Singing and Snoring


A few years ago, I did a sleep study in the hospital to determine if I have sleep apnea. I do.  I woke up momentarily 80 times during the night.

Sleep deprivation is just one of the bad results of having it. Frequent waking, fitful sleep and waking up feeling like I have not slept are all results.  Maybe a compromised immune system, poor mental and emotional health, and irritability too. And then, because you stop breathing, oxygen deprivation – which can lead to you having heart disease, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, and learning/memory problems.

With all that, no surprise that 1 in 5 people who suffer from depression also suffer from sleep apnea, and people with sleep apnea are five times more likely to become depressed. Researchers are not sure if the apnea causes depression or vice-versa. Either way, it’s depressing.

Cures? I didn’t want to go the CPAP route (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). This entails wearing a mask-like device while you sleep to provide pressurized air to prevent the airway from collapsing. Too SCUBA diver for me.

I tried the dental devices – a Mandibular Repositioning Device and the Tongue Retaining Device – but I felt like I was choking on them at night.

Minor sleep apnea is sometimes responsive to “behavioral treatments” which I have tried with limited success. Here are a bunch of suggestions:
Lose weight.
Stop using alcohol, tobacco, sedatives, or anything that relaxes the muscles of the throat and encourages snoring.
Sleep on your side, not your back. (Special pillows help.)
Elevate the head of your bed by 4 -6 inches. (which I had already done for acid reflux!)
Maintain regular sleep hours. (a tough one for me).
Use a nasal dilator, breathe right strips, or saline nasal spray to help open nasal passages. (all totally ineffective for me)

But here are two treatments I had not heard of before that come from a 2005 study in the British Medical Journal.

Learning and playing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea, as well as daytime sleepiness. This appears to work by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.

And there is also a program that uses specialized “singing” exercises to tone the throat, particularly the soft palate, tongue and nasopharynx. Dr. Elizabeth Scott, a medical doctor living in Scotland, had experimented with singing exercises and found considerable success, but had been unable to carry out a clinical trial. Alise Ojay, a choir director, began researching the possibility of using singing exercises to help a friend with snoring and came across Dr. Scott’s work. The results were promising and after two years of investigations, she designed the “Singing for Snorers” program.

If in the future you hear strange sounds coming from my house during the daytime, it might be my singing and didgeridoo practice. If you hear strange noises at night, I’m probably still snoring.

Pipe Dreams

I came across one of my grandfather’s pipes in a drawer last month. It is the only thing I have of his. After he died, I wanted his mantle clock that chimed throughout my early childhood but a cousin snatched that and also took grandpa’s humidor and pipes. Well, he was a pipe smoker like grandpa and I was just a young teen, so I suppose it made sense. But the clock – that should have been mine.

Later, I found another pipe of his in a drawer when my mom was helping clean out his house and I pocketed it. It looked newer and that seemed good to me. But I would later discover that new pipes need to be seasoned. This one was lightly seasoned. It may have been a pipe my family bought for his last birthday as cans of pipe tobacco were a common gift.

I loved the smell of the tobacco and I liked the smell of the smoke. When I eventually tried smoking a pipe in college, I found the taste to be unappealing. I found pipe smoking to be appealing in a Romantic way, somehow mixed in my undergraduate mind with whiskey and literature.

There are many materials used for pipes. The bowls of tobacco pipes are commonly made of briar wood, meerschaum, corncob, pear-wood, rosewood or less commonly cherry, olive, maple, mesquite, oak, and bog wood. In my college days, pipes were more likely to be used to smoke pot and they were made of all kinds of thing including glass and soapstone.

A pipe with a briarwood bowl like the one I have is the type that you must break in/ That process is called seasoning and it adds a protective layer (“dottle”) of carbon inside of the bowl. That layer keeps the wood from burning, drying out, and cracking.

I have smoked grandpa’s pipe a few times over the decades since I obtained it. I’m not a smoker these days but a pipe seems different from cigarettes and cigars. I suppose it’s not healthy to smoke anything these days, but when I do on rare occasions it seems almost ceremonial. I always think of my grandfather and the days I spent with him at his house in Newark, New Jersey. Our family went there for Sunday dinner with cousins almost every week. I loved his garden and he taught me things about growing vegetables and flowers that I think about every time I am in my garden.

