Saturday, August 30, 2014

Insomnolence

 
"I can get to sleep but I cannot stay asleep", I told my doctor last spring.  We talked about all the reasons why sleep is so important.  But I already knew.  And I still couldn't sleep.  My internal clock woke me in the darkest hours before dawn and there I would toss and turn for two or more hours only to fall into a blessed deep sleep just moments before my alarm sounded. 
 
Lunchtime car naps became de rigueur and helped me survive my daytime grogginess. I equipped my car with blankets, a pillow, and earplugs.  While my brief nap revived me for a while,  I found myself dead on my feet later at home.  And then...lather...rinse...repeat - the same pattern all over again.
 
So I was grateful when my doctor prescribed me a sleep aid.  A small dose, but a central nervous system depressant nonetheless.  It worked right away and my sleep began to last until the alarm went off.  The mild hangover headache was worth it.  But after a few weeks, on the nights I was truly exhausted, I tried to sleep without my med only to discover I couldn't even get to sleep which was never my problem. Was I addicted?  Probably.  I didn't increase my dose but a trickle of panic would set in as I saw the number of pills in the bottle dwindling.  I tried to order the refill early only to discover that because it was a controlled substance, the pharmacy wouldn't replenish until 30 days had passed.  One night I found myself driving to my 24 hour pharmacy after midnight on the 30th day, knowing I wouldn't get to sleep without my pill.  I had to ask myself what I was doing.
 
Distress really set in when my doctor's office merged with a larger practice and it began to take days for the pharmacy to reach my doctor for another prescription.  I was tormented on those pill-less nights and thought about going to my other doctor for a new script.  It was all just too much.  My work was suffering - I couldn't remember certain words when I typed;  I couldn't find things.  I was cranky in a "don't even..." way.  I wasn't me.
 
And then recently, a groups of friends and I had a lovely summer day together.  Naturally sleep or the lack of, came up in our discussions.  A friend who sleeps well suggested that since I am such a creature of my rituals, I should incorporate warm milk in my nighttime routine - the hope being that the tryptophan in milk would help me sleep.  When I balked at drinking milk, my friend told me to buy a frother and some honey, perhaps a little nutmeg or allspice.  "Turn it into a self-care ceremony", she said.  It seemed so simple.  I tried it.  And it worked.  Just before bed, I heat up a cup of skim milk in the microwave.  Swirl in a dollop of honey and then froth it carefully.  I dust fragrant allspice on the top, place the mug on a small pretty tray and take it to bed.  As I read a few pages of my bedside book, I sip my nocturnal potion. The spell of my pill was broken at last.
 
I don't know if it's the loving ceremony or if it's actually the tryptophan.  But it doesn't really matter.  I threw my pills out last week.  All thirty of them. 
 
 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Secret Worlds

I've always admired the work of photographer Lillian Bassman.  The women depicted in her ethereal photographs seem to be inspired by Old Masters' paintings but with the forms of modern dancers.  I especially enjoy her lingerie ads from the 1950's which evoke a gentle intimacy - a stark contrast to today's brash sexual ones.  These days, it is rare to see lingerie images in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, except in the September issues which usually bring one or two.  Still, they are flagrant and lack the tender femininity found in a photograph by Bassman, whose fascination rested in long flowing arms and graceful necks.  And surprisingly, most of her photographs are of lone women.
 
Some portraits show these women in their boudoirs, dreamily slipping hosiery over willowy legs, delicately painting toenails, or simply gazing through blinds onto imaginary scenes below.  The images are beautiful, yet haunting.  Bright, yet dark.  Often there is a moody light casting shadows through gossamer curtains which makes one ultimately wonder what the woman in the photograph is thinking, so alone is she.
 
Lillian Bassman created secret, feminine worlds where women took pleasure in their own company and lingered with their own thoughts.  These are photographs of quiet solitude and luxurious privacy.  And from this blusterous world, it seems like the height of bliss.
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Holiday

"It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top."
-- Virginia Woolf
 
Never is this quote more apt than when on vacation.  The long languid days of being "on holiday" gives one great stretches of time to think.  Before long, we find "our heads are on straighter" and cares and worries seem to loosen and unravel.  We can finally see clearly.
 
