Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sleeping My Way to the Top

Sleeping My Way to the Top

Oh, you thought that was euphemistic?  Sadly, no.  I mean real sleep, and getting more of it.

Developing a sleep ritual is my latest habit from Precision Nutrition, for one thing.  We’ve been tasked to create and perform a sleep ritual every night to get us ready for bed and set up for good sleep.  You probably know how vital sleep is, but there’s always more to learn.  Sleep is, pretty much, everything.  It contributes to mood, body composition and healing, recall and memory, and overall health in ways that are still being quantified. 

Arianna Huffington, in her TED Talk, says that the way to lead a more productive, inspired and joyful life is to get more sleep.  We can unlock big ideas, be recharged for work, and be happier, healthier, and far more fulfilled.

She says that sleep deprivation has played into a culture of one-upmanship, where everyone is trying to get by on less.  And what that’s led to is a lot of terrible decision making, she posits.  We can’t see the iceberg before it hits the Titanic.  So, women need to lead the charge by sleeping more hours, having good ideas, and keeping their eyes peeled for those icebergs.

It’s difficult though.  Beyond the culture of getting everything done by sacrificing sleep, there’s also the element of “always on”.  My smartphone is my only phone.  We don’t have one at home.  So I always have my smartphone on.  It can make noise, it can light up, and it can interrupt my sleep.  It also provides the temptation to check my email at all hours.

Jessa Gamble talks about how this “always on” culture has affected our sleeping patterns.  Folks without artificial light experience biphasic sleep—two periods of sleep, typically 8 pm – midnight, then 2 am – 6 pm. 

From TED:
Now that humanity has spread right to the Earth's poles and adopted a 24-hour business day, Gamble argues that our internal clocks struggle against our urban schedules. Her work documents the rituals surrounding daily rhythms, which along with local languages and beliefs are losing their rich global diversity and succumbing to a kind of circadian imperialism.

So how can we sleep more, and fight against this always-on, always-sleep-deprived culture?  By developing rituals and practices that return us to a more natural state, at least as much as we can.

I already do some of the best practices for sleep—I wear earplugs and an eye mask, I always wash my face and brush my teeth before bed, and try to find ways to simmer down.  However, we also usually watch TV before bed, which isn’t swell, and we charge our phones next to our beds, which also isn’t the best.  I’ll be looking into changing those two things over the next two weeks.

However, what I’m most interested in is what I can add.  Taking things away is obnoxious and leads to ego depletion.  Adding stuff provides delight and curiosity.  One thing I’m thinking about is moving my bedtime up, and doing less stuff at night.  I’ll often be up working on a project, watching “just one more episode” of Downton Abbey or whatever, and not give myself enough time to wind down. 

I might need more than 20 minutes to wind down.  I might need a full hour.  And what I’ve decided to fill it with are these two things: reading for pleasure, and any pleasant physical activity that helps to relax my body, e.g. gentle stretching, foam rolling, or a warm bath.

I’m hoping this will help get my circadian rhythms in line, increase and deepen my sleep, and make me a better scout for ideas big and small.

Friday, November 8, 2013

DC Comics Screws Up Again

I haven't been a big fan of DC Comics overall.  And I really don't love their logo.  But I was prepared to overlook all that because the latest Batwoman titles have been so very good.  Helmed by J.H. Williams III and WH Blackman, it's a kickass comic with strong female protagonists - not only the titular character, but there's a strong and compassionate cop, a hardworking if acerbic federal agent, and a well-meaning, talented sidekick.  The plot lines are solid, it's always well-written dialogue, and the art.  The art.

All the panels are absolutely gorgeous.  Williams' skill is unparalleled in pictorial storytelling.  Every detail is perfect.  I just love looking at it.  And he uses layout and color and shadowing to give the story so much resonance.

