End of the Line

A Hard Day’s Nap: Roy Blount Jr. Attempts a Siesta

There’s nothing tougher than catching a few winks

An illustration of a man taking a nap

Illustration: BARRY BLITT

You write about food, you get hungry. You write about naps, you get a little fuzzy. But there’s work to do!

A nap, according to Winston Churchill, is “the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

I am tempted to say, “My vital forces and I will be back in twenty minutes,” but there’s work to do! Did I say that already?

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By work I mean, for instance, trying a tricky nap thing recommended by Salvador Dalí. The surrealist artist took naps that were less than one second long. He would sit up in an armchair with a metal key in his hand. Below the key-holding hand, he would place a metal plate. The moment he fell asleep, the key would fall and clang on the plate, waking him up.

Hello! Dalí?

See, Dalí believed that the first moment of sleep activates the creative part of the brain. Once into that zone, Dalí could roll up his sleeves and get to work.

Dalí didn’t need to catch forty winks, as the expression goes. One wink was enough for him—talk about surreal, he could probably picture wink catching, once he got into the zone.

Which would be his idea of “work.”

To do the Dalí nap thing, you have to be sitting up. I went to our big leather easy chair. Our cat, Jimmy, was there. Talk about fuzzy. I don’t know why people use the term catnap for a quick one. Jimmy’s naps can last for days.

“Ahem,” I said, and asked for advice. Jimmy stirred slightly, un-winked one eye, and gave me this much:

“First, make sure you get your feet—all your feet…never mind.”

Truth is, I never felt right about taking naps until I grew older than my parents ever got to be. Became my own old man.

Before that, I couldn’t picture responsible adults napping.

Then one day I read this: “Twenty- to thirty-minute naps are recommended for adults, while young children and elderly people may need longer naps.”

You see what that means. I have outgrown adulthood! It means “I’ll be back in forty minutes.” But first—My parents passed when they were in their sixties. If they ever had what might have looked like free time before that, there were Sunday school lessons to prepare, beans to snap, azaleas that weren’t going to get the bugs off themselves. Who could ever justify sleeping in the daytime? Even for a second. All right for Dalí, he was—Spanish. What does that connote?

Siesta! Clickety-click with castanets, olé! ¡Ándale, ándale!

No, that’s fiesta. A siesta is quieter. But Southerners can be quiet. And we have heat. We have plenty of snooze-loving people who enjoy wearing big hats suitable for tipping over the eyes. Why has the siesta never caught on in the Southern United States?

I have found no evidence that our surrealist, William Faulkner, ever (except in the sense of losing track of an especially fuzzy sentence) napped. Faulkner inspired Latin American writers to produce magic realism. Wouldn’t it have been something if that cultural favor had been returned to the South in the form of the institution of midday dozing?

It was not to be.

I was, however, able to find, ta-daaaa

A Faulkner story about a nap:

There was once a man who went hunting. When he was a long ways from home it began to rain very, very hard. Seeing no other shelter, the man crawled into a hollow log and went to sleep. When he awoke the log had swollen so that he could not get out. The man felt that his last days had come. At once he began to realize he had wasted most of his life and had failed to take out that policy when the BLUEBIRD salesman called the day before. This made him feel so small that he crawled right out of the little end of the log. Moral: Let the BLUEBIRD help you out of tight places.


That bit of fuzzy drollery—reprinted in 2014 in the Paris Review—first appeared in the University of Mississippi student newspaper in 1924. Faulkner is believed to have written it. And now, I think I’ll lie down.

Oh, the Salvador Dalí thing didn’t work for me. I kept peeking at the key in my hand. To see whether I was asleep yet. Or is that backward?