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Slow Asleep, OR The Lion Sleeps Tonight (but will I?)

Blog Post # 42 

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“Sleeping Nymph” by Richard Franklin

For me, bedtime has become a carefully choreographed series of contortionist moves and mind shutdown techniques (none of which work), attempting to find a brain- and body-calming remedy that will allow me to drift into that profound state of unconscious bliss called sleep.

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“The Gettysburg Address” – Abraham Lincoln

Repetitious “mind static” is a huge factor dictating if I sleep or lie awake. No matter how I tune the dial in my head, I invariably pick up brash, white noise that won’t leave me alone. It might be the same three lines from the theme song to “All in the Family,” a problem without a solution, or a repetitive rendition of the first paragraph of The Gettysburg Address, but whatever it is, I can’t seem to find a station in my brain that is able to either complete a thought, or tone down the volume. Sometimes, my mind is in such a hurricane of inventive, creative excitement, it’s impossible to find an eye of calm. The worst is the (fortunately infrequent) fretting that is easily pacified during daylight, but haunts like a host of demons the moment the moon smiles, mockingly, through the window.

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Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac  (1911)

Another factor, and lately, the more troublesome, is comfort. There’s nothing worse than a Mexican Standoff with your bed. In this regard, it’s fairly certain I am a very near relation to the royal with the hyper-sensitivity to a tiny legume. No matter how high her mattresses were stacked, she could feel that tiny irritating pea lurking beneath. And so it seems that no matter how many egg crates and memory foam mattress toppers my husband, Brad, stacks on our bed, I can still feel the tiny seam on my nightwear, or a slight wrinkle in the sheets digging into my side.

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To insure no outside noise disturbs our slumber, we have three separate fans going at once, none of which point directly at us. The white noise and wind tunnel effect breezing through our room at gale force readily allows paper airplanes to dart about, but for us, presents a unique set of problems. For one, when they were passing out eyelids, sadly for Brad, he got a set one size too small, preventing him from ever, fully closing his eyes. Like a plastic bag left slightly open, a blowing fan has the same effect on Brad’s poor eyes as air on a sandwich—they dry out. On the other hand, my sheets don’t know if they’re coming or going. One minute I’m roasting, and the next, I’m cold. My feet and shoulders like to feel cool air, but my middle likes warmth. Hence, the bedding goes up and down like a Roman blind all night long.  

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Recently, as my aging father’s needs changed, we found it necessary to check on him periodically during the night. We settled on a schedule that would allow each of us a chunk of sleep in between each check time, but that meant setting separate alarms to awaken us at our own scheduled times. I knew my old alarm clock’s irritating buzzing would awaken both of us, so I decided it best to experiment with several alarm tones on my phone, adjusting the volume, then tucking my phone into an open drawer next to my bed where I could hear it, but hopefully, Brad could not.

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I needed a tune that would both wake me up, and motivate me to get out of bed at an insane hour, without disturbing Brad. I thought a cello piece from “Master and Commander” would be both energetic and soothing, but the first few notes doused Brad awake, as if with seawater in the face. The theme song from “Pirates of the Caribbean” cast me over-bed, but was also too lively for Brad. It didn’t help matters that I invariably fell into a profound sleep moments before the alarm went off, blowing like a foghorn next to my ear. Groggily stumbling from bed, I’d heave-ho to the bathroom with the gait of a drunken sailor, before checking on my father.

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Rousing though they were, the nautically themed alarms walked the plank. Brad asked me to find something less alarming, and I was all for it, as well. It was only natural, then, that the next alarm I chose was Brahms’ Lullaby. Brad wasn’t disturbed in the least by this alarm, and sadly, neither was I—sleeping through its quiet lulling more than once. Obviously, it was living up to its reputation.

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Pavlov and dog

 

 

I was determined to find an alarm tone that would awaken me, but not Brad, while not making me sick of a tune I had once enjoyed, nor making me blunder about as if on sea legs. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I was developing a strong aversion to all of the aforementioned tunes because of the unpleasant association of rising from Davy Jones’ Locker each time the alarm sounded. Finally, I found a generic, nondescript, quiet tune that, even after having heard it dozens of times, has awaken me without lingering like the California Raisins jingle.