So when I heard two months ago that Williams and Blackman are leaving DC because the comic prevented them from showing main character Kate Kane marrying fiance Maggie Sawyer, I was enraged.  There are so few comics with strong lady characters that aren't deranged.  And so very few with complex, fleshed-out female characters, especially queer ones.  And even rarer, all that in such an exquisite comic.

I would have given DC money for the rest of my life if they'd kept up this comic, but yet again, they're proving themselves to be enormous idiots.  

I'll be reading back issues of Promethea and anything Terry Moore puts out.  Adios, DC.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Death Stories

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer this year, and I honestly was at a complete loss.  Paralyzed for days, I cast around for an appropriate response or way to relate to what she was going through.  Mobilizing care was pretty straightforward, but what might come after... well.  I had no way of understanding that or even having any kind of response other than a numbing confusion.

You see, my family doesn't do death.

I come from a crew of Christian Scientists, which means that death isn't a part of the conversation.  Everyone gets uncomfortable when it comes up, shifting in their seats and looking away.  We talk about people passing on, but no one ever dies.  They're "in a better place" or they've "gone over", which sounds like they're just around the bend somewhere, hanging out in the mist, still touchable and present if we can just catch up with them. 

This lack of narrative about the finality of death came to the forefront when my mother-in-law was diagnosed.  Every time the possibility that she might die came up, I would brush it off, or get wildly irritable and defensive, lashing out at my poor husband, who was dealing with his own confusing mix of worry and grief at the thought of losing his mom.  My therapist finally asked the gentle question of what rituals my family had about death, and when I burst into tears, she teased out the truth that death makes me really damn uncomfortable.

I don't have any framework to understand it.  It seems so vast and encompassing.  I don't know how to cope with someone being gone forever.  And further, I don't know if I can handle the slow decline into the final days.  Cancer is a huge jerk, and I hate it.  Alzheimer's took both of my grandmothers, heart disease took one of my grandpas.  Watching those final days was rough.

But, we all die.  There is an end.  I have to find a way to cope with the death of my loved ones, and my own, eventual, end.

In other cultures, there are rituals to help us die.  There are narratives about the life cycle and the graceful retreat into death.  We need those stories.  We need those rituals.  I need them.

So, I'm doing a research project about death.  I watched this TED talk today by Amanda Bennett, about her husband Terrance's vibrant life and death from cancer.  Together, they fought cancer 3 times successfully.  The last time, it was time to let go.  Until the end, they thought they could keep fighting.  In fact, they didn't say goodbye, because they were so wrapped in their hope.

Hope isn't denial, Amanda says. In fact, hope is what we cling to because death, in our culture, means failure. When people die, it's because they have failed to keep living. But this makes our stories sad.

Instead, she posits, we need a heroic narrative about death. We need to be hopeful, and not thought to be in denial.  We can keep the stories that we are fighters, that our doctors are healers, and then when it is time to go, we can leave knowing that we put in a good fight. 

We need a way to leave as grandly as we came in and lived our lives. This will make the exit joyful and we can be proud of it. Hope isn't a bug; it's a feature.

There will be more of this as I sort through my complicated feelings about death.  But you should watch this, because it's heartwarming.

The Pitch of Genius

I wonder if there's a spectrum of genius.  We typically note genius when we observe that someone's talents and capabilities lie far above the norm, or at least, the rest of us.  But I wonder if there's a more graduated scale.  And how might we define it?  And once we've defined it, how can we nurture it?

This TED performance by Derek Paravicini is truly amazing.  Born more than 3 months early, Derek is blind and severely autistic, has perfect pitch and can play full melodies on the piano from memory.  Adam Ockelford has been Derek's piano teacher from childhood, and explains that Derek understands music systematically: since he is unable to see the keys or read music, he memorizes how the melody should go, and then replays it.

The audience picked a song, and he played it from memory.  He can also improvise songs for a completely different take on it.

It's so interesting how the brain works. It's like the brain is a constant improvisation shaped by DNA, circumstance, and our teachers and loved ones who encourage us to grown, learn, and inspire others down the road.