There are few complaints that make me feel whinier than does insomnia, but there’s at least a little bit of pleasure in the whining, because there are also few complaints that produce more immediate, genuine sympathy. Not being able to sleep is no fun, and everyone who’s been there gets it. It’s not for nothing that there are so many compelling critical books out there about insomnia. (Here’s one particularly good one.)

I’ve had pretty serious bouts of insomnia since I was a kid. My childhood insomnia, though, was always of the can’t-go-to-sleep variety. I’d get sent to bed at whatever time seemed appropriate to my mother, and I’d lie there for hours trying to fall asleep, but it never worked. And so of course it was hard to drag me out of bed in the morning. It was miserable, all the way around.

I still have trouble getting to sleep, but since I became a grown-up with my own bedside lamp and reading material and no one telling me I can’t use them, I at least know how to manage times when that difficulty surfaces. And weirdly, I’ve become a super-early morning person; I go to bed at what my mother now thinks is a ridiculously early hour and get up before the sun and spend the first few hours of the day doing stuff just for me. It took a little bit of adjustment, but when I’m working on something I’m excited about, I actually kinda dig waking up at 4.30 and having some coffee and getting to it.

The far less awesome bit of this, which has definitely worsened with age, is the development of the can’t-stay-asleep variety of insomnia. Not waking up at 4.30, but waking up at 1.30 and being unable to get back to sleep for at least a couple of hours, if at all. It not only threatens my best morning working time, but it leaves me fuzzy and grouchy and often nauseated all day.

The first time I remember this mode of insomnia striking with any regularity was during the process of writing my dissertation. I’d wake up just enough to realize I was uncomfortable and needed to roll over or something, and my brain would pop up and say “Oh good. You’re awake. We need to talk.” And that was it: every bit of anxiety I had about the project, money, the job market, and so on and so on would all start bubbling to the surface. At some point, I’d just give up and go to work.

That level of anxiety diminished a bit while I was an assistant professor, though for all the obvious reasons it didn’t exactly go away. It just became a familiar pattern: if I woke up enough for my brain to engage, I’d start thinking about everything I needed to do that I was afraid I was either going to forget or somehow let drop, and I’d be awake for the duration. This was the period when I developed the majority of my getting-things-done habits, as I discovered at some point that the things I’d start worrying about were things that weren’t on my to-do list. As soon as I wrote them down, they’d leave me alone. So I tried to write EVERYTHING down. And it mostly worked.

Now… what to say. I am of an age, and while parts of that age are awesome, other bits are the worst. I have chronic tendonitis in both shoulders, and when it flares up there is no lying-down position that is comfortable for more than a couple of hours. And add to that the various indignities that shifting hormone levels produce, and the result is that I sleep terribly at least a couple of nights a week. Sleepytime tea (the EXTRA kind, with the valerian) sometimes helps. Melatonin sometimes helps (though the resulting hyper-vivid dreams often leave me waking up tired). Serious pharmaceuticals definitely help, but only on the night I take them; most of them produce a killer kickback the following night, undoing the good of the night of sleep I got.

Anyhow. I’ve been writing along hoping I’d get to some kind of conclusion, but I don’t think there is one. Except, frankly, getting even older: I watched my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my parents go through this mid-life set of sleep disturbances, and each and every one of them hit a point at which they suddenly started sleeping like a baby again. Seriously: my parents, who used to get up in the 5.30 vicinity every day of their lives, whether they wanted to or not, can now sleep until 8.00 or even beyond with no trouble whatsoever.

So, something to look forward to. In the meantime, I have whining, and I’m apparently not afraid to use it.

Not the Post I Want to Be Writing

This is, rather, a post for posting’s sake, a post attempting to get out of the way the things that are keeping me from writing the things I actually want to be writing.

Which is to say: stand by for serious whining.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that getting where I am today — literally: I’m on vacation in Prague — was a good bit harder than I really needed it to be. (Short version: flight from LA to NY was unavoidably delayed by a medical emergency on board, making me miss my connection; all subsequent flights were overbooked, and I only made it out 24 hours later than expected by the grace of an extremely generous agent in the Lufthansa lounge.) I’ve now been here for five days, however, which would seem to be enough to allow me to get over the difficulties and begin recovering from the jet lag.

Except that immediately upon arriving here, I started getting sick. And I can’t figure out what’s wrong. Is it just a really bad allergy attack? In which case, why aren’t my allergy meds working? Is it a cold? In which case, why is pretty much everything I’m taking making me feel worse rather than better?

More importantly, why is it inevitable that I get sick right at the point when I most want to enjoy the limited amount of time I have to dedicate to resting and reading and thinking about my own projects?

On top of which, as long as I’m complaining, I’ll add that my ability to turn to my own projects is being stymied by that One Last Overdue Commitment — a peer review of a very long book manuscript — that I have spent weeks working on and yet cannot get finished up for anything.

All of which is to say that I am hoping by the power of this post to exorcise all the things that are so viciously clouding my head, and having done so, to find my way to both the rest and the creative energy I desperately need right now.

