The Insomniac’s Guide to the Galaxy

Insomnia Fight Club

To know me is to know that I’m an insomniac. I don’t want to hear from the sleep preachers. I’m not interested in learning more about the benefits of valerian root or whatever new age shit everyone else has tried. Some of us just don’t sleep well consistently. I’m here to share my experience and how I’ve learned to not let that stop me from getting a good night’s rest if I can’t get a good night’s sleep.

Follow me, I’ll show you the way.

First, let me make something clear. I’m not a scientist or a researcher. I’m a writer and this article is based on my own experience. If you’re looking for something more clinical or data driven, you have strayed way off the reservation. But you should stick around anyway.

Let’s start with the shit you should be doing before bed. This isn’t about telling you to tinkle and brush your teeth. I’m not your mother.

Do not try to force yourself to go to bed at the same time every night. One, life won’t let you. Two, if you go to bed when you aren’t tired, you’ll spend time “trying” to fall asleep. That shit never works. More often than not, it will lead to a restless night and you’ll be worse off for it.

This doesn’t mean your range should be all over the place. For example, I’m normally in sleep or rest mode somewhere between 9:30 – 11 PM. The TV’s off, I’m done reading and laying my head down for a long winter’s nap. But I never try to force it.

If you don’t have blackout curtains, get them. They’re not expensive and totally worth it. These things were serious game changers for me. My windows face east, over my building’s parking lot, and with another streetlight making its presence known. I didn’t realize how much ambient light was sneaking through my blinds until I blocked it out. A huge thanks to my good friend Bryce for the suggestion. I only regret waiting so long.

After you install them, if you rise naturally at the same time each morning, do yourself a favor and make sure you have your alarm set for the next week or so to help wake you up. I had been naturally waking up between 5:45 – 6 AM for a pretty decent interval and the installation of those curtains scrambled that. A couple weeks with the alarm will help your system reset.

Next, make sure you set the temperature where you would sleep best. A lot of people I know keep the thermostat set at the same temp, day and night, day in, day out. Fuck that. My thermostat gets a fucking workout. Whether I’m writing on the couch, cooking and cleaning, or trying to sleep, each of these requires a different temperature.

I prefer it cold, like ice cold. Like running the A/C at night in the winter because I sleep at 58 degrees cold. Mr. Wizard says that’s good. Then again, a friend of mine keeps his at 80 at and sleeps like a baby. So, you do you. Just don’t think that what works during the day automatically works at night.

Also, make sure you have a bottle of water and either a Bluetooth speaker or headphones with you when you go to bed.

Congratulations, the first stage of your prep work is complete. Now it’s time to head to the bedroom and queue the Barry White while we have a conversation about sleepwear.

If you haven’t already, figure out what you sleep most comfortable in. Do you like the freedom of sleeping naked? Great. Want an old timey matching pajama top and bottom? Rock that 60s sitcom shit. Personally, I sleep in just a pair of pajama bottoms. I have no idea why.  Maybe being bare chested makes me feel manly. Maybe the hair on my chest serves as my t-shirt.

Next stop, sexy time. That’s right guys, gals and non-binary pals, your next task is to rub one out. I’m not fucking around. Fire up some Pornhub, relive an intimate dalliance that rocked your world or fantasize about Jennifer Connelly in Career Opportunities (or any movie really). But it’s time for you to truly do you. And the health benefits for both men and women when it comes to the manual override (yes that’s a euphemism I just looked up, thanks internet) are well documented so you’ll be ending the day on a healthy note.

While I have you in your happy place, have you every thought about your favorite position?  If you haven’t, do that. I may not be the best sleeper, but I don’t toss and turn at night. Thrashing takes energy, increases blood flow and creates a lot of frustration. All these run counter to both resting and sleeping. The position itself doesn’t matter, as long as you’re comfortable. Plus, by not thrashing around, when I do sleep, I sleep hard. I sleep deep. I milk that REM for all it’s worth.

Personally, I sleep on my back. Yes, it leads to snoring, a subject of much tension between me and the lady loves I’ve had in my life. I keep two pillows under my head and another under each arm. Yes, I turn myself into a fucking pillow fort. I am a man-child. I am not ashamed. Also a sore subject between me and the aforementioned lady loves.

Okay, now that we’re situated and sexually satiated it’s time for the last task before sleepy time. It’s time to bring in the noise. I don’t understand people that can sleep in silence. In fact, those people creep me the fuck out. The stagnation of dead air gives my demons way too much breathing room. I need noise. For some people nature sounds or new age music fills that void. Shit like that just makes me fidgety. Nope, as a man-child I want someone to read me a god damn story.

