The Fluctuating Value of Sleep

 

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When I was ten-years-old I was going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I was leaving for 2 weeks at a bare-bones Y camp in Medford, New Jersey. The night before I left I was atwitter with anticipation. What should I wear? I want a low key, yet cool look. In 1970 that meant hot pants and a tight colorful tee. I’d save my red hot pants for a dressy camp night. And, while awake, going over my list of flashlights and swimwear, I decided I’d arrive wearing denim shorts with my tie-dye t-shirt. It wasn’t snug, but it was cool enough to appear nonchalant.

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That decided, I stayed up all night nervous about the friends I’d make, and wanting to have a good experience. I was happy to go off on my own. Even at ten I had an independent streak. I didn’t mind losing any sleep. I wasn’t tired in the morning. Getting little sleep just heightened my excitement. My parents couldn’t get ready fast enough, even though we couldn’t arrive until after 1 PM.

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Camp was great. I could eat all I wanted. We were allowed foods never offered at home, fried chicken, camp-made blueberry pie, pancakes, and bacon. Every day was an adventure. And, it wasn’t just that we were in the woods, but we learned to row and canoe. I learned and loved archery, group activities, theater and songs. They were all pleausrable. I slept well after fun-filled days. I didn’t think twice about how much sleep I was getting.

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And, when college came, I got great enjoyment in staying up all night going from one disco to another, until I came home to change so I could get the train to school. Even though I might have had to force my eyes open throughout the day, I took pride in the fact that I stayed up all night. Later, in my twenties, getting little sleep was a semi-regular event. I’d work all day, take an acting class, go to rehearsal for one showcase or another, go out with friends, and crawl home between 1 and 3 AM. With 5 hours or less sleep, I’d get up for work thinking about how to learn my lines for the showcase, while offering professional level customer service during the day.

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This summer of 2017, I am not so happy when I lose sleep. And, I do not have the same get up and go as I did in my first 30 years. Now when I can’t sleep I feel like I’m losing something, rather than simply adding hours to my day. Not getting enough sleep has become a regular event. Once losing sleep was the cheap price I paid for a good time. Now, a coveted commodity, sleep is worth its weight in gold. Having a good time is predicated on a good night’s sleep. I can only enjoy dinner with friends or family, or a night at the theater, if I slept well. This might even include a precious nap. I no longer stay up thinking about what I’ll wear out. Comfortable sleepwear is more my concern. Soft fabrics keep me cool and woozy. These days I no longer measure my strength in how many hours I can keep going. These days I measure my sleep, happy when I sleep in past 8 AM.

Slowing Down

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This past week I had jury duty. My first reaction was one of annoyance.   I’ve done a lot of jury duty, even one stint for three months. So as far as I was concerned, I’ve done my time. But then I thought again. It’s an enforced day of quiet. I promptly changed my schedule around and planned my reading accordingly. First were some back issues of The New Yorker. Then, much to my delight I was going to be able to read Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door. The book came out the day prior to having to serve and I made sure I had my copy.

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Years ago when I walked downtown to the courthouses, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, I had a clipped pace and could make the five-mile trek in 90 minutes. But this time it took me 110 minutes. 20 minutes longer than in the past. It wasn’t the cold weather. I walked throughout the winter in the long trial. Though cold and windy, I enjoyed the empty sidewalks allowing me to walk with ease. Perhaps the 20 minutes isn’t so bad given it was 20 years ago when I moved quicker, getting to my destination with time to spare. But I did notice I’m losing some stamina.

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I enjoy walking just as much as I did in the past, but I’m slower, tending to walk shorter paths. 20 years ago I’d walk to and from 100 Centre Street, last week one way was more than enough. I also started noticing that I’m doing less outside of work. I’ve always been a busy person, mainly pursuing the arts such as exhibits, theater, films, and the occasional dance performance or opera. Now I’m more selective, finding I prefer to rest more.

I guess I couldn’t keep up with my previous pace. And, I suppose I don’t have to. Losing a minute a year for a five-mile walk allows me to enjoy more of the scenery on the way.

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My Shade of Gray

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Some changes are easy. Changing my clothes after a walk on a hot day, changing my mind, when I go for a walk rather than a yoga class, easy. Changing my hair, not so much. I’ve sat in many salon chairs, tears in my eyes, feeling helpless while scissors cut away the vision I tried to communicate to the hairdresser. Conversely, I loved the artists who gave me so much more than I had hoped. But the last few years I’ve gone back and forth about going completely gray or continuing my once a month trek to my local salon, tediously covering my roots.

