Monday, November 15, 2010

Do you NaNo?

For those who are unfamiliar, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This is a fun event currently (and annually) sweeping the internet. It is a challenge to write a 175-page novel (50,000 words) by midnight on November 30th. The idea is to just write until you reach the word-count goal, or until your fingers fall off, in hopes of finally being able to call yourself a novelist.

Many people out there have dreams of writing a novel and will probably never get around to it. I was well on track to becoming and staying one of those people when I heard about NaNoWriMo from my roommate. Sure, I've always had the best intentions when it comes to my writing. An idea for the great American novel will come to me in the night all glittering gold and full of promise. And I'll jump on that idea and write like crazy until I get bored...about 10 pages in. Then I'll shut off the computer and make myself a snack, maybe go to the gym, open the mail, and completely forget about the fantastic idea and all my prior enthusiasm.

That's where this challenge comes in. It completely does away with the idea that I need to be excited about what I'm writing in order to write. The rules are just that I plug away until I have 50,000 words. They don't even need to be intelligent words, I just need lots of them.

So I've accepted this challenge, and I'm making it public to keep myself on task.

Here's a synopsis and an excerpt from what I'm working on:


A few years out of college and still working in a dead-end job, Sarah Moon (26), is aimless and bored. She has yet to figure out that her feelings of loss and abandonment stemming from the death of her father are holding her back. She has done nothing in her life but run away from people and relationships.

Told half from Sarah's perspective and half from that of her mother, Ann, this is the story of Sarah's cross-country journey following a rock band and finding herself. Through Sarah's writing about her travels and Ann's memories of Sarah's shortened childhood, the reader comes to understand how our feelings about life and death color every part of our lives.


His favorite thing was to scoop up Sarah and toss her into the air like a miniature acrobat. He'd tell her that one day the whole family would run off to the circus together. It was something she'd read in a book and always wanted to do. She didn't understand that when children run away to the circus they are running away from home, away from their families.

Sometimes I imagine them when I'm doing dishes, looking out the back window into the yard. Chuck, with his huge form blocking the autumn sunlight streaming under the chestnut tree, while he swings Sarah around, creating crazy shadows dancing across our kitchen walls.

At the end, this 6' 5" weightlifter who tipped the scales at 225 had shrank down to 160 pounds. He shook constantly and could barely lift a water glass to his lips. I could see in his eyes that he didn't want to live another day, but sadly, he did. It went on that way for the longest time. He fell away completely, he barely noticed when we came to see him.

It was as though he didn't just die, he broke into a million pieces. The hospital became my puzzle box, full of tiny fragments of my husband that would never fit together again. As he sank further into depression, I continued to try to reach for him, though it became clear toward the end that my gestures were meaningless. What do you say to someone who's physical life is everything when they are breathing their last in a plain white room? He told me once that the only thing that would make him happy again would be to pick up me and Sarah and walk right out of the room. Apart from that, there was nothing else.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dare to Dream

It's day four of the napping experiment. Like a scene out of Sleeping Beauty's castle, three dogs, a cat, and a girl with long blond hair slumber in dormancy through the day while the loud, waking world spins on outside their walls. Of course, instead of roses or magical fire, my bed is surrounded by dog toys.

Demographic studies from the Pew Research center state that an average of 34% of the adult population in the United States will take a nap today. Oddly, napping is prevalent among the not very affluent (those making under 30k annually) and the wealthy (those making over 100k annually), but not so much among the middle class.

Check out this nifty chart from the Pew Research Center article by Paul Taylor (it's a little pixelated, so click the link if you'd like to read their entire article and see it larger):

The Wikipedia article notes that a "power nap" of anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes is most refreshing because the person wakes up before entering the normal sleep cycle. Waking without completing the sleep cycle can cause the napper to feel groggy and disoriented.

Need more proof? Here's an excerpt from an article on about a University of California, Berkeley sleep study:

"The findings came from a study performed by the university in which 39 “healthy, young adults” were divided into two groups. Both groups were given a rigorous learning task at noon which utilized the hippocampus where they performed at comparable levels. The groups were tested again at 6pm, but one group was able to take a 90-minute siesta at 2pm. The group that took a nap showed improvement in their capacity to learn while the non-nap group showed a drop in their learning performance." - Brian Osborne

Judging by the encouraging feedback on my last post, there aren't many who dispute the benefits of rest.

We all know it's good, we just don't make time for it.

Just like...*gasp*...exercise!!! If you'll notice in the graphic above, there is an eerie closeness in the between the percentage of the population who nap (34%) and the percentage of people who exercise (37%).

Here are my napping and exercise stats for the week so far, specially designed to make you cry in shame:
  • Monday: 1 hour nap / 3.5 mile run
  • Tuesday: 30 minute nap / 7.5 mile run
  • Wednesday: 1 hour nap / weights, 30 minutes stair climbing, 3 mile run
  • Thursday (today): nap TBD / 3 mile run, 0.5 mile swim
I'm not gonna lie, it's hella hard to stop what I'm doing and take a nap in the middle of the day. Pretty close to how hard it is to get my butt off the couch and throw on my gym clothes.

So far it seems to be having a positive effect. When I wake up from a nap it's like I'm starting fresh and it seems easier to organize my thoughts and get going on a task. The feeling is like the cache in my brain has been cleared, and now I'm ready to take in and categorize new things. I almost feel like I've added extra days to the week.

I think napping is one of those things where you just need to make an honest assessment of whether or not your body needs it, and if it does, do it.

To help you on your way, I'm going to administer a large dose of sleeping kittens from The Daily Kitten:

There now, don't you feel better?

Monday, November 1, 2010

You are Getting Sleepy

Over the years, I've seen a lot of evidence that taking a mid-day nap helps productivity and brain function. This is evidence that I categorically ignore because it's just not normal for folks in the busy-busy-run-run United States to take naps, even though many other countries see napping as a standard occurrence and not at all a sign of laziness.

I resist. I refuse.

I stomp around like a two-year-old yelling "I'm not tired!" up until the moment that I pass out from exhaustion.

Napping and I have a long history of not getting along.

My Mom never made me nap when I was little. In fact, she discouraged me from sleeping during the day because she wanted me to go to bed at 8 and sleep through the night so that she could sleep too.

When the other children had to go inside for nap-time, I would stay out and climb trees or run laps around our house (seriously). Such was my energy level at the age of 5.

I was the only child in my kindergarten class who refused to nap.

While the other students lay their towels out on the floor and took a snooze, I would sit bolt upright with my kitty cat beach towel around my shoulders like a cape of resolve.

That's right Ms. Browne, naps are stupid, and I don't need one.

As I write this, my standard mid-afternoon tension headache is just beginning to settle along my temples and at the back of my neck. It's something that I normally ignore, or quick-fix by chugging a cup of coffee, then get on with my day.

Today is different.

It's sleepy-time, Spokane.

Every day this week, I am going to take a nap, and I'm not going to apologize for it. I know at least two people, one of whom being the incomparable Liz Blodgett, who nap regularly and are scary productive in spite of (or because of?) the time off to rest.

Special thanks to Erin for pointing out the napping conundrum to me yesterday. We all know it's good for you, but no one wants to say "I need a nap" even knowing that they'll regain that 20 minutes and more upon waking.

I will post some links and quotes about the benefits of napping later in the week, but right now, I'm off to bed.