Why do we do that voodoo we do?

It’s 3:13 TIME in the morning and I can’t sleep. Haven’t been able to all week.

Some Israeli science wizards did a study that found sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep are both detrimental to one’s cognition. I’m not sure who’d find this newsworthy. If you’re getting solid sleep, your cognition’s unimpaired, so this finding’s about as revelatory as a study on how eating week-old sushi left out in the sun can suck; if, like me, you aren’t getting sleep, then you’re already aware of the negative side effects and don’t need some Tel Aviv wise-asses to clue you in.

I can’t sleep because I live in a basement apartment and someone upstairs is blasting the TV.

Given the hell that was the last apartment I was in and was thrilled to escape, a loud TV is a misdemeanor. And this apartment is delicious to live in during the summer—it’s always super-cool. Like, it can be in the 90s outside and I’m inside wearing a sweatshirt. But I know I’ll have to move by autumn, because when it’s in the 40s outside the temps in here drops to the 30s. And I did not work as hard as I did to escape decades of the outer planet frigidity of upstate NY so I could move to LI and pay more than most people’s mortgages to freeze my ass off.

My next move will mean my sixth address in sixteen months. I never understood the appeal of home ownership before this year. Now the universe has beaten that awareness into my head like Germany beat Brazil.


The other day a friend and I were discussing some of their recent hardships, a few of which were analogous to what I dealt with last summer, when I was dumped out of the blue by an ex who’d taken everything I had to give and then booted my ass because she couldn’t do monogamy; as expected, this epiphany lasted a handful of months, until the rent and heating bills piled up, at which point monogamy suddenly ceased seeming so oppressive and she settled down with someone new (emphasis on some-one). Shortly after the breakup I suffered a strained groin, because the universe apparently thought piling injury on top of insult was just the sort of super terrific happy fun time I needed.
My friend mentioned something I said last summer about being “tired of justifying my life.” I don’t remember saying that, but it made me wonder: why do we sacrifice? What do we hope to gain when we surrender?

This week, I wrote a piece for a sports site I write for. I was super proud, both of how it came out and what I put into it. I did more research than I have for any other sports article, mostly examining decades of contract histories and collective bargaining language (hot, right?). It was all done and ready to run. My editor liked it. But it can’t be run yet, and may never be. Because we have to wait until Carmelo Anthony makes a decision on his next career move; depending what he does, the verb forms could change, or he might make a decision that forces certain parts of the story to be thoroughly revised, or he might render the entire piece irrelevant and scrapped. This decision was supposed to be announced Monday. Then Wednesday. Then today. There’s still been no decision, and despite all the breathless rumors and saturation coverage, no one has any more of a clue which way he’s leaning now than a week ago, a month ago. I have literally been Googling “Carmelo” every other minute for a week, at least; if Carmelo saw my browser history he could probably convince a judge to issue a restraining order.

I’m working on a novel about a couple with a child who has severe emotional disturbances and violent outbreaks. The couple are an unsustainable pair who can’t leave each other even though they should. I started this story years ago as a novella, which then shrunk down to a short story, which then became an allegory for a mythological creature called the myrmecoleon, then had angels and demons and Heaven and Hell and dozens of magical realist creatures and twists added, all of which I cut after pitching the story to a few agents and watching their eyes dim and glaze over the moment they heard the magical realist bits.
The story was coming along well in the fall, but it fell to the backburner because—and I hope you’re sitting when you read this—adjunct professoring is not the glamorous sexy luxurious career path you may have been misled to believe. I love teaching. LOVE it. When I’m in the classroom teaching and learning from a room full of curious thinkers, it doesn’t feel like I’m working; it feels like hanging out and having a good time playing brain games. But reading and responding to thousands of pages of writing requires a volume of energy that doesn’t replenish the moment the semester ends. It’s mentally exhausting.

I kept pushing myself to just hang in till mid-May. Once the semester’s over, I’ll have 7 weeks of free time. That’s 49 days! 1,176 hours! 70,560 minutes! 4,233,600 seconds! It’ll be glorious! I’ll just churn out winner after winner. But the greatest danger when budgeting time or money is that you can’t account for reality until it hits you.

I was exhausted by the time the semester ended. Depleted. My body had a better idea of how sleep- and brain-cell-deprived I’d become. During the school year, even on off days, I couldn’t sleep in past 7:30. The first day after the semester ended, I slept till noon. This rhythm lasted for weeks. I didn’t resist. Quoth Cosmo Kramer: “I don’t argue with the body…that’s an argument you can’t win.” I knew I couldn’t win. I just didn’t think it’d take my body so long to win.

When I was 14, I went to the doctor for a physical. My regular doctor wasn’t there. The substitute doctor had me strip down to my underwear and lay down on a table. This wasn’t what my usual doctor did, but biology was never my strong suit, so I rolled with it. As I lay there, he paced around the table. Never examined me. Never checked my eyes or ears or tapped my knee to see if it’d kick. He didn’t do anything other than circle the table repeatedly. He kept mmmming. I shit you not. He mmmm’d.

“You have a lovely body. You’re going to be really tall,” he said. “Like six-foot four.”

I probably should have left before he got to the mmmming. But I was happy with how the exam turned out. I’d decided I was going to play in the NBA, so this diagnosis was music to my ears. Spoiler: I am not six-foot four, and the closest I’ve come to being an NBA player is when X-rays recently revealed I have plantar fasciitis, an injury common to ballers. As a result, I had to toss most of my footwear, invest in a pair of high-arch shoes, and give up my lifelong love of being barefoot. I’ve now worn that same pair of high-arch shoes every day for four months and won’t be able to get a new pair for 4-6 weeks, because while seven weeks off from teaching is spiritually replenishing, seven weeks without a paycheck is financially draining.

I spend night after night alone in a basement apartment working on sports articles that may never see the light of day. I spend night after night writing a novel that I know the odds are against me ever finishing; if I do, the odds are even greater that no one will ever publish it; if they do, the odds are greater still that it won’t sell. Sometimes it makes me wonder: have I become too old for those dreams I dreamed while younger? Do I need new dreams? Fewer dreams? Better dreams?

Then a wave of silence washes over me and I realize the TV upstairs is off, and that if it hadn’t been blaring earlier I would have been sleeping instead of writing this. The universe really does know best, even if I can’t understand what it’s up to. It’s 4:30 a.m. This is why we offer up our sacrifices with joy. Not to gain what we think we want, but to pursue, with the odds against us, what we know we need.



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