Showers of the World

I’ve been on the road for a little over two weeks now, across three countries and nine time zones, and while I have a host of more serious topics for discussion originating from this trip, the one that’s most concerning me at the moment is the extraordinary variety in the ways the world has for devising showers that go wrong.

There was the one in Germany whose (mobile) shower head kept graaaaaadually turning to the right. Reach up and nudge it back left. Find yourself standing pressed up against the glass partition again just a few moments later.

There was the one in Portugal that was subject to what must have been 40 or 50 degree variations in water temperature, with no warning whatsoever. One moment you’re enjoying a nice temperate rinse. The next you’re scalded. Ten seconds later, freezing.

There was the one in Nashville whose water pressure was on the cusp of giving up the ghost. The sense of standing under a half-full watering can was all too vivid, especially as pressure changes in the building would result every so often in that already weak flow dwindling almost to a stop.

But the one that takes the cake for me — perhaps only because I’ve just gotten out of it — is the one here in Los Angeles, whose (non-mobile) shower head is mounted at eye-level. My eye-level, and I am not a tall person. Rinsing the shampoo out of my hair required a tiny bit of limbo action.

I’m happy that those last two were here in the U.S., so that this isn’t just some ugly Americanism I’m beset by. I suppose it’s probably not much better that it’s just a sign of how spoiled I’ve gotten by the apartments I’ve gotten to live in for the last several years.

But I will note that this does all have me wondering what I might possibly find in Prague…

Things I Am Writing Instead of Writing Blog Posts

  • Grant proposals!
  • Reader’s reports.
  • Email. (Oh dear lord, the email.)
  • Letters of recommendation.
  • Conference presentations.

Things I have not been writing instead of writing blog posts:

  • Overdue journal articles.
  • Overdue book reviews.
  • Overdue articles for edited volumes.

What I need to clear out in order to get back to writing blog posts:

  • The to-do list.
  • The guilt about the undone items on the to-do list.

That is all.

Homeward Bound, At Least Sorta

Today’s our last full day in Dublin; tomorrow morning, we head to the airport to fly to Newark, where I’ll then kill three hours before hopping on another plane to Los Angeles for the MLA.

There are all kinds of ironies — or, perhaps, coincidences, unfortunate bits of timing, and plain rotten luck — involved in this next segment of the epic journey I started back on December 15. That the second, domestic segment of the trip will only be about an hour shorter than the international segment, of course. That, on the other end of the flights, I’m going to be 35 miles from my actual home, and yet will never get to see it. But mostly that, this year of all years, when I’m living on the east coast, the conference is being held practically in my backyard out west.

And I’ll confess to having a little bit of difficulty getting myself geared up for the trip. The pre-Christmas visit to my family in Louisiana was lovely, if hectic; Christmas in Prague was astonishingly wonderful (particularly for a second such experience); Dublin has been great. I’ve had some moments of great productivity, and moments of great relaxation. I’ve seen and heard and eaten and drunk wonderful stuff.

But I’m tired. Tired of living out of a suitcase. Tired of hotel beds and recirculated air. Tired of not being entirely in control of what I eat and when. I long to go home, unpack, make some tea, and just sit in my own space.

The irony, of course, is that the space that is currently mine, at least in some sense — the studio in New York — is no more my home than any hotel room, really. But it’ll be home enough, once I manage to get back to it.

Between now and then, though, MLA! I’ll be around Wednesday through Sunday, and will hope to meet up with some of you there.

The Flu and You

This semester has thus far not gone according to plan. We’re on the cusp of what is technically the fourth week of classes, and I’ve been in the classroom precisely twice: once on Wednesday, September 2, for the first day introduction and syllabus discussion, and once on Monday, September 7, for an actual teaching day. I had a meeting in New York starting on Thursday of that week, and so had already cancelled classes for Wednesday the 9th, building that absence into my class schedules.

What I hadn’t counted on was developing a cough about 30 seconds after I finished teaching on the 2nd, as noted in my last post. This cough started as what I assumed was irritation from all the smoke in the air from the Station Fire to our west, and then turned into the dry tickle-in-your-throat cough produced by post-nasal drip. Which is what it still was on the 9th, as I headed for New York.

By the time I got to New York, though, the cough had begun to turn — no longer dry but wet and awful, a racking, nasty cough accompanied by an octave-plus drop in my voice which left me sounding like a long-term pack-a-day smoker. I assumed that the cough had turned into a bronchial infection, and when I continued getting worse on Friday, I called my doctor back home and wheedled my way into an appointment on Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, though, as I made my way through the subway, Penn Station, the NJ Transit train, the AirTrain, the Newark airport, the Houston airport, and so on, it started to become clear that Something was Wrong. My voice was almost shot, my cough was getting worse and worse, and I was exhausted, easily winded when walking, and just generally felt like crap. I got home that night, expecting to spend all day Sunday in bed assessing whether or not I could teach on Monday.

Sunday morning I woke up with all of the same symptoms as Saturday, plus the addition of horrible abdominal cramps, cramps which started just under my ribcage and twisted down through my muscles and organs without — well, without producing any of the expected resolutions involved in abdominal cramps. It was at this point that I started thinking, okay, what if this bronchial infection has turned into pneumonia, and what if it’s spreading into some more systemic infection?

