The Sick Child, Edvard Munch, 1885-86
the flu the beginnings of mono for the past two weeks. At first I didn’t take it seriously, sort of like when you are babysitting a kid and he keeps yelling for a drink of water after he’s gone to bed and you’re just trying to watch Netflix, and you do what you remember your parents doing and what you have seen all parents doing on television: you yell, “You had one right before bed, sweetie, go to sleep!” Except that he keeps yelling and his voice gets louder and more tearful and you consider calling the parents because maybe he has a rare medical condition that requires a glass of water precisely after he’s been put to bed. And then he appears around the corner of the stairs with a machete and says, “Stop popping the Advil and get into bed, I’m going to make you pay for this.”
I don’t get sick very often so I’m not a good invalid: I get distracted from resting by all sorts of things, like needing to feel clean, needing to have a clean apartment, needing to have clean sheets. But what about the mail I haven’t checked the mail in days. The weather is so nice, taking a ten minute walk surely wouldn’t kill me. I don’t have any food in my refrigerator, I should pop over to the store. And then I’m on my way to work in the morning and I’m standing and feeling faint and it’s so hot and I just have to get out and lean over the railing of the platform and gulp the fresh air in-between trying to rid myself of my breakfast.
“Ma’am,” yells the train conductor, because I was in the first car and he watched me bolt out of it. “Is this a medical emergency?”
“No,” I said miserably, “I just need a drink of water.”
He handed me a bottle of water. “You should go home.”
Go home. Go home. But there is something about being sick that makes resting seem like the very last thing you want to do, because slowing down means you need to take yourself into account, puffy eyes and concave sour stomach and pale jutting cheekbones. You need to take your life into account, all the bits and pieces of pizza and late nights and wine and fun you’ve been having, and how you didn’t listen to your body when it said, Slow down, slow down, because slowing down would have meant a quiet you’re not sure you know how to handle anymore.
And you have to learn to ask for help.
I didn’t take it gracefully or quietly. I took it crying and thrashing, and when the doctor mentioned that if I couldn’t keep food down or if it didn’t get better I’d have to spend the night in the hospital just to be sure, I took a long look at the quiet I’d been avoiding for the past two months.
I’m stubborn, and it’s so easy to believe I’m the exception to a rule: I won’t get sick or injured or heartbroken. I’ve been okay for so long! And Advil! But as I listened to the fan swing overhead and the muffled traffic pass outside my apartment, I heard it: the quiet that says, all of these things will happen, and more, and knowing this will keep you peaceful, it will keep you humble, because you won’t live forever and you must be kind to yourself and others. You are weak, but weak in a way that makes you stronger because you can understand and empathize with others, and give them the benefit of the doubt when you don’t want to believe that they are as weak as you are.
Removing yourself from any place or thing feels like a betrayal at first, and then the wounds close and the guilt only flares up in rainy weather. After I threw a penny into the Fontana di Trevi, I knew I would eventually return to Rome. When I do it will not be returning home or to some ideal of a fixed state; it will be a revisiting of what once flourished and then crumbled. We are better off different than we were yesterday.
Wolf-Meyer refers to the practice of going to bed at around eleven o’clock at night and staying there until about seven in the morning as sleeping “in a consolidated fashion.” Nowadays, adults are expected to sleep in this manner; anything else—sleeping during the day, sleeping in bursts, waking up in the middle of the night—is taken to be unsound, even deviant. This didn’t use to be the case. Until a century and a half or so ago, Wolf-Meyer observes, “Americans, like other people around the world, used to sleep in an unconsolidated fashion, that is, in two or more periods throughout the day.” They went to bed not long after the sun went down. Four or five hours later, they woke from their “first sleep” and rattled around—praying, chatting, smoking, or making love. (Benjamin Franklin reportedly liked to spend this time reading naked in a chair.) Eventually, they went back to bed for their “second sleep.”
Wolf-Meyer blames capitalism in general and American capitalism in particular for transforming once perfectly ordinary behavior into conduct worthy of medication. “The consolidated model of sleep is predicated upon the solidification of other institutional times in American society, foremost among them work time,” he writes. It is “largely the by-product of the industrial workday, which began as a dawn-to-dusk twelve-to-sixteen hour stretch and shrank to an eight-hour period only at the turn of the twentieth century.” So many people have trouble getting enough sleep between eleven at night and seven in the morning because sleeping from eleven to seven isn’t what people were designed to do."