We spend so much time running around like bunnies...working, marketing, hunting, gathering.  We take care of others more than ourselves.  What does a parent need today?  Will my gown child's flight land safely and on time?  Where are my keys?  Vacations give us time to sort through the jetsam until the tipping point when we finally realize "I need to take better care of myself".  Only then do we reassess our priorities, find places where we can delegate, or ask for help.  The pattern of life, once compact, expands again.
  
I love this photo of a lovely Edwardian woman walking the boardwalk by the sea.  It reminds me of one of my favorite novels, "High Wages" by Dorothy Whipple.  The protagonist is invited on a sea holiday with her benefactress where she "ate caramels without pause" and "sniffed the sea air" and realized "that when one only has a holiday once in a while, each golden minute must be held and perfected before it is let go again". 
 
But how can we keep that fresh-from-vacation feeling as we re-enter everyday life? Here are my suggestions:
 
~ Keep flowers in the house to greet you when you turn the lock after your first day back to work
 
~ Keep reading.  Make time to explore the books you have.  I had forgotten how stress reducing it is to get lost in a well-written novel
 
~ Keep enjoying seasonal pleasures (native tomatoes, farmers' markets, mai-tai's on the porch in the evening, cooling baths with rose-infused bath aids
 
~ Keep making time for languishing in the backyard or on the front stoop after work
 
These sound so obvious...but let's try, shall we?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Nightie 'Nite


Nowhere in a women's wardrobe can she be so completely feminine as with lingerie.  It is the last bastion of lace, flounces, rustles, and truly luxurious fabrics.  This summer, our soft cool New England nights has me reaching for my nightgowns again.

Pajamas certainly have their place but nothing is as comfortable as a loose cotton gown skimming the body just before retiring to bed.  A touch of eyelet or a fetching row of petite buttons and a woman has the makings for romance. Nightgowns are the penultimate female garment so why not go all the way - as in feminine styling?  Even a tailored gown, simply because it IS a gown, is womanly.

My grandmother wore Barbizon nighties with matching robes which were made of an unusually soft cotton lawn that somehow never wrinkled.  The small ribbon closures and pintucks around the yoke added an extra measure of pretty that I remember well. Silk chemises with lace hems and the thinnest straps are raging in every lingerie catalog I've seen lately.  They brush across the body in the loveliest sherbet colors.  The long cotton nightgowns worn by Emily Blunt in the film The Young Victoria inspired me to buy a pretty good Eileen West facsimile.  Costumer Sandy Powell seems to get lingerie just so in all her films.  Which is why it's fun to imagine oneself in an imaginary literary land when wearing a long sweeping gown. 

One of my favorite things to do when I am online shopping is to read the previous reviews.  They  reveal sizing problems which is helpful, but also ring out with stars and enthusiastic endorsements.  Surprisingly, I find them to be articulate and thoughtful reflections, even the negative ones.  I especially loved this charming assessment for a nightgown I was contemplating:  "My husband said he loves waking up next to me in this gown".  That affirmation almost had me reaching for my credit card.  The reviewer's age group?  60-65! 

Vintage nighties are fairly inexpensive on eBay.  I bought a gorgeous one last summer in a luscious hot pink for pennies on the dollar.  But beware as chiffon can be stifling on a hot summer night.  Still, eBay is a terrific place to look at styles from the 1960's when gowns were adorably chaste and pretty.  Below is my favorite nightie from that era.  It's from a 1969 Seventeen (why there is a fold in the picture).  This was an ad for using Noxema on sunburns but I just love the celery green according pleats and the lace. 


Lest you think wearing a nightgown is only meant for sleeping with a man, remember the restorative delights of a nightie after a long hot and tiring day.  And so...more to that point, this:

Where's the man who could ease a heart like the satin gown? ~ Dorothy Parker