Monday, February 27, 2006

To sleep, perchance to dream.

My workday stretched from 8 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. today, with only a few minutes of downtime, maybe an hour total, scattered throughout. When the group of male students who constitute one of our literary societies showed up on my front porch at 10:40 p.m., because Kenyon is that kind of place and I'd told them that I might be able to make it to their evening meeting, I had to draw a line, though part of me was a tiny bit tempted to just keep on going. Why not have an impromptu literary society meeting in my living room, since someone had lost the key to their originally scheduled meeting place? Well, for lots of reasons, but chiefly because it would have launched me into a fifteenth straight hour of work. And that just didn't seem necessary or even slightly reasonable tonight.

I'm listening to a magnificent album that I've just gotten. I usually don't read Entertainment Weekly's music reviews, even when I do let my celebrity magazine reading go as highbrow as EW (as opposed to Life & Style; I don't slum with OK, just in case you're concerned; and I'm still pissed off that the bookstore stopped carrying US Weekly). But for some reason, when I dipped into this week's trashy offerings, I lingered over the music reviews, seeking something new. The Arctic Monkeys have debuted, of course, but I find that I'm not as enthralled by the samples of the whole album as I have been by their first single. EW gave Teddy Thompson's Separate Ways, released last month, an A. (You may recognize Thompson from his duet with Rufus Wainwright on "King of the Road," for the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack. I myself will never love any version of "King of the Road" more than the drunken R.E.M. cover that shows up on Dead Letter Office [1987].) After listening to thirty seconds of "Everybody Move It" last night, I was pretty certain that I'd be downloading the whole album today. And indeed I did do, during one of my flying breaks--I believe it was somewhere around the time I made it to 170 pages of reading for the day, on my way onward and upward to 215 or so. iTunes categorizes Thompson's album as "rock," but this categorization all but proclaims to me that iTunes is worse at musical taxonomy than even I am; while some of Thompson's tracks (like "You Made It," which just came on) do sound rock-ish, the prevalent genre would seem to be the alt-country we've also gotten from people like Kathleen Edwards in the past year. Then again, Edwards's Back to Me (2005) got categorized as "folk." So, perhaps what I should (re)learn at this point is that labels will only take me a short distance in life.

In short: if you're looking for something that seems to straddle genre boundaries and make it into rock and country and probably also some pop and occasionally even some folk--but that, most importantly, features achingly gorgeous instrumentation and beautiful vocals (including backing vocals by Martha Wainwright, you guys)--Thompson might be your man. Those of you with whom I've danced at one hepcat event or another may especially love "Everybody Move It," which features lines like "bump and grind / have a
good time" against an incongruously lovely melody. Rolling Stone didn't like the album much, but then again, the RS reviewer tried to insult Thompson by comparing him to Neil Finn of Crowded House. I love Neil Finn and Crowded House. As I would tell my students, this sounds to me like a question of taste, not quality.

As I got ready to come upstairs and get ready for bed, I paused for a few minutes in front of one of the framed pictures on the living room wall, near my front hallway. It's a contact print my father made of the first roll of film he took of my mother and me after I was born. In the pictures, my twenty-six-year-old mother sits in her bathrobe beside a window, with me, swaddled, in her arms. She and my father were hoping I'd wake up so that they could get a picture of me with my eyes open. Instead, no matter what
position my mother moved me into, I slept on, making some funny faces (sticking out my tongue, yawning) but keeping my eyes clenched tight.

Ironically, the Thompson song on right now is "I Should Get Up," about needing to get out of bed.

What you have to know to get why it's so funny that I wouldn't open my eyes for the pictures: I was born asleep. My poor mother was in false labor for about a week before I finally made up my mind to get on out, and then she had to go through about a day of hard labor, and then I made my debut still crashed out. She's told me many times that I opened my eyes, looked around as if to say, "Are you kidding me?" and then closed them up again. The doctors worried that I was going to turn out to be slow. They were right--just not in the way they meant, at that moment. I did not get the kind of Apgar scores that would have gotten me into Princeton. But when they stamped my foot, I apparently got just as cranked off as I get now when
I'm disturbed from my rest; my yowling made everything seem all right again, leaving aside the fact that it was probably at about this time that the doctors noticed the sixth toe on my left foot.

