Is Brainstorming Ideas a Good Idea in the Middle of the Night?

image credit: Roy Lichenstein c. 1986
I feel like my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night. Or, I'm like "Oh my God! I left the baby on the bus!"

I try to get a good night's sleep. I have a ritual for bedtime. I turn the curtains and turn on the white noise machine. Sometimes I take a Melatonin tablet. Sleep comes easily enough. I'm a deep sleeper but when I wake up I'm awake. It's one o'clock in the morning I'll wake up with a start. If it's a school night I automatically think of something school related. While I don't advise it, I keep my mobile phone next to my bed. Once I use it - it's a death knell to sleep. My brain starts whirring and I start to input ideas into my Google Keep app (I also like Day One Journal).

The last couple of nights I've woken up with lyrics from the Scissor Sisters stuck in my head. It's not uncommon for me to browse my Amazon.com purchases. Yes, I know. I hate that I do that. It's nervous energy. Once when I was sick in bed I wrote up an entire emergency lesson plan so my substitute teacher would have something to do for my students.

I wasn't always this way. As a kid and as a teen I went to sleep before eleven o'clock and woke up at quarter past six in the morning. I had a bus to catch! Times were simpler then; or, more accurately, I think when you're young you're preternaturally ignorant to the ways of the world. It's the paradox of youth. Young people are so into themselves that they've inoculated themselves to certain things. It's partly because adults have constructed a world - a youth culture - to protect them. It's not to say youth are not stressed but there's a qualitative difference between being a dependent and then becoming a tax-paying adult.

I'm no expert on the matter, but I'd say my recent nighttime thought frenzy has more to do with the fact that I've spent this Summer generating a lot of ideas. I'm in the process of writing a guidebook for teachers who want to use philosophy in the classroom. The first book in the series will feature Charlotte's Web. It's a children's book classic but it's also a really good book to discuss ideas. I noticed two things about the book - again ideas I strummed up at three o'clock in the morning. The first idea is how the story repeats the theme of sacrifice. It's an evident theme of the book *spoiler alert* that a friend gives up her life for her friend. But it's interesting when you think of the book's opening chapter - a friend fights to save the life of a friend. I wrote those last two sentences cryptically but I mean to say the book has its own internal logic about the nature of sacrifice. We see Fern, the young girl protagonist, fight for Wilbur, the rung of the litter - but as the novel progresses the story shifts focus to Charlotte and her plan to save Wilbur. Fern, as a character, slowly fades into the background. Her fierce defense of Wilbur is really her own onset of adolescent need for self-expression and independence. Once she's done that she's been able to mark herself as a productive member of society. By the end of the novel she practically has a boyfriend - a boy she met at the fair. Her mother was worried that she was spending to much time on the farm but the good country doctor reassures her that Fern will turn out just fine.

Charlotte, on the other hand, has lived a life as a spider and she's ready to give birth - not only to her spider babies - but she's ready to nurture Wilbur who will eventually live on without her. It's a sad story but actually, it's not. Yes, everyone - "everyone" meaning E.B. White's readers - are heartbroken at the fact that Charlotte does die. But readers may forget that Charlotte had foreknowledge of her death and she used this knowledge as motivation to totally devote her love to a pig! It worked! At the end of the novel, Wilbur takes as his charges two of Charlotte's spider babies. 

I think that's the best kind of death - a death you choose. I don't mean you choose to kill yourself - I mean, in the face of impending death you create an enormous amount of good. That's what Charlotte's Web is really about. Wilbur was the runt of the litter - he wasn't supposed to live. However, he was lucky enough to have Fern and Charlotte. They gave him part of themselves. The novel is about how we as humans - in the face of our own limited humanity - have the capacity to occupy what theologians call grace.

I'm certainly not ready to die - but Charlotte's Web reminds me that the trajectory of a life has an end. I don't know when that end will be. But whenever it is - I have to concede that whatever I leave behind is something I can choose.

That's why I've been having trouble sleeping. My brain has been processing a lot of information. But I feel good.

It's soon to be a new school year. The first day of classes is on Thursday. I'm excited because I have a new role in my job. I'm teaching an Ethics curriculum to high school students. It's something I've always wanted to do. I'll still be giving support to my school's international students - but I'll be meeting with the seventh through eleventh grades to discuss relevant, everyday issues that should spark philosophical thinking - but also I hope to grapple with some real, meaningful issues that my students encounter at school, at home, or with their friends.

Wish me luck! I'd love to read your ideas in the comments.

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