I wish that I could have back all the hours I have spent thinking foolish, mundane, transient, and inconsequential thoughts in the middle of the night so that I can reinvest them in something more productive, like, say, eating ice cream. I have an overactive mind. My mind is akin to a dog at the beach. I have to constantly reign it in. The good thing is that I have made inroads in recent years in banishing worrying from my internal landscape; really, I have. I don’t worry as much as I once did.
Back in the day, I worried at night about money, my husband’s health, and what crazy thing my adult children would do that would cost me money (e.g., drop the cell phone into a vat of boiling spaghetti while doing an imitation of Julia Child, knock the laptop off the desk while demonstrating a snowboarding move and shatter the screen, trip over all those dirty clothes on the floor and fall sideways into a mirror that never got mounted on the wall breaking the glass and slashing the ankle thus incurring a massive ER bill). During the years when I struggled to keep my worries at bay during the night, I would lie awake thinking about stuff like the cost of organic blueberries, what to wear to my daughter’s college graduation (and whether or not this warranted the purchase of new shoes), climate change, debt from putting the children through college, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, flab on my upper arms, my fear that young people will stop reading books, computer viruses, environmental toxins in food, how long it would take the paramedics to arrive if my husband had a stroke, the pervasive rise of stupidity, finding a comfortable nightgown, nuclear holocaust, will I get enough work to support my family?, will my novels ever get published?, whether the cat is vomiting on my sofa while I’m sleeping, and do I really exist? If I don’t exist, then do I need to pay off by debt? Fortunately I have developed mental exercises to banish these kinds of thoughts from my mind most of the time (and I learned about some great anti-stress nutraceuticals when going to Nutrition College). Lately I am way better about not worrying. Instead my brain seems to be invaded by useless ridiculous thoughts in the middle of the night.
So I still lie awake with thoughts racing. This does not happen every night, but it happens too often and the thoughts that keep me awake are usually a waste of time. When I have a lot of work on my plate or many things to accomplish the next day, I sometimes lie awake doing the work or accomplishing the things in my head. I finish them in my mind, fall asleep, wake up, and get to do them all over again. Déjà vu on steroids. These efforts are not as much fun the second time around. If only I could solve great questions of quantum physics, figure out how to achieve world peace, or conceive of the great American novel in my head at 3 AM (and remember it all when I wake up). Or at the very least, if I clean the bathrooms and close the garden beds for the winter in my mind in the middle of the night, if only the bathrooms would be clean and the garden beds closed when I wake in the morning.
I have wasted irretrievable chunks of time moving furniture around in my head in the middle of the night. Whenever we have sold a house, bought a house, and moved, I have spent hours imagining where I will put all my stuff in a new house. Most of the time, I imagine where I will put all my stuff in a house that I never actually buy. When we had our house on the market last year, my realtor warned me that we would have more difficulty selling it because we still live in it. She said that people have trouble imagining how they will live in a house when it’s not entirely empty (or at least staged with a minimal selection of tasteful furniture, designer pasta in glass jars, striped throw pillows, and porcelain Siamese cats). Seriously? People have such paltry imaginations that they can’t imagine their stuff in a house with stuff already in it? I moved all my stuff into other people’s houses nightly for months. I simply threw their stuff in a big dumpster in my mind and co-opted their space. I ripped out shrubbery, installed new bathroom fixtures, made the house wheelchair accessible, moved walls, added a potting shed, tore out carpeting and replaced it with wood floors, changed the lightbulbs to fluorescents, and cooked, served, and ate food I had grown in a new garden planted in the backyard (instead of the lawn) to my friends; and all in just one night’s work. Plus I kept there adorable terrier and renamed her Zora.
I have spent too many deep night hours agonizing over whether to pick a quarterback or a running back first in the Fantasy Football Draft, whether or not to stain my newly stripped kitchen chairs before putting a protective finish on them, whether to switch to a new hair stylist, whether to plant my tomatoes in April or May, whether to reread One Hundred Years of Solitude, whether to pay off my credit card or set more money aside in my savings account, whether to take my car through the car wash or just wash it myself, whether to throw out my old pink house dress or to sew up the holes in it again and keep wearing it because it’s so comfortable, what to wear to the beach, whether to make an artichoke frittata or an asparagus frittata, what to write about on my blog, whether to switch to a different brand of dishwashing soap, and whether or not it’s too late in the night to take a Benadryl. Life is challenging. These are important questions, right? Wrong. Argh. Go to sleep already.
This is not an allegory about making every moment of your life count. It is not a word of advice about being present in the living moment. This is about taming the mental beast. I want to be able to tell myself, at 3 AM, that I have bigger fish to fry. It does not matter if I can’t remember the name of my second-grade teacher who kept the snake in the classroom and told me I would be a terrific nurse when I grew up. Which I would not. I would be a terrible nurse. But what was the name of that teacher? It doesn’t matter. This is not information that informs my life in any way. Argh. Go to sleep already.
I don’t mind lying awake at night thinking about something of consequence. If I start writing fiction in my head, I can give myself permission to stay awake for hours. If I start writing a nasty letter to the newspaper about the guy who cut in line in front of me at the grocery store in my head, I want to get that out of my head. “Not worth a moment’s thought,” as they say. I want to choose what thoughts I will dwell on and what thoughts I will discard. I need to take my brain to obedience school. This is why I don’t meditate. If I ever actually manage to clear my mind of all thoughts then I fall asleep. I am incapable of reciting a single mantra-word repeatedly in my head for even one minute. Mischievous other words dart in and out at their whim. Puns happen. Limericks even. And we all know that limericks are a gateway to hardcore legitimate literary forms.
While I am able to tame my unruly thoughts and focus them on a job at hand more successfully in the light of day, I seem to lack this capacity in the middle of the night. I seem to be doomed to wasting hours in the night imagining the National Book Award acceptance speech that I will never make and thinking up names for my pet parrot if I had one. Argh. Go to sleep already.
What would you call this parrot? No, wait until 3 AM to think about it.