Habits

Today I did a lot of deep thinking about my habit of taking a nap after lunch.  With necessary exceptions, I have done it for decades.  In the last year or two, though, I have had trouble with insomnia, and I have begun to wonder if the nap is at least partly responsible.  For a long time I thought the problem was mainly stress.  After all, ostensibly I have a lot to feel stressed about.  I am poor financially.  I have not attained my life goals as far as my writing is concerned.  I am a single parent.  But I have to face the facts:  Unless it is some deep buried subconscious bullshit, I am not really that stressed.  To be honest, recently I feel pretty good.  I’m making enough money to at least pay the bills and eat decently, and we have gotten out of the isolated small city I really did feel depressed in.  Okay, I am far from my life’s goals, but I am working towards those goals and making progress.  When a physical or psychic glitch comes up I lie awake and think about it, but normally I go to bed with a relative sense of satisfaction that I have done what I could that day.

So is the nap responsible?  A few months ago I figured maybe I simply didn’t need so much sleep, and I started staying up later, working on the novels and stories I didn’t have time to do during the day.  That worked for a while.  I would go to bed at twelve instead of eleven and I’d be tired enough to sleep.  I also had the satisfaction that I was producing the work I loved.  But lately, going to bed at twelve doesn’t do it anymore.  I still lie awake a long while before I drift off.  Perhaps I should keep working until one.

For me, the nap has been a habit since at least the late seventies.  It is rooted in practical considerations.  I lived for ten years in Southeast Asia, in India and Bangladesh, and in that part of the world, the early afternoon is too hot to function in, and everything grinds to a halt.  So what do people do?  They nap.  As did I.  In Greece, where I taught English language at private language schools for fifteen years, I always worked from afternoon until late evening; sometimes I didn’t stop work until eleven.  Additionally, I always got up at least by six in the morning to get the kids up and see them off to school.  I had to take a nap or I wouldn’t be sharp enough to teach my students.

And now, as a freelance writer, the habit continues.  I still have to get up and see a son off to school.  I attack the writing, that is, the Internet articles that pay the bills, by seven in the morning.  After lunch I’m wiped out and sleep for half an hour or so, and then spend a little time reading before I get up and work some more.

So today I was wrestling with the dilemma:  Am I doing it wrong?  Sure, I can make it straight through the day if I have to.  Maybe I should adjust my schedule and power through the day without a nap; thereafter I may be able to go to bed earlier.  I am not a prisoner of habit after all; habit is an expediency that functions as a tool of schedule.  Habits make it possible to bypass some decisions and focus on others.  But if they outlive their usefulness it is necessary to change them.

In the end, the most important consideration is the writing, both the nonfiction articles that bring in money and the more important literature that is my personal justification for existence.  Today I wrestled with the dilemma of whether or not to forsake my daily naps until after lunch when I sat down to try to skip the nap and get some work done.  And I decided to hell with it.  I was too damned tired to focus on putting words together into coherent sentences, paragraphs, and whole entities such as articles and stories.  I had to have that nap if I hoped to get any more work done today.  So I slept.  And then got more work done.

Sometimes the most obvious solutions are also the most practical.  When you’re tired, you rest.  I don’t know what I’ll do about the insomnia.  Maybe I’ll work later; I don’t mind.  Or I’ll use the time to think up new story ideas.  I’d better get a notebook and pen for the bedside table.

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