As a puppy, no matter how hard I tried to coax her, Kiri would never lay at my feet under my desk while I was writing.

It was part of the image I had in my mind: The writer and her dog. The productive and warm, fuzzy mornings with a mug of coffee and a buzzing computer. The quiet afternoons of revision, before the kids tumbled in the front door finished with school. I would bake, and make nourishing dinners.

I tried that for a couple of years. It didn’t work out.

img_20151001_083944Now Kiri is well over 15, and lying beside me, on the small oriental rug here in my tiny library. But this is not what I imagined.

My children are grown, and have moved out.

And I’ve moved out. Started over again, first on my own, then with a new partner. I would say that nothing has gone according to plan, but the truth is there was never a plan, only an image.

The question I had put to myself all those years is what do you want to be? Rather than what are you going to do?

In some ways, I am grateful for that. For what spontaneity has added to my life. The unexpected is always an adventure. I think it has made me braver than I might otherwise have been. I learned lessons, some very hard (some very hard on the people in my life).

But regrets are a waste of time. Even in hindsight, one can never really know what the results would have been from having made a different choice, at any juncture.

Many years ago, my best friend bought me a print by the artist Brian Andreas:

“If you hold on to the handle, she said, it is easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it’s more fun if you just let the wind carry you.” – Brian Andreas

It is a philosophy I have only half-embraced. I’ve usually used it to comfort myself when I’m faced with my own failure to achieve that “image”–however fuzzy–I’ve had in the back of my mind.

It seems odds with the now-ubiquitous line from Mary Oliver’s poem  “The Sumer Day”:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

But these are only the final lines. There is more to the poem:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

(from “The Summer Day”. Mary Oliver)

I never planned to pay attention. But, suddenly, this seems like a very good idea. Instead of dwelling on the past, looking to define lessons-learned and outline regrets, it might be smart to catch up with myself: to pay attention to the present.

Instead of stumbling backwards into the unexpected, to walk face-first with an open mind into the days.

I recently finished Diana Nyad‘s memoir Find a Way. She writes that with age and wisdom comes balance. I would guess this also means the balance between planning and achieving. Following the failure of her fourth attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, she celebrates:

The journey has been inordinately worthwhile, the destination be dammed (for one night anyway). – Diana Nyad

Pick up. Learn from mistakes. Plan: then pay attention to every stroke, every moment.

There are so many things in life that are obviously not under our control. But where we put our attention is not one of them.

An update because a few people are wondering.

No. The words are not pouring out of me at the witching hour.

That is the simple conclusion I am making now at 00:22 on Wednesday morning. E. has staggered up to sit in the chair here in the library and work on equations, and the old lady has moved from her bed in the hall to the rug near my desk, and dropped her body with a loud complaint. She’s whistling now as she breathes, but is likely too deaf to be aware of it herself.

This is only the 10th night of biphasic sleeping. The first week I woke easily at midnight. Sometimes right before the wake-up music started playing on my phone. I could think of it that way then. Tonight it very much felt like an alarm.

The idea of having to wake to an alarm, abruptly and from a deep sleep twice a night is discouraging. Though I am not sure I would be having this idea if it were for my visit to the acupuncturist yesterday afternoon. For someone whose a woman whose business is definitely “woo-woo” in most people’s minds, she is terribly conservative. I once explained that, lying there with the needles, I had felt like a champagne cork had popped from the top of my head. She laughed. I was half-hoping for some explanation of my chi having undergone some kind of fundamental and transformative catharsis of its own.

Yesterday, when she asked if my sleeping has improved, I (reluctantly and) very quickly tried to explain biphasic sleeping. But my acupuncturist is a Gyn from China and is completely unimpressed by my busyness and the fact that I teach & write & translate & train for marathons, & … She keeps chiding me for creating my own stress. Yesterday: “You shouldn’t go to bed knowing you have to wake up half-way through the night.”

Yeah, yeah, just finish putting puncturing the inside of my knee, and turn down the lights please.

