Monthly Archives: October 2010

Contract

Something’s wrong. Can’t quite place it. There’s no telling. I’ve screwed up somewhere. Won’t know for sure. I’m wishing I knew. This’ll end badly. You’ve no idea.

S.C.U.B.A.

So the good news is that the doctor found something wrong with me. The bad news is that the treatment is lifelong.

According to the polysomnogram I got last week, I apparently stop breathing when I sleep. Not all through the night, mind you, but only during REM sleep. As soon as REM is over, I’m back to mostly normal. “REM-dependent sleep apnea“, the doctor called it, which means I just don’t sleep very well. How awesome is that?

See, when you’re in REM sleep, your brain is firing most of your neurons in a random fashion; this is necessary for memory, cognition, and sanity. Any interruption of this has negative consequences. During REM, you’re dreaming, and what you experience in your dreams is nothing more than an interpretation of this randomness. We act out in our dreams, but are prevented from actually acting on them. For instance, if the neurons responsible for remembering a childhood fear are triggered, the neurons that enable you to feel fear are triggered in response, and you may get the strong motivation to run away from the imagined threat. So you start running, firing the neurons that tell your legs to pump back and forth. What happens instead is that the nerves at the top of your spinal cord block these running signals and redirect some of them to the muscles in your eyes, effectively paralysing you and preventing you from accidentally killing yourself in your sleep by knocking yourself out of the tree or running off a cliff.

With the exception of your autonomic nervous system (which controls heartrate, breathing, digestion, etc.), every part of you is shut down during REM sleep. Even if your brain wanted to, you would be unable to move until this paralysis wore off. That’s why some people report suddenly waking up and being frozen stiff, unable to move. Stories like this are sometimes accompanied by a vision of a ghost or some other paranormal activity present in the room — an expected after-effect of the suggestibility of dreaming, but propped up by the dreamer as a convenient, though incorrect, explanation. The person is awake, but their nerves from the neck down haven’t caught on.

This paralysis varies with each individual. Some people are able to talk in their sleep, some walk in their sleep, others eat or have sex in their sleep. At this end of the pool, the paralysis isn’t deep enough. On the other end, you have people like me, whose paralysis is so deep that breathing stops frequently throughout the night. There are two sets of muscles that control breathing: the main set is the diaphragm underneath your ribcage for “belly breathing”, and the second is around the ribcage, used for “chest breathing”. During REM, the chest muscles are shut off, since they’re not part of the autonomic nervous system, so your only way to breathe is your automatic diaphragm motions.

With me, the diaphragm isn’t enough, so it either struggles to pull in air or just doesn’t move at all. The extra weight I carry on my belly is a contributing factor, as is my sleeping position (worse when I’m on my back). And so what happens if I’m not breathing? My blood-oxygen level drops. According to my sleep study, during these REM episodes it drops to as low as 60% O2 saturation. And so my adrenal system goes into panic mode, makes my heart pump more to keep O2 levels up, and my dream gets really intense and panicked, causing me to wake up just enough to start breathing again. The immediate result is disruption of necessary REM sleep. The intermediate result is a really bad night of sleep. The long-term result ranges from loss of concentration, bad memory, weight gain, all the way up to increased risk of diabetes and early-onset heart disease. All the stuff that comes from lack of sleep and a high-stress lifestyle.

No wonder I feel crappy in the morning, can’t focus, and can’t remember important stuff ever. FML.

So what’s the treatment? Sleeping with a CPAP machine. How cool is that? I get to sleep with an air hose jockstrapped to my face for the rest of my life. Fucking awesome.

The doc is having me come in next week to do another sleep study to determine just how much air pressure I actually need. “Titration”, it’s called. Then I’ll come back again to get set up with a machine of my very own (joy joy), and then a final checkup a month later to gauge my improvement. I feel my youth slipping away as I type.

So, it feels like my days of going to the submarine races are drawing to an end. I’ll be snorkeling in the shallows for the rest of my life.

Gr’own-Up

Life was a lot easier when I believed in the benevolence and guidance of an overarching Other. It allowed me to be comfortable with being less than I could be. It allowed me to be comfortable with failure. Falling short was OK as long as I felt the choices I made were part of the Other’s plan. Because really, who can argue with feelings?

Life was also a lot more self-conscious when I believed in the Other who watched over me, seeing my actions, hearing my thoughts, knowing my heart. By keeping myself in line, I kept in his plan, kept in his good graces. Nothing about me escaped his scrutiny, so no matter if fellow man paid attention to me or ignored me, I always had someone attentive to my interests and concerned about my desires.

But it was that diadic interest in my affairs that trained me to pay more attention to the righteousness of my own intent than to embrace and learn from the action itself. Why commit to the encounter when there’s a chance it could lead me down the path of unrighteousness? Why not just sit on the side and pray for guidance? Why not embrace, instead, the paranoia of appearances? I mean, I could fail and go down in flames figuratively or succeed and go down in flames spiritually. And so I carried on.

