Lennon’s ode to being unconscious, “I’m Only Sleeping,” is my present anthem. “Please don’t wake me, no don’t shake me, leave me where I am – I’m only sleeping.” Words to live by. The B-side on this pajama playlist is the follow-up ode to shut-eye, “I’m So Tired.” I suppose being a Beatle tuckered him out. Even though I rate a notch below Kafka’s “Metamorphoses” on the entomological scale, I too am perpetually dozy.
Sometimes I believe the only way I’ll feel rested is if I slip into a coma for a while, though this comes with the hazard of becoming the posthumous work, “Daedalus Howell Unplugged.” Alas, there is a difference between peaceful rest and resting in peace. Sleep therapists have advanced a theory that we can accumulate a “sleep debt” when we don’t get enough Z’s – a debt that apparently has to be paid back, which most Americans do with a few extra hours on the weekends. Others, it seems are saving it up for the end – a notion immortalized by Sam Elliot when, in “Road House” as Wade Garret, he rumbled, “I’ll get all the sleep I’ll need when I’m dead.” Rocker Warren Zevon reiterated the notion on his anthology album “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” which, since his death in 2003, must be soundly. Other films have used sleep-related issues as plot devices, from insomnia (“Insomnia,” “The Machinist”) to narcolepsy (“My Own Private Idaho”) and, oddly, I’ve fallen asleep watching all of them.
My issue is no longer falling asleep, it’s waking up in the early a.m. on the verge of panic regarding some deadline or other. On the occasions that I actually fall back asleep, my dreams often find me writing reams of text. There’s a certain lucidity and the prose seems flawless – I tell myself “all I have to do is transcribe it when I wake.” Then I grope for a bedside notebook and manage to trace out the fading verbiage, but it is always utter gibberish. Consider this sterling chestnut of nocturnal prose: “Lemon 12 for Mr. Kinney.” I don’t know a Mr. Kinney, though I once lived near Abbot Kinney Blvd. I’m not partial to lemons, nor the number 12, but sometimes I feel ominous about both. It’s likely that I’ll never again know the secret knowledge of the twelfth lemon or Mr. Kinney’s relationship to it, but I can guarantee that it makes utterly useless newspaper fodder.
Seventeen-year-old Randy Gardner set the Guiness Book world record for intentional, non-drug-induced sleep deprivation, having stayed awake for 11 days back in 1964. At one point, Gardner apparently hallucinated that he was a football player and was upset about criticisms regarding his playing. At my worst, I only ever hallucinated that I was a writer. Like Gardner, I began this process at 17-years-old, hanging out in all-night bowling alley diners, penning my epic prose poem “Ballad of the Saxon’s Daughter and the Book of Job,” which I sold in a spiral bound edition for $5 a pop. After a night of coffee, cigarettes and arty teenage torment, I could sleep for 13 hours straight – a deep, tranquil slumber that took me well into the post meridian. And I would awake two inches taller. In fact, I could replicate these sojourns into the valleys of delta waves until I was about 30, which is around the time I realized I was no longer a teenager (I had already stopped growing, at least vertically).
Much of my current sleeping woe is due to a schedule determined largely by outside forces. However, two facts have also contributed to some tossing and turning. A) We sleep a third of our lives; B) Even with an optimistic projection of my lifespan, I’m more than a third into my own life. If I’m ever going to get my work done, I’ll have to follow Elliot’s example. This is why a nap seems like the stuff that dreams are made of.