Sleep Tight

Untitled (Insomnias), 2021
oil paint and pastel on paper – 100×70 cm

Last week I had a weird dream: the pizza, that I prepared with love, was burning in the oven, and worse, the tray that it was on was melting too. The whole situation was painful to watch, especially as the smell of the pizza was so very appetizing. I was annoyed with myself for not looking at the timer and letting this mess happen. As I’m writing this down, some more details come back to mind: I remember that I was actually busy helping someone else who left their bake in the oven next to mine. The problem was that this other bake was continuously sliding on its tray and I had to put a lot of effort to balance the moving object. When I was finally free to get back to my pizza, it was just too late. For the context, we did watch “The Great British Bake Off” the night before, but I have a hunch that the dream points out at something deeper…

This strong imagery stayed with me for the next few days and perhaps helped to realize something about myself. The story goes: noticing that only my close friends and family see my posts on social media, I wanted to know how to navigate around algorithms and reach more people. I contacted a social media marketing expert and explained her that I’m an artist with a website where people can see and buy my works, and that I also have a blog (here!) with texts connecting my artistic process to personal life experiences. It turned out my questions were not so easy to answer. Moreover, she was concerned about my audience being a small niche of art lovers, who are at the opposite end of the mainstream on social media. One thing was clear — I don’t have the most sellable profile.

The same goes for my height. I am rather ‘petite’ (1m55) and every day, I face a situation where I’m reminded of that. For example, I need to be constantly on the tips of my toes to simply open the upper-kitchen-cupboard or put on my make-up in front of the bathroom mirror. (Some people would kill for my calf muscles!) I also happen to have quite a soft voice, making a simple task like ordering a drink from a busy bar a real adventure — unless the bar top is particularly low. I realized that as opposed to most people, I am conscious of my “special” size, and how unfit it is compared to standard measurements. But there are many aspects in our lives where we are expected to conform to norms without even knowing it.

The same week, I listened to a podcast with Matthew Walker, whose fascinating work focuses on sleep science. He explains how the way our days are organized is a convention, based on early-bird type of people who are actually only a third of the population. That leaves two-third of the population forced to adopt a rhythm far from their nature and maybe, the society will never see the best of these people’s abilities. Myself, more an early-evening bird, I always wondered what my true rhythm was; for now, I am torn between the desire to run at sunrise and the reality of running at sunsets.

Being one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, Matthew Walker’s main concern is sleep deprivation. As much as it has become fashionable, for him it’s pure madness. He explains that sleep is a natural preventive and healing system whose job is to take care of our health, as long as we sleep enough (between seven to nine hours) — if not, our mortality risk increases. As a matter of fact, this last year I have been on a journey to regain my natural sleep after years of taking sleeping pills. It’s been a real roller-coaster at times — even if running helps — and while listening to Walker, I am even more convinced of my reasons. At 23.00, I put the devices on night-mode, tame the lights and gradually prepare for the night with a TV show (like The British Bake Off!) and a book. My old self the party-girl would call me a “granny'”, but truth to be said, I do feel better.

Another discrepancy between our natural needs and the institutions we live in concerns adolescents. Walker explains that imposing teenagers to start school at 8 am (or earlier) is bound to fail, because they need at least ten hours of sleep for their biological development. Yet, the system doesn’t take this into account and as a result, morning classes are inevitably lost on them. I surely remember those days and the torture it was, to wake up and get ready while it was still dark outside. Walker adds that biologically, adolescents’ brains are asleep until 10.30-11.00, making them unable to process information earlier. He certainly doesn’t recommend them to ride a bicycle before lunch!

This last piece of information is far from being trivial for me, but I am not a politician, I’m not even a parent… Yet, I remember being a sleepy teenager on two-wheels. As an artist, I feel that my mission is not only to create pleasing visuals, but also to question the structures we evolve in. And the more it goes, the more and I am affected by a world that refuses to change on the basis of norms and false beliefs.

But let’s sleep on this…

Love, Ethel

++ short video on teenagers’ sleep (Matthew Walker)
++ full podcast with Matthew Walker

4 thoughts on “Sleep Tight”

  1. Lol, dreams really do stick with you sometimes, don’t they? I’ve had one where I had developed feelings for a friend, and I felt weird whenever we met up for a few days after. Anyway, thanks for sharing your post!

  2. Hi Ethel !

    Very interesting and well written blog ! Plus a very nice pastel. A bit frightened to learn, after many years, that you have been a sleepy teen-ager riding on your bicycle on the early morning way to school ! Fortunately, as would have said your grandfather Popol,« Il faut un bon D. pour les enfants ! ».

    Sinon, j’ai découvert ton site professionnel sur FB et ça me paraît bien, même si je n’ai pas encore bien assimilé toutes les fonctionnalités offertes par ce type de site. Mais je vois que la cible a déjà été élargie à plus de 80 personnes, donc c’est mieux que les pages personnelles qui sont limitées à 25, je crois.

    Keep going !

    Sinon, anecdote personnelle qui pourrait coller avec le premier commentaire de ton blog sur les choses un peu inexplicables : j’étais en juillet 1969 invité à Marrakech par un copain de prépa HEC (que j’avais invité à Metz qq week-ends) et on a passé 2 semaines de vacances ensemble, avec ses cousins, dans une chaleur torride hyper (plus de 45°), mais néanmoins supportable en fin de journée car très sèche. Quatre années après, j’étais en “voyages de noces » en juillet 1973 avec Fabienne à Torremolinos. Une nuit, je rêve d’un des cousins de Mohamed, qui m’avait frappé par son élégance et, le lendemain, je le croise au milieu d’une foule compacte, à plus de 2300 km de l’endroit où je l’avais rencontré !!! Etonnant, non ?




    1. Merci pr ces encouragements!

      Je ne sais pas ce que c’est que les 25 personnes sur un profil Facebook non prof, mais l’avantage du profil prof c’est qu’il peut être vu par des gens hors de mes ‘friends’ (a voir si je vais utiliser leur outil de promotion qui est sensé toucher plus de gens mais j’aimerais pe avoir plus de contenu avant..)
      L’autre avantage c’est qu’on peut avoir plus de données sur ce qu’on poste, par ex je peux voir que 90 personnes ont vu mon post, hors juste 2 ou 3 l’ont liké… le monde des réseaux sociaux est cruel 🙂

      Sinon pr ton histoire marocaine, je pense que je l’avais déjà entendue et me demandais si par hasard tu aurais pu avoir aperçu le cousin de Mohammed avant, sans t’en rendre compte, et que ton inconscient l’ait enregistré et t’en ait fait rêver? Cela étant il y a des coïncidences extraordinaires dans la vie!


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