Counting Sheep

I’ve recently had trouble falling asleep at a regular time every night.  I blame Sesame Street.

The canonical method of falling asleep is to count imaginary sheep.  In one Sesame Street sketch, Bert explains this method to Ernie when Ernie is keeping Bert awake because Ernie can’t sleep.  However, Ernie’s imagination is so vivid that Bert can hear the sheep baaing as they pass overhead.  Then Ernie, missing the point (as usual), decides that counting sheep is boring and decides to count fire engines instead.  The blaring sirens send Bert leaping out of bed in panic and protest.  Ernie promises to count balloons then — balloons are quiet, right? — but Ernie imagines an inflating balloon, which bursts with a wall-rattling boom.

I saw this sketch repeatedly as a child.  Now every time I try to count sheep, I hear fire engine sirens and exploding balloons instead.  I can’t fall asleep with such a din any more than Bert could.

I also blame my friend Ian.  His parents raise sheep in rural Michigan.  Counting imaginary sheep just reminds me of his tales of the antics of real sheep.  This in turn leads me to recall his family’s famous Sheep Castration Parties (I kid you not.) and the techniques employed there.  The “bricks method” in particular evokes a rather visceral reaction.  It’s difficult to fall asleep in the instinctive sympathetic “testicle protection crouch”.

Warner Brothers’ cartoons must certainly share some blame as well.  When I do actually manage to imagine sheep, they often get whisked away in mid-count with a suspicious ‘Zing!’ by “Ralph Wolf” (who wasn’t fooling anyone with that red nose; we all know it was just Wile E. Coyote.).  I’d almost rather let him have them though, because Sam Sheep Dog makes a lot of noise beating the Coyote when he catches him, interrupted only by their shift change whistle, which always blows just as I’m finally nodding off.

Some of you may be saying, “You don’t need to count sheep to fall asleep.”  That’s quite true.  Counting llamas is a big improvement over sheep in many ways.  They can be trained not to kick or spit, they don’t bring unpleasant veterinary stories to mind, and they can handle coyotes on their own.  (They’re actually used to guard sheep from predators.)  However, their braying sometimes bothered my neighbors — my imagination is nearly as vivid as Ernie’s.

I used to read myself to sleep every night, but I decided that was a bad habit.  I would stay up too late with new books, I strained my eyes, and I nearly smothered when I dozed off under a copy of War and Peace.  Also, reading was becoming a Pavlovian trigger for sleep.  Reading a book in two page chunks separated by naps isn’t very efficient, especially when you’re reading a recipe in a cookbook while making dinner.

Thus I have turned to animal enumeration methods.  I’m sure I can eventually find some sufficiently placid animal to count.  A friend suggested meditation exercises to clear my mind of all these associations, but really, if I was capable of that, then counting sheep would work in the first place!

I would write more, but it’s time to go to bed.  I can hear the sirens approaching already.

Blog in Search of a Theme

Welcome to Ethan’s Essays!

Most blogs have a subject, a theme, or a particular audience in mind. So when I decided to start blogging, I considered many possible subjects for either a single blog or multiple blogs. I already had a number of articles partially written and ideas for many more. However, no one theme could encompass most of them, but neither did I have enough for any one subject to stand on its own. Rather than delay further, I finally decided to get on with it and start writing and posting in the hope that the themes and audience will develop.

This is not intended as a personal blog to be read only by my friends and family, though I’m sure it will be a while before my audience extends beyond them. These are bits of knowledge and ideas presented to the world with the intent that many others will find them informative, interesting, or entertaining. Is this exceedingly optimistic, perhaps even entering into the realm of hubris? Of course! Most writers posses this audacity, or else they are possessed by the burning need to write. Why else would we write, especially amidst today’s vast online din?

I’m writing because writing has been one of the few things that has really energized me recently. I dedicated a period early this year primarily to writing, mainly working on part of a novel, but also working on some of the aforementioned pieces from a large collection of article fragments that I had written. During this time, I felt more focused, more energetic, and more impassioned than I had in years. My close friends confirmed this was clearly visible to them, that I “came more alive” then.

Yes, I have discovered I may simply be a writer (or have become one). It’s not necessarily something one would chose: for writers (or anyone in the arts), the line between your being and your vocation can be painfully blurry, and the line between your vocation and your job painfully distinct.

However, my primary income stream has become tiresome and draining, and it has always been distressingly uncertain. Scaling that back to spend the time writing instead can only enhance my life.

Unless I go completely broke doing so. Now, there are definitely people who make non-trivial money by blogging. A few have done so by achieving blogging stardom, but most seem to run multiple narrowly targeted blogs, i.e., the exact opposite of what I’m beginning here. Now maybe I’ll go the former route, becoming the next great American essayist. But the practical plan is to spin-off new blogs when particular subjects grow to some self-sustaining level. While I do know that it will be a long time coming, I do hope to profit from this blog or its children eventually.

This blog may still serve a useful purpose even if blogging yields little direct income. I’ve been investigating various freelance writing possibilities, but it seems clear that I need a writing portfolio to pursue them. I am confident of my writing skills but have only a few highly technical scientific publications to demonstrate them. A blog with a variety of significant articles provides a straight-forward way to start such a portfolio, as well as an ideal venue for enhancing and broadening my writing skills.

What can you expect to see here next? I plan to post two to three significant articles per week, plus perhaps small notes and references. A few things I post will be re-runs and adaptations of things I’ve posted on my personal blogs. Given my background — I have a Ph.D. in physics — some of the articles inevitably will have a scientific or mathematical focus, though they will definitely be aimed at a general audience. I have a few essays on politics and religion, pieces that are — or are at least intended to be — humorous, reviews of a couple products, some recipes, articles involving computers and technology, stories about cats, and (also inevitably) discussions about writing and blogging. I may even try my hand at serialized fiction sometime down the road. I may not know where I’m going, but I think it’ll be an interesting journey. :) I invite you to come along for the ride.