I’ve had trouble sleeping lately, which is a very new development. Of all the stress induced physical effects I’ve encountered, sleep loss has rarely been one of them. Headaches, soreness, back trouble, and disturbingly detailed dreams I’m familiar with. I’ve also lost sleep before, but simply lying awake staring at the walls for hours at a time has never been an issue before. I know that it is a result of the exponential increase in the complexity of my life, (both personal and academically - the material I am approaching). I try to explain this to friends. Grad school is not harder it is just more. It is not another language, but a tone and cadence and vocabulary that you have, you think, maybe encountered once before, but no one ever expected you to know it or write in it or speak it.
When I was younger I used to have the same trouble with sleep, I recall, but that was 10 years ago. I was 12 or 13, teetering on the verge of highschool, a transition that seemed, at the time, completely terrifying, insurmountable, impossible for my mind and body to adjust to. During that time I could sooth myself to sleep by engineering. I spent the school day sweeping my eyes across the classroom and taking note of objects or tools, the function of which I did not understand. I made lists of these on the last page of my notebook. (I have always kept the last page of my notebook blank for personal use, even today). At night I would try to reconstruct their innards in my mind. It worked best if I started with the question, “Okay I need an object that does _____. How would I go about doing that?”
For example, I had no idea how a spray bottle works. Think about it. You use them all the time, but could you really explain, to a child for example, the mechanisms that make the transfer of liquid possible? I doubt it. So I thought, how would I make such a thing. Well, I would need to create a vacuum, though not exactly. I would need suction, like trying to get too much shampoo back in the bottle. So if I had a tiny shampoo bottle inside the head of a squirt bottle I would need some way to squeeze and release it, thus moving the liquid into the shampoo bottle and out again. That would be the trigger. Of course there would need to be a sort of trap door over the bottom bit which was released when the shampoo bottle contracted. By this time I was asleep.
The next day, during lunch, I snuck into the coat closet and coaxed the spray bottle apart with a pair of scissors and a pencil and, sure enough, everything was where I planned it would go. Success! The next night I began on the mechanism that raised and lowered our desks.
I had to avoid complex mechanism, like projectors. Here difficulties arose. I would have to assume the entire piece of machinery that provided electricity, and I had no idea how the magnification or focus took place. What I discovered was that there were actually very few moderately complex items in our lives, like the squirt bottle. Most things were simple, a desk, a pen, a chair, a black board, hinges, stairs. The rest were highly complex. Very few things could be solved out in a single sleepless night.
Of course I realize now that I should have approached each larger machine through the subsets of its smaller ones. Electricity is not so terribly difficult. The problem of the me as a child was not that I lacked insight, but that I lacked the patience to focus it.
Or perhaps that is not the problem at all. Lately, as I mentioned before, I find myself staring at the wall, holding the dissected pieces of a poem in my mind, raging, “How!? How does it work!? Where does the light come from?”