In Praise of Sleeplessness

Written by Lee Schneider

Getting less sleep lately, and it’s not a bad thing. Here’s why. Thanks to the folks at Zipcar, who picked up half the cost, I was able to drive out to meet architectural pioneer Michelle Kaufmann and interview her for an upcoming SHELTER blog. Michelle has not only explored new ways of creating sustainable housing, but she is also fixing our buildings so they aren’t killing us. (“Officer, I’d like you to arrest that building for murder.”) I also met Nipun Mehta of Charity Focus, Karma Tube, and Karma Kitchen — projects that are world-changers. Nipun makes awesome chai without needing to measure any of his ingredients. He also knows how to make social change using social capital. I’m up nightly thinking about how I might make films that way, using creative people paid in karma bucks. More on that soon.

For now, let’s look at this staying up at night business. Actually, it starts in the morning when I am busy walking into walls. By ten I am able to form sentences, at least in my head. By six in the evening I am fully on, and by midnight ready to create great meaning. One in the morning – pure genius. Surrendering to sleep seems like defeat.

As Lisa Russ Spaar wrote in the New York Times recently, “For the insomniac Vladimir Nabokov, I think that sleep, which he called ‘the most moronic fraternity in the world, with the heaviest dues and the crudest rituals,’ meant turning off, even for a few hours, his quicksilver, voracious consciousness.”

Um, I don’t know if I have a quicksilver consciousness, but voracious works for me, and once I start the big thinking machine it’s really hard to turn off. As a result, we’ve instituted a few rules. No computers after 10 pm. No media unless it’s Sesame Street or Shirley Temple films. My wife likes to welcome sleep by reading in bed. Not me, so I spend many minutes flossing to give her time to concentrate on a few pages. Then the sleep boat leaves the dock.

Well, nighttime isn’t what it used to be, anyway. Way back when, night was dead calm if you wanted it that way. No emails, no phones. Your timekeeper was the groan of a garbage truck signaling 5 am; time to hug your pillow for an hour or two before work. Now, always, there’s Somebody Out There. Somebody’s Twitter feed to check, or Facebook statuses to poke through like dirty laundry on a dorm room floor.

Staying up all night doesn’t guarantee solitude, but it’s worth it if what you like to do is chase words across a screen or make a jumble of video clips sing their song. For that, I’ll skip a few Z’s.

Lee Schneider is creative director at Red Cup Agency.


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