Monday, July 26, 2010

Night Moves

Small plaque on my desk:  “’Not a morning person’ doesn’t begin to describe me.”


I have always been inclined to sleep late in the morning and stay awake late in the evening.  As a child that meant that I was dragged out of bed for school and went through the first part of the day in a fog, then read beneath my covers with a flashlight long after my parents had called lights out.  As a college student, I scheduled my classes around the hour of the day, ideally nothing earlier than an 11 o’clock; then I could be found at 3 or 4 a.m. in the study lounge working on a reading assignment or paper.  Once I entered the workplace, of course in some cases I had to force myself to adapt to my employers’ schedules.  The result was either that I napped after I got home before resuming my evening, and/or that my mental health suffered from lack of sleep.   One of the most challenging periods was when I worked as a temp at NBC, for a while at the Today show’s Washington, D.C. studio, where I had to be at work at 4:30 a.m. in time to welcome dignitaries to the studio.   This unfortunately coincided with a period I was dating a guy who didn’t get off work till 10 or so, so we’d head out to disco at 11 after I had my aptly named disco nap.  Talk about burning the candle at both ends!

Having to get up early never made my body clock shift to falling asleep earlier.  The only exception was when I had an infant, and I was so profoundly exhausted all the time that I could barely wait for him to nod off at night before I followed suit.  The sleep deprivation then was, I am sure, a major cause of my postpartum depression.  Now, when I’m forced to get up very early for a flight or something, I actually feel nauseous and jittery, just plain bad. 

Our schedules are artificial now, rooted in a time when we woke with the sun to work the fields.   Even telework and flextime still revolve in an orbit around the “norm” of 9-5.

I firmly believe in following my own biorhythms, and doing so puts me at my best both for work and for life in general.   Working from home now for 13 years, the last few with no child to get up and get off to school, I’ve been better able to do that, and have been extremely productive that entire time.  Yes, I might still be working when other people were having their dinner and settling in front of the TV for the night.  I’m also able to do business after hours with professionals and small business owners who can’t come to the phone or check their emails during their own peak customer hours.  And I’m still at my desk during the middle of the day with plenty of hours matching up with those who put in 9-5. 

Friends and acquaintances either make fun of my schedule or they secretly or not-so-secretly judge me for it. They call me at 9 or 10 a.m. even though I’ve asked them not to, but why can’t they remember this if I can remember that they, for example, don’t want to be called after 9 on a weekday, or don’t want to be called while putting a child or grandchild to bed.    But 9 or 10 a.m. is normal business hours, they exclaim!  Well, how would they like it if I called them when I’m wide awake at 1 a.m.?  And yes, if you are a friend who calls me at 7 a.m. I might entirely obliterate that call from my memory and question any commitment I made during that call. 

Who is to judge that being a morning person is better somehow than a night owl, that the quality of the early morning hours is somehow inherently better than the quality of the middle of the night? I love the sun, I just love it more in the afternoon and as it sets than as it rises.

Other countries are more civilized, institutionalizing napping, the siesta.  I seem to remember five or ten years back a flurry of scientific, media and corporate interest in napping being a desirable addition to worker productivity, but alas, that has long since been buried.  A human being’s sleep, after all, is not the concern of an institution, a company whose only goal even before the economy tanked was to do more with fewer people and in less time.  I’ve always been a maverick, bridling at the idea that the hours you put in were more important than the results you achieve.

Creative people are often at far ends of the spectrum, rising early to work before their kids wake up, for example, or like myself having second winds long after dark and creative bursts of energy into the hours where if we all lived together we would meet our morning person counterparts in the hallway, we falling into our beds as they bounced out of theirs. 

Though I had in the past year or so largely switched to using my cell phone except for business, I am now questioning that.  I have come to rely far too much on caller I.D. to protect my privacy, and hate being wakened before my alarm goes off by some doctor’s office confirming an appointment 2 days from now or something equally annoying.  I try to remember to stick to my own rule of not picking up my cell unless it shows a name, meaning someone in my address book, but I forget far too often and always regret it.  So I give more and more people my work number, where I can screen away distractions coming at the wrong time.  (And don’t have an extension in my bedroom!)  I just don’t like being accessible 24/7, is what it comes down to.  Especially on the early side of that 24.  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Education Shortfall

Somehow in the idle conversation that comes when you’re lounging on the sand between chapters of a good beach read, my friend Tina and I, both with newly minted college graduates, got to talking about important life skills courses they should be teaching teenagers in our school systems. 

