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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

American nocturnal

<ve showered and my hair is still wet and piled like fresh-mown morning-grass around my ears.  There are vines growing out of my mattress.

They are wrapping around my body like Lilliputians. If I were sleeping in a graveyard I would imagine bony fingers, softened by time, but still reaching for something. But no, it’s just a bed. A bed of vines. Wrapping, criss-crossing around my legs, through the warm damp patch in the crease of my neck, soaking up the tiny puddle on my ear drum

The piano is embalming me, and what a luxury it is to choose one’s own undertaker. Keith Jarrett is burying me at Köln. He is tender when he needs to be, and when he needs to be he’s violent.

Pulled down down, by the vines, the grabbing fingers. Wearing a hot crown of warmwater. This is the kind of tunnel vision that only takes place in cars driving backward.  Don’t run towards the light? No, the light is growing smaller and smaller, like the last upward glance of a well bucket sinking at sixteenth note speed. Maybe Heaven was all that brightness, and now I’m falling back to life.


My freshman year I lived in Watson 507, which is on the Northeast corner of the building. My bed was along the windows on the Northwest side of the room. This meant that from around 1:30 to 2:30 on every nice day that year the sun would slice across my room and set my bed on fire.

My schedule had me almost always out of class before one, and it became a happy tradition to climb into my sunsoaked sheets and rest before Frisbee practice that afternoon. At some point that year I managed to get a hold of “The Complete Bach Cello Suites” played by Yo-Yo Ma, which, with the help of my roommate’s speakers, soon became part of my afternoon ritual.

I wonder if some part of me is nocturnal because I am oh so good at shutting my eyes tightly and sunlight feels like a just-bought-today fleece blanket that there’s room for all of us under. I’ve thought about learning Spanish for the siestas.


One deafeningly bright afternoon, I was only able to sleep for half an hour. I had nothing else to do so I sat up in bed, legs still baking in the sunlight like ancient pottery. Yo-Yo Ma was playing No. 3 in C, and the only thing in the world required of me in that moment was to listen, and to breathe. So that’s all I did. Listen and breathe.

Before long I was smiling, and smiling made me breathe bigger, fuller, pushing out the creases of chest, and then there was laughter inside me but I kept it in because all laughter sounds loudest in the cave of your own ribs and I promised Yo-Yo I’d listen.

My roommate, had he walked in, would have seen me rising and falling, inflating and deflating, with a smile he would have to place somewhere between serene and crazy. He would not have understood the significance of the moment. I’m still trying to understand it myself. If happiness were oil I would’ve built a derrick there.

The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn has a meditative technique called “Half-smile while listening to music,” but I’ve never been one to do things part-way.

I had a similar experience in a Zen monastery last year. During meditation, I remembered a joke one of the other monks had told me earlier that day and nearly laughed out loud. Making noise is, of course, forbidden during meditation, so I held the laughter in and it stayed there for four hours. Four hours of hearing Mitch Hedberg for the first time. Four hours of watching the movie “Rocket Man” in third grade, sugar-high enough to laugh at anything, even “Rocket Man.” Four hours of smiling sunbeams into a cold room.


Keith Jarrett lifts me out of sleep like a mineshaft elevator. The vines that bind me are slow to loosen, so I lay a little longer. It is 4:15. There is nothing so important that I can’t listen a little longer.

The best part of falling asleep in church was always waking to the sound of the organ.

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