Life was easier when I could use my desire for righteousness as a explanation to prop up my insular behavior and my retreat from the mature ways of the adult world. I abstained in life because of the rewards I sought in the afterlife. But seventeen years since leaving the faith, I don’t have that crutch anymore, so the abstinance looks more silly than ever. I was in a social situation recently where adult confessions where circulating around the table; after some time, one of my acquaintences addressed me and mentioned that I hadn’t offered anything. I demured and played it down, not because I hadn’t done anything worthy of confession, but because I didn’t want to admit to anything. I didn’t want to own up to my desires. I abstained from the informal social game, and instantly I was a wild feather sticking out against the grain.

The adult world is a social dance; no room for those who stumble over their feet. One missed step and you’re either playing catch-up or heading back to the chairs. After so much of my life, I can’t stand the sidelines anymore. So it’s a steady walk back to the dance floor. Everybody’s there, moving, shaking, flexing, with reckless abandon. Where am I? I have a body, and I’m allowed to move it. I have a tongue, and I’m allowed to wag it. I have a finger, and I’m allowed to point it. I have an ass, and I’m allowed to shake it.

Just like everybody else, I have desires, goals, and dreams. Time to own up.

Nothing Grows in a Vacuum

I’ve been throwing myself into full-on adoration for Karin Dreijer Andersson and any project she’s involved in. She has a vocal, lyrical, and thematic style that drips with creativity and mastery of the art. And then I look at my own projects, and am suddenly jealous of her success. When I pull back to consider all of the other artists she works with, it becomes certainly clear to me that nothing of worth can grow in a vacuum. It takes a village to write a song.

It’s apparent now that I’ve been holing up in my little room, never venturing out to see other artists, never once looking up to find artist collectives and creativity support groups. I’ve been insular and away from it all for years. An island against the scene.

But there is no fire without fuel and air. When you consider the amount of labor involved in the creation of music, only the most gifted among us can operate in solitude and produce brilliance. The rest of us, when we try the same, are only capable of putting out mediocrity. We all need help. We all need the hands of others to help with the heavy lifting. We have to rely on the competencies of those in our tribe to turn a mess of ideas into gold.

I did a little searching tonight. Found a few local blogs that loosely follow the local electronic music scene. I’m also thinking more of looking at flyers and reading the Chronicle for listings of shows that I should probably see. It’s a start, I guess. Certainly more novel than turning on my equipment and doing nothing. If you know of any support group for creatives in Austin, I’d love to know about it. Do you have any advice, any direction, on where to begin in allying with like-minded people in this town of a million people? Give me a hint. Nudge me along.

Rush In

If you’ve known me for long, you know that I really, really like the band Rush. Of the handful of arena shows I’ve been to, Rush has been the most frequent. I have all their studio albums, a stack of T-shirts, concert videos and a documentary or two. To say I am a fanatic is an understatement.

This week, among my internet friends and some sites I frequent, I’ve seen references to a lot of Rush stuff. A lot. Their current concert tour. A friend’s overview of their show this week in Dallas. An intimate interview with the band on Canada’s “Studio Q“. An interview with CNN before a show.  The full-blown documentary of the band released earlier this year. And in the news today is an article on the new Guitar Hero video game featuring the entire “2112” suite (all 21 minutes), required to unlock a “Demi-God” to slay “The Beast” during the game’s Quest mode (how cool is that?). That’s a lot of Rush news.

These guys have been going at their thing for 40 years now, and that’s a huge achievement. But during most of that time, they’ve toiled in some level of obscurity. They have a gaggle of radio-friendly hits, but by and large their musical and lyrical content borders the fringe of what the mass culture is willing to accept. The main consumers of Rush music are the nerdier ones among us. That’s been the joke for a long while, but every joke has a thread of truth.

So, if they’ve been in the fringe for so long, enjoyed mostly by those who get their jollies on the weirder stuff, then why all the sudden press from the band?

Ah, yes, the press. Ever notice when disparate threads come together in your head and tie themselves together into a larger narrative? All the talk of the band this week reached a critical mass with me where it confessed the story of a band propelled back into the Limelight by a very skilled public relations firm whose sole job is to reestablish, in the public’s mind, the importance of their works and their worth to rock music at large.

I don’t need convincing, but apparently more outside people do. I can’t begrudge them that. If the Rolling Stones can keep going, selling out stadiums for more than $100 a pop (cheap seats), if U2 can still make an impact and elevate the people lucky enough to get a ticket to a show before it sells out in an hour, then why should Rush languish in the shadow? It’s noteworthy that the band even referenced these and other bands in their interviews, tying themselves and their career to the cannon of rock-and-roll. It’s a clever play.

The members have a certain level of humility in their interviews, and it’s somewhat refreshing to see a band of their caliber have that. But there’s also a subtle subtext of seeking recognition, of increasing the brand awareness, of getting the rewards they merit by sticking to it for so long. Of a band making a push to rocket into the stratosphere where the rock gods live. Of going out in a blaze of glory.

Our better natures seek elevation.
A refuge for the coming night.
No one gets to their heaven without a fight.