Happy New Year!

The absolute last day of 2021. There are a lot of posts saying goodbye to one year and hello to a fresh start. Thinking in those terms can be helpful for drawing a line between the mistakes and troubles of the last year and the possibilities of the new year. There is nothing inherently wrong with that type of thinking. It is just a mistaken construct (the end of a calendar year) applied to another construct (the linear passage of time). 

We will have all the same troubles in 2022 that have been unresolved for the last year, five years, 10 years, 20 years, and on back. Everyone knows this.

When we draw that imaginary line, maybe we are trying to take a break from the angst associated with all those difficulties that chase us through life. For at least two days we want a salve for our troubled minds and hearts. We want to carve out a couple of days where we can be at peace and hopeful. Instead of being hopeful on our own, we would like the rest of the world to occupy this space with us.

We’ve collectively agreed to recognize the calendar and time zones, so in a rolling volley across the world we celebrate the turning of an arbitrary page…a calendar page. It is really a magnificent collective effort by a majority of humanity. There’s hope in that, and reason to celebrate another Happy New Year!

Altered Book for 2022

Last year I joined in on Karen Abend’s Sketchbook Revival. One of the projects was altering a book with collage, drawing, ripping and tearing, coloring, painting, and whatever other creativity we wanted to unleash on the pages. The lesson was led by Robyn McClendon.

Here’s that book:

A stroll through this blog should result in a few snaps for the interior. There’s a link to one below. Eventually I’ll film a flip though…they are fun.

Since 2022 is just a few days away, I’ve torn apart another perfectly good book in anticipation of more creativity.

I’ve taped in someone else’s beautiful art into the opening spread and practiced a few sketches in their style. Their art was from a nature journal.

The firefly on the rock with nearby reeds was a mashup of three separate pieces by the original artist.

These are ballpoint and watercolor. They’ve been cropped out of the larger page and enlarged, but these are margin drawings. I’ve always enjoyed margin drawings and notes…particularly the ones in MAD Magazine.

Here’s a doodle from the 2021 altered book: Doodle

A Notable First

There was a notable first in my house on Christmas morning. I unknowingly rekindled the fireplace from the ashes of the Christmas Eve fire.

I’d placed a few newspaper pages in the grate for a new fire and one began a slow smoulder–just a whisp of smoke curling up and out the chimney indicated there was still heat there.

The wisp

The chimney blocks and bricks were, of course, warm from the previous evening but that was not unusual. The ashes were completely gray.

Having seen the wisp of smoke, I laid out a few sticks and logs and pulled out my bellows.

The first pump on the bellows needed to be slow and drawn out to prevent ash from flying every which way. The slow stream of air from the bellows blew away the gray ash and just under the surface there was an orange glow.

A few more slow pumps on the bellows and the orange glow flamed toward a nearby corner of newspaper and spread rapidly. The fire was warming the room in minutes.

It was a first for me. It filled me with peace. There is peace in thinking just under the surface there is warmth that just needs to be slowly nurtured.

Treasures All Around

My mind needed a good airing out this afternoon, so Clover and I joined up with the WHDWC for a stroll through the woods.

Some creative and festive litter (a.k.a. Ornaments) were found dangling from various trees along the trail. I love the cheeriness of this kind of thing, but the cynic in me wonders if the creative individual will return to take down the dangling joy after the holiday. They really should. My faith in humanity will be lifted (not restored because humanity has a lot of work to do before my faith in them is restored) if they do.

The ultimate decoration arrived at the end of the walk with the sunset. Purdy.

Avorocko…Rockocado?

Don’t know what to call it, but I saw this delightful treasure on the lawn in front of the Anderson Arts Center in Kenosha. Just hanging out, smiling into the heavens.

Then I came across a second blessing…a dog poop bag tied to a garbage can. Clover and I flew out the door to enjoy the warmth after I got off a conference call. I switched coats, but did I move the poop bags from one coat to the other?? Of course not. Some good soul had my back…bless you whoever you are. I shall repay your kindness by tying two to the handle the next time I pass that way.

The Monkey Mind in Repose

Handwritten and drawn title art for “The Monkey Mind in Repose”. Brain receiving sound input while asleep.

When I woke up angry this morning I repeated out loud “the anger must go” about five or six times. The great thing about a mantra is the distraction and focus it provides to your mind, and the repetitiveness is mesmerizing. Soon I was not feeling angry nor was I on the monkey mind loop any more.

I know the source of my anger because I’ve been here before. Watching streaming TV as I fall asleep is the culprit. Some time ago I’d begun streaming TV (usually reruns) to fall asleep because I needed to quiet my looping monkey mind. It worked, but if I happened to be watching a series, it played all night.

The Sleeping Mind is Vulnerable

When we are sleeping our brain is quite vulnerable to sound around us. I know this because there have been a few times I’ve awoken and truly noted how the sounds around me were woven into my dreams. It was not a perfect match up…I was not dreaming the plot of a show, but some bits of dialog from the show had interwoven in whatever my mind was working on.

