I’m not much of a worrier. I keep a lid on it. The key is to begin triage at two in the morning.
You can start anywhere. For instance, you can remember that you need to transplant certain shrubs before winter sets in—preferably first thing in the morning. Give that a few minutes, mentally charting out what to dig up and where to put it, and from there you can move on to items of urgent home repair, such as water damage, rot, or clogged gutters. Next you can review ongoing frets about family members, friends, and other loved ones. These are unlikely to have solutions but there is no point wasting perfectly good wakefulness by not wallowing in pointless worry. Besides, from there it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to extinction, Republicans, and other matters of dire planetary consequence.
By this time in the protocol you should have pulled out every available loose thread of anxiety and dejection and stomped it into felt, and then you move on to the semi-dream state in which you can pull it apart again into manageable wads that take discrete shapes and can only be solved by finding certain combinations of letters such as one might (possibly) have been working on for hours the previous day with the New York Times Spelling Bee. This will all make sense to you at the time, and as you ease back into full wakefulness in the morning, you have the comforting notion that all will be sorted out as long as you remember what the right letters were.
This particular version of serenity evaporates before you get to your toothbrush.
On the other hand, it is sometimes replaced by a recognition that some things are more worrisome at two a.m. than they are six hours later. This is good!
Transplanting, for instance. Clearly this is the right time of year for such activity, and clearly there are perennials out there that are sulking in their current positions and would benefit from being moved to a more congenial spot. What was so complicated about this in the middle of the night? Something about…where you should start? Start anywhere! This will be fun! The world is your aster!
So go out with your shovel and head straight for the Number One Item most in need of a new home, a stunning gold azalea you dropped a not-insignificant amount of cash on two years ago, and which is now a bleak stick sculpture with one pathetic leaf on it like the banner on the mast of a sinking ship. Dig. Dug. Done! And you know just where it should go. You haul its sad carcass to the new location. Problem: there’s really no place to put it until you dig up the pulmonaria that is not thriving there.
So you stick the azalea in a bucket of water and go find a place to put the pulmonaria, but the best spot is where the hardy fuchsias weren’t doing well, so you have to dig the fuchsias up and move them around to the south side. Which is jammed with bear’s breeches that have really got to be whacked back if anything else is going to go in there.
That takes a shovel and a mattock and you’re pretty sure it’s all going to bounce right back next spring because the roots are something else, but you do have a nice chunk that could be transplanted, so you walk around the house with it, twice, and finally settle on a shady spot that would work if you took out the coreopsis that is no longer doing so well now that the snowbell tree has grown up. Which should go…where?
At this point you have about ten holes dug and buckets of struggling plants and another bucket of indecision, and maybe it will all become clear tomorrow, although none of this would have been necessary if certain things hadn’t been fatally fried by that heat dome event brought on by irreversible climate change.
But not to worry. You’ve got all night to think about that.
All my many nighttime frets seem to be about either how my kids are doing or the dumbest/worst things I’ve done/said in my nearly 60 years. Not enough white noise in the world to drown out the latter.
My extreme forgetfulness is a big key to my own mental health.
Bloom in Spring, transplant in fall; bloom in summer, transplant in Spring. That’s what I’ve always followed. But eventually things get too overgrown, like night worries, and there’s nowhere to put anything.
Yeah, I just look it up plant by plant. I can’t remember when it bloomed. Not really, but I can’t remember the mnemonic, either..
Excellent essay, Murr.
Btw, glreat portrait, too!
Really? You are kind.
This could be me writing this. Ever since menopause, I can fall asleep quickly initially, but awaken at around 3am most every night. Can’t get back to sleep, but don’t want to get up, because i am ever hopeful that sleep will somehow come to me. (Spoiler: it usually doesn’t.) So I lie there thinking about what I have to do the next day… the next week… for the next season. Then I think about maintenance that needs to be done. Then come the big guns: climate change, our democracy in peril, mass shootings. I realize that worrying about these things will not affect them… only my sleep. I realize that it is needless to worry because I have maybe 10 – 15 years left on this earth. So then I worry about THAT. WHEN will it happen? HOW will it happen? Will I have to off myself because I am in pain of some sort or to feeble to wipe my own ass and I will NOT go into a nursing home? I finally start to get tired again when it’s almost time for me to get up. All these qualms magically disappear once I get up and get on with my day, probably because the minutia of life takes my mind off the important shit. Thank goodness for boring tasks and internet wormholes!
I have that extra bit of serendipity. I don’t actually have to get up. I sleep REALLY WELL right around eight.
What a perfect piece of writing, Murr! Thank you!
Why, you’re welcome!
Sometimes I think we should all start texting each other and chatting at 2:30 or 3am. We’re awake anyway.
As long as I don’t have to get out of bed. Or, come to think of it, open my eyes. I’m really into that eyes-closed thing.
I have gotten up out of bed from sleeplessness exactly once in my life. You’d think I could at least snap on a light and read, but I never do.
