Bread and sleep

Clarinda Harriss Raymond

June 16, 1993|By Clarinda Harriss Raymond

NEVER consider wasted the time you spend sleeping." These were words of advice to beginning schoolteachers from Dr. Pauline Rutledge, an inspirational department chair at Towson State Teachers' College (now Towson State University, where I've taught for the past twentysome years).

I inherited them from my mother, a Towson State graduate and lifelong educator in Baltimore City schools. Dr. Rutledge's wise admonition was something I needed to hear -- I've repeated it to myself often during my own lifetime as a teacher -- but I've always found it hard to heed.

So, for that matter, has my mother, who, though recently retired from her post-retirement position at Loyola College, still sits at her little electric Smith-Corona far into the night and pre-dawn morning, typing reams of stuff for the dozens of charitable, cultural and historical groups she belongs to.

So much work! So little time! We both feel guilty about those six or seven hours out of each 24 when we're not actively doing something.

Just to give myself permission to put out my mental lights at bedtime, I used to have to remind myself that, while sleeping, I was at least growing my fingernails and digesting food. I took to writing down my dreams, composting their imagery for possible future use in a poem or story. Use everything! Time especially! was the call to action that troubled my sleep almost as many nights as I can remember.

Enter the Bread Machine. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. You perfume the house with the scent of health and comfort. You take up little room, and you're one machine that works perfectly, just as the manual promises, every time. You win me gratitude and praise. You do, in fact, make delicious bread with minimal effort on my part.

But most lovably of all, you allow me to do something while I sleep. At midnight, I set the bread timer for seven hours, and then I set myself for seven hours and, come morning, we both rise to face the day. The bread feels all warm and squidgy; so do I. I didn't fritter away a single minute I spent under my quilt.

Some people think I'm a little neurotic to feel that the guilt-trip-without-guilt-trip is my favorite aspect of my new bread machine, but I submit that most of the popular gadgetry of modern America is really about Doing Things While You Sleep. In many of the countless households where everybody works outside the home, sleep time is also laundry time and dishwashing time.

While you sleep, you can tape CDs and records (remember them?). Your computer can be printing things, providing you in the morning with a satisfying loaf of neatly typed pages. You can clean the oven. You can recharge your batteries, in more ways than one. You can deep-condition your hair. You can grind and perk your morning coffee. You can even learn a foreign language, I'm told, though I've never tried the subliminal language-learning method since, for me, all things mechanical operate in a foreign language I'm just beginning to master.

One night recently, during the annual burst of energy that briefly possesses me right after Towson State's graduation ceremony, I staged a real orgy of Things to Do While Sleeping. I got the clothes dryer, the dishwasher, the DeskJet printer, the tape recorder, the coffee maker and the bread machine all going at once. Then I slept like a baby for almost 11 hours.

I blew so many fuses that even my clock radio was dead to the world. All the bright next day I didn't even realize I'd sent myself back to a pre-electric world -- not until dark, when it was time to get the gadgets going again and head confidently for bed.

Clarinda Harriss Raymond is a Baltimore writer.

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