Ask me anything
I am slightly bleary today following a late night reunion with an old acquaintance that I thought I had lost contact with. I had deliberately cut off relations and so last night’s visitation was as surprising as it was unwelcome. I had thought that I had covered my tracks, that in all of the rush and shuffle of my travels around the globe I had managed to obscure my trail to the point where I would be sufficiently insulated from such undesirable contacts but nevertheless I found myself inescapably face to face with this ghost from my past. Insomnia had found me.
The nocturnal thief of hours visited me in my bed last night and kept me company on and off for the whole night. Whispering in my ear to remind me of her presence whenever my attention strayed long enough for me to begin to drift off to sleep. It has been a long time since we have seen each other and so naturally there was a lot of catching up to do. At first, the enthusiasm was entirely one sided. I wanted nothing more than to be left alone so that I could get the few remaining hours of sleep I would need to face the day. However, as the night wore on my and mind filled and churned away ceaselessly as my imagination swelled to fill the span of hours I was reminded that as much as I may not welcome these visitations they do inspire me. Insomnia is my antagonizing muse. I have long denied her, dodged her, and sidestepped her, I have gone to great lengths to break our bonds but always she has forgiven my excessive zeal and come back.
We go back a long way, I spent a good portion of my younger years fully in thrall to her. From my early adolescence straight through my college years and beyond we were inseparable. She was my constant mistress through several relationships. Occasionally her charms proved irresistible for the more susceptible among my corporeal partners and she would be invited into a menage-a-trois of sleeplessness.
We finally parted ways when I moved back to NYC after college. I was working two jobs, one of them quite physical. Two days a week for five years I had a four hour shift teaching rock climbing after my usual 8 hour work day and I would return home near midnight shattered and fall almost immediately into slumber. The cumulative exhaustion of my work proved to be too much for this admittedly unhealthy relationship to continue and so I began to find ways to avoid her company.
I successfully jilted my muse through a complex set of learned nocturnal behaviors that have become second nature to me now. If I awake in the night I will lay perfectly still, as though I have awoken in the forest at night to the sound of some deadly but nearsighted beast that would be alerted to my presence if I betrayed the slightest movement. My only hope is to silently and motionlessly lay there until sleep claims me again. No matter if I am dying of thirst I will not reach out for the glass of water on my night table as that would surely result in hours of tossing and turning. Getting up to relieve myself in the night is out of the question. I can successfully carry gallons of liquid through the night til morning. I am the night camel. Such is the mania I have had to develop in order to simply be able to stay asleep though the night.
Another of the defensive behaviors that I have developed is to never, under any circumstances, look at the time. To do so is to give more ammunition to my already overactive imagination. Once I know the hour a ticking and sonorous clock thunders away the seconds turning into minutes turning into hours until the approaching dawn begins to brighten my room. Once I have looked at the clock I will have to look again and I will be so alarmed and unnerved by how much time has passed since the last moment of weakness that I will become completely panic stricken. I must get to sleep!!! This only fuels the already turbulent anxieties that prevent me from drifting off.
These behaviors were designed to combat the known modus operandi of my own brain. My mind has a tendency towards extrapolation and that invites disaster as my imagination furnishes the world created by these extrapolations.
When I was a kid my parents drove out to Williamsburg to go the famous Peter Luger’s Steak House. Our car was an old diesel station wagon with a lot of personality and on this particular trip it developed a new tick. We pulled up across the street, my father went to turn off the car and the engine refused to shut off. He turned the key, removed it from the ignition, and then stepped outside the car to ascertain that, yes, the car was still idling. He looked at the keys in his hands then to myself and mother, shrugged his shoulders and said “Fuck it, let’s go eat steaks. If someone wants to steal it, let ‘em. They won’t be able to turn it off either.” This kind of simple reductive logic was typical of him and so we just left it idling there in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge while we went to enjoy dinner.
This episode has stuck with me because I feel that the nature of my insomniac episodes is much the same. I can park my body and take the keys out but I cannot coax the engine to stop turning over. My brain just idles, humming away though the night and nothing short of running out of fuel can turn it off. My imagination just runs wild, it is an unstoppable riptide of ideas that quickly carries me out to sea. Creatively speaking it can be incredibly productive but the tradeoff of being a complete zombie the next day and unable to enact any of the fantastical ideas that I have so rehearsed and developed and endlessly refined during the night prevents me from being able to completely embrace these visitations by my muse. I resent her presence yet I welcome her inspiration. I just wish she kept regular office hours. While they can be destructive to my peace of mind these late night sessions are undeniably a font of creativity that carries me through the next day with a wealth of ideas to ponder. After all, I drafted this entire piece last night and am really only recounting what has already been written in my head.
I am so, so fucking tired.