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The alarm tone finally settled, a much weightier problem still existed—that of pain. Certain bodily trials (nothing serious, just the nagging sort) have created a love/hate relationship with bed and bedtime. Aside from the problem with “the pea,” my body creates its own set of issues. The first, and lesser, evil that arises at times is hunger pangs. No, it isn’t a question of starvation, but we do like to eat dinner very early in the evening (usually between four and five), you might even say we’re eating “dunch” (or, if you prefer, “linner”)—a combination not unlike “brunch” but combining lunch and dinner. By the time 2 AM rolls around, if I’m awake, I’m hungry enough for breakfast. I’ve never been one to raid the fridge in the middle of the night, and I’m not about to start now, but if pain hadn’t awakened me, I wouldn’t have thought about hunger until a more reasonable hour of the morning.

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Climbing back into bed after only a minute or two of being up, pain begins, literally, rapping me on the shoulder, ordering me to, “Move over, roll over, put your leg here, stretch your neck there, put your arm on that side, lie on your tummy, lie on your back, sit up…oh, forget it—get up!” To alleviate the problems pain presents, I find myself trying a series of yoga-esque poses, all performed with great difficulty in a horizontal position, further complicated by nightgown and bed sheets wrapping around me in a mighty tangle, creating the illusion of a stalled tornado. During the twisting and turning, the tornado picks up two additional pillows in an attempt for skeletal alignment. This always results in a repetitive rotation through which said pillows are flung about by the tornado, first between knees, then under an arm, then under tummy, then under leg, and so on and on until at least one of the extra pillows is cast aside as debris. After unsuccessfully attempting to find comfort in every possible pose, the whole rigmarole begins anew, until, at last, I find my generic alarm tone startling me awake, and I must presume that, at least for a few moments, I really did manage to fall asleep.

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Sleep itself is always an adventure, of sorts, because, since expecting my first child forty years ago, I’ve had extraordinarily kooky dreams.  Here is a sampling:

  • Bicycle handles coming out of my stomach (which tummy, by the way, was completely transparent)
  • Standing positively still in a box-shaped room full of floating peas
  • Alligators hanging off the ends of my fingers
  • A tornado held up by little cartoonish feet, dancing around trying to balance the spinning cyclone they’re holding aloft
  • An insignificant (now forgotten) dream interrupted by a commercial break featuring an animated skunk named *Sally Rushkin rowing a leaf or nut-shaped boat (*I was so certain that Sally Rushkin was an actual cartoon character from 1950s TV, I did an internet search, which resulted with no hits. Such is the workings of the mind when dreaming.)
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Sketch made of “Sally Rushkin” just after waking from the dream

The list of kooky scenarios is unending. Nightmares also have a sense of kookiness, but not wishing to remember them, I don’t record them as I do many of my good cuckoo dreams. One son-in-law acts as my dream analyst, claiming he can read my dreams like a book, because they’re so symbolic. Symbolic or not, it’s a hoot to hear his interpretations of the eccentricities that fill my dreaming hours. It makes me feel that, Plato-like, I’m creatively philosophizing, working out real-life issues throughout the night—and doing it all in my stride, or more accurately, in my sleep.

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Plato

 

Our nighttime schedule has undergone many changes these past weeks, as we’ve experimented with different strategies for sleeping and rising throughout the night. Lately, we are sleeping more, and waking less, which is agreeable enough, if it all works out that way. Brad’s alarm has only roused me once, and I think he, at last, is numb to mine, as well. However, the standoff with the bed, my body, and my mind may never be resolved. I often feel sentimental about the words of the poet Robert Frost:

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“…And miles to go before I sleep,  

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Only a better rendering for me might be:

…And trials to go before I sleep,

And trials to go before I sleep.

And when sleep doesn’t come, I may be found following Henry David Thoreau’s practice:

“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.”

