Tag Archives: writing

More Awake Than Alarmed

23 Dec

IMG_1218From beneath a thick swath of duvet encased in gray houndstooth flannel, face blissfully pressed into the unabiding affection of my stack of pillows, I heard Frank Sinatra murmuring and I jolted awake. Except I didn’t move and my eyes didn’t open. I actually, for the first time in my life, felt my heart pound into sudden alertness before I felt any other sensation of waking. There, at the center of my chest, with a force unknown in this year of pillow-ensconced, alarm-less sleeping, I felt activated. It was exciting. Invigorating.

Good readers, I have rediscovered the alarm clock. It’s a thing people use, it’s a sound they dread, but I am here to say that it actually triggers a very human response, and here’s some advocacy for artificially prompting that action.

I heard a bit on NPR yesterday about our internal clock, and how it slips into another time zone as we age. The report about the fallibility of our “clock genes” was slightly jarring, though the promise of more naps didn’t sound too bad. But the most important, connection-leaping, time-to-learn-a-big-new-thing moment for me was in these lines:

“When you woke up this morning, the timekeeping genes told a gland in your brain to give a jolt of the stress hormone cortisol to wake up. Tonight, they’ll tell a gland to spit out melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy.”

Light bulbs! Alarm bells! Gongs! Other loud sounds, like my 24-setting burr grinder tearing through locally roasted single-origin coffee beans!

I was denying myself a cortisol shot every morning. Or at least I was sort of like, dampening it, by not activating that ol’ gene clock with an assist from the outer world. It used to be the sunrise and then it was roosters crowing, then it became alarm bells, and eventually it became my own carefully chosen, not-too-jarring song selection on my iPhone. All of these were external prompts to help exaggerate an internal one.

Then came my freelance era, an era steeped in resentfulness toward “working for the man” my whole life and doused in gallons of depressive responses carried down through generations of my Scandinavian and Irish ancestors. We alllllll hate waking up. Except on weekends, when we jump out of bed and do lots of things for ourselves all day. So it was that every weekday morning, beneath the pull of my own childish resistance to getting out of bed, I could hear the ancient tides of seas compelling my Viking ancestors to get a move on, and in response feel them pulling whatever flimsy animal skin cover back over themselves and deciding to pillage another day.

These tendencies were deep, I mean, they run all the way through all of my genetic code. But I would never deny that I’m a morning person. In fact, when I awake properly and do all the breakfasty things (ex-boyfriends know how important the breakfasty things are), I’m actually tediously chipper in the morning. Kind of scarily enthusiastic, in fact.

I’m making myself sound charmingly manic, but really the pendulum swings are fairly normal (or are they?!?). Except I’ve been effectively destroying, crushing, smushing my “clock genes” this whole year… and actually, truthfully, many, many years previous as well. I use mind over matter to shush the clock genes and suppress the cortisol boost. And then two years ago I let some doctors convince me to try some SSRI medication (“anti-anxiety,” they called it, but it’s also used to treat depression) that inhibits any fight or flight responses and soothes one into a happy consistency that makes the days easier to manage. Very helpful throughout the year of my mother’s death and the immediate aftermath of grief, yes. But NOT helpful when you’re trying to scare yourself into getting enough work done to pay the bills.

So, charming readers, friends who parse my syllables for mutual gain, I want to announce that concurrent with my retirement from SSRI status, I have rediscovered my clock genes. And this morning, for the first time in a long time (why does my internal monologue sound so often like that of the fictional Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City”? The horror! Or… the joy.), I set my alarm. And for my rousing music, I chose Frank Sinatra’s charming attempt at bossa nova, fortunately done in collaboration with Antônio Carlos Jobim: “Wave”.

It might not be extremely helpful that the first lyrics of the song are, “So close your eyes / For that’s a lovely way to be,” but… c’mon it’s gonna take me a while to actually believe I want to wake up. The rest of the song has a lovely mindfulness-based message though, so I think it’s a good choice. (More on that in my next batch of entries.)

My heart would agree that it was a good choice, because it awoke with a happy start that jolted me out of a lingering dream about Unrequited. And I felt alive, and glad to be in a world on my own, not with Unrequited, and I leapt out of bed. Now that I know that my clock genes actually collaborate with my brain on the whole stress-hormone release thing, I’m going to help that response along with a good old fashioned alarm clock. At least until I kick the habit of sleeping through the most important parts of my work day.



And Again

3 Jan

againThe train tracks of the Northeastern corridor know me by now. I’ve been traversing them since 1998, rolling on quaking metal between New York City and Providence to go to a place where I can be still with the people I love. I make my temporary home in the attic room of my friend’s gigantic Victorian house, and day by day, after wandering the woods and beaches of mostly coastal Rhode Island, we come home and have tea by the fire and retire early to read books. Unless we’re going out to have cocktails.

