Editor's note: This is the first column from local writer and High Desert Journal editor Charles Finn. His work has appeared in Missoula Magazine and Writers on the Range and in other publications. Finn's column, a mix of muse, observations and commentary will appear twice monthly.
At exactly 3:15 on a Wednesday afternoon, I set down my book, kick off my shoes and lie down on the couch. I am taking a nap, or more correctly, about to take a nap. With a sigh of contentment, I wiggle myself into the sofa, folding my hands across my chest and crossing my legs at the ankles. The room is quiet, just the ticking of the clock on the wall. Outside, a slight breeze plays with the leaves of a maple while inside, a sunbeam falls horizontally across me; my pale yellow blanket.
I will admit to having few talents in this world. At best, I am a fair-to-middling cook. I can rock a car out of a snow bank. In the often over-looked art of the nap, however, I have come to excel. Everyone is, of course, capable of taking a nap, just as everyone is capable of playing a game of football. Some of us are just better at it than others. My father was good at taking naps, falling asleep upright in his chair with the TV on. But his were the unintentional kind, head snapping back in small whiplashes of wakefulness, the occasional saw of a snore escaping, or rope of drool slipping from the corner of his mouth. "Catching flies," he used to call it. "Just resting my eyelids," he'd say, coming to.
These are not the kind of naps I'm talking about, the kind any overly warm room can produce. What I'm talking about is active nap taking. The kind you set out to do. And as natural and easy as it may sound, a vast majority of people have trouble succeeding in this endeavor. The most common flaw is not allowing themselves to take a nap in the first place, believing it to be a kind of sloth, then feeling guilty about it, apologizing if they are somehow "caught." My real genius, if I may lay claim to that word, is that I have no shame.
In order to take a nap, a good nap, a real nap, and not some knee-jerk narcoleptic response to the weather or your wife, there must be a need, a pull, an overwhelming desire to take a nap. The couch has to speak to you, a siren call from the island of sleep, but unlike Odysseus, you can't lash yourself to the mast of wakefulness, but instead must embrace that somnambulistic call. There are few greater joys in life than those first few moments given over to a nap, and why people would ever dream of resisting is a profound mystery. It is an illness of society, I believe, the notion that a nap is wasting time. Likewise, privacy is preferred but by no means vital. Napping out in the open for all to see can be quite rewarding, inspiring even, sometimes instructive and often contagious.
Other cultures, of course, are far ahead of us when it comes to napping. The Spanish siesta is famous. Why such good common sense hasn't transferred to the American public, I don't know. It is a flaw, I believe, in our national character. We pride ourselves on our work ethic. I pride myself on my nap ethic. Which is why to a very real degree I have structured my life around taking naps. I measure my success by the number I take in a week or month. Afternoons are the very best because nearly everyone I know is working and it gives me great satisfaction to think of them slaving away while I settle in for a snooze.
The real trick I find is to go for it. Don't hold back. Relish it. Bask in the very napness that surrounds you, that blanket-like heaviness that comes over consciousness, the freeing and floating of the mind away from worry and fear, and the luxuriant idea that the rest of the world can go...whatever. That's what taking a nap is all about. Being selfish, hedonistic, epicurean.
Congresswoman Barbara Jordan once said, "Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap."
I couldn't agree more, and now, if you will excuse me, I must go practice what I preach.