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 Which is precisely how this post came to be.

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© July 7, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

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Drawing a Blank

Blog Post #30

A blank mind. A blank page. Both suggest one has nothing to say. While appearing to be intrinsically the same, I’m convinced that they are positively different.

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A BLANK MIND.

I’m especially dumb (as in the dictionary definition: unable to speak) when relying solely on my mouth to communicate. A monumental disconnect forms a gaping canyon along the neural route between the plethora of thoughts in my brain and my bumbling mouth. As articulate words attempt to cross the synaptic bridge of neurons spanning the chasm, they topple into oblivion, leaving me speechless—drawing a total blank. A blank mind. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t speak. Oh-ho-ho! No, indeed! I speak because it’s expected, and to fill the void, but a lot of nonsense often ensues. I must make a conscious and focused effort to say something of value. On one such rare occasion, a rather profound sentence–which has become my byword–emerged victorious: “I can say nothing in a million words.” And there you have it. My First Blog Post EVER! A blank mind isn’t always unwelcome. Frequent are the times I think without realizing I am thinking. It requires difficult and deliberate effort to focus my thoughts, but in general, thinking is an involuntary function. I’m grateful I don’t have to think to make my heart beat, or to breathe, that my brain is at work 24/7, whether I’m aware of it or not. The fact is I can’t seem to shut my thoughts off, even when I most want to. ill_pg_044_lg Two-thirty in the morning is the worst time for cognitive awareness—what I call the “twilight hours” of the brain. I am beyond counting the number of nights I have lain awake thinking. Sometimes, twilight thoughts merely annoy, distract, and burden with reminders of what I did or didn’t do that day, or what I need to remember to do the next. Other times, they plague me with an itchy pox of unanswered questions, or magnified views of my faults and failings in a relentless and irritating way. Thoughts often torment once I move from the vertical to the horizontal position, morphing innocuous, productive ideas into destructive, unsettling—sometimes frightening—nightmares. We all experience nightmares during sleep from time to time, but “awake-mares” can be even worse. There is a greater sense of credibility to these tormenting thoughts, as I lie wide awake when I should be fast asleep. When I’m startled awake by a nightmare, I can shake it off, saying it was only a bad dream, but when I’m awake in the dark of night and my thoughts shift from annoyance to torment, it’s difficult to separate what is true from what isn’t. I’m not sure why this happens, except, perhaps, that I am so tired, my mind can’t think rationally anymore.

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“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” by Goya

Twilight thinking occurs during a state of limbo between waking and sleeping, fluctuating between reality and fiction. It is at these times, I long to flip a switch in my brain and shut off thought altogether!  A blank mind would be a welcome relief. I have found prayer the only means of deliverance from this state—crawling out of bed during the wee hours to kneel by my bedside and ask for help turning off the incessant drone of faithless thoughts. Fear is nearly always tangled-up in twisted twilight thoughts, which is why faith in God is the necessary antidote. “Faith and fear cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time,” said Elder Neil L. Andersen. I’ve found this to be true. Once faith conquers fear, my mind is eased and I am able to drift into a sleep of blank-minded sweetness (only to discover I finally fell asleep a half-hour before my alarm was set to go off).

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A System of Elocution, with Special Reference to Gesture, to the Treatment of Stammering, and Defective Articulation (1846) by Andrew Comstock

A blank mind may occur at other times, too—times less welcome than in the middle of the night—namely, any other hour of the day. It is helpful to have intelligent, worthwhile thoughts when one is awake. These can lead to intelligent, worthwhile conversation and discourse. Having the thoughts is one thing, expressing them verbally is another. When it comes to speaking, I am a slow processor. It does not necessarily follow to believe that a person who is skilled in, and enjoys writing, is also adept as a spontaneous speaker. In most cases, impromptu speech comes clumsily to me. If I am expected to answer a question, make intelligent remarks, or add to a conversation with any degree of clarity, I often have to contend with a blankness equal, or exceeding, that of a king-sized, white bed sheet. My hands, almost by necessity, must be involved if I have anything at all to say. They fly about in direct proportion to the intensity and strength of my motivation, but they do not (I repeat: DO NOT) in any way, assist my mouth in fluency of speech. It is only when my hands themselves are directly related to the creation of the words that they wax eloquent. I suppose if my fingers shriveled up and fell off, I would essentially, be left speechless. This leads me to the other “blank,” that of the blank page. 433099854_39c0d130c9_o

A BLANK PAGE.

