J u s t T h i n k i n g
I have some good news. It’s about naps. Don’t yawn. This news is changing my life.
Naps, it seems, are (drums here) an act of Resistance. The political kind, the change-the-world kind, the march-in-the-streets kind. Actually, not march – nap – in the streets. Literally. Napping in the streets is the new activist non-action action. So are naps in bed. Or on sofas. Anywhere.
I am a political activist (in my deeply quiet way), so this idea got my attention. And I am a wanna-be napper, soaked with guilt by the very thought of it, so this idea got my instant allegiance.
This news comes from Tricia Hersey. She has started a movement called ‘The Rest Ministry’. I discovered her in an NPR interview:
Of course this good nap news is not news to ¾ of the world, the part that, sadly, is dominated by the profit-first ¼ of the world. Mine. And possibly yours. The one that dominates the markets and insidiously the status of the other ¾. So elevating naps to a force against said domination could be future-changing – my passion.
Anyway, Tricia recognised in an almost epiphanic way that we are all tired, bone and brain tired. And that’s because:
1) Our bosses work us deranged hours regardless of our status in their empire-ettes. They even make themselves work like that. Rest is retrograde.
2) The Protestant work ethic calls the shots in the work world, and rewards guilt-ridden, guilt-flinging executives for equating ‘work-yourself-to-death’ with ‘virtue’.
3) These economic exploiter systems that are running/ruining the planet inject banner alerts continuously into our brains, bedding in the cultural injunction against bed.
4) Leaders think they look more leaderish if they sleep only 5 hours, emailing their ‘people' after midnight, so that their sleeping underlings feel guilty, looking up to them and down on themselves. Self-denigration if fodder for obedience.
The touted equation is rest/sleep/nap = stupid. Completely wrong. The accurate equation is: rest/sleep/nap = smart. Hersey says the neuroscience is unequivocal about that. Our brains are working like mad while we sleep to straighten up, clean up, brush up, polish up, perk up, pick up, and generally spruce up itself. Einstein (ever my go-to authority when I want to win an argument) slept 10 hours each night and took naps every day. So there. Clearly, sleeping, including napping, is our quickest way to genius.
Hersey says it is time we all stand up and lie down. She organised a nap-in-the-streets protest against napping prejudice. And she is making the rounds with her book about it, uprooting the idea that napping/sleeping/resting are signs of weakness. Hooray! A rest revolution. Wow. Thank you, Tracey Hersey.
I wish I had been raised with her as my best friend. I wish I had seen naps as an act of grown-up protest against the oppression of the masses and arrived into adulthood carrying ‘NAPS!’ placards. I arrived instead with: ‘NAPS? DREAM ON’.
Actually, that’s not true. My father took a 30-minute nap every day after lunch and then went back to his company and worked for the full afternoon, later getting eight hours of sleep overnight. In fact, he and mother designed our 1952 house so that our play would not disturb his naps. Seriously.
So why did that ‘naps-are-king’ wisdom fly right past me? Wake me if you figure that out.
Even during my Junior year in boarding school, I was called to the Headmaster’s office and advised, gently, to stop ‘burning the candle at both ends’. I said I would do my best. I guess my best was rubbish because in my Senior year they gave up and offered me the guest room downstairs after lights-out so that my flashlight under the covers would not keep my roommate awake or make me go blind.
So I have spent the past 60 years huffing my way through anyone’s suggestion of rest or naps or long sleeps as a road to anywhere worth arriving.
Fortunately now, though, since Covid and its silver lining of restructuring my work, I have opened my eyes to closing them, every afternoon. I’ve surprised myself.
I am following the example of my husband (always a good idea) who thinks a nap is the perfect thing and has zero guilt about it.
But it took me three years of extremely gingerly edging towards a true nap. At first I lay on the bed fully clothed and closed my eyes for a few minutes. I did that for about year.
Then I allowed myself to pull up the duvet.
And then to change into a sleep tee (but not pyjamas. I still cannot do that; I shudder at the thought.)
And then to close the curtains half way.
And then not to set an alarm.
And finally to admit to a few people that I sometimes, often, sleep two whole hours.
But now. Now I am free! I am a Hersey follower!
The irony of its having taken the very concept of work (revolution against the systems of oppression that rely on exhaustion to insure compliance) to allow me to embrace rest and naps as a sign of intelligence and strength has not escaped me.
But ‘NAPPERS UNITE!’ cannot be a bad placard, can it?
The perpetrator is Truth. The modern monster, the ancient monster, the always monster.
Not truth; Truth.
Many things are true. Nothing is True.
Ever hand in hand with their opposites, truths are true. I am rigid; I am supple. She is scared; she is sure. They are old; they are new. He died; he lives. Killing is mad; killing is sane. It is noon; it is night.
All truth. All at once.
No. That hallowed, hallowed-out hall of ‘only we know’; the ‘step aside, we, bearing Truth, are passing through, to reign, we have the covenant, we have the map, we are the territory’.
