Monday, September 26, 2011

Darkness, My Old Friend

Last Friday, I sent seven emails between four and five a.m.

Last night, I sent five more just after midnight.

Normally, I'm asleep during those hours. These days, I curl into a ball, my thoughts spin, and eventually I give up, deciding to read myself back to sleep, snuggle with the resident beagle, or just get started with the day.

I've begun to think of sleep as a long-lost friend -- someone who has been avoiding me, maybe, or someone with whom there is unfinished business.


The thing is, I love to sleep. Every roommate I've ever had can attest to this. In college, I used to try to make myself stay up late, but at a certain point I became silly and useless -- usually hours before the rest of my friends became silly and useless.

Occasionally I assign my students this sort of journal entry: Imagine if you had to leave home suddenly, without knowing if you would ever return. What items would you bring with you? If it were assigned to me, I would write: "My bed" followed by "at least two down pillows" and finished with "a duvet with an Egyptian cotton cover." Wherever I'm headed, I'd like to be able to sleep when I get there.


"Are you okay?" a friend asks. Her voice trails off: "You look..."

Old. Just go ahead and say it. Tired and old.


If only I could mainline caffeine, I would be fine. I would be able to make it through Job #1, teaching four sections of junior high Language Arts, a typing tutorial, and leadership. I would be able to make it through Job #2, teaching five hours of class a week at a community college 45 minutes away. I would have the creative spark to tackle Job #3, revising my novel for publication (which, to be honest, is more important than the first two right now).

"I like your hair today," says the barista at Starbucks.

"Thanks," I say, privately horrified. I can't remember exactly how many times I've seen her this week. This is usually when I begin to break off relationships with proprietors -- when things become too familiar. I become too embarrassed by the private attention, and disappointed in my own predictability. A venti skinny vanilla latte, hot as you can make it.


At 4:30, I'm suddenly awake. My alarm clock is set for 5:30, so I pray for about 15 minutes that I can please, please, please fall back asleep. Baxter, perhaps noticing my change in breathing, jumps up on the bed next to me and gives my cheek a big, meaty swipe with his tongue. I'm officially awake.

My neighborhood is not. It's still dark and too early for the paper to arrive on my doorstep. In the distance, a car alarm bleats and suddenly my neighbor's sprinkler system sputters to life, surprising me.

I take a few deep breaths. Ready or not, it's time to start the day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bathroom Etiquette

In general, I believe in an open-door policy. I'm all for transparency -- in government, in personal life, in conversations with parents about their seventh graders.

But not when it comes to the bathroom.

Last year, my friend K. and I discovered that, in addition to a million other things we have in common, we both observe complete silence when in the bathroom.

I'm not exactly sure how we discovered this fact, but once it was... well, out in the open, we had a few thousand examples to illustrate our point.

"I swear to you, the second I sit down --" I began.

"I know! I mean, all I need is just a minute --" K. continued.

"And then, inevitably, he'll have a question that just can't wait. Like, 'Where do we keep the spatulas?' or 'Have you seen my belt?' -- really crucial stuff."


We stared at each other, amazed. We had been living all this time, miles apart, in parallel universes.

In our eleven-plus years, the hubs and I have come to some sort of agreement about bathroom etiquette. We've had to, since for our entire history we have shared a bathroom. The agreement works something like this: Under no circumstances* should he attempt to talk to me through the bathroom door (*possible exceptions include house on fire, home invasion, or appearance of Publisher's Clearing House van). In turn, I try not to enter the bathroom during the "hair" phase of his morning routine.

It mostly works.

When it doesn't, we have no choice but to scream at each other.

At work, I face many of the same problems. The women's bathroom in the office has four stalls and two sinks. During our breaks, we file into the bathroom one by one, and inevitably, inescapably, someone will talk to me through my stall door, through toilet paper unwinding and toilets flushing, through paper towels dispensing and water rushing in the sinks. Sometimes there are comments about the weather or about yet another stupid policy behind handed down by our bosses (aka, the government). I submit to this as best I can, inserting, "mm-hmm" and "yeah" to every question I'm asked. But don't try to ask me about a student's grade, or about a novel I'm teaching. This is not the time to argue, not the time to engage.

Every time this lapse in bathroom etiquette happens (once a day, five days a week at least), I suddenly remember the contract Will and I have with each other, and wonder if it can be imposed upon my colleagues as well.

Imagine the possibilities:

I could draft a simple version, slide it into their mailslots, and collect signed contracts by the end of the week. I could circulate a petition, then post the collection of signatures inside each stall. We could institute a small fine for violators and encourage self-reporting.

Because I, too, have a dream. It is not a lofty one. I would simply like two or three minutes of uninterrupted quiet to do... well, whatever I wish.