I am the most fortunate of humans, because I have long embraced my nomadic instincts. But now, as the wetlands roll by and I suddenly see a cluster of at least ten wild turkeys (what?!? did anyone else see that?) on a golf course, I gotta be honest with myself. Do I keep moving so I never finish anything? Never keep anything except the new, new conversations, people, sights, sensations, passions brought to you by wanderlust.

Somewhere in one of my notebooks piled high on my desk at home is a quote that I wrote down while visiting the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. An early 20th-century painter said that artists must recalibrate periodically by visiting the mountains and the sea. I can’t remember if he said anything abut the plains or stuff in between. But I agree with him completely, and I feel ridiculously fortunate that I can indulge my starving senses on a nearly weekly basis.

Why stay still? Because then I would be done with getting ready for a trip or catching up after a trip, and I’d be in that functional limbo where I could actually be at peace and write pages and pages of the novel. Don’t you love how I call it “limbo”? Yeah, because being home is a kind of purgatory, apparently, no matter where I live. I guess it’s my Viking genetic code, seeking to plunder and possess more, more, more.

It makes me feel lost. But apparently I never want to be found.

Turn-Down Service

9 Dec

Books have always shared my bed. Since I was just half the height I am now, I’ve tucked in with pages and bindings surrounding me, adrift in the places they’ll carry me before I sleep.

You’re never alone with a book, I’ve written here somewhere before. And written here too are some lines about how when you’re single you can sleep with your books. I used to be giddy during the short phases between boyfriends when I could sleep morosely with hardcovers beneath soft covers. But now it’s just the norm. Three years of bookfriends in my bed.

That would be fine except now I am adding a newspaper section and moleskine calendar floating on top of the comforter too. Do I really never expect to share this bed again? I guess so.

At least I’m surrounded by love. And my life pursuit keeps me warm at night. I intend to become an author by osmosis.

Hopelessly Hopeful

29 Nov

20131129-130256.jpgMy subconscious has a hangup. It’s caught in a short loop of visions covering all manner of anxiety about packing. Almost every night of my life I dream about two things: love and suitcases. In every episode, I’m packing a suitcase, trying to get ready to leave a hotel, but I get lost in a maze of rooms and can’t find all the things I need to pack. Meanwhile, there’s always some guy, some new love, who compels me to stay and slows me down further. Quite literally, men get in the way of my preparations to go where I long to be. It’s not their fault, oh no. It’s all me and the quicksand in which I plant myself.

Last night I dreamt of packing suitcases all night, woke up to a misguided text message from my stepmother, and then returned to sleep and dreamt of another suitcase and another man. This guy was a tough guy, all muscle and brawn, but sweet sweet. He was actually standing between me and the suitcase, and I was clinging to him desperately in a literal sense, when I was again awoken by a text (this is why I usually put my phone on airplane mode at night).

Two dreams, two guys, unlimited clothes piled in messes in multiple rooms, and an eternal delay in getting to the airport. Never once in any dream have I ever made it to the airport.

Dear reader, I’ll interpret these pop psychology dreams for you. The airport and the flight are my career aspirations, which I obsess over constantly but never take any steps toward. The men are men, but I suppose if I’m being honest, I know why I’m single. I’m terribly afraid that a man will get in the way of what I want to do. Obviously that’s not true, and a little help, love, and support would be marvelous. But I guess I’m just a victim of childhood circumstances (psych 101) and I saw my mother give up her life and career when she got married, and then she told us her victim story her whole life after her divorce.

Guess what? My mother would have given up her life and career regardless of marriage. She was never ambitious or passionate. But she did pack us up and move us every year or so… sometimes more. That’s another topic.

Sigh. Lament, lament. My poor little subconscious can’t seem to get over the hiccup of packing and zipping up a suitcase and going somewhere. Meanwhile, in my waking life, I do that very thing weekly. And I have many admirers of my very efficient packing skills.

Probably, though, I’m never going where I know I should go, which is my desk, to work on my writing, to further my career. Yesterday on my subway ride to family dinner in the West Village, I came to an overwhelming, possibly partially hunger-induced conclusion. I’ve had inklings of this idea before but there alone on that plastic train seat, perched perfectly in my camel hair coat with rabbit fur collar (it’s vintage! I’m sorry animal friends), burying my chin into piles of the lovely cabled scarf I knit way back when I had the Bastard Architect boyfriend, legs clad in cute zigzag-patterned gray wool tights and two-toned leather and suede boots, hands wrapped in black leather and wool fingerless gloves with long wrists tucked into tea-length coat sleeves… I felt a wallop in my chest. I really am alone, and I really clearly seem to be alone because I’m on a track where my creative life/career will be my only satisfaction. As the universe bats one male prospect after another out of my path, the fatalistic part of me knows there will be nothing for me if I don’t do what I intend to do in writing.

Yes. This bleak expense of dissatisfaction is what dreamy, drifting girls gaze upon while riding the train. I highly suggest tapping one such forlorn soul on the shoulder and reassuring her the next time you see an apocalyptic reverie brewing. You can wake her from her dream and go with her on the journey she’s been planning in anticipation of meeting you.

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