The Month of Sleeping Dangerously

A late-night dinner party on an old ferry boat. Basel, Switzerland.

A month ago, I stayed up several hours past my normal bedtime then went to Queens to board a plane. After midnight, we took off and I stayed more or less upright in a middle seat surrounded by several people with sketchy notions about personal hygiene for a bunch of hours until we landed in Paris. It was noonish in France but about 6 a.m in my head.

I had a cafe au lait from a vending machine, then three hours later flew to Basel, Switzerland.  Some lovely people met me at the airport, drove me to my hotel, then took me for a long walk  and some snacks by the Rhine. They explained the general concept behind the mass transit system, pointed at the tram stop and walked me back up to my hotel.  It was 9 PM in Basel. It was somewhere between 3 PM and 3 AM in my head.

The next morning, my phone, my ipad and my laptop all sounded their alarms. Apparently, it was 6:30 am in Basel.  In my head, it was coffee time. At 7 AM, I was on what I really, really hoped was the tram to the International School of Basel. I spent 45 minutes staring at the tram map, crossing all appendages, and praying in German, Italian and French. At 7:40, I detrammed and walked into what I hoped was the school I’d be visiting for the next week. A few minutes later, the teacher who was my host gave me more coffee and led me into the school auditorium where I would address 600 students and their teachers. I did a good job, I think. They applauded raucously while I stifled a yawn and calculated that it was about 2 am in New York.

For each of the next five days, I worked with several hundred children from the ages of 3 to 11. They had loads of energy. I absorbed much of it and increased my caffeine consumption quite alarmingly.  On a couple of nights, I took a half of one of the old Valiums I’d found under the sink in our bathroom. When I did, I slept till it was time for the breakfast buffet. When I didn’t, I read books and watched Swiss late night TV.

After the school day ended, I gave talks to staff or parents or visited an art museum. I had a magical experience on an ancient ferry boat. One night, I ate Wiener Schnitzel. Another night, I got a sausage roll at the supermarket. I avoided fondue, imagining it coming back to haunt me at 4 AM Basel time, 10 PM in New York. On my last night, I went with some friends to eat dinner in Alsace Loraine. That’s in France. In the restaurant, some children came up to our table. They had been in my drawing classes at the school. I pretended that I remembered them well and told them to make sure to visit me in New York.

The next afternoon, I flew to Rome. I spent four days with Jack, eating pasta, drinking beer, drawing domes and walking everywhere. I stayed in an airbnb in a 15th century Palazzo. The day I arrived, they decided to renovate the hallways.  Each morning at 7 AM, Italian men would make sure I was awake and pound away the five hundred year-old plaster with hammers and chisels.

I dream about being late for  buses, trains, planes, ocean liners, dentist appointments and giving speeches before the UN in the nude.

On my last night, before I was to leave for a 7 AM. flight, the neighbors had a five hour coop board meeting on the landing outside my door. At 10:30, I stood in the doorway in my underwear and made every pleading gesture I could think of to communicate my wit’s end. Italians understand gestures and despair and, by 11PM, they had packed up their ashtrays, card tables, and folding chairs. I considered taking the last half Valium but then imagined sleeping through the alarm and decided to tough it out.

I rarely set an alarm because I often wake up before it rings, sometimes a minute before hand. At other times, I wake up every hour wondering if it had gone off. I dream about being late for  buses, trains, planes, ocean liners, dentist appointments and giving speeches before the UN in the nude.

One middle seat later, I arrived at JFK. As per my new self-employed habit, I took the subway home from Queens. My dogs were glad to see me, Jenny was at work. It was 2:30 PM in New York. It was 8:30 PM in Rome. I stayed up till Jenny came home, had dinner, and pushed it till 10 PM EST. Then I slept, sort of, till morning.

Two days later, we took a plane to Austin, Texas. the plane was slightly delayed and we took off at one in the morning EST. That’s 7:30 AM in Rome and midnight in Texas. I don’t remember when we got to our hotel or where we got up in the morning but we started our drinking early and then got on a bus to our friends’ wedding at about 5 PM, Texas time. The bride was from Dallas, the groom from New Zealand, so there were pyramids of  beers and wines and shots and we danced until the wee hours We couldn’t get a flight out on Sunday so we decided to stay at the hotel at the airport to get an early start. The car picked us up before 5 am and we caught B6794, leaving Austin at 6:20AM.

My plan for the next weekend was to drive five hours, alone to New Hampshire to shoot a new set of videos for Sketchbook Skool. Then the media started predicting the first massive hurricane in two years heading our ways. Reviving fears of Hurricane Sandy, (we and much of NY were without electricity for ten days and my sister’s house was trashed), I decided to cancel the shoot.  The hurricane never materialized so we spent the weekend hanging out and drinking too much on Saturday afternoon with a friend visiting from Virginia.

I spent thirty minutes trying to remember Christian Bale’s last name. Blaze? Blade?  Bartofski?

Each night I would wake up at 8 AM. … in Rome.  Only problem, I was in New York and it was 2 AM.  But I am used to getting by on the occasional rough night of sleep. I come from a long line of bad sleepers. My mother generally rises and walks around like making tea each 4 AM. My grandfather took a schlurp of brandy and a Lunesta every night and he lived to be 98. It can get a little crunchy at 3 PM but, by 4 PM, I am usually filled with vim again and motor on till bedtime.

Not this time.  The effects of my peripatetic ways finally caught up with me. I wasn’t sleepy. I’d just lost my mind. 

One night, I woke up so I could spend thirty minutes trying to remember Christian Bale’s last name. Blaze? Blade? Bartofski? Then I tried to remember all the people who had worked for me at my last job. I spend all day, every day with them till just two years ago but I couldn’t remember who any of them were. Slowly, I worked my way cubicle by cubicle, remembering first names, then finally, surnames. That took me till dawn illuminated the NYU library across the street.

When I fell back asleep, I dreamt wildly — about apocalypses, unscheduled presentations, oncology visits, police investigations.

I didn’t have Alzheimer’s. Or lupus.

When I was fully awake, my memory returned intact. But my mood grew worse and worse. I became blue, then deeply sorry for myself, then downright bleak. I couldn’t write a blog post, couldn’t do a drawing, couldn’t think of an idea. I guess I looked sort of okay, but inside I was a basket case. (Way more than usual.) Not me.

 I had weird aches and pains. I felt like I’d sprained my ankle. My stomach was constantly rumbling and sour. My teeth didn’t feel like they fit properly in my jaws.

Finally at the end of the week, I slept. Deeply, dreamlessly, untwitching for nine hours. Straight. Unmedicated. Flat out.

And then, only then, did I realize what had happened.

I didn’t have Alzheimer’s. Or lupus. I wasn’t going insane. I was just sleep deprived and a wreck after a rough month. I had to recharge.

What stuck me most was that it didn’t feel like normal tiredness. I wasn’t yawning and dragging around. I went to the gym. I went to bed at 10. I avoided coffee.  I seemed normal and functional. But I was losing me. It was like half of my brain, my imagination. my judgement, were carved away. I was functional, mobile, but a zombie.

Sleep is crucial. Sleep is lovely. And I am making it a priority. I’ll be traveling quite a bit over the next few months but I’ll be a lot smarter about it.

ZZZ.

This post was just a way of blowing out the cobwebs, stretching the old grey matter and warming up the carpal tunnels.

Okay, that’s all for now. Hope I didn’t put you to sleep.