Thoughts in the Night

I used to be known as a morning person. From infancy through my young adult life, I went to bed early and rose with the birds. Aside from Michael, I spent more time sleeping in a room I shared with my younger sister than anyone else in the world.

As we entered our teens, she would tell me how annoying it was when we’d chatted a bit in the dark, and then I’d say goodnight, roll over and immediately begin the rhythmic breathing associated with sleep, as she lay there, trying to pass out. My ability to sleep was one of my favorite things. I used to lay face down, back to the world, not waking until morning. I never used an alarm clock. When I shared my bed with Michael, I’d sometimes wake to lovemaking. He’d lie awake next to me for hours, choosing to wake me before my internal clock did, so he could finally attend to his own circadian signals and fade into his own cycle, closer to daylight. After some time passed, we adapted and inched closer to each other’s preferences. Not long after though, babies disrupted our schedule. My son, who didn’t sleep through the night until he was five, changed my sleep patterns forever as I always had one ear, which in my mind, looked like a radar dish, turning constantly, alert to any noise.

I can’t pin down the exact time I started pushing the bedtime later and later. One reason I did was from a desire to have more time for me and what I wanted to do. I was keenly aware of how big chunks of my day were allotted to obligations, work, kids, cooking, cleaning and later, a ton of caregiving required by my parents starting in my mid to late thirties. Michael, always a late night person pushed his limits for years. When he got sick and ultimately retired, the change in our daily time requirements made us both willing to stay awake into the wee hours with very little structure left to worry about. Ultimately we reversed schedules with me doing crazy stuff like watching Roger Federer play live tennis in the Australian Open, with day swapped for night. Something about the silence, the darkness, was calming for me. No sounds but the ones I chose. During the last months of Michael’s life, I was constantly wakened, sometimes hourly. I stayed close to him in a curious state of semi-consciousness, during which the most irrelevant ideas and thoughts intermingled with the most profound. After he was gone, I tried to return to a more traditional routine. I failed. I think I’m hopelessly addicted to the deepest part of night. I’ve found my way to consecutive hours of sleep but I’m sure my circadian rhythms are permanently altered. Perhaps my life will be shorter. Thinking of some of the degradation I’ve seen as people begin to fail and become so much less in old age, I can’t say that frightens me.

Last night when I was turning in for the night, or the morning depending on your point of view, I was anxiously thinking of the senatorial runoffs of today – Georgia On My Mind by Ray Charles was my last post on social media. As I sit here at 1:24 a.m., I am joyously celebrating what appears to be a double Democratic victory, what is essential if real legislation is going to be accomplished during the post-Trump four year debacle. I scarcely know how to imagine that once this administration finally ends, the threads of life before the madness can be collected and pulled back into something resembling a more recognizable facsimile of democracy. It’ll be a complicated haul. But an incredible relief.

My night life is not however, always focused on such weighty issues. I read, I watch television, I knit. Sometimes a song or an article starts a cascade of thoughts that are just entertaining or thought-provoking. My mind is like a playground – I’m never bored. Today, Stairway to Heaven came up on my Pandora feed and that started a train of thought. I always liked Led Zeppelin but that song had become the joke that people shouted out at the end of other artists’ concerts, trying to get an encore. Truly, it’s a great tune. Hardly an earth-shattering thought but there it is.

Seth Phillips, known from the Instagram account

Because I am so tired from the political stress, the pandemic and other real life matters that require too much concentration for writing a cohesive piece, instead I’m simply going to mention all the things which crossed my mind in recent hours, mundane or not, as I made my way through another unquiet night in my head. First is my confession that I’m one of the legions of followers of the Instagram account, Dude with a Sign. They’re not always funny, but sometimes they’re just perfect and I can use the laugh.

