Monday, May 16, 2011

65 things to do while not sleeping

While hysteria was the neurosis of the 19th century, insomnia is the affliction of our times. However, the same stresses of modern day life that were once believed to transform women into bizarrely theatrical creatures now affect us with anxiety and incurable restlessness, causing us to wake at 2am and not be able to return to slumber.

And what are we to do? Charlotte Perkins Gilman encapsulated the dilemma of the Victorian woman in her famous story, "The Yellow Wallpaper":
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?
If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression -- a slight hysterical tendency -- what is one to do?
My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.
So I take phosphates or phosphites -- whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to "work" until I am well again.
Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
But what is one to do?
(Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper," 1899)
Damned if she is, damned if she isn't. The narrator in Gilman's tale was prescribed Dr. Mitchell's 'rest cure' which forbid excessive mental and physical exercise and apparently also often involved a force-fed diet of blood and fat. Hysteria was a 'female' malady, a sickness of the womb. Thereby, treatment soon came in the form of the very first vibrators... the idea being that this impaired organ needed to be properly stimulated. Of course, the experience was not to be one of pleasure and self-indulgence, but a cold, clinical medical regimen with sessions conducted in the doctor's office. The Victorians may have admitted that women do have orgasms; nonetheless, they believed a 'trained professional' needed to administer the 'procedure'. California's own Dr. Swift was at least nice enough to make house calls. What a selfless guy!

The vibrator was finally introduced for in-home and 'doctor-less' use in 1902... interestingly, about a decade before appliances 'necessary' for the true domestic, such as the vacuum and the iron.

The list of symptoms that could potentially diagnose one with hysteria were legion. One particular physician, George Beard, established a veritable tome of symptoms. At 75 pages long, he still considered it incomplete. All manner of nervous conduct were attributed to hysteria -- fainting, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite, and even 'a tendency to cause trouble.' The aforementioned and most famous Dr. Mitchell wrote that the cause of it all was "the daily fret and wearisomeness of lives." (Dr. Mitchell quoted in Laura Briggs, "The Race of Hysteria: 'Overcivilization' and the 'Savage' Woman in Late Nineteenth-Century Obstetrics and Gynecology," American Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 2 (June 2000), p. 254) Briggs has re-termed Mitchell's 'daily fret' as 'the instability of affluence...' We haven't changed much, it seems... perhaps only in what we call and how we categorize our constant anxiety. This makes one wonder if we worry simply because we really don't have anything significant to worry about. Going back to the entry on zombies, our generalized anxiety may be rooted in fundamental survival requirements. We worry as a protective function... biologically. Yet, nowadays with over 40 million adults each year suffering from diagnosed anxiety disorders, one wonders how well adapted we actually are.

But that is all besides the point... sort of. The point is that you don't really care why you are up at 2am in the morning, tossing and turning, all manner of thoughts racing through the billions of synapses in your brain. You just want to get to sleep... please... finally. And, of course, when you try to make yourself sleep, sleep will only evade you that much more. So, in honor of insomnia... and in commemoration of an entry I wrote back in April (65 things to do while watching TV), here are 65 things to do while you are not sleeping.