Many people consider a blank page daunting—the blankness prompting questions such as, “Where do I start?” or “What do I say?” Writer’s block, artist’s block, and other forms of blankness may cause anxiety, and delay progress. For many, a blank page is as unwelcome as a blank mind. A blank page may even trigger a blank mind, or vice versa. 2bcfc60e72daf7116600c0b6ee6aebad To me, a blank page stands in direct contrast to a blank mind. A blank page flashes with opportunity, freedom, articulation, and countless other possibilities. A blank page shouts, “Just start, and see where it takes you!” My First Blog Post EVER! A physically blank page usually requires some type of physical contact by a hand-held medium—the use of paints, or a ballpoint pen. (A virtual blank page, such as a computer screen, may allow for voice activated commands, but that places me right back at square one with blank-mindedness.) When my hands become involved with the blank page—touching a keyboard, or holding a pencil—my neural network kicks into gear, bypassing my dysfunctional mouth, getting right to work. Suddenly, I am able to make coherent statements, and clear analogies. My hands, instinctively, know how to transmit and translate a madcap assortment of thoughts into a form that makes sense, sorting the superfluous from the necessary, the ridiculous from the practical, and the idiotic from the profound. download Sometimes, my hands begin typing and I’m surprised to see what they will say! I’m not kidding. As each sentence unfolds, I discover things I didn’t know I knew, or find new insights I had not consciously thought about before. Somehow, the connection flowing between mind and hands engages my spirit, causing a discernible ink of language to appear on what was, moments before, the blank, white bed sheet of my mind. I learn when I write. Words I didn’t know that I knew appear on the page. After checking with the dictionary, I am surprised and delighted to find I had used them correctly and in context. Sometimes, I discover what I really think about things, I find reaffirmations of my beliefs, and resurrected knowledge appearing before my eyes.  I find joy in the written word. Language is a gift and is beautiful—I’m speaking of virtuous, uplifting, worthy language. Sure, a commonplace, counterfeit, vulgar variety of language is always out there, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about elevated intelligence flowing into one’s spirit, enlightening and filling with joy. notebook-paper-pencil-drawing-sketch-bird-draw Language isn’t the only way to fill a blank page. My heart takes wing when drawing, sketching and creating beautiful images with pencil and paint. Swirling hues and tints in a kaleidoscopic rainbow of color add to the joy, and heighten expression. Sometimes, black and white and subtle shades of gray are required to express truth. Equally worthy to spreading joy and hope, is the expression of truth, virtue, and beauty. These form the epitome of worthy expression. Filling a blank page with things that drag down and depress may express truth, but do little to fill someone’s cup, and elevate their soul. images The same is true of a blank sheet of music manuscript paper, a silent musical instrument, an empty stage, or other worthy possibilities of expression. 2d434d834dc0b979b8c5546482e18757vk7gF Blankness is paradoxical. On the one hand, a blank page, or a blank mind, signifies muteness, while on the other hand, the same signifies an opportunity for expression. Blankness signifies an impediment, as well as a doorway to possibility. Blankness also signifies a source of anxiety, and a path to peace. This morning, I sat down to a blank page with my mind blank as to what would fill it. I let my fingers touch the keys, and watched what unfolded. It’s always exciting to see what the blank page will teach me. muscari-114577_640

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft, and from thy slender store Two loaves alone to thee are left, Sell one, and with the dole Buy Hyacinths to feed thy Soul.

– Muslihuddin Sadi,  13th Century Persian Poet

© July 15, 2015

© July 15, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.