Monday, June 29, 2015

No Rest for the Wicked

I've been reading articles about the benefits napping. Research shows that a good nap reduces stress, improves brain function, boosts creativity, and can even help you lose weight or keep weight off.

The last time I took a nap was three years and one month ago. I was eight months pregnant with my second child, and we had just moved into our new house in a whirlwind three-day weekend. I was lying on the couch, in front of the TV, and I felt myself slipping into a delicious slumber, like sinking into the water with my limbs floating freely. At last I couldn't keep my eyes open, and I fell fast asleep.

Before that, it had been months since I'd taken a nap, in the very early stages of my pregnancy, and before that it had been years, when I was pregnant with my first child. With a baby inside me, my mind full of daydreams, I could relax enough to rest.

In my normal, non-pregnant state of being, though, I can't nap at all. Even if I’m drowsy after a weekend lunch, a glass of wine, and the house to myself in the afternoon, I still can't nap. Instead, I look around and see all the things that need to be picked up, and I end up putting away toys and doing laundry. The closest I can get to a nap is if I’m reading. After just a few pages, sometimes I begin to lose peripheral vision, like a vignette effect on a photograph. But just moments later, I snap back into focus, my heartbeat quickening, and I feel the urge to move again.

Both of my parents are nappers, so not being able to nap is not just an unfortunate hereditary trait. When my mom visits, she takes out her Kindle each afternoon and is asleep within minutes. She sleeps for at least an hour, completely oblivious to my kids arguing with one another over a toy or spilling their juice or having a meltdown because my husband or I have had to tell them no. Even though I don't see him often now, I remember my dad dozing in front of the TV, his feet propped up on the coffee table, with a smile on his face. And I remember his parents, my grandparents, falling asleep in their armchairs, my grandfather with his newspaper propped in front of him and my grandmother with her knitting needles in her hands.

Even though I come from this culture of nappers, I don't think I've ever been good at napping. I remember in preschool the teacher walking past me on my mat, reminding me that it was naptime. On more than one occasion, I told her that, unlike the other children, I could sleep with my eyes open. I remember being aware of the time, how much was left of it, and I wanted to be in control of how it was spent, specifically, playing dress up or climbing around outside. I resented someone telling me to go to sleep.

As an adult, anxiety is one of the reasons why I can't nap. Often I am not anxious about anything in particular. It's just a general anxiety that looms over me because I have people to take care of and other adult responsibilities that I am not always up for.

Other times, though, it's an eagerness to achieve. I am on an endless cycle of goal setting. I have decided to train for a half marathon, or I have decided to make a complicated meal with hard-to-find ingredients, even though I'm not much of a cook, or I have decided I will start writing a novel. My mind races with possibility. I wonder what kind of person I would be if I could nap. Probably someone who’s happy to leave the dishes for another time. Someone who could let go and relax. Someone who feels content. Someone who doesn’t get so mad at themselves every time they mess up. Someone who doesn’t feel like they have to work so hard at everything.

I'd love to be a napper, but unlike my other goals, I can’t just work hard to become one. I may become an old lady and still not know what it feels like to nap, but I like to think that someday I’ll be able to doze on a front porch swing or nod off in a hammock. I imagine a kinder, gentler version of me who no longer is resigned to envy afternoon sleepers. For now, it may only be a pleasant thought, a fantasy, perhaps. I may not be able to sleep, but a girl can always dream.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Not That Kind of Girl

I was first introduced to Lena Dunham with her 2010 film Tiny Furniture, which she wrote, directed, and starred in. I thought, Who is this weird girl? I like her.

Over recent years, I've read a number of humorous memoirs: Tiny Fey's Bossypants, Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), and, most recently, Amy Poehler's Yes Please. (I recommend all of these.) I knew they would be funny, but what I didn't expect was how insightful, candid, and powerful they would be. Not only did I laugh, but I also walked away with a deep respect for these women and their dedication to their craft.

Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl fits right into the unconventional, playful way in which these memoirs are written. Like these other female actors turned memoirists, Dunham is killing it in the world of male-dominated show business, all while being hilarious.

She leaves nothing to the imagination: In one chapter, she describes how, after doing a sex scene for her hit show, Girls, she notices under the harsh lights of the set a black nipple hair. In another chapter, she shares a story about "almost" becoming a lesbian. She writes about body issues, obsessive compulsive disorder, and being in love. When you have finished the book, you feel like there is nothing you don't know about Dunham.

And that's one of the criticisms, both of her and the book. Oversharing. You've probably heard the others, too: pretentious, entitled, and shameless. And maybe, in some ways, she is some of those things, though I would argue that she can't help that she was born privileged and she can't help that she is young, albeit a young person with one hell of a resume.

In one chapter, she writes about her mother's nude photographs of herself. Like Lena, her mother was an artist, and at first Lena jokes that her mother invented the selfie. But she soon offers insight into her self-portraits:

My mother understood, implicitly, the power of it. See these hips, these teeth, these eyebrows, these stockings that bunch and sag at the ankles? They're worth capturing, holding on to forever. I'll never be this young again. Or this lonely. Or this hairy. Come one, come all, to my private show.
Dunham can help that bit about being shameless and oversharing, but I call it unapologetic. And why shouldn't she be? She is baring all, making herself completely vulnerable, and I can't think of anything braver. In light of all of her accomplishments, maybe we forget that she is just twenty-nine years old. Maybe all of her nakedness on Girls makes us uncomfortable, and rather than admit the truth, we say she has this laundry list of character flaws. After all, would the nude scenes in Girls be considered excessive if all of the characters looked like Marnie? On this, Lena says, "[A] frequently asked question is how I am 'brave' enough to reveal my body on screen. The subtext here is definitely how am I brave enough to reveal my imperfect body, since I doubt Blake Lively would be subject to the same line of inquiry."

For me, the voice of this memoir is that of a hardworking, trailblazing, witty feminist who refuses to follow the rules. I share her sentiment: "There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman." I can get behind that. Not everyone can, but I guess I'm just that kind of girl.