Entry 78: I Can’t Sleep at Night– Up to about ten years ago, I would occasionally boast about the cleanliness of my soul and the tranquillity of my conscience, and, as evidence, proudly point out that I had never taken a sleeping pill in my life.
No, but many a sleeping draught, my wife’s look would wearily whisper: no doubt, caused by my longstanding habit of having a few soothing libations of an evening.
Then things changed. Future shock arrived, at last.
In 1971 I had read the Alvin Toffler best-selling book and was fascinated by the concepts he presented. Chief among them was the phrase information overload. The concept has also become known as infobesity, data smog and infoxication. Too much information renders the understanding of issues and, consequently, the making of decisions, difficult.
According to Wikipedia, Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. E-mail remains a major source of information overload, as people struggle to keep up with the rate of incoming messages. As well as filtering out unsolicited commercial messages (spam), users also have to contend with the growing use of email attachments in the form of lengthy reports, presentations and media files.
To say nothing of petty bureaucratic regulations about having to respond to these excrescences within an absurdly short period of time. It seemed to me that the introduction of individual laptops to teachers’ desks produced a work-environment not unlike those of Dickensian clerks chained to their desks in serried rows.
According to Lucy Kellaway, One clerk, Benjamin Orchard, wrote the following bitter account of his existence in 1871: “We aren’t real men. We don’t do men’s work. Pen-drivers – miserable little pen-drivers – fellows in black coats, with inky fingers and shiny seats on their trousers – that’s what we are. Think of crossing T’s and dotting I’s all day long. No wonder bricklayers and omnibus drivers have contempt for us. We haven’t even health.”
The idea that I was little more than a 21st Century version of Benjamin Orchard, lodged in my brain and grew year on year, as micro-managerial strategies replaced previously relaxed and human ways of doing things. And these strategies strangled creativity as teaching became more like painting by numbers than producing the real thing. And I began to sleep less and worry more about…nothing. Generalised anxiety, perhaps. But it irked me. I wasn’t a monster who deserved to lose the peaceful repose of a good night’s sleep: a bit cranky, of course, but no Macbeth!
Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!/ Macbeth does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep,/ Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,/ The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,/ Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,/ Chief nourisher in life’s feast. (Macbeth: 2: 2: 32-37)
According to the online Shakespeare Navigator site, a “ravell’d sleave” is a tangled skein of thread or yarn. Macbeth uses it as a metaphor for the kind of frustration we experience when we have so many problems that we can’t see the end to any of them. And we can understand why the Scottish nobleman has such perturbation of spirit- he’d just murdered his kinsman and king who was a guest under the sacred protection of the laws of hospitality. When the knocking at the gates echoes in the courtyard, he starts,
How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?/ What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes./ Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather/ The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red. (Macbeth: 2: 2: 55-60)
Don’t you just weep over the beauty of such language. It’s hard to believe the info-babble spewing from managerial mouths and clacking keyboards is produced by members of the same species as the Bard. I refer you to the catalogue of dogs, found later in the play. The ignoble curs and mongrels outnumber the noble hounds, I fear.
When sleep fails me now, I read poetry of the lighter sort such as this by Eugene Field,
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night/Sailed off in a wooden shoe,/Sailed on a river of crystal light/Into a sea of dew/“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”/The old moon asked the three./“We have come to fish for the herring-fish/ That live in this beautiful sea;/ Nets of silver and gold have we,”/ Said Wynken,/Blynken,/And Nod./…All night long their nets they threw/To the stars in the twinkling foam,/Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe, /Bringing the fishermen home:/‘Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed/As if it could not be;/And some folk thought ‘twas a dream they’d dreamed/ Of sailing that beautiful sea/;But I shall name you the fishermen three:/Wynken,/Blynken,/ And Nod.