Financial literacy, of course—using (or not) credit cards, debit cards. Balancing a checkbook or online bank statement.  Knowing that even when the online banking shows you have money in your account, there might not really be because of a charge that hasn’t been debited yet (both our kids had racked up charges on that one, the only difference being that Tina had called the bank on her son’s behalf, and I exercised a rare instance of tough love rather than racing to Sammy’s aide, and made him deal with it himself—and there’s that voice in my head going “Bad Mommy”).

Real estate, for sure.  They need to know how to rent an apartment, how to carefully read a lease, liability issues.  Renter’s insurance.  How to lose a security deposit…

Health insurance (and when they figure it out in today’s changing environment they can tell us how it works, I hope).

Cars—the true cost of owning one, how to maintain one, how to buy one, how to take good care of your parents’ till you get your own…

Cooking.

Utilities.

Laundry.  I had the advantage here because when I bought my current townhouse and built a bathroom in the basement and gave my son his own pad, I also gave him a laundry-room-adjacent bedroom.   Between my bad knees and my general loathing of doing laundry till absolutely necessary, he quickly picked up the skills to do his own.  It was his first true householder-arts self-sufficiency, actually.  It took me some years to realize that as he became more and more of a clothes horse through his teenage years, he was running “loads” of laundry sometimes consisting of just one or two items, so he could wear his favorite clothes over and over.  (So why had I bought him a closet full of clothing?)  Tina, on the other hand, got a call from her son shortly after he started college asking for instructions on using the machines at school. 

How to sew a button.

Later that night at the beach, when Sammy called from home, he said he was hot and asked how did he turn the A/C up, it just wasn’t responding.  I told Tina we had to add another class, this one in how to work the thermostat.  I made fun of him from afar, then ate my words later upon my return, when I found my house at about 96 degrees—turned out an electrical storm had in fact blown a fuse on the thermostat and that’s why he couldn’t make it work.

Basic home maintenance and repair would be good skills to add to this curriculum, too.  Since in this day and age kids’ “apprenticeships” are more likely to be in environmental studies or international security than in carpentry or plumbing, these critical skills have gone by the wayside.

How to iron a shirt. Sammy's a pro at this but sure didn't get it from me. I watched my mom do it when I was a kid, from a basket of clothes or linens that needed it.   Looking back I pity her; that damn basket was always full!  Very briefly I had a brief foray into domesticity while I stayed home when Sammy was a baby.  (When we were living in Texas. I add this because I don’t think this would ever have happened if I was living in DC then.)  My then-husband asked me to iron his shirts to save us some money.  This was a staggering concept to me, because my mother had enthusiastically at some point joined the no-iron synthetic fabric revolution and brought me along with her.  Why on earth would you buy shirts that needed ironing?  That’s what permanent press was for! Still, I tried to be a good sport.  That lasted about a minute and a half before the annoyance and resentment on my part led me to tell him they had places for this, called dry cleaners. 

Also, guests at the few occasions where we eat at my dining room table had better not care if their tablecloth is crisply laid or not.  (My mother’s a culprit in this regard—while she doesn’t believe in ironing clothes anymore, table linens are another thing, and she can’t get over how my housekeeping standards have fallen, from her generation’s or her mother’s.)

I was so happy and relieved when the natural wrinkled look came into fashion! I’m sure it’s gone in and out of fashion several times since, but I love it and have stuck to it ever since.  I can’t believe my friend Beth and her love of wearing only linen clothing.  She travels with an iron—I couldn’t be more aghast if she travelled with a machete!

Sammy has to put up with a mother who long ago junked her ironing board as taking up space in the basement better put to use by cobwebs.  It’s amazing I even kept an iron, but at least he can use the top of the washer and dryer as an ironing surface when he wants to spiff up.  I should have a sign up in my house, “Life’s Too Short to Iron.”