I live alone right now. And so I had to get myself to the urgent care place while I knew that I was in reasonable shape to drive myself there, and to drive myself back. So I set about the process of getting permission to go to the urgent care place: I called my doctor’s office and left a message with the answering service, who paged the on-call doctor, who called me and said yes, she was worried that this was turning into pneumonia, too, and that I should go to the ER or to urgent care.

Nothing is simple, of course: the medical group that I’m assigned to under my HMO is in a dispute with the nearest hospital, which is now refusing to provide service to us based on the HMO’s refusal to pay a sufficient percentage of what it owes them. And I’ve never been to the next-nearest hospital — honestly don’t even know where it is, and didn’t feel like this was the moment to try to find out. So I ruled out the ER and started trying to figure out if a nearby urgent care place accepts my insurance; happily, they did, so I was on the way.

On one level, it turned out to be a good choice: Sunday around noon, the only patients in there were me, one guy with a lower-leg injury, and one guy trying to get a vaccination of some sort. So they took me right back, were able to do a chest x-ray then and there, did a pretty thorough examination, and wound up both giving me a prescription for antibiotics and high-end cough syrup and swabbing me for H1N1.

Here’s the downside, though; as of this morning, nearly a full week later, I still didn’t know the outcome of that test. The lab picked the test up on Monday, and I was told I’d have the results by Thursday, but I’d called every day since then to no avail. One key difference between “urgent” and “emergent” is, I guess, the speed of the lab results.

In the interim, though, I basically operated under the assumption that this was in fact H1N1. The antibiotics helped some of my symptoms very quickly, but not all of them, by any means. And the more I saw about H1N1’s onset — dry cough, followed by a brief period of feeling better, followed by wet cough and a sudden turn into feeling much, much worse — the more familiar it all sounded.

But I just got the results — 11 am, Saturday — and they’re negative. Which means I’m back to assuming that this is bronchitis, probably of a viral kind, since the antibiotics helped but did not entirely clear up the problems. And I think I may have bruised a rib with all the coughing, as one spot on my rib cage has just been killing me since yesterday.

When it might be swine flu, my course of action was clear: stay home and away from everyone until the coughing goes away. But now… it’s not swine flu, and the coughing’s not going away. Is the course of action the same? I was able to manage staying home last week — how, exactly, I’ll discuss in the next post — but I’m not sure I can do it again.

Not Dead Yet

Just utterly tyrannized by the to do list. Once the grading and the thesis drafts are out of the way, there are classes to prepare for, a grant proposal to be written, and a 15-minute presentation to be carved out of a 40-page chapter. Plus a journal peer review, a dissertation report, and a tenure review. And then there’s that little book project of mine with the looming deadline.

All of which is to say that once some of the small urgent stuff gets out of my way, and I can pay attention to the bigger important stuff, I’ll hope to have thoughts worth writing about, not to mention a moment in which to write them.

Probably Unrelated Observations

1. I am writing my way into new holes far faster than I can do the research and reading necessary to fill them. On the one hand, this is great; I’m clearly making progress on the chapter. And what I need to be doing right now, more than anything else, really is writing, even of the broad strokes, fill in details later variety. On the other hand, I’m trying to do both some writing and some reading each day, and each day’s writing changes my sense of the most pressing thing for me to be reading, so I keep picking up new texts each day.

2. Attempting to keep the details of a complex project straight in one’s head becomes significantly harder when the head in question is so occluded by unspeakable substances as to cause significant degradation in one’s optimal oxygen intake. Which is to say that I have another cold, and I’m seriously annoyed about it. Stupid MLA.

Eating the Elephant

The return from Paris, a little less than a week ago, went fairly well all things considered: all flights on time, all connections made, all bags arrived. Not too bad, all the way around.

We came home, however, to an apartment that needed some serious attention. I won’t go into the details, except to say that it was Bad. And then there was the twelve weeks’ worth of mail, both at home and in the office, and the million errands that needed to be run, in order to get life back on track here. All of it together was positively overwhelming; as R. said, it feels like you have to eat an elephant.

Of course, the only way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So that’s where I’ve been since our return to SoCal: taking that bite, chewing it thoroughly, trying not to think about how many bites remain.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

I had a positively spectacular work day on Tuesday, one of the first days in years on which I could say that I’d actually managed to accomplish way more than I’d expected. I hoped, of course, that this was the leading edge of a new wave of astonishing productivity, that I’d continue pressing forward at — thinking I was being reasonable — a rate perhaps slightly slower than that, and that I might have a hope of accomplishing at least half of what I set out to do this summer.

And then I woke up on Wednesday with a sore throat, which has today resolved into a fully clogged head. And productivity has all but ground to a standstill. Where I found myself ahead of the schedule by the end of the day Tuesday, I’m now well behind where I’d hoped to be by the end of Wednesday.

There’s not much to be done for it, I guess, except make some more tea, keep the kleenex handy, and try to think of the summer’s schedule as an exercise in non-attachment.