Sleep. That place to which we all disappear for hours at a time. Drifting off. The mysterious and intangible loss of consciousness. The strangeness of dreams. Waking refreshed . . . or not so much.
As a kid, I was scared of the loss of consciousness that is implicit and inevitable in falling sleep. As an adult, I have, at times, felt even more afraid of the continuity of consciousness that is implicit and inevitable in being awake.
The protagonist of the novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh, falls into the latter camp. She does not want to experience life. She wants to fade away, to live in the darkest shadows, where she cannot be found—not by anyone, and especially not by herself:
“And that was exactly what I wanted—my emotions passing like headlights that shine softly through a window, sweep past me, illuminate something vaguely familiar, then fade and leave me in the dark again.”
The protagonist adores sleep like nothing else in life. That is a very oxymoronic stance to take. Sleeping, she does not exist. Waking, she fetishizes sleep:
“The bed was a king, low to the ground, and whenever I slept in it, I felt very far away from the world, like I was in a spaceship or on the moon. I missed that bed. The stiff blankness of my mother’s eggshell sheets.”
I am currently coming out of a period of “rest and relaxation” myself. Over the past few years, I have experienced a variety of physical and mental health issues that I am treating with wellness activities . . . and prescription drugs. My doctor recently changed the dosages when I explained that I was sleeping too much at night, sleepy throughout the day, and struggling to get things done. The past couple weeks have been a wonderful period of awakening. And yet, I remember the great relief I felt upon descending, initially, into the sleepiness that would rescue me from my ailments.
One could, I suppose, judge those who use drugs that cause them to descend into sleep as somehow lacking in the vitals of life. Perhaps I and Moshfegh’s protagonist—and I may as well add Juliet and Romeo—are poor, broken, creatures who cannot sustain the light of consciousness as naturally given to us. Or perhaps, as in the case of Rip Van Winkle, intoxicating ourselves to sleep is something that just happens to some of us, beyond our control and comprehension.
Are you feeling sleepy?