I tossed, I turned, I rolled and scrunched and tucked and squirmed, utterly unable to attain that restful state where you know that sleep, though elusive, is inevitable. I clawed at the frayed, gnawed filmstrips of my dreams, hoping that something would catch and I would be able to grab hold, dive into the dream, and drift into blissful sleep. Alas, nothing happened. I turned more. I tossed more. Ever fitful and with growing frustration, I repeated the futile, choreographed dance of non-sleep.
I knew why it was happening. On the lowest and easiest to comprehend level, I knew that I’d had a coffee after dinner. This was my right and fit punishment for such a decision. But, just underneath the surface, a refracted, rippling and less obvious source of my insomnia was visible. Yesterday morning, at 11:30am, my uncle died. Cancer raised the battle cry against him, cancer fought the war, and cancer and its innumerable side effects defeated him.
Rather than sit in a corner, blubbering and jiggling as would a shaken bowl of still-cooling Jell-O, oozing a bevy of sobs and tears, my mind retreated. Rather than confront the truth and reality of my uncle’s death, the mortality of his departure and, let’s be honest, my own inevitable mortality, my mind turned and ran, its tail between its legs. It threw at me every possible shiny object, red herring, and interesting thought it could muster, anything it could put in my path to keep me from staring death in the face.
This was no ordinary collection of obstacles. My subconscious knows my conscious better than I do (I also realize the recursively flawed nature of that statement), and it knows what I like to chew on. I got up out of bed and in 10 minutes flat wrote the entire suite of sample code for “Hour 13” of my upcoming Mac OS X Lion programming book. That failed to sate my desire for … whatever it was that I desired.
So then I started writing. Not prose, but something closer to stream-of-consciousness brainstorming, a free, unfettered and unfiltered flow of raw inspiration through my fingers and into outbound e-mails to my sounding board, friend, and editor of brutal ferocity. I’ve been working on storyboarding my novel and something just hasn’t been clicking into place lately. I’ve haven’t been able to nail down the rules of the world in which my book takes place. In addition, I haven’t found good behavioral and archetypal models for my characters. Further, I haven’t found a title for this book or its sequels.
Tonight, between fretful tosses and disgruntled turns, I picked up my smartphone and double-thumbed out e-mails containing my novel’s rules concerning the level, degree, and nature of magic in its world. I detailed the behavioral and archetypal models for the protagonist and many of the supporting characters and, though I didn’t send out the e-mail, I also jotted down pages of information on my antagonist and his cronies. This was all after 1am, mind you, when any sane person (who worked during the day) would be sleeping.
I put the phone down and again sought unconscious respite from the day’s news, events, and my ever-reddening bloodshot eyes. After another 30 minutes of sleeplessness, I was hit by the names for all 3 novels I had planned, including the name of the series to which they belong. These names might not stick, but they’re at the very least a straw man with which to elicit better, more powerful and evocative book titles.
And now, at 3:45 in the morning, in the patch dark with nothing but the glow of my monitor and even dimmer glow of the backlit keyboard lighting the room around me, here I sit writing this blog entry. I don’t do so because I think anyone’s reading my blog (in fact I have compelling evidence to the contrary) nor do I do so out of desire to increase my readership. No, I do this out of pure compulsion, not the kind of compulsion that makes a sleepwalker fix themselves a pastrami on rye before heading back to bed, but the kind of compulsion where you know you will find no peace until you satisfy that compulsion.
And so, finally, to the point of the title of my post: a terrible, sleepless, epiphanous, wonderful night. It started with the terrible news of my uncle’s death and continued with the maddening sleeplessness brought on by my mind’s defense mechanism, its poor attempt to shield me from the harsh reality only making the situation worse by depriving me of much-needed sleep and ability to focus. The night was epiphanous (I actually had to check to make sure that word was in the dictionary – it is). In the span of just a few hours I felt the pain and sadness of the lowest of the lows and the unbridled joy when your mind is filled with an open fire hose of ideas.
For the first time in my life, I know that I am a writer. I’m not just pretending to be one, nor am I an aspiring writer. Being a writer has nothing to do with being published. Being a writer has everything to do with being physically unable to sleep until you have given form to thought, given venue and escape to the ideas and concepts burned into your mind’s eye. I’ve experienced being literally tortured by the onslaught of ideas, information, and words that begged to be put to pen and would not rest until I had done so, including this blog post that puts form to my own struggle to both confront and avoid the death of my uncle.
Now that I’ve managed to empty my mind of the things my subconscious thought could keep me from my confrontation with death, I can now feel the pain and sadness approaching. Thankfully, I can also feel exhaustion and sleep approaching just as rapidly.