This used to happen to me quite frequently when I woke to an alarm clock. The alarm would be sounding in my dream even as it pulled me to wakefulness.

The mind uses our dreaming time to work out problems from our waking hours. Don’t take my word for it, but allow me to direct you to the work of Ken A. Paller, Jessica D. Creery, and Eitan Schechtman Memory and Sleep: How Sleep Cognition Can Change the Waking Mind for the Better.”

Sound’s Effect on the Mind

Music has charms to soothe the savage breast.

This famous line was first uttered by a character in William Congreve’s 1697 play The Mourning Bride.

The statement has morphed over the years, but from the first time our mother sings us a lullaby to our dying day we know this to be true every time a favorite tune hits our ear. The catchy tunes cheer us up. Need I mention “ear worms”?

Should it be such a surprise, then, that our sleeping and dreaming mind could also be influenced by the quality of sound?

Programming Myself—A Small Fix

My first time through the streaming TV experience, I had discovered a monkey mind effect in the morning. My thoughts were all over the place, so was my mood, and I recalled waking in the middle of the night (usually when I rolled over), and being more easily drawn into a TV show before quickly falling asleep again.

I decided to change the way I was using streaming TV. I wanted to give my mind the distraction it needed to get to sleep, but then the sound needed to stop so I could sleep in silence. I switched to comedy shows. The comedians I selected were the ones who were a quieter in their presentation style. Their show would play but then the streaming program would go dormant and the device would go to sleep.

This worked for a while until I got really tired of listening to the same comedians over and over again.

Recently, therefore, I had switched back to watching reruns of Gray’s Anatomy. I enjoy rewatching this show during my waking hours because it is good background noise. I’m familiar enough with it to remember the details so I can work on other things like cooking and cleaning or doodling. Plus, there are about 3,000 seasons of the show…ha!

But now I’m waking up angry with my mind buzzing. I suspect the nature of the show I watch influences more levels of the brain than I can understand. Gray’s Anatomy was written to heighten our emotional response so that we will return for the next episode. This tension is will me in the morning, and any unresolved issue from the day or two before causes me frustration. Having inhabited this brain space before, I hereby assert my sleeping mind is delicate enough to pick up on the tension or ease of the streaming TV!

This may beg the question, “Nan, why don’t you fall asleep listening to whale song, white noise, or waves on the beach sounds?” I find them pleasant at first, but for me they quickly become an ear and brain irritant.

Falling asleep to conversation takes me to a particularly warm, comforting and happy time from my youth. Conversation just works for me. I just need some particularly dull and medium-long conversation to play as I fall asleep.

The bottom line is that it is fascinating programming my brain by changing its exposure to content. We spend hours sleeping and knowing there is an influence I can exert to control the quality of those hours is comforting.

What Good Is All of This?

There is a very obvious relationship we’ve always known about exposing our waking minds to a constant stream of violence and misery — it doesn’t work well for the health and happiness of the individual in the short or long term. How well do people guard their sleeping hours to give the brain it’s proper processing time?

How many people live in circumstances in which they can guard the quality of sound during their sleep? How many have, or don’t have, access to safe sleep?

Here’s an interesting side article regarding small sleeping shelters that were developed with the homeless in mind: Ulmer Nest on Designboom.com


We talk in general terms about the world going mad. How much of that madness is brought about by a near-constant exposure to information and sound? Shouldn’t we address the fundamental need of each person to have safe and calm sleep for their minds to rest and perhaps resolve issues?

How do negotiations between world leaders benefit from a good night’s sleep by the principles? Could principles agree to fall asleep to a sound track (personalized to their own tastes) the night before the negotiations so they awake in like frames of mind? They already agree to locations and protocols for creating a “safe” space for the negotiations.

Let’s Toss in a Little Maslow

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs lists physiological needs at the base for our existence. They include air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing and reproduction. Personally, I’d chuck reproduction up in the middle of the pyramid amongst the love and belonging needs, but that’s just me.

Maslow’s Hierarchy has been gently “debunked” for a reason exemplified by the third sentence of the above paragraph. Not everyone agrees to the order and importance of some needs. There are certain hedonistic villages who would chuck clothing out of the base section, too. And I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that some homeless people prefer to be out from under a roof—though “shelter” can mean many things to many people so “shelter” is not always a roof over head.

Maslow is still handy, however, as a checklist of needs. It is in our nature to organize priorities, and it is handy to have a list so we don’t forget anything.

Air, water, food, and sleep, however, are critical to our health. Their quality is of critical importance too. We’ve seen the effects of bad air, water and food. Sleeping poorly can mean you are just in a bad mood when you wake. On the other hand, insomnia can lead to hallucinations, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack or heart failure, or stroke.

Seems like a pretty good reason to watch the quality of what I breathe, drink, eat and how I sleep.

Sources

“Music to Tickle a Savage Breast”, In the Muse Performing Arts Blog post by Pat Padua, November 17, 2020, The Library of Congress.


This article is also on Medium.com.