Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Deviant Self (The Many Meanings of "Sleep")

For as far back in my life as I can remember, I have been gifted with a collection of traits that tend to coast along the borderline between eccentric and suspicious.

At any given time, I tend to appear "anomalous" to law enforcement, for example.  Events such as the one I am about to describe therefore tend to occur with comforting regularity, forming a nearly continuous memory chain back to my childhood.

Tonight it happened that I was working late in my office, yet again.  For me this is not a bad thing at all; as a GTA I have a part-time teaching responsibility in addition to my full load of graduate coursework, and my office is currently the hub of most of my creative activities.  My sleep cycle is aperiodic over the long term, and over the years I have come to embrace having a sleep/wake cycle that is off-key with society (for you dynamical systems experts, my biological clock is a strange attractor).  What's more, nighttime hours tend to be some of my best hours for intense focus and creative flow, and I often take advantage of them by pacing myself with micro-naps.

Which is exactly what I was doing tonight when the (insert current politically correct term for "janitor") came in to empty the wastebaskets.  Which has happened before, plenty of times.  Same guy, same routine, same time of day.  He's seen me in my office countless times, including times when I have been napping, including late at night.  But this time, the cops came into my office about twenty or thirty minutes later.  By then I was up, working at my desk.  They said they came because they had received a call that someone was "sleeping" in the office.  Yes, I explained, this is my office, I have employee access to the building, I often work late, I frequently nap in my office, the maintenance worker who called you sees me here all the time, I have no idea why he called you tonight, no I don't live here.  And, as usual, after lifting their eyebrows and sniffing around, they left me in peace.  I was deemed weird but harmless yet again.

Here's the crux of the matter, as I have been pondering it: was I "sleeping" in my office, or was I "SLEEPING" in my office?  This is a word, I realized, with a wide variance in shadings of meaning.  To sleep, in this context, could range from meaning "taking a quick nap" to "living full-time".  In other contexts it could mean to spend the night awake, to be unconscious, to be conscious but not paying attention, to fuck, or to live with someone.

What other meanings are there for this versatile word?  What other words can compare to its versatility?