1. Turn on the TV.
2. Refer to list of "65 things to do while watching TV" which should keep you occupied for a good few hours.
3. Read the really long, difficult book that you have been avoiding... or just haven't been able to finish... for me, it's Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. At best, you will finally finish the book. At worst, you will be put back to sleep. It's a win-win!!
4. By the way, you have just broken a fundamental rule for alleviating insomnia. Don't read! Also, don't turn on the lights (which I assume you have done in order to read.) Rejoice in the fact that you are a serious medical rebel!
5. Have a 'self dialogue.' Actually, this is a recommendation for those who can't sleep. The thinking behind it is that you will be able to direct your unfocused random train of thoughts and perhaps can release some of the stresses that are keeping you awake. Uhhhh, good luck with this one.
6. Speaking of stress, #51 it!!! (See the TV entry if you don't understand this critical code.) Of course, I am assuming that you have someone to #51 it with... or at least can make a booty call. Or as a last resort, well, there are other solutions. Thank you, Dr. Mitchell.
7. Put on some tunes.
8. Analyze lyrics of said tunes. For example, Pearl Jam's "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town..." Dive into the dark recesses of your mind and ponder the 'hearts and thoughts that have faded away...'
9. Enough self-indulgent pathetic wallowing already! Be proactive! Get online and facebook poke those who have 'faded away'... or those who you never really knew but are somehow close 'friends' with... yeah, them and 800 others as well.
10. Take some FB quizzes. Come on. We all know that you love them... even though you will swear to anyone who asks that they are inane and you wouldn't waste your time on them. Waste your time! What else would you be doing? Sleeping? What a waste!
11. Rank the 'hotness' of all of your friends. This is sure to piss off a lot of people, especially if you are in a relationship and rate your ex-girlfriend #1 and then post it to your current girlfriend's wall.
12. Text current girlfriend some sweet nothings... just in case you pissed her off. Let's keep things status quo, please. You are just trying to amuse yourself while not sleeping... not incite drama and relationship chaos.
13. Text something a bit dirtier. That oughta wake her up... and maybe you will get some pictures in return.
14. Pictures arrive... need I say more?
15. Remake the bed.
16. Study the periodic table. Try to name as many of the 103 elements as you can... in alphabetical order...with the correct atomic weight and number... and the abbreviation...
17. Learn how many protons, neutrons, and electrons make up an atom of the various elements.
18. Get your chemistry on! Make a model of an atom of one of the elements. Here's how to make a model of a nitrogen atom.
19. Get further down to the level of quarks and gluons. We are seriously getting somewhere here! It's good not to sleep. We are delving into the microcosmic interiors of the universe! Your life has meaning!
20. Speaking of quarks, rewatch Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah in Roxanne. Now, when you get to the scene where Roxanne, the Ph.D. astrophysicist, is explaining quarks to Charlie, you will quickly recognize that she was wrong! Ha! There are no "top" and "bottom" quarks, but rather "up" and "down".... where was she earning her degree from again? University of This Ain't Rocket Science?
21. Earn more sessions by sleeving...
22. Do a little research to find out whatever the heck happened to Daryl Hannah. You may discover that her new career is protesting sex slavery and being arrested for chaining herself to walnut trees... or some such shenanigans... and also having (or having botched) plastic surgery... because that fits right along with the mission of saving the planet and all of humanity. In-between (god, where does she find the time! she must NEVER sleep!!!) she is apparently still making movies... at least made-for-TV movies... quality, of course. Come on, you haven't seen her in "Whore" or "Kung Fu Killer" or "Shark Swarm" or "Final Days of Planet Earth" or "All the Good Ones are Married"... or... do you really want me to keep going? Anyway, you should be doing the research.
23. Speaking of 'whatever happened to...', uncover the mystery of whatever happened to Alanis Morissette. People are really curious... or at least one person that I know is... Plus, he assured me that I'd get hella blog traffic if I even mentioned her name on my blog. Well hell! She's released a new album in... oh wait.... uhh 2008, "Flavors of Entanglement." But hey! You outta know! And anyway, she has more important things to do... like care for her 6-month old, Ever Imre Morissette-Treadway... And if you go to her website, you will find that she is gathering our stories prompted by very important questions like, "What part of your astrological sign really nails your personality and why?" She is also generously 'twittering' on her very own webpage. Amongst love notes to her hubby are gems such as the following Rainier Maria Rilke quotes: "...but your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.."
