Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/This American Life Roundup: “Fear of Sleep”

The theme of this week’s Fear of Sleep episode is an odd one at first glance–what is it about this phobia that heralds the attention of This American Life broadcasters, rerun again after two years? Two things: it happens to … Read More

By / October 13, 2010

The theme of this week’s Fear of Sleep episode is an odd one at first glance–what is it about this phobia that heralds the attention of This American Life broadcasters, rerun again after two years? Two things: it happens to be a personal childhood phobia for Ira. One main trope of the fear and running through the episode is the vulnerability associated with sleep–a state in which consciousness is sacrificed, and defenses from the real world (and sometimes the real world’s safety from the sleeping) is compromised. Secondly, the reairing of the first act featuring the enlightening talents of Mike Birbiglia  falls squarely on the eve of his book’s release, Sleepwalk with Me, which features the TAL segment.

Comparing sleep mode to death, Ira says it is when you are "Not aware: what could be more frightening, what could be bigger?" Obviously, this reflects his hotfactor: his mind is so absorbed with the delectable analysis he engages in at all waking hours that we are used to taking in weekly, to lose this consciousness even for an evening is a nightmare. "Galaxies would spin, humans would travel to other worlds, and I would miss all of that. No one would remember me or anyone I had ever known, forever." Melting from this existential awareness as I type.


Act 1: Like the Hulk

Foreplay=Ira reading a poem by Raymond Carver concerning nightmares that activate man versus self battle.

Hotminded regular contributor to TAL Mike Birbiglia leads us to ask if the vulnerability to the forces that is heightened at a time of lowered conscious defenses is worth fighting against. "I have a busy life!" says Mike in response to suggestions for professional help post-nocturnal adventures that kill machine and (almost) man.

"You should be dead," says the ER doctor in Walla Walla, Washington to Mike after jumping two stories from his hotel room in his sleep. "No you should," retorts the recently Hulk-hot manly beast, whose dream self is a very confident champion/ superhero. Hot.


Act 2: "It was hard to go to sleep because it was a lot"

Ever wake up with a pest inside you, making you question how the hell your life thus far resulted in this? When the problem isn’t just in your head, it’s probably best not to waste your consciousness and make some very real changes.

Talking to another ER vet, Nancy Updike hangs with Ms. M in her kinetic apartment, speaking of when she woke up with a cockroach in her ear. In the end, perception of reality (a teeming house of infestation) can become minimally bearable in the face of satiating the need for vulnerable sleep. Like Birbiglia, Ms. M rerationalizes her reality to make do with what she’s got.


Act 3: To be quite honest, I don’t really want to know the full extent of the situation on this couch.

Do we want to think more about bedbugs? I think we have enough keeping us up at night. The embattled family in this act fighting off the suckers that are the bane of so many a contemporary person’s existence is sad and flustering, like attending break-up flick after break-up flick with your embittered broken up girlfriends. Better to tune out and get some distracting shuteye and avoid the bedbug riddled terrain that is Loews. Nuff said.


Act 4: I was told that I should have more sex, which was good to hear, but then I was told I should be having less.

In Ira’s case, his fear of death fueled a childhood insomnia. Birbiglia, ever the pleasure-fiend, felt a surprisingly small amount of fear of what he was capable unconsciously ("Maybe I should see a doctor. And then I thought, maybe I’ll eat some dinner.") And acts two and three showed us women whose families, as plagued in the conscious world as they were, yearned for sweet sleep all the same. This act’s noir-like narrator recollects his fear of havoc spreading in the waking world, and how he taught himself not to sleep for a year when he was eleven. Unlike Birbiglia, Seth Lind took on the superhero responsibility of holding together a rocky household in his waking life. "I dialed up all the imaginary drama inside my head which kept me awake, which then allowed me to dial down all the very real drama that existed inside our house." Like the surprising introspection of Jim Breuer in his newly released Im Not High, Lind’s enormous responsibility at age 11 (resulting in heady insomnia) brought him into contact with some weird shit he would not have seen had he not been under the influence. 


Act 5: I like that he wasn’t sorry in the least

Let us join in pop cultural catharsis with Ira in his fear of sleep: