Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fatherhood: Exhaustion & Creative Ideas

Ok, you knew these posts were coming and you're probably cringing because, maybe like me, you still have nightmares of a certain television host’s giddiness over a precocious child named Cody. So, I will keep ‘em short and limit them to less than one hundred and seventy five posts a year. And I will do my best to keep them related to writing or editing.

First-up is making the use of lost sleep. My littlest charmer’s first week’s birthday is coming up, and everyone had warned us about lost sleep--they were not shittin’ Dixie there. (Sidebar: Kieran, thanks for the book tip.) Still I found a silver lining to these beyond-drained moments by tapping into a creative outlet. I’m talking times when you’re using industrial-strength toothpicks to hold the eyelids open but they're still snapping. Then, two hours later, when you're rocking the baby in time to Jagger’s “Just Another Night,” your mind drifts to what’s left of your artistic attic and BAM! There, past Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles Meets the Killer, Boris Karloff, and the Land of the Modest Giants, you can find some peculiar story ideas converging like Lillian Gish’s ice floats in WAY DOWN EAST. Writer John Kenyon informed me that “...have a pen at the ready, too - sleep deprivation can conjure some crazy thoughts... might be a story in it!”

John was very right.

At first, I didn’t know what to think of this bizarro, imaginative terrain but as Mick began warbling “Memo From Turner,” I let my thoughts boogie and found some out of the ordinary yarn ideas waiting to be mined. Many at first I couldn’t use, but, into day four, I welcomed the witching hour and learned to piece different fragments together like those high tech films where they move touch screen still slides from one spot to another on the video screen. Little d and my godsend mother-in-law were mercifully allowed some sleep as I began swimming past the Island of Misfit Toys, Tod Browning’s FREAKS, and FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

My baby coconut is finally drifting off to sleep. 3:45 am. Just me, Ava, Mick and my next story waiting.

Does anybody else know what I’m talking about? What were some of your experiences in the first few weeks?


Bill Crider said...

I was in grad school when my two kids were born, and I remember the sleep deprivation better than anything else. I think I was getting by on three hours a night. Not consecutive hours, mind you. But we all survived.

James Reasoner said...

The day before our second daughter was born, a writer we knew called Livia and asked her to ghost a book for her. Livia explained the situation and handed the phone to me . . . and I, of course, promptly took the job. Spent the next couple of days reading the previous books in the series, and, oh, yeah, being at the hospital for the birth of my daughter! Then wrote the book in 12 days with a newborn in the house. Ah, good times. But I really wanted the 1500 bucks. (Yes, you read that right. It was a long time ago.)

The worst sleep deprivation was when our older daughter was several months old. I swear the kid didn't sleep for three weeks straight. I still get that zombified feeling when I think about it.

David Cranmer said...

Bill, “Not consecutive hours” is what wipes you out. They recommend feeding her every three hours but she usually decides to need burping somewhere in between that wake-up call.

Thanks for sharing your experience, James. And “zombified feeling” describes it better than anything else I’ve heard. Good lord we are looking like something the cat dragged in these days.

G said...

Sleep deprivation? I don't know what I went through with my son in the days afterwards, but I have a humdinger of one the day prior and the day of.

In '92 I was working the 3rd shift at a c-store/gas station when my son was born. On the day before, I was off and busy playing video games (a season long baseball game if I remember correctly). Anyways, my wife was actually scared to tell when her water broke because I was such a whackjob when it came to video games.

So off to the hospital we went. I hung around from about 11:30p to about 12:30 to 1a before going home to wait it out there (yes, it sounds stupid, but when I was off on those days, I still kept the same sleeping schedule, which was to sleep when people were up).

Later in the morning around 10 o'clock or so, I was told that my wife was in labor. So naturally I woke up and spent the rest of the morning functioning on about 2 hours of sleep.

She finally gave birth at around 1p. I visited her at the hospital, was completely stoked and so wired out from seeing my son that I didn't get any sleep and eventually went to work at 10p.

The rest of the shift was really a complete blank, other than making sure that a co-worker from another station called me periodically during the night to make sure that I was still awake.

So yeah, 2 hours of sleep for a 24 hour period is about the norm in the first few months or so.

David Barber said...

Sadly, my pen and paper were stored in a cupboard that was to be opened a few years after my two were born.

The thing is, and I don't know if this happens to everyone, we're have sleepless nights at the moment with my youngest (5 in April). It just seems to ba a bad case of musical beds which I sure will come to an end. My mind is all over the place and some ideas I've had have been completely bizarre. Sleep deprivation can be great for creative ideas.

Just wait until the silly arguments start about who's turn it is to feed her. We laugh about them now but when you're wandering about in the dark becasue you don't want to turn a light on etc it's stressful! We seriously had an argument one night about who had better night vision, which was due to exhaustion!

I actually envy you at the moment, David. We were looking at some old photos of our two when they were born. Great times (even though they were stressful) that you should relish forever. But yes, keep that pad and pencil handy!

Good luck, my friend. Best wishes to D and your lovely little girl!

David Cranmer said...

