The Inefficiency of Insomnia

Maybe it’s usual stress combined with year-end to-dos and mingled with the impending holiday season, but I am getting really, really busy. It was wonderful to take Thursday off to hang out with my parents and two younger brothers, my battle with The Turkey That Would Not Cook notwithstanding.

But the next day, I was back to work, reading and making decisions on what I estimate fell somewhere around 130 poems for The Los Angeles Review and Fifth Wednesday Journal, making final editorial comments on several book reviews for LAR, giving advice to a few of my students who are preparing to send in their college application essays, and working on my book proposal for Jacob Wrestling. I’m so highly scheduled in getting this all done that I’m even working through slush between steps of cooking dinner (managed to read a whole piece while the crepe pan heated this evening).  And these items are all outside the actual work of revising the book manuscript. Tomorrow, I hope, I’ll be three-quarters of the way through my revision… if I make it until the end of the day.

One of the fun things about the heart trouble I’ve had recently is that I’ve had to cut out the part of my life that used to get me through this kind of crazed schedule: caffeine. I used to enjoy two or three cups of coffee a day from my husband’s ridiculously tricked-out espresso machine, sipping mindlessly while I gained enough brain power to attempt the day, or having a pick-me-up in that interminable hour between two and three pm. Now, I make exactly one ounce of coffee in the morning, top off my cup with hot water, and act like what I’m having is an actual beverage. If I’m feeling really brave, I just have the hot water. You’d think that as a result of this depressing situation, I’d at least begin sleeping really well, but you’d be wrong.

In fact, whatever caffeine withdrawal I’m having seems to make it impossible for me to sleep.  I lie awake, staring at the ceiling, thinking about just how soon my alarm clock is about to go off. What drives me crazy about the whole nonsense of insomnia is how unproductive the time is. If I give up, roll out of bed at 3 in the morning and slog over to my laptop, I’m unlikely to have sound enough judgment to make decisions on magazine submissions, edit my work or start a new project. Even if I were asleep I could get more done–my teacher Bruce Holland Rogers once spoke to me of a man who composed some really fine pieces of flash fiction in his sleep.

Maybe the inability to get any sleep at all is just a product of how glued to my laptop I’ve been lately–a way of my mind revolting against days full of chasing a cursor around with ever-growing mounds of text. Maybe that Dorthea Brande was right, that writers need very wordless hobbies to help shut off the work when it gets to be too much. And while I likely won’t go her recommended route of scrubbing the kitchen floor for relaxation, but if  anyone wakes up before dawn and hears a sound reminiscent of a toothbrush on grout, it might just be me.

2 Replies to “The Inefficiency of Insomnia”

  1. I hear you on this one–if you’re up in the middle of the night, chances are that I am, too. Feel free to call me at 3 am and we’ll have a writerly chat!

  2. Having to cut out caffeine is indeed a harsh punishment. My condolences. Henry (the coffee-drinkin’ dog) is also going through withdrawals. I went to the vet recently and found out that caffeine and canines don’t mix. So now I either switch to decaf or Henry has to go dry. Well … sorry buddy!

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