Thursday, May 21, 2009

Napping & Productivity

I’ve just woken up from a nap, one of those epic mid-afternoon naps you wake up from, as if from a coma, thinking: Who the, what the? How did I get here? One summer, years ago, I woke up from such a nap in a state of mute fear; I turned my head, glimpsed an alien sitting behind my television. I was thirteen or fourteen.

Epic, life-changing naps hold a high status in literature. Neruda was an epic napper. One time I visited my uncle, a poet, in Berkeley; when I arrived he had just woken up from a nap. We walked around town, talking, and it wasn’t until he watched me take a shot of wheatgrass juice, one half hour later, that he finally shook off the nap. Roberto Bolano, I bet, napped. Jack Kerouac writes about waking up from an epic nap in On the Road:

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”

(Incidentally, why does he have to write, “all the sad sounds?” The paragraph would be better without it…)

Today’s nap left me feeling wistful. I had a dream. In it, my friends Sue and Andres had come home from Barcelona. We were in some parlor celebrating their return. In the corner, my wife kissed a girl. Everyone went outside to have a smoke. I walked into another room and discovered my friend Kevin (Sue’s brother) sitting on a mattress. He was balding for some reason. I wondered who my wife was kissing now. I woke up.

I was supposed to go to my dad’s beach house today. I called him last night, told him I couldn’t come: my funds were low; I had to much to do.

My semester is over, but I still have a few assignments. I woke up incredibly early this morning, finished everything by noon. Suddenly, the day stood in front of me like a blank check. My novel was there, looming. I’d love to finish it by July (which means I need to be writing every day.) Instead, I worked out. I ate lunch. I sat in the sun, read for an hour. I came inside, flopped on the couch, napped.

It’s four o’clock now. I haven’t worked on my novel. I don’t intend to.

My father recently wrote a blog entry "Having Productive Days." He writes that “a productive personal day consists of doing at least one thing to improve yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally.” At least that’s what he told a client. Then, as soon as he got home, he “ate something tasty, fixed myself a glass of vodka, turned on the television, and started playing poker.”

My wife, the lawyer, left the house this morning at five am. She had an asylum interview in New York City. She came home on her way back from NYC, and briefly entertained the notion of staying home for the afternoon, doing work on the laptop. Instead, she went to the office. She’ll work maybe twelve hours today.

How can I even begin to justify my afternoon’s laziness in the face of my wife’s tireless work-ethic? I don’t. We’re in different places, my wife and I: she’s two years into her law career; I’m just finishing graduate school, working part-time, trying to finish a novel, a novel I hope to publish. Right now, my wife is living the beginning of a successful career. I’m all promise.

Some people work all day; then, as a reward, they come home, eat a quick dinner and watch hours of T.V. Is this a productive life? If the money is there, many might say, Yes.

I’ve never allayed my sense of self-confidence to my income; if I did, I’d be a pretty timid guy. Still, from time to time, my own sense of productivity heckles me, says, What the hell are you doing?

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