Tuesday, August 12, 2008

parasomnia lite

sunday night, lei (longtime friend, former roommate) and i attended mike birbiglia's one-man show "sleepwalk with me" at the ucb theatre. that label, "one-man show," always makes me cringe a little because i associate it with performance art and/or vanity vehicles for self-obsessed actors. fortunately, neither of these sweeping generalizations applies to mike's show, which has plenty of great stuff going on: stand-up, confessional storytelling, and yes, there were even some theatrical affectations. the piece felt very fresh and honest even though he's clearly performed it dozens of times, and the ucb is such an intimate space, that whole thing was really effective. at times, i was reminded of a spalding gray monologue. the primary arc of mike's story was about his struggle with parasomnia, and it culminates with the terrifying incident that finally compelled him to seek treatment for his condition. there were lots of great asides throughout where you get insight into mike's relationship with his parents and a couple of girlfriends.

i haven't listened to it yet, but it looks like mike tells his sleepwalking story on this week's this american life. i imagine this is a truncated version of what you get with the live show.

mike has a knack for clever analogies, and one of my favorite moments of the show was when he explained falling in love for the first time. i was going to attempt to paraphrase it, but fortunately i just discovered the bit on his secret public journal:

"[love] makes us all a little delusional. I think deep down we think we have a secret special skill that no one knows about and if they knew they’d be amazed because our secret special skill is amazing. And then eventually we meet someone who says, “You have a secret special skill.” And you’re like “I know!”

of course, it's much better when you hear him deliver it in person, especially that last "i know!" which is drawn out, and accompanied by raised eyebrows and a couple of affirmative nods.

i've had my own (comparatively mild) struggles with parasomnias, so "sleepwalk with me" resonated. my sleep disorders have evolved over time, but i've always talked in my sleep, and as a kid, i used to sleepwalk. one of my mother's favorite tales of parasomnia involves the time i somnambulated into the bedroom she shared with my stepfather, pointed our remote control at their bed, and issued the directive: "change the channel." yes, i was a latchkey kid with a very a strong attachment to my family's tv set.

if you've never experienced sleep paralysis, i don't recommend trying it. torture aside, i'm hard-pressed to imagine a more terrifying sensation. it's happened to me more than once though fortunately not in years. sleep paralysis works like this: you wake up and are fully conscious but are unable to move your body. sometimes it's accompanied by hallucinations. i've never been buried alive (knock on wood), but i imagine the feeling is similar (minus the suffocation part, i suppose).

back in the early 00s, my sleep was often disrupted by an inexplicable, crippling pain in my legs. i went to the doctor for this one, and she unloaded several sample of boxes of vioxx on me, which, in retrospect, i'm very thankful i never took. that's no longer happening, but my sleep issue du jour is being torn from my slumber by a sensation of numbness/tingling in my hands and arms. you know, that pins-and-needles feeling of "my hand's asleep!" except that i'm asleep and this shit is waking me up and it's pretty fucking annoying -- especially when it happens several times throughout the night. i've been performing some always advised internet self-diagnosing, and while it could be a circulation issue, it may also be another type of parasomnia. given my history, i'm inclined to think the latter. anyone out there have any experience with this one they'd care to share?

but enough about nighttime demonic visitations. unless he got sucked into an epic game of the show (which is not implausible), lei is cruising in his red toyota camry as i type this, en route to north carolina and his final year of law school. last week concluded his stint in LA as a summer associate. i am sad to see him go, but the good news is that he accepted a position with the firm, which means that he will be back in LA permanently next summer. i'm not sure about the red camry though, which has been with lei as long i've known him. in high school, it was his parents' car. when he came home on breaks from college, it was the camry that transported him from gilbert to where i was living in tempe (the catch was that he'd always have abandon whatever we were doing at 10 p.m. to pick his parents up from the chinese restaurant where they worked). then when lei and i moved in together and started library school, he finally inherited that car from his folks. these days, the camry's exterior has developed a war-torn aesthetic. i have no idea how many miles are on that beast, but i'm sure it's considerable.

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