818, when he was forty-eight, he was stone-cold deaf. Which makes it all the more amazing that he finished his great Ninth Symphony five years later. He never really heard it! He just thought it!
So I lie there with my earphones on, wondering if it ever could have felt to Beethoven like it sounds in my head. The crescendo rises, and my sternum starts to vibrate. And by the time the final kettledrum drowns out all those big Fs, I'm on my feet, singing at the top of my lungs in gibberish German with the mighty choir, and jumping up and down as the legendary Fulghumowski directs the final awesome moments of the END OF THE WORLD AND THE COMING OF GOD AND ALL HIS ANGELS, HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! WWHHOOOOOOOOM-KABOOM-BAM-BAAAAAA!!! Lord!
Uplifted, exalted, excited, affirmed, and over-whelmed am I! MANALIVE! Out of all that sorrow and trouble, out of all that frustration and disappointment, out of all that deep and permanent silence, came all that majesty--that outpouring of JOY and exaltation! He defied his fate with jubilation!
And I never can resist all that truth and beauty. I just can't manage to continue sitting around in my winter ash heap, wringing my hands and feeling sorry for myself, in the face of THAT MUSIC! Not only does it wipe out spiritual rot, it probably cures colds, too.
So what's all this noise about winter and rain and bills and taxes? says I to me. So who needs all this talk about failure and confusion and frustration? What's all this noise about life and people being no damned good?
In the midst of oatmeal days, I find withing Beethoven's music an irresistible affirmation. In deep, spiritual winter, I find inside myself the sun of summer. And some day, some incredible December night when I am very rich, I am going to rent me a grand hall and a great choir and a mighty symphony orchestra, and stand on the podium and conduct the Ninth. And I will personally play the kettledrum part all the way through to the glorious end, while simultaneously singing along at the very top of my lungs. And in the awesome silence that follows, I will bless all-the-gods-that-be for Ludwig van Beethoven, for his Ninth, and his light.
--All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon thoughts on common things, by Robert Fulghum. ©1988, Villard Books, New York


  1. ok, i read it. i didn't listen because it's late and i'm sure to really appreciate it, i shouldn't have the volume down low. but i love it. i need something like this if i ever live in europe again. the winters there are so hard to get through!! thank you emily!

  2. I listened to it this morning and it was inspiring as were the words written by Mr. Fulghum. (I can't remember which is the right way to pronounce it, so I say it both ways half the time.) Hard 'G' or soft 'G'?
    Thank you for this. Thank you.

  3. For what it's worth, haven't watched the video yet, but bowl of oatmeal looks really delicious. I'm hungrier now than I was a minute ago.

  4. This gave me a needed boost when I read it (couldn't watch the video-arrgh). So did Mr Fulghum's story on his site about getting over "stupor" (three words: chicken soup shower...)
    Then I heard an interesting story about Beethoven on NPR this morning (Sat, 2/2) about possible causes for his deafness and his death, as well as samples of what his music might have sounded like to him - here's the link:

    (or just go to and search for Beethoven)

    Anyway, thanks for the lift. And I'm with Steven - I think I'll have to have oatmeal for breakfast soon...

    Love you


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