Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Grub Street Hotel

Today is a special day for me. It is the one-year anniversary of the night I slept in the Grub Street office. I had been celebrating a friend’s birthday down the street, finally grumbling into an overpriced taxi at 2:30am, and as we drove under Grub’s darkened windows I yelled, “Stop the cab!” I unlocked that elevator and I rode to the top. Frightfully, I turned on every light. I made myself a little “bed” on the long red couch, spreading my windbreaker over my legs and propping my purse under my head as a pillow. There. For some minutes I laid there, wide-eyed, devising how to make sure Chris and Whitney never found out. Then I fell asleep, the lamplights glowing red through my eyelids, me snoring to the sighs of the industrial air conditioner.

Five months later I was outed at a party (Chris: “We’re so devoted to Grub Street, we practically sleep there.” My friend: “Oh! Like Sonya did!”), but today that memory has me thinking about work and sleep. Writers seem to balance the two in any number of ways.

Some write no later than sundown— their creativity needs a full night’s rest. e.e. cummings was one of these, claiming to be capable of only 4 hours of writing each day, followed by a rigorous swim and evening aperitif. I admire these people. Probably they glow with good health, whiling their days eating leafy greens, composing poetry, and having great skin.

Then there’s me. I stumble into the other category: those writers who seem to thrive off of little-, no-, deprived-, sporadic-, or caffeine-compromised sleep. These are the Jack Kerouac’s, the Lucy Grealy’s, the Edgar Allen Poe’s, and all other delirious and half-mad writers for whom others feel concern. We know that staying up, and staying stimulated, is a true skill.

My desk is littered with gum wrappers, leftover from my notion that chewing keeps you awake. So does glasses and glasses of water, which lie discarded on my floor like shotgun shells. In this environment I work in deadly silence, save for a lonely ticking clock. I know what hour the birds start chirping outside my window (four o’clock), and what hour it turns to squawking (five).

It sounds disorganized and unhealthy, but the habit, I think, can be magical. Nighttime— in all its privacy and stillness— can help conjure ideas more imaginative than those of normal daylight hours. Maybe I’m making excuses. But for better or for worse, I'm not alone. A Very Famous Writer once told me, in response to complaints of my strained writing time, “You know, Sonya, there are these little pills you can take...” Apparently we No-Sleepers are more common than we feel.

Atop my head is a sprout of premature gray hairs, which should be called my “writing hairs” instead. And if I can’t find a better name before nightfall, there’s always the Grub couch to sleep on.

~Sonya Larson


Anonymous said...
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Grub Street said...

Nice post, Sonya! I miss the good old days of being a night owl. Somehow I managed to turn myself into a "morning bird" instead. Now by the time 9 pm rolls around, all I want to do is read, rest, or sleep. So pathetic!


Diana said...

What made you stop the cab suddenly to sleep at the Grub Street office?