Sherlock Holmes smoking a pipe in an illustration by Frank Wiles first appeared in 1914 in the Strand Magazine to illustrate the first installment of “The Valley of Fear.” Link

My experience with grandpa’s pipe is echoed in one of the essays by Alan Lightman in his collection, Dance for Two. His writing usually mixes science and literature. The essay “Time Travel and Papa Joe’s Pipe” is one of my favorites in the book. It is a Proustian moment he has with Papa Joe’s pipe as he imagines all the places the pipe has been and the people who have held it.

When I read it, I did take out my grandfather’s pipe. I bought some tobacco and filled it and sat out in the woods hoping to conjure him up in the smoke. Lightman says that “There is a kind of time travel to be had, if you don’t insist on how it happens.”

People Want to Know the Answer to Life

If you write online, you eventually get lured into looking at the stats for your posts. I very occasionally post or repost things to another popular site, Medium. I get updates on my stats from there and the repost I put there that is always at the top of the list is “The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything Is 137. Maybe.”

The post originally appeared on this site in 2019 and has garnered a nice number of reads. But not 2700+ readers.

How are people finding the version of it on Medium? The site tells me (in order of popularity) that people find it via (almost 2K from there), email, IM, and direct links,,,,, and a few from other places such as and One that intrigues me is that 5 readers found it at I can’t check that site because it is the login page for online courses at Western Michigan University, but I suspect that some professor has put it on a reading list. That’s nice.

The post is a compilation of a bunch of things I found online around the scientific and mystical occurrences of the number 137. I draw no conclusions about it other than the notion that it seems to be significant in so many areas that maybe it is the answer to life. I started the post by saying in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he wrote that “The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.” Unfortunately, though this was found to be the answer, they did not know the question. He was joking, but I wondered if the answer might be 137. I suppose I did reach a conclusion with another question: Is there a primal number at the root of the universe that everything in the world hinges on?

I don’t really edit those versions on Medium, but I do go back and edit and correct older posts here. One thing I noticed in looking at my top 5 Medium posts is their titles. Titles attract readers. That most popular post on Medium was retitled from “The Answer Is 137” as it appeared here, to the longer and perhaps more interesting “The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything Is 137. Maybe.” (I slightly changed the 2019 post’s title here.)

Look at a few of the other posts that got attention on Medium:

“Feeding Kittens to Boa Constrictors” Yes, my title is shocking. It’s an attention-getter, but I didn’t use it as click bait and I didn’t make it up. It was the working title of a book by psychology professor Hal Herzog. His publisher wasn’t a fan of that title and the book was published as Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.

There is also “The Reverse Turing Test for Artificial Intelligence” in that top 5 and I suspect that the AI and mention of Turing in the title attracted readers. That post originally appeared on my education and technology blog  Serendipity35, but since it has some traction, I updated it and reposted it here. I usually change titles a bit when I crosspost things just so I can tell in search results that it was from another website.

Another post from here that is popular on Medium is “Did Philip K. Dick Meet God?” The short answer is yes. Maybe.

Those Medium stats also show that some posts get no attention. My little 2016 post about some films I recommended for your own “On the Road Film Festival” has zero reads as of yesterday on Medium. (Give the link a click and show it some love – or you can read it on this site.) This post is about some on-the-road films I was thinking about as I prepared for a few road trips. It got a decent number of readers here from some loyal readers who follow my Paradelle essays but it didn’t attract anyone on medium. I wonder why. The title?


Walkabout refers to a rite of passage where male Australian Aborigines undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months. It’s a vision quest taken to extremes.

My introduction to it was through a fill called  Walkabout by Nicolas Roeg. I saw it the year I started college and it really intrigued me.

It follows the journey of a sister and brother who are abandoned in the Australian outback and their meeting with an Aborigine boy who is on his walkabout. Together they journey innocence into experience in the wild.

The film has a cult status these days, but back in the early 1970s very few people I knew had ever heard of it. Of course, I was not alone in having a crush on the unnamed girl in the film played by Jenny Agutter.

The film was unconventional and had almost none of the “plot” that we expect in a film. Years later, I saw a “director’s cut” but by then I had forgotten the details from my original viewing. (A benefit of the aging brain and memory is that you can re-experience things you loved as if they were new again.) The scenes of frontal nudity and realistic, survival hunting scenes seemed perfect in context, but unusual at the time.

