• Jo Page

La Sonnambula


How's your sleep these days?


Are you sleeping like a baby or a log? Are you getting enough beauty rest, enough shut eye? Are you sleeping tight, out like a light, catching your ZZZs?


Well, Shakespeare knew how to sleep-talk: "Sleep that knits up the ravel'd sleeve of care, the death of each day's life, sore labor's bath, balm of hurt minds."


Of course, these are his character, MacBeth's, words, spoken right after MacBeth has sunk a dagger in Duncan, right after a voice--real? imagined?--cried out to him: "Sleep no more! MacBeth does murder sleep!"


So, no, I'm guessing MacBeth is not toddling off to Dreamy-dreamland anytime soon.


Of course, we haven't daggered any Duncans and don't have that excuse for insomnia. But most people I know aren't hitting the hay, hitting the sack, out like a light, sleeping like lambs, dead to the world. And the hot milk/herbal tea/hit of spliff/sip of sherry/thimble of Scotch/nibble of Ambien might not be doing the trick, either.


Maybe you try some Chopin nocturnes, Debussy preludes, your Spotify yoga playlist. Maybe you queue up the ocean on your Android, whalesong on your smartphone. But I'm pretty sure covid anxiety can cut through white noise and soporifics like the proverbial knife through butter. (Is sleep anxiety causing cliché brain?)


Writing in New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America, Wendy Warren quotes Mary Rowlandson, one of the very, very few English colonists enslaved to a first nations family. Of her captivity she wrote, "I can remember the time when I used to sleep quietly without workings in my thoughts, whole nights together, but now it is other wayes with me."


I'm guessing it is "other wayes" for many of us. It is for me. I've taken to using earbuds so my poor dog doesn't have to awaken to his sleepless mom's search for somnolence via sitcom.


And whereas I once loved a good scary move (and still do, in daylight), when it's night time I stick strictly to "Schitt's Creek" or "Frasier"--ironically, the last television show my ex-husband watched before dying, Netflix being no arbiter of marital boundaries.


The New Yorker cartoon that I clipped out to use as a bookmark in New England Bound, shows a mock garden layout called "Worry Farm." In separate plots are the plantings, "Unsettled Issues," "Old Growth Phobias," Perennial Doubts," "Heirloom Guilt" and that weedy, spreading plot, "Existential Dread."


For a hot minute I thought about putting the cartoon on the fridge when my daughter and son-in-law were living with me earlier this summer. But the humor cut too close to the sorry truth. New England Bound author, Wendy Warren wrote, "Who could sleep soundly in a world governed by horrors, no matter how many small joys might accumulate during the day?"


It would be fatuous and irresponsible to strenuously liken the fears engendered by the covid-19 crisis and inept government to the scourge of slavery, over which the enslaved had no agency. But it would also be untruthful to deny that in no small measure our current world seems "governed by horrors" over which we have almost no control. And we must live within and beside them.


There is neither pill nor panacea for these times. Community, even virtual community, is the next best thing. I have had acquaintances, people I don't know well at all, say to me, "oh, if you can't sleep, text me and I'll likely be awake, too." I haven't tapped the acquaintance Rolodex yet--there are still more episodes of "Frasier" to re-watch. But the knowledge of shared solace can sometimes make you lose count when counting sheep and bring on "the balm of hurt minds"--if only for a few hours.

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