The Things We Think About Before We Fall Asleep (Work in Progress)

Last night, as I lay in bed, I realized that the word concision is a lesser-known synonym for conciseness, but much better. Concision contains nine letters, conciseness eleven. Therefore, concision contains more conciseness than conciseness concision. This fact is even more amazing because to be concise is to be economical, to cut the fat, to be somehow less. Concision, therefore, contains a greater quantity of the quality of being less than conciseness does.

After I figured all that out, I pushed my pillow aside and flopped over onto my belly. This is my favorite sleeping position. I rolled my eyes upward and saw the light from my digital clock glow over my knuckles. This image has been prevalent in my life; I see it on a nightly basis, just before I fall asleep. Over the years it’s been painted into my memory, so now, closing my eyes, I can see the fingers of my left hand curled lifelessly over the top edge of my mattress, weak green light making my flesh look yellow.

Over the past few years, as I’ve tried more and more to become a writer, a recurring theme in my writing has been sleep. I love to describe the way my characters sleep, what it feels like to be them, drifting off before or after the one day of their lives that I, the writer, felt compelled to document. Does my character drop like a stone into unconsciousness? Does she move through dreamscapes like a benevolent ghost? Does he doze off piece by piece, first his arms and legs, then his torso and face, and finally his mind? Does she bundle up in blankets and quilts? Does he sprawl out naked and uncovered?

I can only explain my fixation thus: I’m obsessed with sleep—too little of it and the world feels a total waste; too much and I feel a total waste. With just the right amount, there is harmony. Temporally, I divide my mind into segments of sleep. On those rare occasions when I have to stay up all night, when dawn comes I don’t count it a new day. And when I indulge in a mid-afternoon nap, I awake to a new day, one that just happens to be already nearing dinnertime.

The more I think about it, the more amazed I am by how many artists are concerned with sleep. I just searched the music library on my computer. Only 13 of the 3,812 songs I listen to regularly contain the word “sleep” in the title. But they represent almost every genre of music I can think of. From Outkast to Lisa Loeb, The Beatles to Fiona Apple, and to Radiohead, everyone cares about sleep. Everyone recognizes what a miraculous, mysterious process it is. Sleep is artful. 

But to get back to my point: I don’t care so much, right now, about the process, function, or peculiarities of sleep. I’m interested in those quiet minutes before sleep. I’m interested in the theatricalities of the mind. I know I’m not the only one who reviews the day in miniature, picks one tiny moment or event out of thousands, and stews. I re-write the moment over and over, like a deranged screenwriter. I entertain outlandish notions of running away, pumping the pedals of my bike, moving from town to town, touring the world at a grassroots level. This will probably be as close as I ever get to leading a double-life.

Sometimes it’s different, though. More often than not, I’m so enervated by the tasks of the day that I crawl up into my lofted bed and collapse like a big hulking robot whose connective bolts have just disappeared. Crash! Or I experience the other extreme: My brain is surging with ideas—almost never good ones—that it insists on entertaining for hours before it will quiet down. Scenarios, ideas, concepts, memory re-writes, new ways to do things. I feel incurably restless. Someone (Mark Twain?) once said, show me a man who has ceased to be restless and I’ll show you a failure. I don’t think Mark Twain would have used the word “cease.” But I don’t know that I’ve remembered the quotation perfectly. In any case, the point of it is that complacency is a personal death. The successful never stop striving, never feel that their work is done, and are never satisfied.

But I’ve also heard this: “Live every day such that you welcome sleep, so that at the end of your life, you will welcome death.” I adore the morbidity of that sentiment. It has, in essence, the same message as that saccharine old crap “Live each day to the fullest!” but it puts it into simpler terms. When have I lived a day “to the fullest”? Beats the hell out of me. But I do know, quite well, what it means to live a day so thoroughly, so energetically, with so much passion, vigor, drive, anger, lust, longing, and work that when my head finally hits the pillow I think about what a great break it would be to just expire halfway through the night. Except I don’t ever really get that far in the thought; it’s more like: “What a fucking day! I’m so tired. What a great break it would be to just expire halfway… [INTERNAL MONOLOGUE INTERRUPTED BY UNCONSCIOUSNESS].”

Anyway, Mark Twain (or somebody) says that restlessness is a sign of eagerness, and eagerness is a symptom of initiative, and initiative drives the successful. But on the other hand, if I somehow end the day with enough energy left over to ponder away half the night, then how hard could I have possibly worked that day? And isn’t work the root of success?


Mom prays nightly, but not in the way we usually think of prayer. No kneeling, no hands clasped, not necessarily suppliant before God. “Every time you imagine what you want for your life,” she once told me, “that’s prayer. When you wish for good things for your loved ones. When you want the universe to provide for you. Just the thought of it sends your desires out into the reaches of the universe, where they will be responded to. I usually do it before I fall asleep, when I’m awake in bed and thinking about things.”

I do not share that personal philosophy. But it works for Mom, and it helps her make sense of the many things that run through her mind before she falls asleep, of the countless thoughts that have emanated from her head and out into the universe in her 55 years of life.


All broken, vague and desultory, incomplete, utterly incomprehensible, almost like non-sense mumbled through the loose lips of sleep talk.


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