No. There is only one Truth: that there is no Truth.
Humans build truth. We find facts. We develop data. We experience. We juxtapose perspectives and stare, analyse, doubt, decide. Painstakingly, haltingly we establish truth. For now.
But never Truth. Never the only, the one. That Truth strides onto the shore or down from the mountain or across the desert, enters the brain, eats alive discernment and leaves for dead the seekers of truth.
Then. I kill you for killing me for killing you for killing me. I hate you for hating me for hating you for hating me. I exile you for exiling me for exiling you for exiling me.
Close your eyes. Breathe. Spin. Pause. Now look. A new fact, an exhumed assertion, a high-branch whistle. A truth. Until another flutter. Thinner, until grown.
Toss your Truth and run for your life, run to your life, run to truth. Forward. Now look back. There it is: rubble and ash. But this time, this time thank god and gods, it is the slaughter only of Truth that never was. No bones. Only ancient adherence to mine-onlys and only-ones. Welcome rubble.
Might we right now, now, launch the run with this:
‘If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.’
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ca 1850
In the end, and there is always an end, we must start there anyway. Couldn’t we do it today?
Start the run?
Please Love Your Children
I wasn’t going to write about him. Not by name. Honest.
But now. Now. I have to say at least this: Trump is what you get when you don’t love your children. And his worshippers are what you get when the nation, the world, doesn’t love its producers of wealth. Not its holders of wealth. Its producers. Its essential but left-out work force.
Analyse everything Trump says and everything he does. Everything. And you will find a boy scrambling to find the exit signs in a Queens Jamaica Estates six-bedroom maelstrom of ‘you are not good enough, and we won’t love you until you are’.
Analyse everything Trump says and does, and you will find a 13-year-old consigned to military school who packed ‘you are not good enough to be loved’ into every suitcase and corpuscle as he left.
People do that. Knowing as tinies that we are not loved because we are not enough, that we never can be but must do nothing with our lives except try to be, kneads us into love-seeking waifs for the rest of our lives.
‘I am a legitimate person.’ Spoken by this 77-year-old boy just yesterday, those words are caterwauls to the fathermothernolovemonsters in Jamaica Estates.
‘I am a legitimate person,’ says the boy, not to his interviewer – never to his interviewer – but to his ‘base’. ‘His’ base. His proof to the Queens judges that he is loved. That he is good enough. 30 million people who ‘love’ him so much, he says, that they would lift him onto their shoulders after watching him murder someone on Fifth Avenue (home, by the way, of the also ‘you are not enough’ Manhattan untouchables whose love he now seeks most of all). 30 million who ‘love’ him because he figured out to say that he loves them.
‘I am a legitimate person’. ‘I have done nothing wrong’. ‘I am a stable genius'. ‘I understand money better than anybody’. ‘I was successful, successful, successful’. ‘Nobody has ever been more successful than me’. ‘I am the least anti-Semitic [and racist] person you have ever seen in your entire life’. ‘I am so good looking’. ‘I am a super model’. ‘I was always the best at sports’. ‘I am really good at war’. ‘I know more about renewables than any person on earth’.
I am ‘worthy!’ the boy shouts. If only someone could see him, cheer for him. If only there were people to rally around his genius and show the Queensmonster that he deserves to be loved. And that he did all along.
And then there were. His ‘genius’ was in spotting them – the also-unloved. People also looking for the exit signs, not this time from a suburb’s mock Tudor, but from a mock equal-opportunity work place. People sidelined, snubbed, discounted, humiliated. Mocked. The ignored, ‘deplorable’, excluded wage-earners of the country. The small-holding farmers. The ‘poorly educated’. The invisibles.
He saw them. He said I love you. He said only I love you. He said you now have someone to look up to who looks up to you. You are not only good; you are the very best ever in the history of the entire world. Others do not know that the way I do. Like me, you have been pushed aside. But I am here now. I am successful, rich, famous, just as you want to be. I speak for you. I say things you are thinking. I talk the way you talk. I fight for you. ‘I am your retribution’.
‘I love you’ is all it took to gather them and hold them. It took more than that, including a mastery of ‘persuasion psychology'1 plus an also-loathed elite opponent, to gather enough votes in just the right places to win. But winning was never the core point. He wanted 30 million proofs that he was good enough to be loved. And if he loses again, the boy will do whatever it takes to keep those 30 million proofs.
Eight years on, every Trump utterance is still a version of ‘dear base, I love you. Keep loving me’. So we must stop listening to this boy for logic, for accuracy, for ideas, for vision, for civility. We must hear his answers to questions exclusively as messages to his ‘I-love-you-and-you-love-me’ base. Nothing he says has to make sense. It usually doesn’t. It has only to keep the lovers cheering. It has only to make the pain subside for a second.
