Tag Archives: insomnia

Late night lucubrating

I have a shit storm of stuff to write and do tomorrow, so obviously when I drank a cup of Sleepy Time tea and went to bed at the responsible hour of 12:30 my brain was like, “LOL, YEAH RIGHT.” Now the lights are back on and I’m finishing all the good long-form articles I started and never finished in order to eliminate some browser tabs. Starting the week off right.

If you’re interested, they are:

This Was Supposed to Be My Column for New Year’s Day — a NY Times article about positive procrastination from John Tierney which I started the day it was published, a month and a half ago. Go figure.

What Does ‘Getting Laid’ Really Mean? — By Emily Heist Moss on a publication called Role Reboot which I’ve never heard of but looks interesting.

Operation Delirium — A look inside the military’s post-cold war super sketchy chemical weapons tests, by Raffi Khatchadourian

Death Will Tremble — not an essay, but an online sci-fi video series I’ve been meaning to watch, even though I don’t usually watch things especially if they come in a series.

The Ghost Writes Back — Amy Boesky on ghost writing part of the Sweet Valley High book series for Francine Pascal, the series that I was completely and utterly obsessed with as tween.

The Slate review of Domenica Ruta’s new book, With or Without you. Had to check out the competition in the crazy mom contest. It’s really no competition at all.

Many fewer tabs, but still awake. I’d hoped that the insomnia tendencies would subside when I quit smoking and started trying to be healthy, but it looks like this one is here to stay. A few months back I read an essay by Kathryn Schulz called Writing in the Dark, in which she discusses her life as a literary night owl. The first time I read it, I tweeted at her to say I thought we were brain chemistry twins. I’d never heard of my insomniac tendencies described so accurately, and from the perspective of a female writer. I said the word “lucubrate” over and over to myself. I love that she provides an evolutionary explanation, because now I don’t feel so guilty about having such a disposition. If I can’t sleep because I can’t turn my mind off, I’m going to turn the lights back on and hash it out, because this is my productivity zone. If you’re an early bird nine-to-fiver, you have the societal advantage since this country still operates like electricity hasn’t been invented. Good for you, but do me a favor and don’t hold it against the night owls in the workplace. Let them do their thing when they want to do it, and everyone will be better off. And remember — in the caveman days, you would have been eaten by wolves in the middle of the night if it wasn’t for our kind, so show a little gratitude.

I began re-reading this essay before I started writing this blog post and closing the browser tabs, and I will leave you with an excerpt before attempting to sleep again:

There is a word for that, etymologically if not literally: the wonderfully lascivious-sounding lucubrate. It actually means to write in an overly academic fashion, but it comes from the practice of writing at night by candle or lantern. There are, as you might imagine, a lot of lucubrators out there. Proust and Joyce were both self-proclaimed night owls. So was Shelley; so, one assumes, was any self-respecting Romantic. George Sand claimed to routinely start writing at midnight. Edna St. Vincent Millay must have been a late type, with her burning candle and her wonderful “Recuerdo”—surely the best poem ever written about staying up all night on Staten Island. I sometimes make a game of guessing other writers’ hours. Gerard Manley Hopkins: night owl, for sure. Robert Frost: lark, with occasional spells of insomnia. Jonathan Franzen strikes me as a morning bird (and no doubt he knows precisely which species).

As for my own schedule, best to call it like it is: crazy. Those who have shared my bed—when I am in it to share it, anyway—have observed my nighttime habits with reactions varying from indulgence to incredulity. (Almost all of them have been stellar sleepers: not something I actively look for in a partner, but, given my lifestyle, terrifically convenient.) It starts, as I said, around 10 p.m., when something ticks over in my mind, as if someone had walked into a shuttered cabin and flipped all the switches in the fuse box to “on.” For the first time all day, I get interested in writing. As a corollary, I get a lot less interested in everything else. My normal indiscipline, the ADHD-ish inability to keep my head inside my work, finally drops away. For the next few hours, I write steadily, cleanly. If my body is producing a drug during that time, it is a natural methylphenidate—a dose of pure focus, side-effect-free and sweet.

Cyber relativity

I’ve kept my New Year’s resolution, to blog every day, for 13 days now, which I think is the longest I’ve ever kept a resolution before. I think that this time I’ve managed to stay diligent because I gave myself the clause that the post could be anything — a picture, one sentence, a video. And also maybe because I’m a responsible adult now, sort of. I made a dentist appointment for this week, that counts for something, right?

My real goal is to re-train myself in essay writing. I know I am past the point where anyone is going to help me refine my craft in the way that I need to unless I was willing to place myself tens of thousands of dollars in debt to continue my education, and even then maybe not. I wouldn’t trade any of the jobs I’ve had in the past five years since I graduated from college, as I’ve learned a great deal. But I’ve spent far too much time away from writing as a practice.

I always say that my experience in moving to New York when I was 21 with two suitcases and a credit card was my own version of grad school. I’d do my jobs thoroughly but in a way that didn’t require me to write publicly very much. I compared it to being in a lecture vs giving one, and that I wasn’t yet qualified to give one because I was still learning, but really I was scared to put myself out there. I felt like people expected me to be able to do everything perfectly on the first try, so I would avoid trying with the thing that I wanted to do most because that way I wouldn’t risk failing. And I think I expected people to call me out, and push me to write. I thought they would say, “Hey why don’t you ever write anymore? Write 500 words of something about something by Monday.” And then when years went by and they didn’t, I realized it was because what I was doing instead was worthwhile too, maybe even more worthwhile for my bosses. So I refined a bunch of weird skills that are pretty useful in the publishing industry like editing, team management and content curation, but I wound up feeling like a cog most of the time.

Now writing is my full-time focus, and I’m pleased to find it’s like riding a bike, except instead of being in a cycling class you’re trying to meet some personal fitness goal like, I don’t know, training for a bike race, or whatever people who ride bikes do when they’re not just trying to get somewhere.

This was only supposed to be a one sentence blog post so I could meet my resolution, finish this episode of the X-Files and go to bed. I’m weirdly tired for it being only 10:39. I have chronic insomnia but quitting smoking for 3 weeks is resetting my circadian rhythm and it kind of freaks me out being normal. My creativity and energy comes and goes in waves, and I find that when I ride the waves instead of trying to paddle against them I get much more done. Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to be the best, and everything on the internet makes you feel like it’s going so fast, and that you’re slow in comparison. But in reality, you’re going way faster than most people and you should actually probably slow down. Cyber relativity.

What should I blog about tomorrow? Present to-do list is as follows:

  • Describe for Molly Steenson what I would include in a journalism curriculum if I were to teach one.
  • Explain why I can’t bring myself to purchase health insurance.
  • Write some stuff about depression
  • Applications of a mating game we played in my animal behavior class to post-internet-porn dating and sexuality
  • Make fun of that horrible New York Times article on how 20-somethings don’t date
  • Write some stuff about archaea
  • Write about all the things about feminism

That’s all. Here’s something wonderful that my friend Ari sent me: