I went nine months without REM sleep.
This must be an exaggeration (me? exaggerate?). I recall a general truth that a few nights without REM leads to insanity.
So maybe it’s not an exaggeration.
What I know is that suddenly, for the past few nights, I’ve swirled deeply once more into the darkness of REM: I’ve had to perform in a play for which I’ve not read the script, which I have to (unsuccessfully) piece together from crumpled up wads of paper before hitting the stage (thankfully not naked).
I’ve fallen down a swampish hole, deep and narrow, brackish and oozing. I can’t climb back up; the edges fall off in my hands when I grip the sides, which close in on me as I try to climb and instead pull the sides down on myself. I look up, like that boy in the sewer in Schindler’s List.
I’ve discovered stinking mounds of moist turds in my sink, a message from someone who hated me. I don’t know who or why (if it’s you, give me a call and we’ll work it out; sorry for whatever I did to piss you off).
And elevators. Oh, the elevators. You do not want to get on one of my dream elevators.
Nary a single happy, or even marginally content, dream. Never a placid canoe moment; always the Titanic.
I wake up before the dreams conclude. If I don’t wake up, the dream sequence continues down its frustrating, unsolvable maze until someone’s alarm goes off.
Anxiety dreams, the Man I Married calls them (he does not have them; he flies, he prances, he bathes in streams of cider). Perhaps they’re closer to nightmares. They are the only kind of dreams I have ever had, or at least the only dreams I ever remember having. They’re a bad best friend, and it wouldn’t seem like such a terrible thing when she heads to Tijuana for a while for a fake Gucci purse and an excess of margaritas, leaving you in peace.
I’m not an anxious person in real life, except when MIM is one-finger driving while drinking coffee, or shopping for property on cliffs and in swamps, or working power tools without eye protection…or when the phone rings and Caller ID displays the Little Monster’s school’s number.
Yet after these last few nights, it’s clear to me that these are Drano Dreams. They clear out the disgusting hairballs clogging my brain. They flush out the stinking piles of turds.
Despite the awful dreams this week, I feel refreshed when I wake up. I stayed awake until the end of American Idol for the first time this season. I wake up cheerful again. “Rub my belly,” I grinned at MIM this morning. Hey, the dog does it every morning with satisfactory results; why not give it a try?
These types of dreams are no stranger to me, but they’ve been a stranger to me for the duration of a pregnancy, since pain in my hip has kept me awake. REM is the point of sleep at which the large voluntary muscles of the body are paralyzed; something about this state of relaxation caused the pain to bugle like the start of the Kentucky Derby. If I dreamed at all for the last nine months, I never woke up remembering them, and I never felt like I’d descended into that deep mind space where the dead leaves get raked out of my thoughts.
What caused this sudden onset of pain? “Did you trip on a curb?” I’ve been asked by my physical therapist and two doctors. “Stub your toe? Stumble?” Um, yeah; yes to all of the above, every day. How am I to remember one stumble amidst all the clumsy fumbles?
Finally I was awarded the diagnosis of “degeneration” in the hip joint, which will continue to worsen; it is no coincidence that “degeneration” and “you are getting old” have the same number of syllables. The reward for diagnosis was a steroid injection in my hip, after months of humiliating physical therapy in which my PT dug his elbow into my ass or rolled cannon balls up my thigh, or I practiced exercises like “clam shell” at home, which would look great in a porn video, but with me on my saggy mattress in my torn flannels? Believe me, MIM didn’t get any ideas about climbing back into the sack with me.
I started dreaming again the night after I got the steroid shot in my hip. The injection hasn’t been the miracle cure I hoped for, but it apparently worked immediate magic as far as nighttime pain. I’ve dreamt deeply again every night since.
I’m no stranger to pain and illness (who isn’t?), but they’ve never prevented me from writing (unless I’ve got my head over the toilet bowl)—just the opposite: I often write because of or about my uncooperative body. Much of my fiction and nonfiction touches on miscarriage and infertility treatments, and I dug literary meaning out of the shingles.
But chronic pain—with no definite reason and no end in sight—is something else entirely.
I had thought that my less-than-successful months of writing were due to weariness; I’m fucking tired all the time. I couldn’t wait for bedtime, when I would again not sleep (another definition of insanity).
I also thought that my dampened creativity was due to my lack of daily walks; for years I’ve walked at least three and up to five miles per day. My walking time is writing time, when I go deep into whatever creative problem I’m working out—like dreaming while awake; my brain makes connections or finds a single perfect word that I try to hold onto until I can get home to write it down (I’m often not smart enough to carry a pen and paper). But I can’t enter that meditative state when what I’m thinking is, “This hurts. I’m just going to sit on this curb until the trash collector hauls me away.” If I did manage a word or a thought, I couldn’t give a rip or summon the energy to write it down when I got home. Normally I have to slow my pace to walk with others; at shopping malls I act like many drivers on the freeway, darting in and out to find clear lanes, only to come up on the rear bumpers of fanned-out dawdlers. I lay on my mental horn. If my thoughts were secretly recorded, I would be impeached. Now I’m in the metaphorical right lane of life.
Or maybe not writing was because of a low-grade depression; freshly washed jeans now contained enemy zippers, so I quit washing them. Reduction in exercise was not kind to the way my clothes fit. Not that I’ve ever been a thin person, but there is a tipping point. Where is the real me in all this? I’m no longer a walker or a writer or a morning person; my metaphorical and literal wardrobe no longer fit.
Or maybe, just maybe, not feeling the urge to write was simply because of the pain itself. Who gives a shit about unpaid writing, which will remain largely unread, when the greater impulse is to become a drug addict?
Then came the guilt: Eudora Welty or whoever it was wrote brilliant volumes in the brief windows that opened during whatever disease it was that kept her bedridden. Yeah, well, Eudora didn’t have the internet.
I’d never considered that lack of dreaming was at the root of my non-creativity. My brain was constipated: ain’t nothin’ going in or out. I’d been struggling to vacuum with a full bag.
I recently learned that bears eat dried materials, which form an “anal plug” that keeps everything in the bear’s body while they hibernate. When they emerge from hibernation, they eat skunk cabbage to soften the anal plug and blow that sucker out.
I’d always heard that bears emerged from hibernation grumpy because they are so hungry. Now I know that they are grumpy because they have a dry anal plug (containing sticks!) following them around, and they have to eat a stinky plant that is called skunk cabbage for good reason; the process cannot be considered enjoyable by anybody’s standards, even if you’ve got a little fixation going on back there.
I can identify with the bears’ grumpiness. I’ve had an anal plug of the brain.
Sven Birkerts writes, “Memoir begins not with event but with the intuition of meaning.”
My brain is making connections again in creative terms. Call it inspiration, or connection, or intuition—it’s the real Gucci, arriving back home in a muffler-less car in a cloud of diesel smoke, blaring Metallica, top down, yelling that she missed you, and what a hangover.
REM sleep is sometimes called paradoxical sleep, due to the contrast between the high brain activity and the physical immobility of the sleeper. Paradoxical sleep makes perfect sense to me: negativity and impossibility wash my dreams, coating them with offal stuck in the wrong places…but I wake up once more feeling that anything and everything is possible.
The Erotica Writer’s Husband & Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition at Amazon
12.5 humorous stories about sex and the sexes. These sensual yet comic stories offer a fresh take on literary erotic fiction, as if Anaïs Nin and Erma Bombeck met at the library to spin tales of laughter and the libido. Collected from the pages of Best American Erotica, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, Best of Literary Mama, Clean Sheets, Zyzzyva, and others.