Intellectual Wellness; my primary practice is falling asleep. It’s true. I read novels at night to get drowsy enough to fall asleep. It’s a holdover from the Insomnia Years, which were the years when my wellness was so bad it could rightly be called my badness. I was unwell. I couldn’t sleep. Reading helped. Sleep is critical to wellness. I can fall asleep now without a book but one wellness practice spawned another, and I keep the practice now because it stimulates my intellect. I won’t take the time to read novels by day. I just won’t. I will read non-fiction while the sun shines but unless I’m sick or on vacation, the novels wait for bedtime.
Some of my most fervent intellectual pursuits have been spawned by reading a hint of something in a historical novel at night, marking it for further study, and then following up with my own research during day-time hours. I’ve written before about expanding my knowledge of Amish and Quaker societies after my interest was piqued by factual nuggets contained in works of fiction. Recently I wrote about the Asian tradition of burning ghost money for the dead. Remember? It was gleaned from a Chinese novel. My fascination with Celtic history, various monarchies, and the World Wars were all stoked the same way. I just love saying it; the process begins by falling asleep.
My primary choice for nocturnal seed-planting is therefore historical fiction. The process works and I don’t have to spend money on something that could arguably be considered frivolous. When Amazon gives me a slate of choices for a free book each month I usually download something historical. I stay on my spending fast, I get the benefit of a faster konk-out whenever a random sleepless night threatens, and I almost always learn something which makes me want to learn more. That’s a wellness win/win/win. Note the fact that it all fits so naturally and effortlessly into my existing routine. This is the strongest argument for why it has staying power year after year.
The fact that it’s fiction allows my mind to embrace the activity without the expectation that I’m working while I’m reading. Yes, I’m learning but I’m not working at learning. The fact that it’s fiction also means the approach to learning can look like anything. It’s easy to drop into sleep because I’ve eliminated the pressure of focus and retention. That’ll come in the morning. And it’s not always about gaining knowledge I didn’t previously have. Sometimes it prompts me to explore within, which is a woo-woo way of saying I’m realizing knowledge I didn’t know I previously had.
In December I went with another war-time novel about a German diplomat who spies for Allied Forces during WWII. He wants to overthrow his Führer from within. Of all the stories I’ve read from this period I’ve never read one from the perspective of a German citizen. Forced to leave his dream job abroad and report to Berlin for a government post against his will, constantly pressured on the job (by his bosses) to join the Nazi Party, he hides his only child to keep her safe and smuggles documents to Allied intelligence groups in Switzerland. (All while trying not to get caught in a climate of extreme paranoia and suspicion.) Truthfully, it’s almost too tense to read at night.
At one point he is furious with America because he hand-delivered the location and map of Hitler’s headquarters to the OSS and begs the Allies to bomb it. He reasoned that killing Hitler would kill the war. When the Reich HQ lingers unbombed for weeks afterward our hero can’t fathom any good reasons why. Furious with his own country, furious with the opposition, the man buries his frustrations between the legs of a married woman who becomes his accomplice. Ironically, the Nazis are less suspicious of him as a spy when they discover his dalliance because Herr Trustworthy has a vice of some kind. Diddling another man’s wife takes him out of the crosshairs more than once, which makes the reader almost grateful he’s doing it. I mean, otherwise he’d die.
The reader also promptly forgives Frau Unfaithful for the pesky infidelity because she convinces our hero to resume his spy activities after various stops and interruptions, compelling him to continue fighting his good fight. Also, her husband is a cartographer off helping the Nazis while she’s back at home abetting and abedding the enemy with a traitor. If her pussy-power keeps the anti-Nazi efforts going strong we want her to keep double-cheating, right? But then, we have the benefit of knowing how the war ends. If the Nazis hadn’t been defeated we’d all frame such a thing much differently.
By day this sends me lickety-split to the tomes of human psychology. Treason. Cheating. Greater good. Two wrongs making how many rights? Fidelities in context. The layers of sticky behavioral ick folded into war-time versus peace-time ethics. Remember the scene in Seinfeld wherein George tells Jerry he discovered something better than make-up sex, which is fugitive sex? Imagine spy sex. Banging for victory. Cheating for peace. Humping for the cause. Behind enemy lines by the enemy. Allied bombs are falling on the heads of these German spies who want the Allies to win. They run to air raid shelters to stay alive but they keep fueling the intel for the air raids. It’s an intoxicating cocktail of analysis.
I find it impossible not to ask, What would I do? And then, Why? My brain boggles. More importantly, my brain grows. Understanding, perspective, truth, plumbing my depths, culture, indoctrination; my internal reach gets deeper and my external view gets wider. Through the creative process, no less, the product of which is a work of fiction. It’s not uncommon to spending days and weeks ruminating on it. It’s not just a novel. It’s a wellness tool. It’s not just a bedtime ritual. It’s a practice. If I didn’t get it free as a perk I’d still have the public library. Intellectual wellness doesn’t have to be a college course, y’all. It doesn’t have to be a $400 seminar. It needn’t be difficult, technical, or complicated.
Another repetition of this — lifestyle is a style of living. When we are living our wellness practices we are working them. Even when they don’t feel like work.
Merciful note: I was almost finished with it before I realized my spy novel was a true story, so technically not a work of fiction. If you want to know how the story ends, here’s the link to the details.