Tag Archives: sleep

Stories and dreams in the night.

I was slightly embarrassed to tell about my recent story-listening, because of the time of day I’ve chosen for the vicarious experience, of living in India, caught up in the web of dysfunctional families and disordered souls.

It’s when I wake in the middle of the night and am unable to go back to sleep; I find I am not up to praying near as long as my mind might be wakeful, so I listen to stories. I have run through all that’s available of my latest favorite storytellers, and lately settled on a collection by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, because she is very good, I already know that. It won’t do to listen to writing that is likely to annoy me for any number of reasons, in the wee hours.

It’s the sadness of the stories that makes me think they might not be the best fodder for my mind, which I’m trying to lull back to sleep. But — you could say that sad feelings and events play a part in all human stories, and Prawer Jhabvala’s are not dark in a modern way; many people point out the humorous and kind aspects. I won’t try to assess how this author’s point of view differs from others who are skilled at drawing characters and pulling you into their worlds, but many of the stories end suddenly with disappointment or a feeling of hopelessness. She wrote about this:

“I think most of my novels do end on a deep note of pessimism. Shadows seem to be closing in. The final conclusion isn’t that life is wonderful and everything is bright and cheery and in the garden.”

Whether or not you recognize the name of Prawer Jhabvala, you might be very familiar with her work as a screenwriter for Merchant Ivory Productions. From their beginning she worked with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant on more than 20 films, including “Room With a View” and “Howards End,” and adaptations of several of her own novels, such as Heat and Dust, which was the first of her works I ever read, with amazement, quite a while ago.

Her early life was full of drama and suffering. In 1939 Ruth the adolescent fled with her Jewish parents from Germany to Britain, and lived through World War II and the Blitz in England. After the war, when her father learned that 40 members of his family had died during the Holocaust, he took his own life. About this trauma she said, “All my stories have a melancholy undertone. That’s probably why.”

Ruth Prawer married an Indian architect and raised three daughters with him in India. Later she moved to New York and became a U.S. citizen; she died in 2013 at the age of 85. She was a shy and quiet woman, which I imagine contributed to her powers of observation. “I’m more interested in other people than myself.”

I have had only happy dreams since beginning to listen to this collection of her stories, At the End of the Century… until last night. If it weren’t for the dream I had, I wouldn’t try to tell you anything about someone whose writing I hold in such high esteem. And at first I did not connect the dream to my reading material; I just thought it hilarious. But then, thinking about it as I woke, it made me (a little) sad in a way that these very human stories could never do.

The presenting problem of my dream was that I could not find my “favorite emoji” on my phone. I ended up at a big warehouse store where one could browse extensive catalogs of parts that were somehow both physical and digital, from which to concoct one’s own emoji, such as faces that had been “discontinued,” because only the most popular emojis were part of the default options on the apps. The dream ended before I ever managed to restore my old emoji habits, and I’m not sure but I was about to give up and just do without. But which emoji do you think I felt so in need of? The simple “crying face.”

Isn’t it odd, what the mind will do with all that goes into the mix throughout the day (and night) to produce dreams? (For the record, I do not have a favorite emoticon.) Our prayers of Compline and Prayers Before Sleep lead us to pray that God would “quench the flaming arrows of the evil one” and “lull to sleep all our earthly and material reasonings,” that we may be granted “a tranquil sleep, free of every fantasy of Satan.”

Truly, over the last few years when I’ve been living my own story of loss, which might have been full of flaming arrows and bad dreams at any hour of the day or night, I have been well protected from darkness of the spiritual kind. And I do not claim that God gives me my dreams, but they are often quite amusing, the way they capture some crazy truth.

The contrast between Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s nuanced and exquisite writing, with — an emoji? Well, if that’s the best the “forces of evil” can throw against me in the night, I should be grateful. But I also feel amused and insulted, to have waked with those simplistic images and a self-service version of an Apple Store in my thoughts. The whole experience confirms what I just shared yesterday, about being fed up with screens. And of emoticons? I’m considering a boycott!

gulab jamun
Indian sweets called gulab jamun.

 

Sleeping must be won without pride.

How to Sleep

Child in the womb,
Or saint on a tomb –
Which way shall I lie
To fall asleep?
The keen moon stares
From the back of the sky,
The clouds are all home
Like driven sheep.

Bright drops of time,
One and two chime,
I turn and lie straight
With folded hands;
Convent-child, Pope,
They chose this state,
And their minds are wiped calm
As sea-levelled sands.

So my thoughts are:
But sleep stays as far,
Till I crouch on one side
Like a foetus again –
For sleeping, like death,
Must be won without pride,
With a nod from nature,
With a lack of strain,
And a loss of stature.

-Philip Larkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painting by César Gemayel

I eat bread and take naps.

Last week I took a nap three days in a row, something I’m sure I hadn’t done since I was three years old! What it was about my condition or the environment that facilitated that, I am still pondering….