I prefer biographies, books or podcasts about historical events, true crime or mythology. What I’m looking for is something interesting enough to engage my brain, but not so interesting it distracts me from Mistress Sleep should she bless me with her presence. Once you find a few and know what you’re looking for, free apps like Overdrive and Stitcher provide endless possibilities.

I steer clear of fiction. I’ll force myself to stay awake if I get too engaged in character and story. I run into the same problem with TV or a book if I’m not careful. I’ll “just one more chapter or episode” my way into consuming until dawn if I get too immersed.

Non-fiction also has the benefit of providing steady, even toned narration. You don’t want a lot of violent and energetic highs and lows. You want just a few ticks above monotone. You want a Ben Stein with an actual pulse reading you a story. Because you’ll find a sweet spot on volume where you don’t have to strain to hear it but is soft enough to let you doze off should the spirit move you. Again, easy to find, and you only have to find it once.

All that’s left to do is set the sleep timer and a digital bookmark. Most people set theirs for an hour. I do 90 minutes.

Time for phones down and eyes closed.  Even if sleep doesn’t come, you have all tools in place to lie tranquilly in the dark, which will give you more rest than lying awake. Don’t even fucking think about touching that phone. Seriously, playing mindless games and scrolling through an endless newsfeed of cat memes, false game advertisements and political clickbait isn’t doing you any favors. I should know, I keep breaking my own rule.

There are only two cases where you should be picking up that phone all. One is if you’re still awake when your sleep timer goes off and you need to restart what you were listening to. The other is on nights when Mistress Sleep is too busy in the service of others to bless you with her presence, you should fill that void by rubbing another one out. In which case, Pornhub is your friend. Find one of your favorite clips (don’t lie, you have them) and take yourself back to bang town. Make it a sprint not a marathon. You’re trying to sleep, not prove your stamina to Sasha Grey.

Now turn your book back on and find yourself some sweet dreams.

The Devil Hides Behind the Cross

Devil Cross

Smoke began filling the air as soon as The Cameron Gang exited the bank. Gunshots, splintering wood and shattering glass surrounded them as they dove behind the troughs for cover. The terror filled cries of horses pierced the chaos. The air was acrid, gunpowder gelling with humidity, creating a stench that reminded Johnny of brimstone.

“Guess they knew we were coming,” Ed shouted, snapping Johnny out of his trance.

“They just wanted to give us a proper sendoff,” Johnny shouted back. His cocksure grin grew wider in defiance of a town trying to uphold its law. To protect its money. To protect its own.

He took the saddlebag from his shoulder and tossed it to the shortest member of their group. “Billy, you and Jim get the horses behind the bank while Ed, Bobby and I draw their fire. We’ll meet you back there.”

Billy and Jim scrambled off without a word, crab walking to avoid the bullets. They obeyed his orders without question. Appointing him leader wasn’t something they decided. No one had questioned him going all the way back to the war. No one knew exactly why, or when. One day they were just following him.

Johnny drew a Colt with his left hand to match the one already in his right. The twin six guns were responsible for countless deaths, saving his life with each one. He learned to kill during the war, and lost his humanity. He parted with it willingly. The war brought him out of a lazy stupor that had dominated his life. It didn’t create his instinct to kill, merely nurtured it. Less of a birth mother and more of a wet nurse. It kept him full. But each time at the tit left him wanting more.

His experience as a soldier and an outlaw guided his hands as he fired in the direction with the most guns pointed at him. He managed to kill seven before diving into the protection of the bank, narrowly avoiding another onslaught of bullets.

He lived for these days and one day it would kill him. But today wasn’t that day and he knew it. Without hesitation he shot the banker, the only soul left in the building, as a precaution.

The others had pinned most of the vigilante townsfolk into a stale standoff. Timidity now weighed down the sporadic bullets.

“What now?” Billy said, crouching under one of the shattered windows. The banker’s head wound oozing blood into a puddle surrounding his boots.

“Go out the back. I’ll meet you there, there’s something I have to do first,” Johnny spoke, his mind already off in the distance. His eyes drawn to a building across the street.

As soon as the gang made a break for it, the vigilantes found their courage. The bullets of novice marksmanship serving as the final death rattle in a battle already lost. A battle that was proof that good doesn’t always triumph over evil.

Just as he had predicted, for a moment the amateur lawmen forgot all about him, providing him with the opening he needed. He slithered along the ground outside until he was clear of the bank.

