I couldn’t be happier than I am in my life as an insomniac: it’s the golden time when I’m able to look both my life force and death force in the face, and to honor both.
On one hand, as an insomniac, I’m totally lost in the dark, resisting a life made of the stillness and solitude that can only be found in the hours between 3 to 5 a.m. and on the other hand I’m impelled to live this life openly and fully, somehow summoning the imaginative strength to believe that this otherwise dark time provides me the still unmapped territories I yearn to explore as other, normal men and women explore oceans or outer space or the deep meaning of algorithms.
Those people with whom I share the news of my condition often ask, “do you do much writing while you’re awake?” thinking, I’m sure, that the privacy, silence and innate inwardness of the post-midnight time slot is a good time to write. No, not at all, I say, I don’t write, if anything I read, or if I write I write small unsustainable bits of prose that hope to become poetry or poetry that hopes to become prose, something I might use in my writing the next morning or the morning after that but rarely do.
Should I write something it’s often scribbled in a kind of insomniacal code, such as—at the place in life where I see that my eyes are no longer meant to look at life but to stare at death—as was the case at 4:12 a.m. today when night was just beginning to strain toward morning. I write then in the margins of other writings, whatever’s handy, a book, a magazine, The New York Times Sunday crossword, always in pen so that it can’t be lost.
Ideas do make themselves available, but only when unbidden: there’s no hunting them down in the Wallace Stevens model of “a man must think two hours a day.” Often an idea that seems promising at 3 a.m. seems less promising at 9 a.m. when the author of it, after retiring to his bedroom for a few additional hours of post-insomnia sleep, re-thinks the idea in the crisp early light of morning.
The example of one of my adventures in insomnia proves the point that ideas, such as they are, occurring under the condition of extreme sleeplessness are best not written down, for I found recently that I’d proposed wiping out the entire race (homo sapiens), quarantining one man and one woman, vetted for their beauty and intelligence AND their ability to produce twin offspring, to breed or inbreed, whatever the case may be, from that point forward, so that there might be a fresh new beginning to life on earth…
…the idea might be enough for the kind of dystopian novel so popular these days, though I’m not the man to write it. I love the world just as it is, with all its darkness and its light.