“Up All Night”, Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker
I have been eating a great deal of peanut butter and jelly toast. My mother said a few weeks ago that she thinks it is my comfort food. And isn’t it amazing how quickly I revert back to child, when I’m tired and the mercury won’t sit still?
I suffered a small bout of insomnia when I attained double digits. I was afraid of going to bed because I knew that I would lie awake for hours, after the last lights had been turned off and my parents were sound asleep and the house settled into twilight folds. We lived in a cul-de-sac then, in Southern California, and I’d watch the coyotes make the rounds of our house outside our diamond-paned windows, sniffing the air, calling eerie to each other. The night is humming with sounds that we don’t take time to listen to during the day. I would dream up terrible scenarios: we were all going to die in a fire. I would never get to sleep. My parents weren’t going to come home from their night out. I would not be able to fall asleep.
I’ve never been fond of staying up, never wanted to be awake last or catch the sunrise still upright. I love sleep, I love the comfort of it and the warmth of it, the surety that when you wake up it is a new day and you haven’t done anything and the things you were afraid of disappeared into the general melee of buses and schoolchildren and breakfast bacon frying at the restaurant across the street.
I think that as we grow up we return to our childhood patterns, to fears that we never grew out of but only rationalized (and rationalization is never a good enough explanation for these shadows), and suddenly you’re eating peanut butter toast in your living room with all the lights off waiting to feel drowsy, breathing deep in your belly, soothing and being soothed…
No thank you, Thursday.
when I want to tell anyone I will see when the light is purple and so is our wine, after it has been a long blue day, that I am going to cry quite a bit. It has nothing to do with you, my dears. It has to do with the stillness of the evening and the freedom of those quiet hours before sleep. It has to do with the thought that I am finally my own again, after a day of belonging to so many, and I can give of myself in any way that I wish. It has to do with beauty and sadness, hope and despair. It is a release and it is not to be cured, coddled, talked to or chastised. It is to be embraced, fondly laughed at, indulged, treasured.
Critiquing, perhaps, the past weeks’ media frenzy over Boston or the advertising industry in general, Weiner gives both Harry Crane and an insurance salesman that Roger is trying to court for business the callousness that we have almost come to expect alongside catastrophe. Profits will soar, but at what cost? People will buy a t-shirt if you tell them part of the proceeds are going to a good cause, but what they’re really doing is filling their closet with more shit. Fear, pity, guilt.
Anonymous asked: Kara, do you have any advice for a soon-to-be dropout college student, entering his 20's?
All of this still holds true.
Listen, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know by saying that it’s going to be hard, especially without a college degree. But hell, it’s hard with a college degree. I trust you’ve made this decision with all the wisdom you’ve got in and around you and that you feel brave and humble about it.
In the meantime, follow all your leads, professional and otherwise. Everyone works too hard, but nobody works very hard at the things that really matter. If you have the opportunity to pursue what you really love, you should take it, even if it means starting in a place that seems beneath you.
You’ll get discouraged, and some people will be jerks. But I can guarantee from experience that there are absolutely lovely people in the world who don’t give a damn about anything but being good to the people around them. Find those people and be that sort of person and your life will always be full. Not easy, but full.
Best of luck.
You will change the world in small ways that surprise you: listening to a friend, saying a brave, true thing when it would be easier to joke or dismiss, paying for someone else’s dinner, letting yourself be corrected. It may seem after a while that you are settling, forgetting your bigger dreams and ideals. But you are just learning how to apply them to your life.
Take care of your body, you’ve only got one. It doesn’t matter how.
I’m sorry about the shitty jobs. I’m not sorry about the shitty jobs.
For most people, it is not as easy to meet and make new friends after college. It will be easy to want to spend all your time with people who are in the same stage of life. Don’t. You do not have to share interests and experiences across the board in order to make a lasting connection. There are deeper bonds. You will never stop learning if the people in your life, by their diverse passions, challenge you to think differently.
Your life will continue picking up momentum. It won’t be long until three, five, ten years have passed. Think about what you won’t want to regret: spending more time with this or that person, taking more walks, working less, reading more, eating well.
Pros and cons are never-ending. Sometimes you have to go with your gut and do the thing that makes you feel very brave and terribly humble.