"We knew right then what you would be like for the rest of your life," my mother has told me. I can see what she means. I tend to do things on my own timetable. I tend to sleep late. I tend to be unreasonably irritable when annoyed by pointless things, like impertinent foot-stamping. Perhaps I'm even more irritable now that I only have ten toes than I was when I had eleven.

I don't know whether I'm still brow-furrowed in my sleep. I certainly was on that first day
. I already look as though I might be working something out while I'm unconscious, which tends to be a crucial part of my modus operandi (and of yours, too, so don't deprive yourself of your sleep; your long-term memory encoding happens while you're out, and if you cut back too far, the sensory impressions you gathered in over the course of your day won't process back from your brain's frontal lobe into its middle, your medial temporal lobe, where they'll take deeper root).

Among my favorites of the things my mother taught me when I was growing up: that people have a deep sleep position or series of deep sleep movements that can be detected when a baby is still in utero. My parents discovered this phenomenon over a sequence of events. Partway through her pregnancy, my mother pointed out to my father a strange thing that was happening to her abdomen: from time to time, something would ripple from one side of her belly to the other, making a kind of visible wave. They didn't know how to account for it until one night after my birth, when my mother watched one of my arms drift up and across my body, making a rippling motion as it traveled. When she was pregnant with my brother, my mom says, there were times when her abdomen would protrude even further out than usual, as though he was all concentrated in one place. She would massage him into more convenient positions when necessary. After he was born, she checked on him one night and found him sleeping with his legs drawn up and his knees sticking up in the air.


One of the curious things about living alone is that I don't have any way of knowing what I am like when I sleep; a good seven or eight (or, when I'm lucky, nine or ten) hours of each day go by when I'm not visible or audible or really present in any way to anyone else. I don't know whether I snore consistently, though I've awakened myself (sometimes in public places) with snorts or snores. I don't know whether I talk in my sleep. I know that I usually wake up pretty much exactly where I fell asleep, having moved almost not at all in my sleep. I know that in the past I have had an incredibly difficult time sleeping if another person in my bed has wanted to hang onto me through the night; I know that some of the best sleeping I've ever done involved sleeping back-to-back with another person, making enough contact to feel assured of a presence but not enough to compromise my solitude. But that sleeping happened years ago; I've just realized that it's been more than half a decade since that relationship ended.

Of all the songs on this album, I think I love "Think Again" most of all, despite the portentousness of that declaration at this point in my semester. I am a sucker for particular movements in music--a certain chord progression, a particular bass line, and, I rediscover through this song, 6/8 time and triplets. One could do a lovely, lovely, terribly sad waltz to this song's rolling acoustics, its chorus's melancholy rises and falls.

sources for tonight's images: 1) ye mighty Amazon; 2) Sleep Eval Research, whom you have to love at least a little for posting Henri Matisse's "Nature Morte à la Dormeuse" (1940).

2 Comments:

Blogger KYlitprof said...

I was just reading to my students yesterday a passage from Toni Morrison's _Tar Baby_ about the comfort that can be derived from proximity to a trusted back, even though that might appear to be a position of turning away. Not that it's the same, but if you happen to snore or talk loudly in your sleep we'll probably be able to tell you that in a few days!

12:45 PM, March 01, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

The funny thing about the sleeping back-to-back is that when I was in that relationship, my boyfriend discovered an article that analyzed sleep positions and what they had to say about a relationship, and according to this article, people who slept facing away from one another, barely touching, were meant to be more independent than people who clung to each other all night. We were both very proud of being independently together. Ironically, he was more responsive to me in waking life than the boyfriend who clung like crazy in his sleep, to the point where I couldn't sleep. I couldn't depend on him at all, and so his unconscious affection felt parasitic and smothering.

1:28 PM, March 01, 2006  

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