I’d flown from my daughter’s new home in Wisconsin to Tucson, Arizona, to visit friends Martin and Mabel. Those are nicknames, of course. If I didn’t care about preserving their privacy I’d use their real names, which are more beautiful and carry for me some of the flavor of who they are. These people are dear to me because of what we have shared over several decades: joys and sorrows and homeschooling, food and gardens, chickens and laughing and lots of babies. And over all and in all, the love of God.

Mabel confessed to me once that she just wanted “to make bread and babies,” and I always wished I had thought to say that first. But no one could hope to match her turns of phrase, songs that spring up from her good heart ready to bless and teach, and her amazing metaphors. On this visit she described Martin and herself as being a heavy stone on the end of a string, keeping a helium balloon with a happy face on it from floating away. I don’t remember who was symbolized by the balloon (It wasn’t me!)

The temperature was mostly in the 80’s while I was there, maybe the low 90’s, but as their house is about 2500′ elevation and the desert air is so dry, I never felt uncomfortably warm. Their spirit was peaceful, no air conditioning spoiled the mild October atmosphere, Mabel and Martin both cooked healthy food for me, and the bed was firm. I took the cure.

We talked and talked, drank tea, and walked a little  –  then I strolled alone Sunday morning in the cool air, and admired the mesquite trees, ocotillos, purple cactuses and palo verde trees. I attended Divine Liturgy at the elegant and evidently new Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church.

Mabel has not stopped making bread, and she fed me two kinds — first a hearty no-knead oatmeal stout bread baked during my visit. Then sourdough rye from a Tassajara Bread Book recipe; she sliced a good portion of that loaf into a ziploc for me to take on my journey home. I can’t remember ever eating anything like that bread, each fat slice sustaining enough to the body and soul that a single one would have done for a meal — but orange zest, caraway and other seeds combined in a flavor whirl that made me unwilling to wait for the next meal to have that experience again.

I think God knew that it would be hard to come back home where the fires were still burning, to a ravaged land full of sad stories, so He provided these friends to remind me of and lavish on me His everlasting Love, to shore me up beforehand. And He surprised me with naps!

I hadn’t cracked open my own copy of the Tassajara Bread Book in a very long time — my book that I bought because of Mabel in the first place. But I came home determined to revive once again my old sourdough habits, at least long enough to bake up a batch of that Sourdough Rye. It’s not as easy to turn out a homey metaphor or proverb that pleases, or to make pizza dough like Martin does, but I guess that just means I’ll have to visit again soon.

 

 

Love and Adventure

P1030560ed I walked behind my car across the shoulder of the highway, and crunched closer to the whitened meadow to snap a picture. Immediately snow and dirt fell into my shoes as I dropped a foot down through the crust. I didn’t even get a good picture for all that, but I didn’t regret making the effort and taking a chance.

Just breathing in the cold mountain air was making me giddy, and the wet places in my socks soon faded from my consciousness. I love the excitement of being in the mountains in the winter. Even if I do have to take pictures from inside my vehicle.

In telling the story of my trip to western Nevada last week, I’ve exclaimed to many people, “I was in the cloud the whole way — there was not one minute in the whole five hours when I didn’t have to use my wipers, usually at full speed!” But now I realize that that wasn’t exactly true: I had forgotten this two minutes at least, when I was actually able to get out of the car with my camera and not get it wet.

(I wish I could paint some clouds into these first few photos so that the white sky wouldn’t blend seamlessly into the white screen here on my blog!)gl P1030548ed

No accidents happened on the freeway in spite of the drenching that slowed traffic for hours; I didn’t see anyone driving recklessly fast. Probably they were all thinking like me: “This is glorious! Think of all the reservoirs filling up! We love the rain, so let’s just enjoy being slowed down a bit because of nature’s gifts.”

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Long before I got close to Nevada, though, my route took me through wine country, whose colors were extra vibrant with the rain falling on them. Every year I try to take pictures of the mustard in the vineyards or pastures, and every year I pretty much fail. The solution to my problem must be a helicopter, hovering at the perfect height above the bloom, from which to view my mustard fields from the most revealing angle.

Or, I need to learn to paint, and then try to find the few minutes between March rainshowers when I could sit near a soggy display and catch the essence on my canvas. I love springtime in the wine country, so in the future I will probably repeat my same old lazy way of engaging with its brilliant contrasts.

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While enjoying the scenery I listened to classical music for as long as the station came through. They played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which in my youth was the first classical piece I paid much attention to, because we studied it in Music Appreciation class when I was a college freshman. Now it is so familiar to me that hearing it for those few minutes roused me as though I were listening from the balcony at the symphony. I love Beethoven’s Fifth.