So, that film led me to read the original book and several other non-fiction books about the walkabout experience. I even tried once to teach the book to middle school students, but they just didn’t get it.

I loved the idea that the seeker followed “songlines” that their ancestors took. These songlines (or dreaming tracks) of the Indigenous Australians are an ancient cultural concept and motif perpetuated through oral lore and singing and other storytelling dances and paintings.

The songlines are an intricate series of song cycles that identify landmarks and mechanisms for navigation. They remind me of the songs of whales. I can’t explain how they work any more than I can explain the whale songs or how migrating birds find their way. Though I have read about all of these things, I don’t think I really want to know (at a scientific level) how it works.

Each song has a particular direction or line to follow and walking the wrong way may even be sacrilegious. You don’t go up one side of a sacred hill when that is the side to come down. That would send you in the wrong direction both literally (on a map) and figuratively (in your life).

What is it about being alone in the wilderness that tunes (or, more likely, re-tunes) our awareness of the natural elements and our connection to them, and even to some creational source? Though I and my ancestors are a long way from that natural life, something remains inside us.

Like the vision quest, the walkabout is an initiation into the teachings and mysteries of the self and the universe. The seeker both finds truths and has truth revealed.

While the walkabout may have Aboriginal roots in Australia, and the vision quest is associated with Native American traditions, the journey is not unique to only those locations. That is why that film eventually led me to read about the archetypical “hero’s journey” and the search for the Holy Grail.

I wish I had a true vision quest or walkabout tale to tell you. I still hope that someday I will.

I have taken two much smaller journeys.  On one full moon weekend journey, with some guidance from someone who knew more about it than I did,  I sought my “guardian animal” in a vision or dream.

I wish I could say it was a wolf that I found because I have always felt an affinity to them, but it was a rabbit. (Of course, I was in New Jersey at the time, so a coyote would have been about as close as I was to come to a wolf – and we know the coyote is the trickster.)

I have also felt some kind of connection to rabbits since childhood.  The rabbit in my vision was quite real and I felt led me. I say that because I followed it and it never ran away but would stop, look back at me, wait, and then continue. I followed it for what seemed like a long time, and then, while I was looking at it, it disappeared.

That’s how I would describe it. Disappeared.

We were at the top of a rocky outcrop. There was a small stream ahead of us and down the rocks. I did not see a life direction or message in where I had been taken that day.  But I felt that I was at a place where I had a good, clear view. I did not know exactly where I was, but I was not lost. I could find my way back to where I had been, but I didn’t see where I needed to go next.

In the traditional Lakota culture, the Hanblecheyapi (vision quest) means “crying for a vision.”  I am still looking.

All Quiet on the Western Front

This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession,
and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure
to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell
of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells,
were destroyed by the war.

I read the novel  All Quiet on the Western Front in 1966. I was 13, in junior high school, and probably still believed that being a soldier was pretty cool. My dad had been in the Navy in WWII and I had taken to wearing his old Navy denim jacket and an Army field jacket that a family friend had given me.

Although the Vietnam war was heating up and starting to be part of the nightly news, I wasn’t all that aware of the politics, and Army/Navy surplus clothing was popular with teenagers including the “hippie” that were starting to show up in town and at the high school.

I chose the book from a stack the teacher offered of classics for book reports. I thought from the cover that it would be a war novel with some action.

There was certainly an anti-war movement in the country at the time, but I was at the fringe. That was something high school and college students were doing. We were still kids. All Quiet on the Western Front must have been my first anti-war novel and then I watched the 1930 film version.

At the age of 18, the author, Erich Maria Remarque, was drafted into the German army to fight in World War I. He was wounded five times. In 1929, the novel he had been working on for 10 years was published. The book was an immediate international success. It was banned in Germany, and in 1938, Remarque’s German citizenship was revoked.

All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of Paul Bäumer, the narrator, a young man of nineteen who fights in the German army on the French front in World War I. Unlike Remarque, Paul and several of his friends from school joined the army voluntarily after listening to the stirring patriotic speeches by one of their teachers.

The speeches turn out to be false as they go through their basic training with a petty, cruel Corporal. The patriotism gets beaten out of them by the time they get to the front.