24. Game of Thrones!!!!!!! Catch up on the new HBO series.
25. Go back to George Martin's original series. Start reading A Game of Thrones... then A Clash of Kings... A Storm of Swords... etc. etc.... You will discover the TV deviations from the novels and you will then become embroiled in ruckus concerning altered scenes... such as the 'consummation' scene between Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen where the answer to "do you know any other words?" went from 'yes' (book) to yet another 'no' (series)...
26. Back to Rilke. Were you aware that he wrote a book of poems called Traumgekrönt (Dream-Crowned)? So appropriate... or inappropriate since dreaming is exactly the thing you are not doing. He also said, "I live not in dreams but in contemplation of a reality that is perhaps the future." Deep... seems he wasn't sleeping much either.
27. Amend your definition of what you are doing and what you are. You are not an insomniac... you are a seeker of the philosophic sort who is 'contemplating a reality that is perhaps the future...' And that is a lot more important than sleeping.
28. Since, at this point, you are getting tired and still have over 30 things to go on this list... look up some solutions for insomnia. Attempt some of them... for example...
29. Keep your eyes open. While we all know that you are already doing that, this is also a 'mind-trick' to get you back to sleep. As Scott Young writes in his "Insomniac's Guide to Things to Do When Failing To Sleep": "You can probably remember boring lectures or meetings where it was painful to keep your eyes open. Watching your ceiling fan will probably be a better sleep inducement than anything your high school math teacher could have come up with."
30. Speaking of teachers, close your eyes and fantasize about that hot teacher from back in high school. Maybe it was your math teacher. Most likely, it was your English teacher. What could be hotter than imagining yourself to be heroic Odysseus or steadfast Elizabeth Proctor and saving or romancing said teacher. Swoon!
31. Eat, read, watch TV, and worry in bed... all at once... all thumbing your nose in the face of insomnia. You will not sleep! You don't need sleep!
32. Go online and purchase some new pillows. A body pillow. New, fluffy and yet still supportive pillows. Pillows to support your knees, your back, your spine, your neck. Pillows for sleeping on your stomach, on your side, on your back. King size pillows. Memory foam pillows. Hypoallergenic pillows. Anti-pet dander pillows.
33. Speaking of pets, go to and get yourself a pet. There is nothing better to do with sleeplessness than to cuddle with a new puppy.
34. If you want a real companion, consider getting a wolfdog... but only if you are prepared to completely devote yourself to this animal as you would to your very own child. As Gudrun Dunn writes on his Wolfdog resource page:
People "own" pets, but you can never "own" a wolfdog... NO they do not make good pets. They make companion animals. There is a big difference between those 2 concepts. A companion animal is an animal such as a horse. It still has basic instincts, and interacts with man on its own terms. You can break its spirit, and have a fear-based relationship, or you can meet it halfway and be respectful of its nature and the rules by which it lives.
To die, to sleep --
No more -- and by sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep --
To sleep -- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of? (Hamlet, Act III, scene I)
Be glad you are not dreaming. Be glad you are not contemplating suicide. Be glad your uncle has not killed your father in cold blood and then married your mother. Be glad your life does not imitate a Shakespearean play. But be glad, also, for Shakespeare. And if you were ever going to memorize a soliloquy, this would be the one!
36. Speaking of dream speeches, reread Mercutio's Queen Mab speech.
37. Beware the fairy queen in whose voice Percy Shelley wrote: "I am the Fairy MAB: to me 'tis given
The wonders of the human world to keep;
The secrets of the immeasurable past.
In the unfailing consciences of men...
And it is yet permitted me to rend
The veil of mortal frailty..."
38. Consider names that we never hear anymore: Percy, Susan, Linda, Patricia, Cordelia, Erasmus, Fletcher, Rush, Royal.
39. Face the fact that you are probably part of the sleep pattern cluster, 'Sleepless and Missin' the Kissin'...
40. Wake up your partner and stop 'missin' the kissin'... this is actually a different activity than 51-ing it. Softer, tenderer, and more cuddling.
41. Remake the bed... again... yes, it got a little out of hand.
