birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Major Effort

No one pulls an all-nighter intentionally. It's a measure of desperation, need, stupidity, adrenaline, will and, sometimes, booze.

As a film student, you get familiar with latenight shoots or editing sessions that stretch to dawn, fueled by deadline, shitty vending-machine coffee and sugar. It's not academia, it's practical lessons in production while juggling a full workload of regular classes.

And normally your body tells you when it absolutely needs to sleep. And your brain gives you the nudge by making absolutely unsound judgments.

So when I neared the end of a semester and hit finals week for both my film classes and my journalism classes, it was kind of a relief that the schedule happened to cut me a break in that the exams for my J-classes would wrap early in the week and leave me with just two or so film tests to finish later in the week.

My last journalism final was an evening class, and it went well, so a handful of us decided to go out for a quick pitcher of celebratory beer before calling it a night. My next cinema final was in the morning, but it was a class I was acing and felt comfortable with only doing a brief review of key terms on. And, the T.A. had noted, it was going to be a multiple-choice test.

So, sure, I was in for beers with my journalism classmates.

Three hours later, and it wasn't the exhausted brain making unsound judgments it was the inebriated brain. This was fun. It was a stress relief. I was with two of the coolest women in my class. It was fun!

After the bar closed around 11 or 11:30, I was making vocal protestations that it was time to call it a night and tuck in so I could get in an hour or so of exam review in the morning.

But my cohorts were through with their exams entirely, so more celebration at their place was in order.

Two hours after that, after the shots of something I don't remember, after lots of laughs, after some card games, after talk of summer vacation plans, I was fading fast.

The women were not. Aided by adrenaline and perhaps some enhancing substances, they were up and were not accepting sleep on anyone's part.

I stuck with it.

Until I didn't.

Somewhere between 5 and 7 a.m. I dozed off. Not a good sleep, but out enough.

I had that shot of "oh, shit" adrenaline about 7:30, realizing I had an hour to get back to my apartment, pick up my assignments, maybe change clothes, then get back for my cinema final. You know, the multiple-choice one.

I raced home, splashed water on my face, made sure I had all the right notes and the final paper in my folder and scrambled back to campus.

Jeezus, that sunlight hurt.

Why did it feel so goddamn warm out?

Which room was the final in again?

The drinking after-effects dissipated all too quickly. Yeah, I was wired with urgency. Sweaty. Brain racing. No thought of sleep now. Brain racing. Mental review of film terms like depth of field, lens choices, film stocks. Brain racing.

Heart racing, too. Like swimming laps racing. Like start of running sprint racing.

And a headache. Nascent hangover pain somehow pushed into just stress pounding.

I slid into the classroom some 5-10 minutes after the official start time, with the exam already in progress. The T.A. handed me a copy of the exam. Brief glances up from my classmates. No remarks. Instructions were on the board. Multiple-goddam-choice it was.

I breezed through about a page and a half before I realized that the sweat from running across campus was making me itchy. I scratched. I filled in ovals. I sweated. I scratched. Arms. Chest. Ankles.

I wasn't just sweaty, I was sticky.


Running some fingernails across my stomach, I noted that I was affixed with something. Somethings.

My drinking partners of the night before had taken my brief passed-out moment to write helpful prompts on my body ... in rub-off lettering.

"Go" was one on my stomach. "Summer" on a calf. I think one of them tried to spell out "Good Luck" but either ran out of letters or couldn't work the space to fit it all in.

I finished the test early, turned it in, and exited scratching. That's the texture of exhaustion.

The rhythm of walking and breathing

Bourbon, Beatles, Trashcan Fire