Saturday, November 15, 2008

Scattered Thoughts on Public Sleeping

Do you sleep in public? Sure, we've all done the nod-off during a late afternoon lecture or dozed while on the train, but what about intentional nap-taking in a public space?

Certainly it violates many rules of etiquette about being aware and unobtrusive in public. What if you snore or drool? And doesn't it show blatant disregard for "the public" in which we should all be aware actors?

Personally, I find if very distracting to be around sleeping people in public. Why is that? Is it just because they are doing what they shouldn't and my inner Goffman kicks in and I want to police their behavior? Or is it just the (potential) spectacle of what might happen to someone who is 'practicing inattention' in space that is supposed to demand attention? When you do enter a public space where some sleeping is going on, it is the odd person, usually. So I wonder what it would be like to walk into a room full of sleeping people...

My own history of intentional public sleeping has, almost exclusively, involved college campuses or beaches. At Indiana University, I often scheduled my classes so I would have a break which I would routinely spend sleeping in the Union. IU's Union is lovely and huge and has these large halls/lounges with long leather couches and enormous stone fireplaces. I'd wander until I found an open couch, tuck my backpack in behind me, set the alarm on my watch and crash. In graduate school, I had a favorite building with the whole second floor dedicated to grad student study where, again, big club furniture (arm chairs you could sink back into) and fireplaces invited naps.

Somehow the student/study identity and spaces made this acceptable to me but I realize on my current campus there is not a good place for sleeping. Most of the other places I go -- lectures, coffee shops, libraries -- it is not acceptable. I've watched Peter bounce people for sleeping in the coffee shop downtown and the public libraries also boot the sleepers. I do wonder, however, if our reaction to public sleeping is conditioned by (appearances of) class and race. As a middle-class appearing white woman, would the local librarians confront me as quickly as homeless folks who spend large chunks of their day in the library during the cold weather?

Some part of my up-bringing has me convinced that I am not to sleep in public places. I suspect that some of this is gendered, as I was taught to always be on guard because, as a woman, I am vulnerable in public. Then also, there is the willful neglect of the people around me (I can't really be aware of whether I am making them uncomfortable or taking up too much space when I am asleep!), which is another good girl no-no.

Since I'm eager to kick my good-girl ways (or at least engage in them with more intentionality), let me close with this. Mark your calendars, Public Sleeping Day is February 28.