Paul’s squad gets bombed in a French town close to the front. One of his friends dies and another is severely wounded. Paul, who is also wounded, is granted leave and at home finds out his mother is dying of cancer. He realizes that the older men in town, like his teacher, have no sense of the horrors of modern warfare. He tells his friend’s mother that when he was killed he did not suffer. That’s a lie.

As the book closes, he is writing a letter to a friend, the only other survivor of their class, though he is now an amputee. I don’t know if there need to be spoiler alerts for a book and film that are so old, but the conclusion of the novel (and film) really hit me hard as a kid. I’ll leave that unmentioned.

Like Paul and his friends, I started to think about concepts like nationalism, patriotism, the draft, and Vietnam. I started to pay attention to the anti-war movement rhetoric. I didn’t see war as glorious or honorable as I had as a kid playing army with my friends in the neighborhood. I shifted my fear from the atomic bombs they had warned us about in elementary school to the war that I might be required to enter in a few years.

frame from the 1930 film

“Comrade, I did not want to kill you. . . . But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. . . . I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

Paul says those words to the dead body of a French soldier whom he has just killed. It is when he first realizes that for any differences of birth or uniform, the enemy is fundamentally no different from him.

The 1930 film version of All Quiet on the Western Front is considered a classic. It won the Oscar for best picture. It is directed by Lewis Milestone. I saw it when I was a teen and later in a film course in college on a big screen.

I originally saw the film version in the “Film Society,” an after-school club that a teacher ran in my high school. That year, the idea of being drafted and going to Vietnam was very real. With all the anti-war sentiment amongst my classmates, the opening sequence of a teacher urging his students to volunteer while troops marched outside their classroom actually got some laughs from our audience. Who would volunteer to go to war?

The film probably seems somewhat dated to modern audiences used to graphic battle footage, but the effect of the camera in the trenches and how the young soldiers quickly lose their ideas of glory on the battlefield still had an impact on me. World War I seems like ancient history to a young audience today – as does WWII, Korea and even Vietnam.

Without a draft, I don’t know that high school and college students give the same thought to war. I was in the last class to be in the draft lottery which we watched on TV in my Rutgers freshman dormitory. That lottery (which always makes me think of the Shirley Jackson short story that we had read in a high school English class) must seem absurd to kids today. We sat in our dorm and watched someone pull balls out – just like the nightly state money lotteries of today – with birthdays and a corresponding number that determined where you were in the draft line. I lucked out with a high number. What could you say to the kid sitting next to you with #10?

In the film, Lew Ayres was the unknown actor who played Paul. I only learned in researching this article that Ayres became a pacifist and conscientious objector during World War II. He did serve in battle as a medic, but taking that position hurt his career in a time of great patriotism between the two world wars when you would have expected a young man to feel that loyalty to his homeland that the German professor pushed at his students.

Now, as American troops have left Afghanistan, war means Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. You see warfare and its effects on the nightly news. South Vietnam fell after U.S. troops left. Today, people go there on vacation. What did we accomplish?

Erich Maria Remarque was born in Osnabrück, Germany in 1898 and became a citizen of the United States in 1947 and was married to American film star Paulette Goddard. He died in 1970.

I watched the latest film version of the novel. It is a 2022 German film (in English). It’s very good but it is much more graphic than earlier versions. It follows the idea that to be anti-war it needs to show us the horrors and futility of war.

Finding True North

There’s a bit of a curse on those of us who studied literature in college. You tend to see symbols, metaphors, and analogies all around you. Maybe you see the games of Chess and Go as defining Western and Eastern societies.  Maybe the seasons take on symbolic significance. For me, using a compass has always felt like more than just literally finding your way and not getting lost.

Let me set aside symbolism for now and write about my own experiences with maps and compasses. As a kid, I was always playing with compasses. At first, cheap ones of the Cracker Jack prize variety probably, and then later a real compass by way of Cub Scouts. I knew very little about how to use it. Like most people, I knew it pointed North, which was useful if you wanted to go North. I had no idea how it would help you if you were in the middle of the forest lost and pulled it out. Which way is home?

It took me a while to learn that the compass really was only useful if you used it when you went into that forest, and it would help if you could use it along with a good (as in topographic) map.

Of course, this was all before GPS could be in your hand. But the GPS you have on your phone or car is not going to help you if you are in the middle of a big forest and get lost. I’m sure that using a map and compass will one day be considered an oddity – like doing calculations with a slide rule.

