February Newsletter: Insomnia

 This newsletter is not actually late because of the coronavirus. Our minister of health called for all schools in the country to be closed because of an epidemic of normal flu. Then I had some potentially good news about The Sultan’s Enchanter, which needed all the time I wasn’t using on Interchange. Then the coronavirus hit, but that’s a story for next month.

The month of February was more about insomnia. Ahem.

So there I was, lying in bed at 2am, trying not to move, not to wake up Pavlina, not to think about anything terrible. Every time I managed to slip down toward sleep, my body would jerk, like I’d been shocked. I was wide awake again, heart racing. Now it was 2:30am! I had to wake up at six the next morning, so I only had…three and a half hours left! But I couldn’t give up. I’d grit my teeth and try again.

This pattern started two years ago, but it got much worse in January, when Pavlina’s grandpa had stomach trouble and threw up late at night. Night-time sickness, especially gastrointestinal distress, reminds me of when I was sick. My older daughter also had a lot of medical intervention when she was a baby, and I have many memories of going to bed, thinking everything was fine, only to get woken up because of a medical emergency. Now, I started expecting medical emergencies every night. It would get dark and I’d start having knots in my stomach, which of course also kept me up. Forcing myself to sleep was like drowning someone in a bath.

It finally got so bad that I turned to the internet for help. I know it’s a crazy thing to do, but I remembered that Pavlina had found help for our older daughter on a forum linked with her specific medical problem. I tried to do the same thing, googling “forum insomnia anxiety” or something like that and I actually got some useful information. I found out that my habit of checking the time and calculating how much time I had left to sleep…was bad. And perhaps I was spending too much time in bed during the day, reading. I could avoid coffee after lunchtime and avoid screens around bedtime. Maybe I could train myself with some good associations with sleeping. I should stop forcing myself to lie still, and get up and move around if I felt like I needed to. That sounded reasonable.

The best part came, though, was that it gave me something concrete to talk about with Pavlina. We progressed beyond “I can’t sleep.” “Why not?” “I don’t know” to “I can’t sleep because I’m worried I’m not sleeping enough.” “Why are you so worried your not sleeping enough?” “Because I need eight hours of sleep every night or I’ll get sick again.” And Pavlina was like “Why do you believe that?”

And I remembered an old student of mine.

The western sky is

Mediterranean and

The east is polar.

I’ll call him the Witchdoctor. He was a surgeon-turned-alternative-medicine-guru whose practice was based on the theory that bad emotions manifested as physical illness. I didn’t buy it, but I taught him English.

Then, I developed cancer, and had the surgery and the other surgery, I went to this guy for advice in his capacity as a surgeon. He told me that my cancer was a sign that I was living my life wrong. I was letting my anger build up inside me, I wasn’t sleeping enough, and if I didn’t shape up, my cancer would come back. If I paid him, he’d show me…

Well, I dropped that guy as a student and never spoke to him again. I knew he was trying to manipulate me into giving him money, the same way he had duped his other clients. Yet still, he got into my head. I allowed him to convince me that I needed to sleep eight hours a night or else I’d get cancer again. It sounds silly when I say it, but I hadn’t said it. I hadn’t verbalized any of this, out-loud or to myself. Now, when I told the whole story to Pavlina, she said, “well, that isn’t true.” WHOOSH! It was like a curse had been lifted.

I still had a couple of bouts of insomnia, but they weren’t as terrifying. They were more of a mechanical problem, and the mechanical solutions I had for insomnia started working better. Sleep hygiene, no screens, exercise early in the day, etc. The first that night I went to sleep normally, I rewarded myself the next day with an audiobook. I’ve bought three books for myself now. At some point I should probably stop rewarding myself…ah, it’s okay.

I used to not believe that words had power. I still don’t in the way most people seem to, but these past few months have showed me that words teach us. When words teach us untrue things about ourselves, we become cursed. More on that next month, or whenever the library allows me to check out The Four Agreements again and read the second half 😉

Snow covers branches

White as the clouds that made it.

Paper over Ink.

In other news, I discovered something about revision, which is when your project has become too hard to push, it’s time to start pulling. I was getting bogged down around the ½ mark, so I pulled back and examined the pacing of the whole story. Wouldn’t you know it, the events I thought were the middle of the book were actually the ¾ mark! I redefined an earlier scene as “the middle,” which made it clear that I needed to cut a chunk off the end. Facing that decision, I realized I never really liked that chunk at all. I had to go back and brace up the new middle and go forward and rewrite the climax. Now, (the end of the second week of March) I am officially ¾ of the way through, having just finished the Terrible Crisis When Everything Bad Happens. I’m on track to finish this draft by the beginning of April…assuming I can write three chapters a week for the next two weeks…while locked in my house with my family, trying to teach English lessons over the internet at the same time…sigh.

But! Once I finish this draft, Interchange will finally be ready for you to read! If you want to beta-read Interchange in April, tell me.

Can’t really talk about The Sultan’s Enchanter. Moving right along.

Protector! Issues 1 and 2 are out! Issue 3 is coming out at the end of the month and so on until all five issues are out, and then the omnibus edition in July! If you want to encourage us to write the sequel, please order the ones that are out, and pre-order the rest.

You can tell when I’m having trouble with the project I ought to be doing when I start producing random nonsense instead! Here’s a fantasy world for no reason!

And I’m actually very proud of this little bit of procrastination. My excuse is that somebody asked me to do it and my kids were asleep at the time. Behold, the Creation Myth of the Dragons!

Clear after the hail

Clouds above the boulevard:

The Balkan Mountain.

