Advent Day #16 – Sleep

Reblogging my list of free gifts from the Universe:

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
~D.H. Lawrence

Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep!  It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.  It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even.  ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

All men whilst they are awake are in one common world:  but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own.  ~Plutarch

I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree.  They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it.  I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.”  Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder.  For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed.  That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open.  How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me.

The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process.  Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence?  If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary?  It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy.  I’d be afraid to scare it off.

Many people contend with sleep.  I do a bit.  I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding.  It’s not really the same, but I could do worse.  I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early.  I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping.  Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious.  And I dream.

I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above.  In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up.  He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead.  Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel.  I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t.   He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking.  This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death.  I still don’t have it figured out.  I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”.  Performance anxiety is a big theme.  I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class.  When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other.  I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context.  I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that.  I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare.  My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams.  He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams.  I just get upset and wake up.

I did have a nightmare two nights ago.  I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs.  “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream.  So I was eating myself.  It was unsettling for my brain.  My stomach was already unsettled.  Peculiar how the sleeping mind works.  I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream.  The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream!  Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…”   Yup.  Absurdity.  It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe.

I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning.  Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss.  Listening to it is like going through the resurrection, weeping tears of joy and wonder.  Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries.

Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed.  Think I’ll take a catnap.

I Have Had Delight….

“I have had delight…” said the old man, as he was taking his leave.  Before he even finished his sentence, I threw my arms around his waist and embraced him.

This is the tail end of a dream I was having last night.  I was singing, in harmony, with a bunch of friends as we walked, ran, skipped along toward…some place.  We were singing “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”, and the old man was striding alongside, enjoying our spontaneous fun.

Disjointed happy feelings!  This is definitely the result of spending an evening with my Approximate Daughter and her First Mate.  AD has only recently changed her name from The Approximate Chef, her blogging moniker.  Her life has become filled with other pursuits, and so the blog lies dormant (unlike a yeast bread, I doubt it will double in size with the inattention).  I’m not sure what the adjective means when it modifies what kind of  a daughter she is…

I regret not bringing my camera along last night.  My daughter, who is all of 4 feet, 11 inches tall, was wearing patterned stockings, high boots and a mini skirt.  The night before, she had a gig with the punk performance art band she’s in.  She radiates energy and fun and intelligence in a combination that is the absolute antithesis of the depressing Goth style.  I would have taken several pictures of her.  Instead, they are locked in my memory.  Especially one, near the end of the meal, when she was laughing at something Steve said about an idea he has for an avant garde restaurant.  She was positively lit up – pert pixie hairdo and megawatt smile – in a way that reminded me instantly of her toddlerhood.  You know how 2-year-olds laugh with their mouths wide open, their eyes crinkled up, and their tiny bodies just wriggling with delight?  Somehow, my daughter is still an excited toddler.

I would also have taken a picture of the restaurant.   Well, actually, I would have taken a picture of the building across the street from inside the restaurant.  “Graze” is located on the square in Madison, across the street from the capitol dome, which is floodlit at night.  The entire face of the restaurant is glass, modern lines, minimalist decor, and the place was packed with people.  So imagine the ultra-swanky mood lighting inside, silhouettes and sparkles, and outside, the huge monolith of a granite dome bathed in greenish light.   It made me feel like one of the “beautiful people” just being there.

Photo courtesy travelwisconsin.com

And I would have taken a picture of the food.  It was artfully delicious.  Madison is celebrating Restaurant Week where establishments offer a three-course prix fixe menu, and  Graze features food exclusively from local farms, so it was all very elegant and very fresh.  And the cocktails were amazing!  My daughter ordered The Big Small: Small’s gin infused with rosemary, lemon thyme, black pepper and capers.  So fragrant and savory!  Her First Mate ordered The Center of the Universe: Cane & Abe rum, chamomile honey, lemon juice, raspberry liqueur and cinnamon.  Steve had his standard vodka martini, I had my standard gin & tonic.  We had deviled eggs as an appetizer with that, and talked about the nearby Mustard Museum.   I had a beet salad with a delicious vinaigrette, warm blue cheese fondue, and walnuts.   Steve and First Mate had cod cakes with fava beans.  AD had BBQ ribs with a square of mac and cheese…very Wisconsin.  That was the first course.  For the second, Steve & I had the Lamb Pappardelle, FM had the pork schnitzel, and AD had the most delicious tofu dish I have ever tasted.  It was called Crispy Smoked Tofu and was served with caramelized sweet potatoes and cauliflower, roasted red pepper, shiitake mushroom, leeks, wild rice, curry shiitake sauce, peanuts and cilantro.  I would love to find out where or how they get smoked tofu…and then purchase a truckload for myself!  We drank a bottle of Bonny Doon shiraz (a winery I’ve actually been to; it’s about 30 miles from my mom’s house in California) with that course, and then got dessert.  Steve & I had bread pudding with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, and I didn’t even taste the others.  I was absolutely giddy by the end of the meal.  Fine dining puts me into a “happy place” like nothing else…probably because of childhood memories of my father taking us out and being proud and pleased and well fed.  When he was in a good mood, the universe was all in harmony for me.