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Eventually I did ascend into the forest, where what I think are willows show more color than they will later on when they leaf out. Maybe there are several species of bushes that make these orangey splashes against the snow, or against the desert brownness where they grow in rows along creeks.  Anyway, I love how they decorate the landscape.

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I was headed east, and eventually crossed into Nevada. I’ve written about this part of the arid West before, in 2011 and in 2014. You might like to look at that more recent post to see how beautiful it is in early summer; I was able to stay a few days that time and take lots of pictures. I love the Carson Valley, every season I have been there.

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The reason for my foray into the storm was to visit my friends Jacob and Rosemary upon the occasion of their chrismation into the Orthodox Church, and to be Rosemary’s sponsor, or godmother. That was a wondrous thing, but that is not really my story to tell. I love being at their house, full of books and food and comfortable friendship. I love them.P1030598

I loved being part of this momentous day, a participant in the sacrament by which they were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, being anointed on cheeks, forehead, hands… Now I am related to Rosemary in a deeper way even than our already sisterly friendship.

After the chrismation service and Divine Liturgy, we came back to the house with more friends and enjoyed the many delicious things that Rosemary had been preparing for a week in advance, including “Gyroll,” and a lemon tart.

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I had planned to return home on Monday, but because I’d have had to drive in snow and ice, and take more pictures from my car, I put off my departure one more day. We were all happy to have a few more hours together of relaxing and talking and reading. Jacob makes the best popcorn. I love popcorn.

I even took a walk in a nearly freezing rain, and admired the xeriscapes at that elevation of 5,000 ft. Everyone uses some rock, because it is natural and doesn’t require irrigation, and so many rocks are beautiful. It helps control erosion from the torrents that can flow down through the neighborhood from the higher heights. I love rocks.

I slept incredibly well in my guest quarters, which was interesting because I was in the middle of reading 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. It’s about how we are being robbed of our sleep by society’s demands to perform and be constantly responsible. But I was with sensible people and we all affirmed that sleep is good, even while one of us sent an email at 2:00 a.m. and another one checked his (or her?) phone an hour later, thus demonstrating the reality of what the author laments. The Bible commands, “Love not sleep,” but it also says that “He gives His people sleep,” so I feel it is okay to admit that I love sleep, as a gift from the Lord.

Finally the morning came when I would set off on the last leg of my adventure. Truly, anytime you get out of bed in the morning you have to be ready for adventure, but driving alone on strange roads, which may be icy, is upping the suspense of Anything Could Happen.

Jacob and Rosemary live on the east side of Carson Valley, so as I set off down the slope from their house, this was my view, looking across the valley to the range of mountains I would cross on my way back to California. It is the Carson Range, considered a spur of the Sierra Nevada that lie mostly to the west. And this was also the most blue sky I saw in five days:P1030601 across Carson Vly to west

I was fearless, it seemed, eager to climb higher again. I was going home a slightly different way, and interested to see the sights on the Kingsbury Grade, a route I wasn’t familiar with. The weather was supposed to be partly cloudy, with no rain until the afternoon. But plenty of snow had fallen in the night, and I wanted to see it from the freshly plowed highway.

The pastures are green even now, from all the rain, making the high-elevation farms beautiful against the hills. The Carson Range doesn’t get nearly as much rain and snow as the primary ranges of the Sierra Nevada to the west of Lake Tahoe, but recently it got more than a sprinkling.

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As I looked back from the mountain slope, this was my view of the Carson Valley looking east to the Pine Nut Mountains:

P1030623 ed Carson Vly fr K Gr

But when I got closer to the top, the valley is barely visible in the distance (my trusty all-wheel-drive Subaru in the foreground.)

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I don’t often experience snow. The last time, I had been with my husband in mountains very near here, and I briefly and bittersweetly remembered that day. But this day I was consumed with loving God’s creation, being thankful for the strange stuff that is snow, delighting in being there. I hadn’t been thinking about this, just doing it. He was my companion on my journey, and that must have been why I wasn’t feeling lonely or having anxiety about traveling solo.

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It’s a steep grade, so before long I was at Daggett Summit, elevation 7,334 feet. The trees were loaded with snow up there, much of it having fallen just the day before. Clumps were falling in showers of wet flakes and splashing on my windshield. The temperature was just above freezing.

In another two hours I was out of the mountains and in the Central Valley. I visited with Pearl for an hour, and got home  before dark.

It had been such a satisfying expedition. Not the kind of excitement that some people associate with adventure, but plenty of the sort of newness that is a reminder and an expression of Him Who changes not, but whose Life fills every moment.

The unexpected aspect of adventure came in the form of weather developments that made me change my plans. It was kind of my Father to arrange for such a mild and pleasant happening for me to deal with, at this season of my life; He knows I’m not really the adventurous type. It seems that love for my family and friends makes me go forth and travel, and then His love and companionship and the beauty of this world He gave us thrill my soul, more than any wild and perilous sort of adventure could. I love Him.