This life skills curriculum we need to develop should, of course, be gender-neutral.  The guys need to sew their own buttons; the gals need to check their oil.  (Tina puts me to shame in this department, by the way—apparently despite taking Home Ec she also got a good dose of auto maintenance and home repair along the way.)

A common thread of some of these skills, especially on the financial side, is understanding what you’re getting into so you are then responsible for the consequences of your actions.  (Big lesson that’s still a challenge when you’re an adult, truth be told, particularly when big business still makes the rules.) And yes, it’s true that many practical householder/life skills should also be taught at home, not just in school. 

Meanwhile, Sammy, like millions of kids in his generation, gets many of these skills on-the-job.   That last week or so of college, while I was weepily contemplating the enormity of his impending graduation, he and his 10 housemates were more practically engaged, repairing broken fixtures and patching and painting walls in their off-campus rental—so they could get their security deposit back.  Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention—not always Mom and Dad.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

Anatomy of a Sleepless Night

Close book, set the alarm, turn off the reading lights.  Get comfortable, prepare to drift off.

Realize it’s been more than a while and I have not drifted off yet.  Swear I’m not going to check the clock but I do.  It’s been 45 minutes.

Get up and pee. Careful not to turn any lights on so as not to send wakeful cues to my brain, per books and articles I’ve been reading on insomnia and need for good “sleep hygiene.”

Lie back down. Sure I’ll go to sleep now. 

Trying to remember the name of fabric store my mom used to take me to why I was in elementary school.  Wonder if my heavy emphasis on old memories these days isn’t healthy, if I need to make some new ones.  Think about how to do that.

Mind jumps to how much season premiere of “Rescue Me” sucked on TV last night.

Intermittently worry about the implications of not getting enough sleep tonight.

Consider turning the alarm off now and skipping water yoga in the morning, but it’s the last class till late summer. Stay strong, keep hands off the alarm.

Alternatively consider telling friend I’m too tired to go to outdoor concert and dinner the next day but afraid of becoming an unreliable friend.  So scratch that.

Suddenly realize I must try and get an old friend from high school onto Facebook. He’s on Classmates and I can always email him through that, but that’s so static...

Ponder how Classmates ever stays alive in the marketplace.

First click on the light thinking I’ll read for a while, then instead get up and work in my home office for about 40 minutes.  After sending off a number of broadcast emails realize 3 a.m. may not be my finest hour for carefully crafted prose sensitive to client needs, or mindful of not offending boss.  Prepare to deal with possible fallout the next day.

Stop in bathroom to pee again before rolling back into bed.

Think of future blog topics, then worry if I don’t write them down I’ll forget them. (Of course I will. I just remembered something I started to make a note to myself about four hours ago, and between the time I thought of it and moments later when I pulled pen and paper out, forgot.) But don’t want to turn on light so make a few notes in the dark, hopeful they’ll be legible in the morning.

Run through mental to-do list for next couple of work days.

Think about where I’d like to have dinner with a friend over the weekend.

Wonder if I feel like braving the crowds later in the week at the new location for fireworks. Hate new location, miss being able to watch them from across the lake in my own neighborhood.  Worry about my increasing hermit tendencies and I do so love fireworks and have missed for several years now.  

Wonder how many actual hermits there are in the world.  Mind wanders to caves in the forest of unspecified Asian country where I imagine long-bearded men and old crones who only come out to make sage pronouncements. 

Idly wonder how I will ever get a book proposal done if I spend my free time and creative energy blogging instead, but feel I am forced to blog by today’s marketplace and agent expectations.

Think about how to make my blog posts shorter, but if I do it’ll take longer to do my notification emails than the blog itself. Decide to get up and check on how FeedBlitz or other service can help me get rid of need to manually do the notifications.   Pull foot back in bed before it hits the floor, sure that going back on computer at 4 a.m. will not aid sleep efforts.

Remember and write down in dark reminder about a thank you note I need to write and gift certificate I have to buy to enclose.  Wonder what recipient’s favorite restaurant is.

Consider getting up to pee again but realize I really don’t need to, I’m just bored.

Alarm goes off.  Summon all my willpower and do not hit snooze alarm.  Resolve to try and go to bed early tonight.  Hah, like that’ll happen.