Johnny sauntered into the church, gun smoke wafting off his duster. Sunlight from the open door melded with the smoke and cast his shadow in front of him. He made his way up the pews with an intense casualness ignorant of the chaos outside. He gazed up, contemplating the Christ child splayed out on the cross above him, his cocksure grin once again dancing across his teeth.

He tossed a coin purse onto the pulpit with a devil may care flick of his wrist, his eyes still engaged in a staring contest. His icy gaze turned to the priest crouched in front of the sanctuary’s two shaking parishioners, a man and a woman humbled by their fear.

“God always gets his cut.”

Silence hung heavy in the air as he turned and sauntered back into the gunfight.

Performances on the Plains

Kauffman Center

Last week I had the opportunity to see The Barber of Seville, which was the final show in the 2017-2018 season for the Lyric Opera. I was once again reminded of how vibrant the Kansas City performing arts scene is and how fortunate we are to have access to so much quality. If you aren’t taking in some of these wonderful performances, you are doing yourself a disservice.

About five years ago I started to develop a deeper interest in the performing arts, but I had no idea where to start. So I went to my good friend Greg and asked him to teach me, and we’ve been going to shows together ever since. Over the past several years, I have taken in countless performance, particularly at the KC Rep, Unicorn Theater and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. As with every other form of creative content, I was amazed at how vast and diverse this medium was. I have also gotten to see the amazing level of creative talent we have in this community and the level of talent we are able to bring in.

There is something unique about taking in the performing arts, you are sharing air and space with the actors, which makes you a part of the work itself. No other medium offers that direct of a connection.

This season at KC Rep was one of the best in recent memory, which is saying something considering the have all been great. It kicked off with Between the Lines, which is Broadway bound and has music that can blow the doors right out of the theater and took on the Tony Award winning A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which was based on an award-winning book), a play that examines autism in a unique way, a prospect as difficult as it is rewarding. And in between I had Sex with Strangers, built Fences and a Demon Barber named Sweeney Todd offered me a haircut.

Although I only went to two of the four operas the Lyric offered this year, The Barber of Seville instantly became a favorite. And their 2018-2019 season looks incredible to the point where my friend and I are getting season tickets. This is in part due to their season opener, West Side Story, which will almost certainly sell out. Plus saying that I have “season tickets to the opera” makes me sound much more fancy than I actually am.

And if you are looking for edgy, look no further than the Unicorn, whose tag line is “Bold New Plays.” In recent years I have seen plays about a dystopic future where the Simpsons are worshipped as Gods, to a play challenging the ideas of race and racism in very darkly comedic ways, to modern re-imaginings of classics such as The Seagull. They are also dedicated to making quality theater affordable to everyone by offering special “pay what you can nights” for each show.

These are just the main three venues I frequent, there are countless others around town including the Just Off Broadway theater, Starlight and the annual Shakespeare in the Park Festival which I have seen each of the past 15 years.

If you haven’t yet taken in some of these wonderful performances, then you really haven’t realized why we are called the Paris of the Plains.

 

Knowledge is a Burden

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A question crossed my mind the other week: if I had an opportunity to know everything about everything in the world, would I take it?

Like most people, my first reaction was “Hell fucking yes! Who wouldn’t want that! I’d win every argument! I’d cure cancer! I’d bring about global peace! Or, more likely I’d take over the world!” Then I thought about it. And realized the answer was no, no I absolutely would not.

In an age where we are so overwhelmed with knowledge that it’s impossible to keep up, it would seem at first glance like this would be a good thing. I’m never going to read every book on my list, see every play, movie or show that I want to watch. I’m never going to know as much about history, or get to every museum. Why wouldn’t I want all of that in my head?

Then I thought about the cost. The cost would be the experience. The cost would be the ability to think on my own. The cost would be the ability to feel.

In a way, the cost would be my life.

Sometimes I get so caught up in catching up that I forget that the journey is the important thing. To inherently know everything would be to eliminate experiences like my first opera, or the way it felt to see the world premiere run of Between the Lines and hear what we call “the Mermaid Song” nearly blow the doors off Spencer Theater. Or the first time I read Way of the Peaceful Warrior and felt its truth. The list of valuable experiences like that in my life is truly endless.

Knowing everything takes exploration, curiosity and wonder out of the equation. Which takes away the joy of the journey. In a way that is taking away a piece of knowledge. You learn the facts but miss the lesson about yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the pursuit of knowledge. I never want to stop learning, or growing, or changing. I want to seek. I want to understand. I want to contemplate.

I’m not satisfied with knowing. I want to engage. I want to embody.