I am not sure what I think of acupuncture. I have been going twice a month for a while now. At first it was amazing. My pulse would drop to 47 on the table and I felt refreshed. I figured if it is all just a placebo, then it is still worth the money to have a good 25-minute meditation in the middle of the day. The last two months, I haven’t felt that pop or sensed that wink of possible transformation.

IMG_20150928_095444For an experiment, there are far too many variables to draw conclusions: whether I’m thinking about acupuncture or the two-sleep project. I have been edgy the past three or four days. I have also had moments where I feared I might topple into a slightly manic place, after all these years of relative stability.

I feel creative most of the day, observant and calm. I have what seem like constructive and realistic ideas for new approaches to writing projects that have been languishing in the drawer.

But the at same time, I am suffering from a crisis in self-confidence; concerned that I am only adding to the noise in the world. There has to be a way to re-frame that thought. The music in the world? But I am feeling all too dissonant for anyone’s good.

For now, I will keep it up – this two-sleeping project. I’ll be patient, and hope for a pop of inspiration.

E. suggested calling these wakeful hours “the midnight hours”, but that only lead to a host of earworms over the course of the day.

At one point, considering something I wanted to write, I caught myself thinking, “I’m gonna wait ’til the midnight hour.”

This is the sixth night of waking at midnight, to write and read and take the old lady for walk if she’s in the mood. It’s very difficult to sort out which quirks of the day are related to the Biphasic Sleeping Project, and which are just life in general.

In reality, at the moment, I can’t imagine much else as boring as blogging about sleep. The strangest thing so far (regarding the project) is that it is Friday night and I am treating it like a weeknight – with plans to rise at 5:30 for a run. When I was sleeping 9.30-4.30, I never did that on weekends. I would stay up until 11 and roll out of bed at 8 or so.

Yeah, I know, I’m a wild one.

I am not sure how this is going to affect my writing. This week I finished the final edits on The Elephants Have Been Singing All Along, and went over Lodén’s (great) translation. I should be knee-deep into another project by now; up now, dancing with a muse.

Don’t they say that if you build a routine, create a ritual, the muse will just show up?

Well, right now, there’s no one else around.

Who knew there were so many songs about midnight?

One of the disorienting things about being up at midnight (to write before the second sleep) is the way these 90 minutes are seemingly untethered from normal time.

14139337_337903373213924_369997056_oWhen I sit down, pen in hand, and begin to write the date in the upper left corner of a new sheet of paper, I am not sure what to write. Technically, it is tomorrow already. The events of yesterday, are – well – yesterday. But I will sleep again soon, and rise at 5 to run and “start the day”.

This is the 5th night of biphasic sleeping. The first of falling asleep easily. Maybe a sign that my body is learning what to expect in this new (or very old) pattern. But the weekend is coming, and with it the obvious anti-social aspect of this whole concept: to go out for a glass of wine after work will be like trying to shoehorn an elephant into a toolbox.

Who crawls into bed at 8 p.m. besides toddlers and hermits?

Will a month of routine reprogram the norm, so that a night without a first sleep won’t send my body reeling?

 

The summer is over. As are the frazzled first weeks of a new school year, the pleasant stresses of having guests in the house, and the cozy/grumpy ambivalence of the old lady interrupting my afternoon reading.

14124008_336035186734076_1040199786_o
The Old Lady

I find myself craving a schedule, and some aspects of predictability.

I sometimes wonder if I will ever stop measuring my life in school terms rather than calendar years. But I do like the extra, nearly obligatory, reevaluation that a new term brings.  It’s a natural time to begin new projects, set new goals.

This is day 1 of a month long experiment with biphasic sleeping.

It is day 1 of 8 weeks of prep for the upcoming 16 weeks of marathon training.

The gorgeous winter break run in Northumberland is the a carrot in front of me on the morning intervals.

And with the final edits of my next poetry book having been sent off to the publisher last week, there is another new beginning.