42. Do laundry. I know... probably not your first choice. Probably that's why it's down here at #42... but at least you will wake up in the morning and discover a pile of lavender-scented neatly folded clean shirts and work-out clothes.
43. For that matter, grab your clothes and go for a work-out. 2am gyming it. Nothing betta! You are growing muscle while the rest of the world is snoozing in flabby fleshiness. Suns out, guns out, my foot!
44. Then go to the nearest 24-hour pharmacy or supermarket. And people watch. Even better, interact with some of the other 3am aisle-crawlers. What the heck do they need at this time of night? There is always something really strange about discovering that other people are alive and going on about their lives in the middle of the night when it seemed like all the world was yours and yours alone.
45. Rent some movies that deal with dreaming. It's probably better to know what you are not getting yourself into. Inception deals with dreams as a thriller. The Science of Sleep with them as romance and self-analysis and nostalgia... and confusion... and the indistinguishable line between waking and dreaming. I mean the main character, Stephane, falls in love with Stephanie... and this is just the tip of the iceberg of disorientation...
Stephane: It's like touching your penis with your left hand.
Stephanie: I don't have a penis.
Stephane: But you have a left hand.
46. Realize that you are asleep... and that this has all been a dream... and that I just used the biggest cliche of a lazy screen or novel writer. Sigh. Yes, I too am tired.
47. Consider how you would build a table. Yes, it is harder than you might think. A slab and four legs, yes, but what about types of wood to use, attachments, finishings, size, height, proportions. Hey, maybe you should start thinking about some chairs... and a family.
48. Get back in bed and chill a bit after so much table-work. As you lay there, still awake, make anagrams for your friends' names. For example (and for blogging purposes, I won't use a real friend)... but how about Alanis Morissette... 'List it as seer, moan...' or 'Moan as seer; list it...' Yeah, this game should definitely put you to sleep.
49. Consider what will happen to me when Alanis Morissette googles herself and finds that I've posted about her twice already... and then sends me a cease-and-desist letter. Answer: post the letter! Here's hoping! (Thanks, Alec.)
50. Bake a pie. I have the best apple pie recipe. It requires caramelizing the apples and including thyme. It's sooooo good. I promise you. You can have the recipe... if you stop by my place in the middle of the night while I'm not sleeping either... on second thought...
51. Was just thinking.... about going to the gym in the middle of the night... make sure not to get mugged. Whatever gym you are going to that is open in the middle of the night might not be in the safest of locales.
52. To quote a friend: "Just keep on doing what you are doing, but keep it funky..." oh, and he just reminded me that he was already quoting James Brown on that one...
53. Go back to sleep, you crazy people, so I can stop writing this damn list! Actually, scratch that. I'd prefer that you are here... reading my blog :)
54. Podcasts! There are so many cool things out there that you have no idea about... but you will soon... and others won't... so there!
55. Write a novel. Seriously, you have the time. Think about all the time you spend not sleeping.
56.Word! When did 'word' become an expression of agreement and favorable affirmation? Find out!
57. Bed gravity! Phrase of the day on urbandictionary... and I quote: "An irresistible force that draws you back to bed, or toward any mattress, couch, or other soft horizontal surface. Usually stronger when one or more persons are already on said furniture.
EX: Mom: Time to get up for school!
Son: Must! Fight! Bed Gravity! ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ"
58. Let's 51 again. Why not?
59. Uncover the forces of bed gravity. You need them.
60. Figure out what superhero you would be and what your superpower and super item would be. These must be consistent with your existing personality. I always carry floss, so, yes, that is my super item. I hear you laughing... You really don't know what can be done with floss, though. Rest assured.
61. Let's 51 again.
62. Let's 51 again.
63. Let's 51 again.
64. I know, I know... but I think this might be the best solution to get us all back to sleep.
65. We made it! And we are still awake! Scratch list and start again. Or try, just try, erasing all that sh** out of your brain and just relaxing and getting some zzzzz's. And hey, there is even an authentic German Riesling wine called Relax. You can always pull a bottle out of your fridge and take a few swigs. That should do the trick. Or just call a friend. Have the gumption. I realize that makes no sense. That friend I called told me to try and work the word gumption into this damn list somewhere. Oh well, at least I succeeded at something.

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