Gobble Gobble

happy-turkey-day-memecenter_o_914779

Happy Gobble Gobble Day! This is one of my favorite holidays, and the last line of defense between me and the obnoxious apocalypse that is Christmas. You will learn all about my intense hatred for that holiday at a later date in what I imagine will be an incredibly descriptive manner. But today is about Gobble Gobble Day. Today is about what I am thankful for.

I am thankful for my friends. They are my lifeline, and my lifeblood. To me, they are each family, and I am very grateful to have them in my life.

I am thankful for my health. I am in the process of getting into the ultramarathon condition I was once in, and I have the strong base health to make that a very reachable goal.

I am thankful for my home. I love the location and character of my apartment. I am fortunate to have wonderful neighbors in an eclectic and vibrant neighborhood.

I am thankful for the experiences, good and bad, the challenges and the triumphs, that continue to shape my life. Each of them contains a lesson and a story that helps enrich me as a person.

I am thankful for my renewed passion for my creative pursuits. I had put down the pen for far too long and love beginning to take it seriously again. And for the support I have received from the people I care about as I traverse down this path. As with all things containing the unknown, it is more than a little frightening. Which is also what makes it even more exhilarating.

I wish all of you a wonderful Gobble Gobble day. And hope you have as many things to be thankful for as I do.

Panic at the World Yo

Anxiety

When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This was back in 1995, when no one really knew what the fuck that was. I had already been in therapy at the time, processing some family issues, when I began experiencing what I soon learned where panic attacks.  A dry and clinical list of symptoms cannot describe the sheer terror of an attack. It feels like death itself is about to capture you as prey while you’re paralyzed to stop it. When people try to understand them they try to apply logic where there isn’t any.

At first I was ashamed, I thought the disorder was a sign of weakness. And it was a long time before I learned otherwise. It was even longer before I understood it. I still don’t fully and have learned that’s okay. I certainly don’t let it control me.

My anxiety has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. And I have used the disorder as an opportunity for self-examining of factors that may cause the attacks. I have learned a tremendous amount about self-reflection as a result. But that doesn’t compare at all to what I learned about myself when I opened up about it.

No one I have ever told about my disorder has ever judged me for it (at least no one I care about). It also turns out that it isn’t as uncommon as I thought. Any number of people I know have faced some type of anxiety, depression, or some other affliction that had a stigma about it that they had been ashamed to talk about at some point.

These are people of strength, and character, and perseverance. I have learned from these people and feel more comfortable and confident and at ease as a result of our mutual sharing of stories and experiences.

I’ve learned acceptance, both what it feels like to receive it, and what it feels like to extend it to others. I’ve learned, witnessed and embodied that as a result of many things in my life (and also just generally not being an asshole, or at least not that asshole). But in this arena it’s different.

My sincere hope in life is that I can use my experiences with anxiety to help anyone that is struggling. If someone doesn’t want open up to me, I understand. My hope is that they see that how beneficial my openness has been for my own well being. And that they open up for someone. That they don’t feel guilt and shame or feel they have to go it alone.

Will They Help You Bury a Body?

were-friends-you-laugh-i-laugh

One thing that I pride myself on is that I have an amazing support network of friends that care deeply about me, as I do them. My biggest hope is that I am as good of a friend to them as they are to me. And I believe that I am. There is a well-known saying: “Friends are the family that you choose.” I have lived my life believing this to be true, and I take friendships seriously.

My family life has never been the greatest. I won’t be going into any details on that here, except to say that over 85% of families are some level of dysfunctional and mine definitely qualifies. But this post isn’t about them. I only mention it because it is part of my motivation for creating the strong and supportive friendships that make my life as wonderful as it is today. I thought about listing them, but quite frankly there are too many.

My friends come from all types of backgrounds, and the thing they all have in common is their uniqueness. And one of the best things that I have learned is how much they get along and enjoy each other’s company when I blend them together. It is truly a thing of beauty to be a part of.

More than that, my friends are people I know will support me in anything, probably including murder (although I have never tested that theory). I have a comfort level with them that I don’t have anywhere else. These are people I can express my hopes, dreams and successes with. These are people who will help me process my failures and overcome my fears. These are people who will help me slay my demons while helping me find the better angels of my nature. And sometimes they help me embrace the demons too.

And that is what makes them more family to me than family.

My friends are as responsible for helping me find myself as I am. I get to learn not only from my experiences, but also from theirs. My friendships are where I feel most at home. Most like a unique and loved and supported individual. Most like a whole person. Like most people I am closer to some more than others, but I can tell you what I love most about each person I have in my life. And seldom will it be just one thing.

A friend will tell you not to kill someone who has wronged you. A good friend will tell you where to get the gun. A great friend will help you bury the body.