5/6/20: Sleep

I’ve been oversleeping, staying in bed till 10, 11 o’clock. I’ll first wake up at 9 or so, and then keep hitting snooze on my alarm, which gives gives me an additional 10 minute interval: just enough time to sink into the pleasant oblivion of a deeper doze before the alarm breaks it, so that I can repeat the cycle again, for two hours.

It’s hard for me to say if I’ve ever enjoyed sleeping. I feel like, when I was really young, a kid, and didn’t feel the acute adult compulsion to be constantly analyzing my body and the gradations of its energy, it felt like a necessary caesura, a flavorless obligation, a punctuation mark.

Now that I’m older, I engage more with the before and after of sleep itself. Sometimes, when the black candle of insomnia is lit up in my skull, I crave sleep, but in the way you crave some necessary medicine or the cessation of pain, not as something pleasurable in itself; merely necessary.

Otherwise, and especially these days, it’s something to be avoided. I don’t really want another day to start. During the pandemic it’s the end of the day that I like the most, when most of my major anxiety has burned itself away, and I can just sit in a fragile stasis and feel, if not normal, then at least nothing intense; and so when sleep begins to encroach on me, it feels like an invading force, something to be fought against.

Sleep’s only sweet part, for me, is the morphine haze of dropping into it, of teetering on the edge of the deeper, senseless, wordless sleep. There’s a particular shade of oblivion you find there, where you haven’t forgotten who are, but have forgotten almost everything about where you are; for an infinitesimal span you aren’t knocking your shins on and tripping over clutter of your life. The colorless haze drowns out the complexities we drag with us everywhere else. Your senses are reduced, your brain is brought down in magnitude, all you can wordlessly occupy yourself with are minor corrections in the algebra of comfort: drawing the covers up further, putting your hands in your pajama pants pockets, crossing or uncrossing a leg to ease an ache or strain. Everything is solvable, and satisfyingly so, simpler than walking down a street in the sunshine.

I hate, when I’m trying to sleep, when I can hear unaccounted-for sounds. If I hear a voice, or music, or a cough, or a car driving by – any intrusion from another life – all the mystery of these unaccounted-for things brings the full mind back into play, unhappily. When we lived in Boulder, our second apartment’s bedroom window overlooked the backyards of the apartments below and across from us; and sometimes the tenants would sit in their backyards drinking and talking and listening to music, late into the night. Fragments of conversation, snatches of laughter, a thousand uncatalogable miscellaneous noises would creep in like thieves through the window.

Inevitably I would embellish them with hypotheses about what these people looked like, what they were doing, the fundamental elements of their personalities. Whenever I imagine the life of anybody else, there’s always this element of longing embedded in that imagining. Not a longing that comes from wanting to be them, or to have their life; a longing just to know them, to know it.

There is an innate connection between reading and sleep, there always has been. Sometimes reading in bed does make me tired. Sometimes the words feel like cargo being carried into my brain, stacked up in neat rows in its holds, until its ready to sail out onto sleep’s lavender sea.

But, sleep has never felt like a sea to me. It feels more like a waste, a vast gray expanse, beset with a formless eternal mist. A land laboring under a curse, but a curse that’s been around so long that it feels less tragic and scary than melancholy, grayly resigned. A land denuded of people, so that there isn’t really even anyone there to ask you to save it, if you were so inclined.

And I hate the chaos of a messy, unmade bed, which somehow throws the entire room around it into a metaphysical disarray. It just feels always like a mistake. It cries out for correction. But I leave my bed unmade as often as I make it, letting it ache like a tooth all day.

For all the far-ranging capabilities of our intellect, sleep’s simple touch of Lethe can also illustrate how easily it is for the unknown to crumple us. Think about what happens when you sleep somewhere that isn’t your room, your bed, and you wake up misaligned in the world, looking at an unfamiliar ceiling, facing maybe in a different direction, covered with sheets that aren’t yours – you wake up and for the duration of one whole sensation you come up against a panic of anonymity, sheer as a wall of stone; you are not being who you were, and don’t know who you are, and are thus nobody, adrift in a way that even the widest sea on the wettest planet can’t make you feel.

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