But isn’t he a narcissist focusing only on himself all of the time because he loves himself? He is a narcissist, yes. But narcissists focus on themselves not because they love themselves, but because they don’t. Because they can’t. Narcissists so deeply cannot love themselves and so desperately want to that they reference themselves even in their descriptions of their enemies. ‘He is the most corrupt president in the history of this country.’ ‘He is a loser’. ‘She is a bigot who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future’. Untrue of them; true of himself.
Narcissists’ lives are fraying strings of attempts to prove themselves lovable because that knowledge was desiccated in those first desperate, you-are-not-worthy-of-love, boy years.
Unloved children kill. Workers follow as fodder. They gather armies. With them they kill anyone who excludes them. To do that they must kill the excluders and their institutions – of law, of equality, justice, education, even art. They must kill complexity. They must kill nuance. They must kill compromise. They must kill difference. They must kill thinking. They must kill intelligent feeling. They must kill grace. They must kill the boy pain.
Please love your children. For who they are. Because they are already good.
1 See Cialdini, Robert B., Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, HarperCollins, © 2001
A saying often says nothing because we over-say it. That is sad because a saying started somewhere before it ended up everywhere. Said first, it was profound.
This is one:
Grief is the price we pay for love.
People think that Queen Elizabeth said it first, reaching out eloquently as she did to people bereaved by the 9/11 attacks. But it was actually the lovely Dr Colin Murray Parkes 1 who wrote it in 1972 in his now classic book about loss. Regardless, it has been with us long enough for most people to think of it as a ‘saying’, if not quite a cliché. So it can go by in a blur.
I think that is why I suddenly looked up and stared at nothing yesterday for a long time. Always before, that saying had been a truth I’d admired but never bothered to revere, a gentle, graceful summer-up of life. Nothing more.
But yesterday in a fierce eddy of hearing, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’, its rigour seized me. It explained something. Sayings do that if we let them in. However fatigued and ancient, they are usually truths. They explain why we have to go through things. They make us stand up straight. Some tell us we made a choice. They say that future pain is worth present gain.
The pain this one explains is grief. Not present grief. Anticipatory grief. But grief in me now, so, present as anything. The difference is that I have to venture to the future to feel sad about the unthinkable thing. When I get there, I cry. It’s horrible. But then I march right back to the present and get to be relieved that the thing hasn’t happened. When it does happen, for real, there’ll be no present to go back to.
‘The thing’ is the thought that one day both Christopher and my sister will be dead. And I won’t be. I can just about manage the thought that one or the other of them will die before I do. But only just. Somewhere in that never-never land of our bigger self that manages, that ‘bears up’ (as Dad said an hour after Mother died, desperate I knew), in that where-did-you-come-from place of coping with irredeemable loss (because it is coping and not embracing), I assume I will somehow survive unshrivelled, ultimately a nice enough, writing-again, listening-again, transported-by-the-thrush’s-song-again person. Someone worth meeting for tea somewhere gorgeous. Again. But from here it seems certain that that will require deus-ex-machina of a magnitude even Euripides wouldn’t buy.
I ‘go there’, and wherever I actually am, I mourn. I soon pull myself together and come back to the thank-you-God reality of now, where Christopher and Merl are both alive, so alive, and I am not sad at all. At all.
Then, out of the blue blue blue, I cry again, thinking about living without them. And that has become my habit for a while now. Only because we are older, as they say when ‘old’ is what they mean, ‘old’ as in ‘could die for real actually any minute’, more ‘any minute’ than when we were not old, when just anyone could, because anyone can, die, but probably won’t for years and years. Now we are old. And one of us is going to have a life without either. And it could be me.
I decided that I had to stop this torturous zooming forth into someday. It’s nuts. Because if I am one day the one standing alone, having buried them both, I will absolutely want not to look back and think of all those pre-burial weeping times I could have been rejoicing without quiver. I will want to have lived their living completely.
That’s when the saying dropped from the nowhere blue.
Grief is the price we pay for love.
Think about that. Don’t do yeah, yeah, I know, whatever, the price we pay for love, no problem.
Think about it. When we love, in that exact moment of deciding to love a person – even if the deciding was through the unconscious unfolding childhood cherishing of a person, or the sudden rapturous, ever-growing, enduring adult in-love love of a person – when we decided to love that person, we decided to endure the suffering of losing them. If we wouldn’t agree to that, we wouldn’t be allowed to love them. We would have to walk away.
And we didn’t. We stayed.
We chose the pain.
We chose to get on the stallion, gobble up the plains, slash through the creeks, plough up the banks, saunter past the woods fully to the edge of the crater’s cliff, hurl our hat into the sky and whoop because the valley and the ride collide in rapture; turn around, clip clop through the wild flowers, skirt the scrub, trot to the stable, dismount, pat the grand one, thank him, close the gate, go up to bed, sleep.
And wake unable to move.
And so will it be if I am left, waking after the ride I would not un-choose for anything.
1 Dr Colin Murray Parkes, eminent psychiatrist and Cruse Bereavement Care’s Life President, who said it in 1972 in his book: Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life.