Wednesday, February 08, 2006

On Call

It’s 4:39 a.m. I didn’t make it to bed last night. I woke up a few minutes ago to the TV on the Science Channel and every light in the house on. Before me was the Supreme Court case of Valley Forge College v. Americans United. I had made it through a couple of pages of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion before I dropped off. Riveting. It must have been a little before 11:00 p.m. last night. I’m usually up past midnight and wake up at either 6:30 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. depending on what day it is. Apparently, I could use more sleep.

It has been a long time since I slept on the couch. I never have to; it is only by choice or (like last night) happenstance. It used to be, for a significant period of time, that the couch was my bed. My lot in life has improved considerably since those not so distant days past. I have a bed, and I am extremely fond of it. I don’t have to share it, nor can I be kicked out of it. It’s king-sized, pillow-topped and has it’s own room – bathroom and closet attached. We get along famously.

Studying Supreme Court cases for my Constitutional law class is like reading anything else in legalese – boring. However, I was only half-facetious when I described the afore mentioned case as riveting. Constitutional law is. Really. This particular case has to do with the establishment clause of the First Amendment. It is commonly referred to as “the separation of church and state,” although the Constitution never uses that phrase.

My purpose here is not to go into the details of the case (perhaps another time) or express my opinion on what the framers intended with the establishment clause or even the First Amendment in general. (5:05 a.m. – I won’t be going back to bed, today is a 6:30 a.m. wake-up day). My purpose is to write about what I woke up thinking about – which is writing. Yes… I woke up thinking about writing.

It seems like I’m always thinking. I try to quiet my mind – to meditate on a semi-regular basis and I have been able to benefit from it. However, when I’m not sleeping or meditating, the wheels are always turning. That is not to say that I am thinking of anything particularly profound, about anything worth writing about, but those special moments do come. Quite often at the most inopportune times, like now. I’d rather be sleeping.

I don’t know if this happens to others, but when I get to thinking about something, and that thread leads somewhere, I start to get excited. I can either follow it to see where it leads, or forget about it forever. Some of my best stuff will never be translated into writing. I didn’t get it down, and even if I could remember it, it’ll never be the same as in that moment of discovery. If I can get to a keyboard (which usually means dragging my butt out of a nice, warm, pillow-topped, king-sized bed), I get to explore the world that my mind has just discovered. If I fight it, it becomes just another background insight, it fades into the subconscious and it’s pretty much gone.

It is interesting that these flashes of brilliance often come at times when I would honestly rather be doing something other than writing – usually sleeping. It is not unusual that my mind is so preoccupied with an idea that it keeps me up even when I am dead tired. Yet I fight it. I stay in bed and try to go to sleep. Once in a while I get up and write, knowing that I may be rolling into a two, three or more hour endeavor. I just never know where it may take me.

I keep a notebook and a pen in my nightstand next to my bed. I used to jot my ideas down to get them out of my head so that I can come back to them later. I’d love to be able to say that it works; that I can relax enough to go to sleep and that the next day I pick it up and play it through. I have yet to read what I wrote and even with the notebook within reach, I still fight it.

5:42 a.m. The upshot of all of this is simply this: I am basically on call 24/7. I chose a profession (or it chose me) that is not the nine to five grind. I write to a deadline, I write when news happens and I have to write when the motivation is there – even if that means waking up at 4:30 a.m. with my mind chewing on some thought that is begging to be unraveled. This is what I signed up for; this is what I do.


Saur♥Kraut said...

Yeah, me 2 on ALL counts. As to an overactive mind: It sux sometimes, because I have a very hard time sleeping when I'm preoccupied or worried about something. Even if I know it's not productive, I can't unhook easily.

I don't like any unnecessary chemicals in my system because they will only temporarily solve problems. I try to treat the source.

When I was a little girl I suffered from this problem, and discussed it with my father's mom (who was a very wise woman). She taught me to self-hypnotize (though she didn't call it that at the time). She always did it herself (picture yourself walking into a place you're comfortable, and ascending/descending stairs to a beautiful bedroom (insert mental pic here) where you go through certain bedtime rituals (such as turning down the bed, opening the french doors, etc) and then lie down and soothe yourself to sleep.