And then there’s the Thracian language. Urgh! I can’t stand the spelling I have for it, but none of the new ones I’ve tried have worked for me. I think I need to go back and dig into the phonology again, but I won’t have time for that until my book is done and my kids are back in school. So until then:

Kipe igipûe ainē kēsa byźai dârsai ypa dēsâ.
Âbron, aiźē, byźâs kâ šâlmon, bleptē, bostâs kâ,
Asnâ ûeson ypâr rhinkan arâ tâ âp ûe âbbinkan.

There were at once time some brave goats under heaven.
A kid, a nanny, and a billy-goat, clever, loyal, and tough,
Who would happily rush up the mountain to make themselves fat.

Tans ispilsa opē strymē mâd a, śân târē dymē.
Ypa ûērâ tai isērpssa źērē: źymlē ydrēnē mērē!
Bulâs tilins źilmins ada. Bolûârē kela ǵânta rhoda.

A rushing stream them between the mountains, with an evil guard.
Under the bridge crawled an animal: the great water-dragon!
A little goat will eat green herbs. A snake will gulp red meat.

Pešēnon ērga âbron do. šâpšâpton ērga an nygō.
Źymlē tē ilâ iglâûsa. “Kis śy ēs?” Nedton iglâtsa.
Mânon ēm ēźo: âbron.” “Śan abâdan sâmiston!”

First comes the kid. Chop-chop he comes on hooves.
The dragon heard this. “Who are you?” She roared.
“It is only me: a kid.” “Then I will eat you up at once!”

prâglâs as an âbre abron šâlmâs ibydûe.
Ērga aē o ydrēnin. Ân ûe isźâs drâkûēnin,
Kipâs ǵânton pi palon.” Sân idakûe iē gormon.

But the answer of the kid was very clever.
“A nanny-goat is coming to the water-dragon. If you wait for dinner,
You will have much more meat.” Thus she greedily did.

Sâkton aiźē tē ûe âra. Pipikton brâma iē an parâ.
Źymlē tē ilâ iglâûsa. “Kis śy ēs?” Nedton iglâtsa.
Mânon aiźē ēm ēźo.” “Imi ûe âpâdan śo!”

Next the nanny sends herself. Knock-kock she sounds on the ford.
The dragon heard this. “Who are you?” She roared.
“It’s only me, a nanny-goat.” “I am waiting to eat you up!”

prâglâs as an aiźē tē pi bleptâs iźibrâmûe.
Ērga byźâs o ydrēnin. Ân ûe isźas drâkûēnin,
Kipâs ǵânton pi palon.” Sân idakûe iē gormon.

But the very loyal answer of the nanny-goat rang out.
“A billy-goat comes to the water-dragon. If you wait for dinner,
You will have more meat.” Thus she greedily did.

Slaidon bâs as saika an nygō durō kisa ǵâlǵa
Źymlē tē ilâ iglâûsa. “Kis śy ēs?” Nedton iglâtsa.
Tâno bâs ēm ēźo! Nâ ûe isźan. Âpnâikmi śo!

Lastly the billy-goat arrived on hooves strong like bronze.
The dragon heard this. “Who are you?” She roared.
“Here I am, the billy-goat!” “I will not wait. I’m attacking you!”

Phew. The verbs are coming together…maybe?

And here’s the best part. I consumed some fun stuff this month.

New song:  “The Best is Yet To Come” by Sheppard.

New TV: Bluey– This is the best Anglophone TV I’ve watched since Steven Universe. Yes, probably because it’s about a daddy and a mommy and two little girls. I watch it with my daughters and gives us ideas for games we can play.

Bluey is part of my understanding of the instructive nature of fiction. The reason we crave stories is because we need the lessons they can teach us. Bluey takes that duty seriously. It isn’t preachy or saccherine – it’s honest and delightful. “Uh oh, kids, better watch out for drop bears!” “Dad, are drop bear in real life?” “No don’t worry. Drop bears aren’t real. Uh…but seriously, watch out for snakes.”

New Books:

ABriefer History of Time by Steven Hawking — A good mix of history of science and real science, bringing us up to the current stalemate, uh, I mean, “state,” of physics. The time is ripe for someone to stumble across a wormhole in the New Guinea Highlands!

We are Legion by Dennis E. Taylor — Eh. I liked this book the first time I read it because of the process management and leveraging one strength to build another. The second time around, I had much less patience for the future history.

Unsouledand Soulsmith by Will Wight — on the other hand, were well worth re-reading (or rather listening to). I’ve talked before about the chronicling of the rise of Wei Shi Lindon from magic-less nothing to (at some point) god-like ultra-being. It is immensely satisfying to see this kid grow in power. At some point, he might even kiss a girl.

Brothersin Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold — Sweet Space Lord the Vorkosigan books are good! Every character populating Bujold’s scenes is a real person, from the war-weary admiral to his concerned lieutenant to the guy selling him space ships, the bureaucrat telling him he can’t buy any more space ships, and the accountant who has to mortgage his space ships! Even the villains are treated with compassion and depth. This is everything I want my fiction to be.

Never Split theDifference by Chris Voss — A mindblowing and transformative book on negotiation. The basic thesis (as you see in the title) is that there is that win-lose and lose-win outcomes are just as bad as lose-lose (in game theory speak: all zero-sum-games are inferior to non-zero-sum games). The author is an FBI hostage negotiator, and he found that the only way to get what he wants (the lives of hostages) is to give his counterparts what they want (which was not the helicopter full of money that they demanded). This book is the perfect blend of kindness and practicality, rooted deeply in morality. And its lessons work.

Talk to you all next month. Stay safe and wash your hands often.


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