Sleep, creativity, and the bastards that both are

Here’s a visual for you: I’m tucked into bed at 11PM on a Saturday night because I live a life of reckless abandon and my idea of a good time is seven hours of good sleep and a dream I can use in my next screenplay.

I’m sporting a pair of noise-canceling headphones that make me look more like a disheveled air traffic controller about to make a bad decision than a person chasing a decent night’s sleep. Add in Small Dog taking up more than her fair share of the bed and Clark Kent sleeping the kind of sleep that makes me wonder whether it’s possible to build a contraption to suck sleep out of someone else and use it for my own selfish sleep-related gains. The man can fall sleep — anywhere, anytime — in five minutes flat and stay asleep for nine to ten hours a night.

I’m basically here to say I married someone whose sleep patterns are my porn.

I digress.

At 11 PM on Saturday night, I’m staring daggers into the ceiling above because my upstairs neighbor has either installed a trash compactor a la Star Wars in their bedroom…

Or they have Roomba.

Whichever one it is, they’re running it at 11 PM on a Saturday night which basically means both of us have pretty lame definitions of a hot Saturday night but at least my lame-ass idea doesn’t generate noise beyond my muttering, “Are you FUCKING kidding me?!”

I was about to go off. I fully acknowledged I would not be proud of the ensuing shit storm. And I didn’t fucking care.

Here’s the part where I say that my first post in nearly (over) a year is about sleep, creativity, and the bastards that both are.

When Mom died suddenly last March, I knew one thing: If I slept, all of this unwelcomed new reality would be real.

After a couple of days of no sleep in my now-motherless childhood home, imagining that lights were dimming on their own and fully knowing my mother hadn’t completely left the building (another post, another time), I did a very grown-ass adult thing:

I messaged my doctor and asked for a short-term prescription for sleeping pills.

Filled it. Popped one.

And for the next five nights, my brain found a way to burn right through chemically-gifted sleep and do whatever it could to stay awake.

As a follow-on to the unfathomable fuckery of my mother’s death, I ushered in the death of my creativity.

That’s why you haven’t heard from me in nearly (over) a year —

It’s hard to feel like I had anything worth saying about my life when it took everything I had to just… sleep.

That’s because grief is a sneaky, greedy motherfucker. It creeps up on you, uninvited. It takes all of the time you were finally going to spend on THE THING and reminds you of something you didn’t want to remember. Grief pulls aside the curtains you’ve drawn, presses your face up against the glass, and makes you stare at the new, gaping void in your life like its the goddamned World Series when you could give a shit about baseball.

I’d given up being creative because grieving was a full-time gig.

Then, I got depressed because I wasn’t creating. That’s when I started to sleep.

I slept to forget. Avoid. Numb the fact, if only for a moment, that I wasn’t doing the thing that brought me the most joy: writing.

I’d kicked the Xanax and ill-gotten Adderall. I’d passed on booze.

The only drug I had left to numb my inconceivable level of shitty was sleep.

I’d gone from not sleeping because I didn’t want to wake up to a new reality without my mom to sleeping because I wanted to avoid the reality I was in.

And it wasn’t good sleep. It was just something to do for six to seven hours a day so I didn’t have to cry about not writing.

Now that I’ve spent 655 words on a real UPPER of a post (welcome back, E.!), I’m here to tell you that I did start writing again last year. And it changed my life. Got me my life back, in fact. I still don’t sleep for shit but I’ll get to that.

My mother died on March 16. She actually died on March 15 (another post, another time). When she died, I was still reeling from the downturn following Hurricane Harvey and the damage it had done to her house and our relationship. I’d crafted the beginnings of a TV pilot, fictionalizing ever so many things but holding onto one truth:

When floodwaters rise, things drown. When those floodwaters recede, people drown.

After three months of emotional paralysis — funeral to prepping our childhood home for sale and closing that front door for the last time — I sat down and wrote it. Then I revised it. Revised it again.

And thanks to the support of some incredible mentors, that pilot got me some badass literary managers out here in LA.

Oh, and Clark Kent and I moved to Los Angeles (waves from the $/gallon gas pump — it’s okay to be jealous).

That TV pilot has also won me a fellowship, advanced to the second round of Sundance Episodic Labs (fingers crossed), advanced in several contests including a few finalist nods, and launched my new career as a screenwriter.

Thanks, Mom.

I was also assigned a timely story about family separation on the border for Chicago Health Magazine. Writing that story was… heavy. Humbling. Privilege-checking at every turn.

It also just won the first place prize in the Online Feature category for the Illinois Women’s Press Association Awards 2019.

I’m really proud of that. I mean, shit. I’m literally an award-winning screenwriter, author, AND journalist now (jazz hands).

And it seemed I was flipping a creative switch in a life I’d long felt dimmed by death — actual and metaphorical. I’d never acknowledged how sleep was intrinsically tied to so many things in my life (sanity, creativity, the urge to kill an upstairs neighbor). Speaking of upstairs neighbors…

BACK TO SATURDAY NIGHT.

I was about to go off. I fully acknowledged I would not be proud of the ensuing shit storm. And I didn’t fucking care.

I stared daggers at the ceiling.

At Clark Kent for his sound sleep and my always having to be the asshole when neighbors were being inconsiderate twats even though the neighbors were usually just bothering me because he’s the most easy-going creature on the planet — the steady sine wave to my gas-station-inflatable-arm-waving life.

So I threw on a sweatshirt. Shoes.

I kicked off the shoes because I wanted to look especially inconvenienced. I will not deny that I also messed-up my hair to appear as if I’d been woken from a Snow White-like slumber and was ready to fuck someone up for some sly-ass thing with an apple.

I took the elevator one flight up, banged on the neighbor’s door.

HELLO YOUNG OBLIVIOUS MAN IN YOUR 20s. ARE YOU READY FOR THIS ISH?

When I started speaking, he couldn’t hear me. OVER THE VACUUM.

So he went to turn off… his Roomba (CALLED IT). Asked me how he could help me. I was going to help this motherfucker, alright. Everything I’d rehearsed, in the bathroom, the elevator — get ready for a beat down, son.

I opened my mouth and —

“Are… are you vacuuming?”

Him: Um, yeah.

“Could you maybe do it before 10pm? We can hear everything downstairs. You woke us up.”

Him: Oh, god! I’m so sorry! I didn’t even think of that. Right. Okay. You bet. I’m so sorry you had to come up here.

“Thanks. Have a good night.”

That’ll teach him. Motherfucker.

I slipped into bed moments later, donned my noise-canceling headphones, and popped a sleeping pill.

I was calm.

And if nothing else, I felt a bit creative. Like, perhaps a blog post for the first time in a long while was taking shape.

or the (semi) SFW version:

***Thanks for reading and welcome back. I’ve missed you and I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you with the process of healing my heart. Hell, I didn’t even trust myself. But I’m (tag team) back again! The blogs are going to start coming daily, because I owe it to you to be out there and I owe it to myself to write at least one thing for myself every day. If the emails get to be too much, maybe keep ’em coming. You just might find a headline arrives in your inbox on just the day you need it. Oh, and I rejoined Twitter because I wasn’t wasting enough time in my life. You can find me here: eNapoAF. I’m also over on Instagram where I mostly post pictures of my dog. Anywhoo, you look nice in that shirt. If you have an idea for a topic you want me to saddle-up like a Shetland Pony in a future post, drop me a line here or just reply to the email that just landed in your inbox. Hollerrrrrr.

 

 

 

 

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