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Like my dad, I went gray at an early age. Like my mom, this wasn’t something I wanted to share publicly. So by my mid-twenties I dyed my hair any number of shades of brown, auburn, chocolate, and other colors not easily found in nature. This past year I made the decision to stop dying my hair. I came to this decision partly because I don’t enjoy going to the salon, and mostly because I’m working on not doing things that aren’t pleasurable to me, if I can help it. Dying my hair fell into the category of something I could help.

janet-zinn-1 (3)silk jacket dyed green; hair dyed dark auburn.

At first it was uncomfortable to walk around with gray roots. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been because my hair is curly and I don’t usually part my hair. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the style that I wanted to sport. But I let it grow and grow, walking around as a two-toned woman. And then last week I cut it all off. I hadn’t imagined the freedom I’d experience. I feel unburdened. I can’t explain it, but I feel liberated. I cut away a part of my past and am embracing my present. I am fully gray and proud of it.

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Something Different

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I can be a solitary person. I like my alone time. I like to figure things out on my own and I like doing things by myself. But I learned something new about myself today while running my first race in awhile. I resist change. In the past I was happy to be a solo runner. I am a very slow runner, mindful of my age and the wear and tear my body has endured. I was pleased to be running at all, and it took me a couple of years to run even one race.   Then I ran one run, uncertain of the shouts and cheers the volunteers provided. They meant well, but I liked going at my own pace, listening to a book or a podcast, enjoying beautiful Central Park.

Today for the first time I ran with a partner. Zena, my husband Larry’s cousin, asked if I would meet her to run, and I said I would. She has been a wonderfully encouraging supporter of my running. She runs in Chicago, as well as around the world when she’s traveling for work. So today I ran alongside her. We talked, and she asked how I felt about run/walking. My friend Jeannette, another supporter and avid runner suggested it last week, but I said I wasn’t sure. Clearly they both knew something I didn’t.

The four-mile run today was set to Zena’s clock so we could run nine minutes and walk one minute. I was afraid that if I stopped running I wouldn’t want to start again. But it was a great way to pace the run and feel rejuvenated and motivated. I have always thought myself someone who is open to change, but today seemed more of an exception than the rule. I really enjoyed having a running partner, and I liked the walk run process. I’ll be doing it again. Plus, I may need a good running trainer. As much as I like to do things myself, getting proper support is invaluable. Or so I recognized today.

So, between Zena & Jeannette, my running support, and Larry, as well as our friend, Justine, my cheering squad, along with our dogs, Lucy & Nyah, this run was truly delightful.

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I Did It!

I’m 54 years old, I have a torn meniscus, pleural effusion, tendonitus, and I completed a half marathon today.  I love walking but never thought I could run. Thanks to my friend Lisa, who told me I could run slowly, really a jog, so I tried it out and found that I could jog slowly.  I started running at the age of 51.  I ran around the block, then a half mile, then a mile.  I always felt like I accomplished something doing these runs.  Little by little I challenged myself to jog longer, always slowly.  I would have people pass me on a regular basis.  At first this was difficult.  I can be competitive.  With three siblings, it was a survival tool growing up.   So doing this for me and not trying to keep up with other runners might have been a bigger challenge than the exercise aspect of the sport.  I ran my first races the past year.  In the Fall, I ran a 5K, then a 5 mile.  The five kilometers was not that difficult.  I had been jogging regularly and was prepared to be one of the last runners.  It was a less popular run, so there wasn’t a big a crowd, which I liked.  The following day I ran my first NYRR race in Central Park.  There were a lot more serious runners.  Volunteers often shouted out to go faster.  I ignored their encouragement.  For me the running is not about the time, it’s about doing it.  On New Years eve, I did the four mile Central Park Race  at midnight.  It was fun starting off with fireworks.  I have been inspired by friends and family who are runners like my writing classmate, Jeannette, who made sure I had energy snacks for the today’s race, and gave me good tips on self care.  Larry’s cousin, Zena, is a runner and she put the idea in my mind when she said she was training for a half marathon.  I’m so fortunate to live in a city with a lot of opportunities to run.   And, I’m lucky to have friends and family who are supportive.  Larry was out early with Lucy and they were my cheering squad.  The cheered me on twice around the park, and then at the finish line.  It really helped me to keep going.  It feels good to do something for myself.  My body is sore,and I’m exhausted,  but I’m proud to have completed the half marathon.  In the end, slow and steady won my race.

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Larry & Lucy Cheering Me on In Central Park

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Larry’s picture of me running slowly & really happy to see him