I want to uplift that when you’re sleeping, you are actually doing something. You’re honoring your body. You are giving your brain a moment to download new information. You’re disrupting toxic systems by reclaiming rest.
Hamblin: I’m curious about your own experience with being driven to exhaustion.
Hersey: When I first started thinking about this, I had started seminary. I was in divinity school. I had an 8:00 class. I’d be there by 6:00 in the morning, and then I wouldn’t come home until after midnight sometimes. And after that, I would be up until 3:00 in the morning studying. That was hard. And I had a 6-year-old son at the time. I was robbed while I was walking home from school with my son one day. Two of my family members died suddenly. And then right at that moment, Black Lives Matter was really heating up. And I was a community organizer and justice leader. I was dealing with being pulled to the front lines with that while I was still in school. And I was traumatized, in a way, by constantly seeing all of the murders that were happening, because everything was on video online. It was a lot of strife. And I was at a predominately white institution where there weren’t that many people who looked like me there.
The stress of all of that, combined with trying to go through a really intense, high-level graduate writing program, I just couldn’t take it. I felt like, I’m either going to just quit and just go lay on a couch, or I’m going to just go to school and try to get the attendance credit. I started sleeping all over campus. I was everywhere.
Hamblin: There should be more public spaces for people to take naps.
Hersey: That’s why I started to think about collective napping and public napping. A lot of my work as an artist is public installation: All over the country, we curate spaces for the community to rest in a safe place.
Wells: Is part of that about normalizing napping? Because napping is kind of embarrassing.
Hersey: There’s a stigma around caring for yourself. Unless it’s attached to capitalism, then it’s okay. You can pay $200 for a facial, and then you’re taking care of yourself. But if you’re caring for yourself with something as deep as sleep, which is one of our most ancient and primal needs, if you’re doing that in public, caring for your body, that’s shameful. I tie that back to capitalism and to white supremacy and these notions around not seeing humans as divine and not seeing our bodies as belonging to us. When you start to deprogram around all the systems that have us at this point of sleep deprivation, where we don’t think we are worthy of sleep.
Hamblin: That phrase you used, “worthy of sleep,” jumps out at me. I can see there’s an issue there of someone in my position not deeming themselves worthy of that time, because something we’ve talked about a lot on this show is there are a lot of people who are suffering so much more than we are. But we need to take our own needs into consideration, deem those concerns worthy, and address them.