Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I blame it on a dweeb named Chilton...

I have had chronic insomnia since about the age of 20, the first year I had an apartment without a roommate. It was a basement (a.k.a. garden, although there was no garden to speak of, only some gravel - hey! - maybe in retrospect it was a rock garden but I was too small-minded to see that) apartment in a rickety old dark red wooden house near campus. I had three tiny rooms - a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom - and I am convinced that I could hear the inner-workings of every pipe in that house. Sinks, showers, toilets: any time any of those were in use, I received an at times screeching, at times rumbling announcement. It was as if my apartment were in somebody's very hungry (or displeased) stomach. Needless to say, I figured out how to spend most of my time in painting studio, coffee shops or bars.

I couldn't sleep in those places, though, and therein was the problem. There was another problem. His name was Chilton (Chilton!!) and he lived directly upstairs from me. He was a preppy, old money alcoholic from Kansas City and not long after he moved into the house, he started blasting - I mean blasting - his stereo at thirty second intervals starting at about two in the morning, and what made it worse was that he had awful taste in music. He'd be playing Styx, Foreigner. Anyway, that first night, after about a half hour of a bed rattling across the room and feeling like plaster was about to start falling from the ceiling, I went upstairs to confront him, which meant going outside in my robe because my apartment was along the side of the building. I pounded on his door for a good minute before he heard me. When he finally did, he opened his door with a wide smile, like, I don't know, he was expecting me to have brought him a 2:30 a.m. welcome-to-the-building cake or something, and I just said all staccato-like,"Turn. Off. Your. Horrible. Music. Now." He did, but being an entitled and privileged white boy, my angry demeanor tripped something in him that said, "Oh, she really doesn't like me. I must have her," and he commenced a month-long campaign to win me over that included flowers left at my door, notes slid under it, moon-y glances whenever I'd run into him while checking my mail. He was really, really annoying. Once it was clear that his overtures were not working - and that this wasn't just me being coy as I honestly, deeply disliked him - he began blasting his stupid stereo again and thus began my rocky relationship with sleep. I would call my landlord in the middle of the night and hold my phone out toward the ceiling and she would call him which would result in about twenty minutes of passive-aggressive stomping by him and broomstick counterpoints by me, and by the point that ended, I'd be so wide awake that I couldn't go back to sleep. So I'd read or draw or write until it started to get light and then I'd drift off again for a couple of hours and start with my day.

I think I realized during this time that there were these hours during the middle of the night that could be better utilized. Plus, sleeping involved dreaming, and I had (still have) some doozies thanks to my frequently scary home environment as a child, not to mention the fact that dreams were Freud's domain and, as a feminist, I was duty-bound to consider the person who championed of concept of "penis-envy" with derision. Thus, not sleeping could be interpreted as a feminist act of defiance. Take that, Freud! I would do without dreams and spend my REM hours catching up on assignments, building the case for a revolution through my creative output. It was like I had stumbled upon a secret - led there unintentionally by an annoying doofus - that there were all these extra hours of productivity no one else seemed to know about. (Of course, there were also many hours in the middle of the night when I was not sleeping when I was drinking and carousing with my friends: I wasn't always all that productive.)

These days, more often than not I am awake for at least a few hours in the middle of the night. Meditation, chamomile tea, self-hypnosis, caffeine- and sugar-avoidance do not really have much of an affect on whether I sleep or not. Except for a few short overlaps, one of us in the house seems to be always awake: John often stays up until midnight and I take over around 2:00 and stay up in 5:00 or so. Our son wakes up at 7:00. I guess you could call us vigilant. (Just last night I went downstairs to sit at the computer at 2:00 and I noticed that there was still cold water in the glass on the table next to me.) I don't know if it's because of a lust for life or a basic lack of discipline, but for me, the quote, "I'll sleep when I'm dead," feels very accurate.

Shalom, everyone.

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