24 December 2007


In common parlance, I would be described as a night person: it is rare I am in bed before midnight and it is never easy to roll out of bed before 8 a.m. Practically every piece of music or writing of merit I've ever produced was begun between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Dinner at 8 suits me fine.

As a child, few things pissed me off more than being awakened on Saturday morning. My mother and sister were day people and Saturday was their Holy Day of Cleaning. I had no problem sleeping through the hustle and bustle of their rising; but their grand schemes always included a noisy, exuberant insistence that I get up and join them in a whirlwind of industriousness. Sleeping in was not an option. Only the lowest of the low, "triflin'" low-lifes, weren't out of bed and engaged in some meaningful, productive activity as early as possible. The Purple Heart was awarded to the one whose list of accomplishments was longest by 11 a.m.: "Why, I've already washed two loads of clothes, vacuumed the living room, mopped the bathroom and kitchen, defrosted the freezer and put on the greens for Sunday..."

I didn't aspire to a Purple Heart. I just wanted to sleep.

In the past few years, my body just won't sleep in like it used to. Some nights I'm up and down three or four times--thirsty, too hot, needing to pee, dreaming too wildly. The new
development of degenerating disks further erodes my sleep in loss of quality as certain positions are now painful or uncomfortable. I long to sleep deeply for vast stretches of time. And have dreams.

When I first came to New Orleans and
volunteered with the Common Ground Collective, I slept in a tiny, cluttered room in the founder's home that held two twin beds and a queen-size mattress on a makeshift platform. The beds were only inches apart. I was assigned the nicer of the twin beds, right next to the window. The other bed, essentially a thin mattress on a cot, belonged to a long-term volunteer, a male member of the Collective's inner circle. The large mattress was unassigned. Visitors or newcomers slept there usually.

I think I slept pretty good but sleeping in was not an option during the month that I lived there. The room shared a wall with the kitchen which also served as a meeting room or lounge frequently. A TV and boom box were in the kitchen. Shortly before sunrise the resident rooster would begin reveille and soon after the strains of reggae music and the sounds and aromas of breakfast prep (for 10 to 20 people) would join him to demand my return to the waking world.

Even without these stimuli, my conscience wouldn't let me sleep in. There was a city to rebuild. Get up!


My natural sleep cycle--that is, the schedule I keep without external interference--is to go to bed close to dawn and sleep until noon. (Now and then, whether on this cycle or the cycle of the dominant sleep culture, I am awake for 24 hours or longer.) This is the schedule that my system is always leaning toward, that I must guard against if I am to maintain my current social placement and context.

As "the holidays" have arrived and disrupted all routines, my vigilance has relaxed and I have reverted to form: I've been up until 5 or 6 and sleeping until noon for the last three days. I'll have to make an abrupt turnabout in the next 24 hrs: I've promised to meet a friend's plane in Memphis at 11 a.m. on Christmas Day. I need to leave Gulfport by 5 to get there on time...

I think I'll be drinking wine instead of coffee when I get up.

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