G, I worked 3rd shift for over six years, so I understand that stressful schedule and can sympathize. I'm wondering when the decision was to have fathers present in the birthing room? I was beside my wife as Ava entered and I loved the experience. Today, FATHER OF THE BRIDE (early 1990s film) was on TV and Steve Martin was waiting outside the room for his wife (and daughter!) to give birth. It seems like having dads in the room is a recent decision by doctors which I’m happy about.

David, Big chuckles here about "who had better night vision." Right now, like James mentioned, I’m zombified and don’t know who changed her last. :) Funny you should mention photos because I'm snapping fifty a day with no end in sight. My little girl is very photogenic. And yes I will cherish each moment. I stare at her for hours at a time marveling at this gift from above.

Ron Scheer said...

Dads were forbidden to even be in the labor room when my kids were born - 1967 and 1971. The story that gets told about my firstborn is that I'd had oral surgery the day before and was still high on pain killers. "My I'm taking this well," I kept saying. The crash when it came was horrendous.

History is repeating itself now with an aging miniature pincher who wakes us during the night to be taken outside to pee and then again at 5am to be fed.

You're doing fine, dad. I see a collection of stories on the way called Postpartum Noir.

AC said...

David, this is one of the most interesting posts I've ever read on any blog anywhere!

pattinase (abbott) said...

My husband wrote his dissertation while sitting over our Josh. I did nothing at all useful. The sleep deprivation eventually goes away--with some kids at least.

David Cranmer said...

"Postpartum Noir." Damn, Ron. Someone is probably stealing that idea right now!

Yep, these days a father and one other person is allowed in the room. In this case it was me and Denise's mother. It brought a lot of comfort to her and the thrilling ride of Ava's birth now ranks #1 in my life experiences.

AC, Thank you. I was thinking some would find it a little too Soupy Sales crossed with Dennis Miller strange.

Patti, I have to say Ava is a pretty quiet little girl for the most part. So I'm expecting to move beyond this phase fairly quickly.

Charles Gramlich said...

I know I definitely have more bizarre thought/ideas when I'm tired. Maybe that's why I'm so weird.

Bee said...

Congratulations on your new baby! I hadn't realized. My two girls are both teenagers now; I do remember the sleep deprivation, but I don't remember it engendering any creative inspiration. Of course, women are such a hormonal mess at that time. Anyway, good luck with these new neural paths . . . and, of course, the experience of fatherhood.

David Cranmer said...

Charles, Yeah, I don't recommend writing tired but idea making under exhaustion seems to work for us. Yep, we are weird.

Bee, My wife will agree with you on the "hormonal mess." She's doing a lot better now with some 'regular' sleep but the first few days we're definitely zombieland.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Good for you! I would have been hard pressed to produce anything. Basically I was a walking zombie and an emotional rollercoaster. Glad you have some help from the mother-in-law quarter. :) Hang in there!

Kieran Shea said...

Forgive the harping. Babywise, dude. Babywise. People will think you're nuts and it's tough as a workout drill...and at times you'll feel like a heel (heartstrings being yanked), but remember--YOU are the programmer, YOU are in charge. Get your life back on track. Baby is PART of the family--NOT the center of the universe.

Leah J. Utas said...

Interesting. I have no experience with this so nothing to contribute.

David Cranmer said...

Thanks, Alysaa! (Did I already tell you I like your new pic?)

Kieran, Book is in hand but may be met with some resistance.

No problem, Leah. This is a fairly weird post.

James ® said...

David, thanks for dropping by Bipolar Shaman , and I do vividly recall my daughter's first year. I did, however, sew 3" speakers into little pillows in the corners of her crib, and played classical at the lowest volume. When I laid her down, she immediately smiled and relaxed, and off to sleep she went. May work for parents, too :-)

John Kenyon said...

David, glad you found the silver lining to all of this. I've gone through this twice in the last five years, and while I can't point to a specific project that found its genesis in that time, I can say that it was clear my thought processes had gone off the rails then, and in a good way. When you're in that state, it's as if your brain doesn't have the energy to maintain it's filter/BS detector, so some strange things can seep through. The trick is finding out how to channel that when you're notin those circumstances.

Last bit of advice: When you have to get some sleep, catch some winks when she sleeps, no matter when or how unproductive it makes you feel.

David Cranmer said...

James, That is a terrific idea with the music. I just discovered after reading your comment, earlier today, that our crib has built in classical music so I will be playing that for her all the time now.

John, Since this post she has been a perfect angel sleeping, so my unusual creativity burst may be over... yeah, that's wishful thinking, right? Actually, according to my mother-in-law Denise as a baby slept through the night so we may luck out there.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

You mentioned it, David, but I'm happy to read it again. :)

David Cranmer said...

Well let me say again it's a damn fine picture!

Ryan S. said...

First off, congrats. Fatherhood changes everything for the better. I was able to write all through my first kid being around. The sleep deprivation helped. In that state my mind made some pretty bizarre, but unpredictable (and therefore better, I think) connections. If I didn't see it coming and I'm the writer, then everyone else should be blown away. I'd use it. Big time. I was in the academy when my second kid was born. Wife went into real, active labor at 3am on Friday morning, which we had all dubbed 'Pepper spray Friday'. By 5am she was in the hospital ready for the fireworks. The boy came at 11am. I missed the pepper spray. I was back to work the following Monday. I was soaked in pepper spray Tuesday afternoon. Third is on the way. We'll see.