My father died of Alzheimer’s in March of 2010.  Maybe he’s the old man who said, “I have had delight….”  in my dream.

Me, too, Dad!  Thanks for teaching me how to enjoy food and family.

The Rose

I think I have a pretty active dream life.  I usually remember something of my sleeping hours upon awakening.  Perhaps that indicates the level of my anxieties and neuroses; I’m not sure.  Steve says he hardly ever dreams, and he thinks it’s because he is so aware of his conscious mind while he’s awake.  Well, fine for you, then.  I blink my eyes open and forget where I am.  I need decompression time every morning.  My dreams almost always include my late husband, who has been dead almost 4 years.  It gives me a rather fluid sense of reality.  Jim is real and Steve is real, they’re just never real at the same time, in the same place.  Is that weird?  Oh, probably.  I’m getting used to it.

The other thing I do in dreamland is sing.  I wake up singing a song, or with a song stuck in my head.  This morning, it was “The Rose”, a song Bette Midler recorded some years back.  I think I learned it from one of my kid’s elementary school music programs. The line I was stuck on went like this: “Some say love, it is a river, that drowns the tender reed.  Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed.  Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need.  I say love, it is a flower, and you, its only seed.”

Now why in the world would something like that be dominating my waking transition?  I thought about that for a while.  Then I began to cry.  This is how I know when I’ve hit on some repressed emotion, some way that I think about myself that I don’t like to admit.  For some reason, I was associating with that tender reed, drowned in a river of love.  I was 15 when I met my husband, 21 when we married, 45 when I was widowed.  My youth was engulfed in loving him.  I don’t feel a great resonance with the bleeding soul bit.  Ah, but the hunger, the aching need; yeah, that gets to me, too.  I feel that for my kids as well.  I call it “yearning”.  I yearn for my kids all the time, no matter where they are.  It’s a visceral thing.  I once learned in a Bible study that there is a Hebrew word for God’s loving-kindness that translates to a verb form of the same word that’s used for a mother’s womb.  Womb-love.  God “wombs” us.  I “womb” my kids.  I also “womb” my dead husband.

Now the last line of that first verse, I will take exception to.  “You, its only seed” just sounds too exclusive and attached.  It doesn’t fit the scope of the rest of the song, either, in my opinion.  Second verse: “It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance; and it’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes a chance.  It’s the one who won’t be broken, who cannot learn to give; and the soul afraid of dying who never learns to live.”  Okay, you could probably guess that verse gets to me all over (see yesterday’s post).  Although, in my case, it’s the heart that once danced, the dream that once dared, the one who gave everything already who is afraid to live again and invest all that…again.  So, here’s the key change and the big finish: “When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long, and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong, just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose.”   At this point, I want to give credit to Amanda McBroom who wrote these lyrics.  Good job.  I love the idea of seeds beneath the snow.  It appeals to the naturalist in me, even though we STILL don’t have any snow this winter in Wisconsin.  I love the idea of hope and new life.  And this is where I get to re-write that last line in the first verse.  The seed of love isn’t a person.  It’s LIFE, life itself.

Steve and I were talking about this yesterday as we drove out to hike the Ice Age trail.  He was urging me, again, to talk about what I want in life, how I want to live, why I want the things I might want.  “Why do you want to have land and grow food?”  I want to nurture living things; I loved raising kids.  I loved because they lived.  I want to live life loving.  Whatever I do.  It’s a cyclical thing, the flower that comes from a seed and begets more seeds that become more flowers.  Life begets love which nourishes life…and so on.  Okay, maybe this is sounding like drivel to you.  There is something going on here, though, and it’s about a flow of energy passing from living thing to living thing, and some of us call it love.  I don’t like the idea of that energy being confined to one “beloved”.  That’s where I think I’m getting stuck.  I say love, it is a flower and all of life can be its seed.

There.  Sorry Amanda, but I have re-worked your song so that it fits my dreaming and waking life a little better.  Hope you don’t mind.

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
~D.H. Lawrence

Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep!  It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.  It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even.  ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

All men whilst they are awake are in one common world:  but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own.  ~Plutarch

I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree.  They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it.  I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.”  Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder.  For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed.  That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open.  How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me. 

The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process.  Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence?  If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary?  It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy.  I’d be afraid to scare it off. 

Steve in dreamland

Many people contend with sleep.  I do a bit.  I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding.  It’s not really the same, but I could do worse.  I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early.  I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping.  Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious.  And I dream.