I enjoyed the compass and map and the drawing lines and angles on the map. It made me feel like a navigator or adventurer from the books and movies I loved in my youth.

Many years later, I got into orienteering for a time. Orienteering is a sport that requires using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain. It can be very competitive.

You get a specially prepared orienteering map which has on it control points marked by flags (like the one shown above). The objective is to get from point to point as fast as possible. In many events, it becomes very much a race through the woods. I found your speed using a map and compass was sometimes only half as important as the speed of your running.

One of the big lessons for me in using a compass was the discovery that if you don’t know how you got somewhere, a compass won’t tell you where to go to get back to where you began.

That’s where the English major in me took over. I would often think in my daily life about where I was – not literally on a map – and wonder “How did I get here?”

Once lost, taking out a compass is nearly worthless. You needed to take a bearing at the beginning. You needed to keep taking bearings throughout the journey. You needed some kinds of reference points for when things around you look unfamiliar.

Why does a post I wrote here years ago called “Getting Lost” continue to be one of the most-read entries on the blog? I’d like to think that it was well written and a good combination of both the literal and figurative aspects of “getting lost.” I think it touched on something that sometimes sends people to counseling, religion, drugs or alcohol, or even thoughts about suicide. How did I get here? How do I get back on the path?

Orienteering courses have boxes (controls) that have been set up for you. and a path is there. You just need to find it. I lost interest in formal orienteering. That was a combination of time constraints (I had two young sons then.), bad knees (trail running is tough), and an inability to do the navigating fast enough to be competitive.

I started creating my own maps and courses. I drew my own maps of local woods. I picked landmarks – huge boulders, the confluence of streams, an unusual tree – and created my own courses. I walked them without concern for speed.

I bought my two sons compasses, gave them lessons, and took them out on treasure hunts. There was one in the Maine woods that we did with friends that led them to a cache of candy treasures that they still talk about 20 years later.

I liked the details in most orienteering maps – the large boulder, isolated tree, big stump, stone wall, fence, swamp, dry river, fields, dense bush – the personalized nature of the landmarking.

I have also had a lifelong fascination with survival techniques. My youthful readings of Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson, and adult readings of survival guides like those by Tom Brown, and non-fiction accounts like Into Thin Air and especially Into the Wild by John Krakauer always send me back, not away, from the woods.

Early on, I came across the survival acronym STOP.  Stop,  Think, Observe, and Plan.  You learn that the single most important survival tool is your brain.

Of course, I also liked the accessories of orienteering and survival training. I own too many compasses, too many maps, and plenty of store-bought and handmade items to take into the wild. (Vaseline-soaked cotton balls, packed in a film canister make a reliable, cheap, non-spoiling, non-spilling fire starter.)

This brings me to True North. True North is the direction along the earth’s surface towards the geographic North Pole. If you get into using a map and compass, you quickly learn that True North usually differs from magnetic north. That’s the direction of the magnetic north pole – the one that your compass needle to dawn to. The North on that compass I had as a child pointed at a North, but which one was the true North? (On the technical side, there’s even a “grid North”  – the direction northwards along the grid lines of a map projection.)

I learned to look up from my map and the trail.  The direction of true north is marked in the skies by the north celestial pole.  Basically, it’s the position of the star Polaris – AKA the North Star, the Pole Star, or the Lodestar. But, due to the precession of the Earth’s axis, the true north rotates in an arc. That arc takes about 25,000 years to complete. I found that to be a staggering thought.

In 2102, Polaris will make its closest approach to the celestial north pole.  (In comparison, 5,000 years ago the closest star to the celestial north pole was Thuban.

Find whatever symbolism you want in that looking up to find True North that I discovered. I did learn that looking only at the trail ahead was not going to get me where I wanted to go.

On maps issued by the United States Geological Survey, true north is marked with a line terminating in a five-pointed star. If only it was so clear in our own lives where True North was located. Not knowing our own destination before we start out, not taking note of the landmarks and milestones along the way, and not knowing that there are unseen forces affecting where True North is located make the journey far more frightening.

More Reading
Be Expert with Map and Compass, the Orienteering Handbook
A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Orienteering: Skills and Strategies
Wilderness Navigation: Finding Your Way Using Map, Compass, Altimeter & GPS
Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass
Land Navigation Handbook: The Sierra Club Guide to Map, Compass and GPS
Walking and Orienteering