And then my mother was fluttering around. I can’t figure out why my mom had such a powerful, distinctive scent, so strong that I still smell her in my parlor which was once her bedroom. When I open the door, it’s just like a blast of Dorothy, amazing since she hasn’t lived there in eight years. On New Year’s Eve, my family gathered at my daughter’s house. She inherited my parents’ breakfront which I’d wanted badly, but I didn’t have the right space for it. Somehow the conversation turned to mom and my son-in-law mentioned that the inside of that cabinet still smelled like her. Odd though it was, I opened the doors and stuck my head inside and instantly, she wafted into my nose. So weird. I always wished Michael had such a special aroma. I can smell his deodorant, Old Spice Sport, but that’s not organic. Thankfully, he exists in me in different ways.

I’m not reading as many books as I want to and have a bunch loaded onto the Kindle app I use on my phone. Supposedly the average American reads twelve books a year, but other estimates indicate that actually it’s more like four. I’m ahead of those numbers but I’m behind my own goals of at least three a month. I think it’s because I’ve spent so much time obsessively reading political articles during the Trump era. I hope I can fix this once this administration is actually gone, which will still take some time.

Speaking of books, I think I need to read more that are funny. The three above made me laugh out loud. Generally though, I tend to read non-fiction that’s pretty serious. I think I figured that with limited time to learn, I should chuck the lightweight stuff. I’m trying to read more novels. If they make me sad, that’s alright. I’ve decided there’s value in reading anything that evokes feelings, whatever they may be, happy or sad. Better than coming up empty at the end.

I like idea of having a spirit animal and picked a dolphin for myself years ago. They have big brains, speed, compassion and playful joy. Sounded perfect. Then I decided I needed a bird too. I selected the albatross which can fly for thousands of miles, live on isolated islands and mate for life. Excellent. But tonight I realized I have no land animal. Seemed like an oversight. I’m still thinking about that.

Today is the birthday of a woman with whom I used to be very close. Our relationship ended over five years ago, leaving me with a bitter taste as I felt used and discarded by her, and ultimately her whole family. Sometimes things change because they run their course. I get that. I just wish I didn’t have to remember all of their birthdays. In fact, I remember an absurd number of birthdays, clinic numbers, telephone numbers, addresses, driver’s licenses and on and on. I remember that two kids in my second grade class were both born on March 4th. I don’t understand why these irrelevancies are parked in my head. There’s not much I can do about it. Michael always told me that if I started developing dementia or Alzheimer’s, I’d just be like a normal person. Gallows humor, I know.

DNA methylation
Horizontal gene transfer of the algal nuclear gene…

So then I went down these two science rabbit holes about which I’m completely unqualified to say almost anything. The DNA methylation is basically about changes to our DNA caused by any number of factors, both external and internal. Thousands if not more of these alterations are happening in our bodies daily. These processes are connected to epigenetics and essentially, can be responsible for lots of internal degradation if you’re unlucky. And then there’s the connection to aging which is a whole other matter. The horizontal gene transfer subject sounded like a really cool idea to me. I was thinking about microbial exchanges so that I could imagine that surges I feel for Michael are really happening because parts of his actual biota are now part of me. On further examination, it seems that this process has more to do with causing certain bacteria to become more resistant to antibiotics. Further along, the article got into the topic of genetic engineering. I liked my idea better.

For awhile this evening I was trying to rank my top five songs by The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers and Little Feat. Why would anyone care about that but me? And for my daily dance party which I’m substituting for my sorely missed swimming, I was thinking that James Brown made me move the fastest. So now everyone knows that tidbit in case you have a dance party of your own in the works.

All of these wanderings while I spent hours this evening, anxiously watching election returns and analysis, worrying about the crazy election certification process scheduled to unfold tomorrow. I’m hoping there’s no violence in Washington but I’m prepared for anything. Soon January 20th will come with its inauguration. Maybe I’ll get my Covid vaccine. Then I can pick up the writing of memories I’m supposed to be leaving for my family. Somehow it’s now 3:16 a.m. I’m hoping to be asleep by 4 after reading another chapter or two of my Isabel Allende book. Not my favorite genre, magic realism, but engaging and well-written. No more thought from this night.

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