…weather these days, perfectly cool with a few windows open and the fan going. Sleeping with the windows open isn’t something I’m used to; in fact, this is my first season of it in quite a while. Since my early 20s, I’ve always lived either in centrally heated/cooled buildings, or ground-floor apartments on busy city streets. Or here, in this little house, which – while it isn’t downtown, while the neighborhood has its pastoral elements – isn’t as quiet at it looks. It’s not particularly loud, either, but I have a sleep-related problem such that a little loud music from a car’s speakers or the sound of people yelling foolish things in the middle of the night makes me tense and apprehensive that it will continue or start up again later, and the old familiar dread comes over me.
What familiar dread? Here’s a paragraph I wrote for my recently-concluded grammar class on the subject. (It’s a little stilted-sounding because it was written in response to an assignment requiring the use of things like “parallel complex appositives” and “sentence fragments with strong syntactic relationships to the sentences preceding them.” If you’d like the “key,” it’s here. I have a shiny new quarter for anyone who can find where my paragraph diverges from the assigned requirements in that key.)
(1) In college I had a neighbor who forever shook my confidence in being able to fall asleep when I wanted to and who in other ways lessened my faith in humanity, turning me bitter and leaving me scarred. [FN 1] (2) The rule that you couldn’t get a single room until after freshman year was widely understood, but the fact that I had taken my second semester off while working at a record store was an extenuating factor. (3) After all, though I was technically still a freshman, sophomore status loomed after the holiday break – and I would be the kind of sophomore who, it was important to me for everyone to understand, would chafe at being stuck in a freshman dorm. (4) A quiet freshman dorm, no less, a living situation all out of whack with my self-perceived ebullience and lust for life. (5) Standing in the hall outside my new single room on move-in day, I met my new neighbor, Stacy, a tall, thick, broad-shouldered Jersey girl who had wild curly hair and a loud, braying laugh. (6) Who also – I soon learned – had an essentially nocturnal lifestyle. (7) Every night that semester, as I went to bed, I knew that it would only be a matter of time. (8) That – just as I would be growing drowsy – the mufflerless roar of Stacy’s rusted Camaro would announce her arrival home from the bars.
Yes, Stacy ruined me for sleeping, possibly forever (although maybe it would be more accurate to say “when I’m not tired enough” – I don’t remember having much of a problem sleeping when I worked on boats, for example, even though I drank coffee pretty much continuously and certainly wasn’t keeping to the “regular sleep schedule” recommended by experts). She did this by not just being loud, but by being loud in ways that struck me as stupid and pointless. It’s not like she was practicing for her cello debut at Carnegie Hall, she was just playing techno music and laughing like a zebra into her phone. Once, she and the gay Serbian exchange student got stoned and ordered pizza at around 1 in the morning. I heard the order go in and wanted to fling myself from the window: on our rural campus, the one pizza restaurant could take hours to deliver sometimes, so I knew I was in for a whole night of their chortling and chatter. Finally, when the pizza came, they had to stop talking long enough to shove it into their mouth holes, but they were so ravenous at that point that I could hear their chewing. They were nice enough about it when I finally poked my head into the hall where they were sitting to say something. I’d brought it up before. “Oh, yeah, you have an early class,” she said sheepishly, her cheeks shiny with cheese grease. (I was in immersion German that semester, a daylong class that kicked off at 8:00 a.m. every morning.) Usually, people who are being loud don’t realize it or certainly aren’t thinking about the fact that they are keeping someone up. My theory is that they are just the loudest people they know but assume everyone else acts like they do, so they have no idea what they sound like through the wall.
So, ever since, inane conversation and stupid music [FN 2] heard at night as I am drifting off to sleep immediately sets me on edge. This is the third spring since we moved here; the past two, we just went pretty much straight from having the windows closed for the winter to installing a window-unit air conditioner when it finally became too warm for two people to sleep comfortably in the closed-up room. But this year, I’ve taken a different approach. There is something I used to dabble in that has become more and more of a regular thing. It used to be something I did only occasionally, when I felt like it, but, gradually, it’s become an everyday thing, something I’ve come to depend on. I hope you won’t judge me.
I wear earplugs to sleep.
I didn’t need them last night, though, when I was asleep almost before getting into bed. I’d worked a twelve-hour day, which is bad, but not as bad as it sounds, since the reason was that I was holding myself to the fire to finally finish editing the massive policy paper I’ve mentioned here before. In the morning, when the boss asked what its “status” was, I’d told him that I could finally commit to finishing the thing before leaving for the day. I figured that this would involve working late, but I just wanted to be done with it. I’d finished text edits last week, and so yesterday’s work involved final layout and all of the millions of small things that go into getting a paper like this into “camera-ready” shape: tweaking the layout, updating in-text source citations after having to rearrange the order of the bibliography (are they not teaching alphabetical order anymore?), getting Microsoft Word to let me put my pictures and graphs where I want them, and so on. Finally, at about 8:30 p.m., I was skimming the text to make sure that acronyms were spelled out on first usage but never again (bet you never thought of someone doing that the last time you were reading a technical document – what, did you think elves made it so internally consistent?), and the end was in sight. There was some trouble with the spell check, i.e., after I sat through the spell checker’s asking me about pretty much every acronym in the paper and every last name in the ten-page bibliography, Word quit “unexpectedly” (uh, yeah…) and I had to do it again. On the plus side, this delayed me just enough that the boss left before I did, which is always nice but, as you can see by the fact that — this time — it required working until 9:00 p.m., not the kind of thing I want to try to pull off every day.
Preview: Bird Camp update tomorrow!
1. See, right there, I’m exaggerating a little – the experience didn’t leave me bitter and scarred, I just needed some parallel verbal phrases and nothing else leaped to mind. Anyway, this is what I mean by “stilted.” It’s not that using artful syntax necessarily makes it sound stilted, but syntax is closely related to the ideas being expressed (or it needs to be, anyway), and so sometimes the thing you would write next if you were just working on something personal cannot possibly be contorted to contain the assigned elements.
2. “Stupid music” is a technical term for any music that’s keeping me up; techno and modern “R&B” qualify most easily, not least because being a fan of this kind of music suggests you just don’t know much about the world, possibly including the fact that there are other people in it.