Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sleeping My Way To The Top: Arianna Huffington's Thrive

Today the From Left to Write bookclub is discussing how HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington's new book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being relates to our lives.

I really dig Huffington's advice to enhance our lives through committing to serve, exploring meditation and mindfulness, practicing gratitude and regaining our child-like sense of wonder though art and nature. Her exhortation to view coincidences as meaningful messages with "a kind of magic power?" Not so much.

But one section of the book gave me support for a little self-help secret I've been reluctant to share: I like to sleep more than eight hours a night.

The confession is tough to make. I don't admire the macho one-up-manship of competitive sleep deprivation but still, isn't eight hours adequate? Not for me, apparently.

Huffington compares the benefits of sufficient rest to that of performance-enhancing drugs -- good sleep can improve concentration, increase focus and creativity, lower stress, suppress appetite, enhance mental performance and even reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

Makes sense to me. I know well the difference between the frazzled day I drag myself through after a short night and the pleasure of a vacation day. But Huffington's book inspired me to take a further mindful step, to start actively scheduling my sleep and treating the bedtime hour as if it were an important appointment. Instead of guess-timating how quick I could throw together my fifth-grader's lunch before her bus arrived and subtracting eight hours from that to set my bedtime, I made sure I was in bed by 9:30. Even though the girls had said goodnight only a few minutes before, even though delicious episodes of Mad Men and Cosmos were calling my name, even though it felt indulgent and even indolent, I stuck all last week to my schedule.

And last week was a busy one - I was planning the elementary school's Earth Week activities AND a Brownie overnight while reading Huffington's book in spare moments. But stuff got done. And more stuff. There was a chugging quality to my work: emails, emails, emails; phone calls, phone calls, phone calls; errands, errands, errands, packing, packing, packing. I didn't feel more energetic, but more, well, solid. Less "multi-tasking" (code word: distractions like Facebook) and more accomplishing. And of course, more patience with the girls, even at night when we were all tired.

And the results of all the planning? Sixteen little third-graders had a fun weekend at camp, got fed, learned archery and candle-making, traded handmade SWAPS crafts, made bookbags and bookmarks for Chicago Public Library patrons, rolled down hills, sang songs, Tie-Dyed, played parachute games, ran a scavenger hunt, hiked, jumped, climbed, got fed, and slept a little on Saturday night.

Nobody cried, only one use of the First Aid kit.

S-U-C-C-E-S-S! That's the way we spell SUCCESS!!

And Sunday? I took a three hour afternoon nap, then went to bed at 9:00 p.m.

You can read more responses to Huffington's book on the From Left to Write website. Members of the bookclub received copies of the books with no obligation. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Words for a Melancholy Season

This Dark Branch
by Ann Hudson

It's ten pm; my breath is foggy in the April air.
It takes three long city blocks to find a fallen branch.
I bring it in, and jam the end into the narrow throat
of a lemonade bottle I've rinsed and saved
on the kitchen sill since summer. It's nothing fancy,
but just enough to hang the miniature wooden ornaments on:
painted eggs, bunnies, ducks, butterflies, birds.
My mother cut down flamboyant boughs
of forsythia each year, but this dark branch will have to do.
Tomorrow over breakfast my daughter will laugh
to see it there, and exclaim, We're pretending
the branch is the whole tree! And that's the secret
to these cold spring days that feel like winter still.

You can find more of Ann's poetry at

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sad News: Barry Kimm

Sick. Sick with the awful truth I don't want to accept: Two friends died this week. Good men. Artists. Suicides.

The first news came on Wednesday and then another blow came the very next day. I can't stay standing next to Randy when he is telling me about Jerry Smith. I run out of the room, sit down, rub my forehead over and over.

I walk to the lake but I keep forgetting how to breathe. The air gets caught in my tight chest.

I go to my advisors, John Keats and Peter Mattheissen, for words to help me with mortality, to help me express what I can't comprehend. "My heart aches," writes the boy who died at 26. "Broken-brained and wholly broken-hearted" says the man who died, also this week, at 86.

Jerry. Uh, I can't write about Jerry right now.

I need to tell you about Barry Kimm. What a sweetheart. What a talent. Barry and I were at film school together in Iowa City in the 80's, then we reconnected at a reunion there in 2008. As our group walked the shady streets, looking for and telling stories about our old shabby apartment buildings, Barry told me in his serene way about the films he had made since Iowa, the 3-D IMAX movie about the sun that seemed too astounding a project to be real, but sure enough. I told Barry that Randy's company had just opened up a production department and he should give him a call. Barry did. And he got hired and directed several shoots for Optimus, for which I was inordinately proud to play that tiny part.

The last time I saw him was at Optimus's block party two summers ago. We talked in the cyc set on the fourth floor and once again, I was struck by his warmth, sweetness and calm in a room full of drinking ad people. And that was the last I heard until this week. The rest I have learned from mutual friends: when Barry's wife Susan was diagnosed with cancer, the two took a road trip around the country, taking photographs, their shared talent and love. Susan passed away the first week of April and Barry was not able to live without her.

I cannot judge Barry's choice. It brings so much pain to so many people, but his was worse. 

The memorial service that was planned for Susan will now be for them both, in Minneapolis, where they lived and loved each other.

Here is one of Barry's last projects. You can see see his goodness and wisdom in every frame.

Tattoo Underground from Barry Kimm on Vimeo.