Goodness me! “At this point you have about ten holes dug and buckets of struggling plants and another bucket of indecision…” Heck, even if I did all of that digging & planting only in my sleepless mind, I’d be exhausted. At that point, I would probably fall into deep slumber….
I’m sure you’ve dug holes with the best of ’em.
We bought a house that was built on adobe. We hired a driver with an auger on the back of a ¾ ton pickup to drill a hole wherever we wanted to plant something larger that a flower. He couldn’t bring the truck right up against the house, so I rented an electric jackhammer to plant the roses nearest the wall.
I swear, roses will grow anywhere.
We should talk about plants sometime.
All those buckets of plants would probably survive quite nicely in pots on a sunny porch while you decide where they go.
I used to sleep really well all night long, but lately I sleep well for a few hours then sit up reading until I get sleepy again, which bothers the cat, so now I’m more likely to go into the other room and turn on the computer. Which suits the cat just fine.
While at my place, it’s sunny but there’s no porch.
I find that I usually wake up around 2:30, 3 or 3:30. Sometimes it’s just to take a pill or wander into the bathroom, but then I can go back to bed and think about going back to sleep which may not happen until hours later. I absolutely hate waking up with one side of my brain alert and chatty and the other side searching vainly for a pillow or a gun to shut up the chatty side. Is it just me or do the rest of you fine folks have the joy of dealing with a deeply divided brain where the only reason the two halves are still joined at the hip so to speak is because they’re stuck inside the same container?
I do give up and read if it becomes clear that there will be no peace accord between the warring brain factions. That may last an hour or two or finish out the night.
I don’t waste bedtime worrying about things I can’t change like climate change, gun control and the idiots who’re supposed to be taking care of those things. It’s mostly health concerns, financial concerns, if I’ve put off silencing both hemispheres long enough and mulling over stupid actions of mine that are so long past that most of the people offended have either forgotten who I am or are dead.
Well, you actually made me feel better because that last thing, I don’t do. I’m either unaware I’ve offended anyone or I’ve forgotten all about it. Lord knows I HAVE offended many people. Those must be the ones I don’t hear from anymore. Who?
It’s important to realize this true fact: 99% of what we worry about never happens, proving that worrying works! You’re welcome!
Exactly! I think that a part of me thinks that if i worry about it, it won’t happen! Because it doesn’t! And when I wish with all my heart for something… it usually doesn’t happen… but something better does. Maybe we all just think way too much, but I don’t know of a cure for that besides alcohol or pot.
I REALLY wish my doctor hadn’t told me I should cut my alcohol consumption in (at least) half because of the cancer risk. Because I feel great and I was willing to go as far as my liver would take me, but nobody ever mentioned the cancer before.
All sounds so familiar. Except since I’m a nightowl AND a morning person, my worry window tends to be narrower and usually occurs at 3 or 4. In the last few years, however, my insomnia is an ever less frequent occurrence. I mean, as long as I don’t make the mistake of going to bed at a “normal” hour. But like I say, it’s happening less and less now. Which is ANOTHER thing to fret about in the night if I do happen to wake up. Like, what if I no longer have enough of a mind left to even fret with?
I have long hoped that if I develop dementia, the part of my mind to go first will be the part that gives a crap. That’s pretty much how my mom went. The first sign was the note from my cousin telling me that my mom had started flirting with teenaged surfer dudes…
Trouble is, that doesn’t always happen.
I did know a man who had a massive brain trauma (a tree fell on his head). He was unconscious for weeks and mute for at least a year but when he finally came back (as a mail carrier, which you can totally do with half a brain) the part of his brain that registered his losses was gone. Usually brain-damaged people are frustrated and angry. Him, you couldn’t get him to cheer down. He was all “Oh well!” and moving on. It was remarkable. He has recently died, over forty years after his accident, but no doubt as a cause of it. I can’t seem to get any info on that.
I haven’t slept the night through since around 1976 or so, I think. First, it was the oldest daughter, 3 years old, yelling at 2am she needed to go potty. That evolved into her waking me, shaking my shoulder to tell me she went potty. It established a pattern that persisted, alas. Now, I’ll dream about the 2 year old granddaughter climbing up the outside of a skyscraper, and me going floor to floor, leaning out windows trying to grab her.
I’ll wake, calm down and think I can go back to sleep. Then the thought comes “Ok, it was just a dream, but it’s something she might do…”
I consider it a character flaw of mine that I still ruminate in the middle of the night in spite of not having children. Because that would wreck a person.
Sometimes you seem to be actually in my head, especially at 2 or 3 in the morning. And I totally agree about the keeping-your-eyes-closed thing; otherwise I’d just read all night. Thanks for another true and funny rant!
Okay, next time that happens, please send me back! Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep. I’m in someone else’s head.
Why do so many initial garden projects turn into such domino projects? I want to do ‘A’, but to do it, I have to get ‘B’ done first, but I can’t do ‘B’ until ‘C’ is out of the way, which relies on ‘D’ getting done first and so on through the alphabet. By the end of the garden season in MI, I’m lucky if I make it to ‘A’. But it does keep me busy and active all season.
It’s all worth it if it keeps our kind off the streets.