I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above.  In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up.  He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead.  Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel.  I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t.   He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking.  This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death.  I still don’t have it figured out.  I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”.  Performance anxiety is a big theme.  I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class.  When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other.  I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context.  I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that.  I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare.  My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams.  He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams.  I just get upset and wake up.  

I did have a nightmare two nights ago.  I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs.  “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream.  So I was eating myself.  It was unsettling for my brain.  My stomach was already unsettled.  Peculiar how the sleeping mind works.  I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream.  The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream!  Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…”   Yup.  Absurdity.  It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe. 

I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning.  Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss.  Listening to it is like going through the resurrection weeping tears of joy and wonder.  Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries. 

Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed.  Think I’ll take a catnap.

Fairy Princess Dreams

Last night we went to see the Bolshoi production of Sleeping Beauty on the cinema screen.  The newly restored Moscow theater features gilded woodwork and royal red upholstery, a royal box and no “cheap” balcony seats.  It is Old World magnificence  and romance in itself.  Add Tchaikovsky’s  lush orchestral score (which includes not one, but two harps!) and the lavish beaded, satin costumes and tutus of classic ballet and you have a Spectacle of epic proportion.  We sat in the 5th row and felt like we were actually on the proscenium during the close up camera shots.  It was breath-taking.  Princess Aurora showcases all her most difficult moves in Act I at her 16th birthday party, partnered by 4 elaborately dressed foreign suitors.  Cymbals accentuate each technically challenging pose, and she becomes the prima ballerina superstar of all my girlhood dreams.  Suddenly, I am 10 years old and sitting next to my father at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago.  The ballet is so beautiful and I am so lucky and so loved and I miss my dad so much that I can’t hold back the tears.   My heart is too full.

My dad proudly attended to the cultural education of his 4 charming daughters.  We had classes at the Art Institute and ballet lessons at a studio on Michigan Avenue every Saturday.  He had season tickets to the ballet for the whole family and to the opera for my mother.   I was absolutely stage-struck as a kid and couldn’t resist trying on poses and gestures in the lobby during intermissions.  I was the youngest of his daughters and probably tried the hardest to please him.  I suppose I felt like a princess in many ways.  I counted on my father’s kingly protection and generosity.  I sometimes slept through life, waiting for Prince Charming to appear and carry me off to a dream of happiness.  I met my prince when I was 15, married him when I was 21, and almost lived the whole freakin’ fairy tale.   But no, I lived a real life.  And I’m glad of it.

I found out that grace takes a lot of hard work, that fathers are imperfect people, and that love is stronger than death and more powerful than beauty.  And it also requires a lot of hard work.  Discipline and commitment can be more lovely than romance.  Facing reality is more invigorating than dreaming.  Pinch me when the spectacle seems overwhelming; I want to know I’m alive.

And David Hallberg is my new fascination.  Not only is he a supremely graceful human being, he blogs, too.  Yup, he’s real.

photo from The New York Times

So Many Books…

…and so many writers.  I was preparing shipments for our online book business (Scholar & Poet Books – available on Amazon, Alibris, ABE and Half.com books; pardon the Christmas season advert, but it might help!) this morning and thinking about “being a writer”.  I am planning to enter a Memoir/Personal Essay contest at the suggestion of my teacher.  I had a dream that probably relates to this idea a few nights ago.  I dreamed that I was in a dance studio with gym mats on the floor and a wall of mirrors.  I was in line to attempt a splits leap.  I had a press photo of David Hallberg in mind, and I wanted to see if I could look like that.  Of course, I know I can’t, but I wanted to try.  So I got to the front of the line, and all the others are turned to watch me go, and they totally blocked the runway.  I kept asking them to move, but they were still in the way.  And then some of them started pulling up the mats.  “Hey!  I still haven’t had my turn yet!”  I was trying to put the mats back and move the people and all chaos was breaking loose, and I woke up.  So I told Steve about my frustrating dream and how I just wanted a chance to try, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it well.  He responded, “You know who those people are in your way, don’t you?”  Of course.  Everyone in your dream is you.  The people getting in the way of me attempting my big leap are…me.

David Hallberg (photo by Gene Schiavone)

So I’m going to submit an entry, and I’m going to call myself a writer in my mind because that’s what I’ve been doing since my last birthday: writing.  And I’m aware that I may never make any money doing this.  I look at the book jacket photos of writers and handle their wares on a daily basis almost.  I read blogs by published writers.  I still have a feeling that they are a different breed.  They have degrees in writing; they have ambition.  I have thoughts.  I am dreamy and lazy and I don’t “work”.  And I’ve never lived in New York.  It seems like any “real” writer must have lived in New York at some point.  Too bad.  At least I can get out of the way of my own runway and give it a shot.   I am old and not too flexible and I’ve never been able to do the splits.  But it might be fun to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I go leaping by.  It’ll probably end with me having a good laugh.