I quickly evolved my own self-calming rituals to distract my ever-rabid thoughts. Since about that age, I go to sleep writing a never-ending story in my head. The next night I pick up where I left off. When I get bored, I switch plot and characters and start afresh.

Ellen said...

I was just thinking of the very same thing today on my way into my kitchen. For 30 minutes, I found myself drifting off with what I'd like to write, rather than paying attention to the road. It's only a good thing the vehicle knows it's way into work by itself.

It's obvious by your posts that you have a true dedication to, and handle of, your writing. I always enjoy your posts and the insights they bring.

Lee Ann said...

Being sleep deprived is awful. At one point I was working a parttime job in addition to my 40 hr/wk full time job. They started working me 32 hrs a week at my part time job. I used to joke that my apartment was only used for a nap, shower and to change clothes. I honestly remember wishing I would hit some red lights on my way from my first job to my second job, just so I could close my eyes for 15 seconds. I came dangerously close to falling asleep at the wheel several times. Then it was time to quit the 2nd job, I figured my life was more important than the extra money!

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Thinking is and can become an occupational hazzard!

Just look at the name of my blog: Woman on the verge of thinking"

Sometimes, thinking can be good, and other times, it can be a means for us getting too much into our own way.

I remember those opinions in law school. Just keep on trickin.

Michael K. Althouse said...

Saur ~ Ya, I find putting my thoughts on paper (or its electronic equivalent) takes them out of my head. Meditating helps, but I'm still new at it. I have other methods that help me decompress.

Speaking of chemicals, the only unnecessary ones that go in my body are caffeine and nicotene (I'm working on eliminating the nicotene). The former does not help when sleep is the goal!

ellen ~ I do a fair amount of thinking on the road. Unfortunately, if I come up with anything profound, I am not at liberty to document it unless I pull over and record it (I have done this, albeit rarely).

lee ann ~ If you read my post five years, you know about my experience of sleeping and driving. It is lethal. So glad you saw the danger and took steps to prevent it.

barbarafrom... ~ I have been accused of thinking too much on more than one occasion. Often I'm just justifying or rationalizing - conning myself, really. Other times, I get great insight...

Boring as the text may be, I find Constitutional law fascinating. Our national heritage can be tracked through the Supreme Court decisions through the years. Did someone say law school??? Perhaps...

neal said...

I know how you feel about losing an idea. I get some good ones myself while trying to go to sleep. My computer is RIGHT NEXT TO MY BED and sometimes I say the hell with it and go to sleep. I tried the notebook thing too and the initial thought may be on paper but the train of thoughts leading to and following the thought are history.

I desperately need my sleep though. I work my tail off daily and my body refuses to function on anything under 6 hours sleep, 8 is better but 6 is the minimum. I have actually slept through an alarm ringing for an hour because I didn't get enough sleep.

So I have to sacrifice some good thoughts for the sake of my sleep. But I can relate anyway.

X said...

I used to keep a notebook by my bed as well. When I would remember to check it the morning after an epiphany or possible moment of brilliance, I could never understand the context of my three words I jotted down.

I'm fed up with being on call...and despite knowing full-well I picked this profession and have a degree to back me up...I don't know for how much longer I can do it. At least newscasters have a set schedule...although I must admit reporting is more interesting and you get to interact with people more. Maybe public relations is in the near future for me...normal hours and people. Hmmm....

The Zombieslayer said...

I go at least once a month with barely sleeping. Once my mind starts, it won't shut off. I know where you're coming from there.

Studying Supreme Court cases for my Constitutional law class is like reading anything else in legalese – boring.

Heh. Maybe I should grab a few of these and see if it would help me sleep. ;)

Michael K. Althouse said...

neal ~ Me too. As the semester progresses, my time is becoming less and less free. I feel your pain!

outinleft... ~ Ya, the notebook thing sounded like a great idea, but it didn't work.

I still have a little more than a year left in school - then it's out to the real world. I don't know where this path will lead yet and honestly don't know what I might be getting myself into, but I'm down for it. BTW: Thanks for the link!

zs ~ ditto. Legalese is a sure fire cure for insomnia. LOL