I think I was born awake. And even though I drown under the panoply of Proust’s detailed memories, I empathize with his insomnia. I also admire Balzac, who wrote from five in the evening until seven in the morning and was seen in daylight once, on his way to court to settle a lawsuit.
Once, a boyfriend who had just come back from Tuscon, woke up and began to feed his pet python. The silver bracelets on his arm jangled like rattlesnakes. His eyes looked at an undefined point in the distance. When I began to talk to him, he startled, then said:
Oh my god. You’re a twenty-four-hour-a-day person.
I suppose I am. Except when I forget my keys or put a bill, My only refuge is the day dream. Since I’ve been a kid I’ve escaped by staring out the window at nothing in particular, always knowing I would have to come back to a place where faces and conversations burned inside me because I couldn’t ignore them.
So it was with a strange and abberrant pleasure that I slept for five days solid with the flu. My friends were cats . My environment was a tangle of sheets and a feather quilt, more intricately tangled as days went on–from valleys to dunes, from canyons to mountains.
This was a sleep without dreams and a sleep without thoughts. In essence it was a writer’s vacation, as though the angel of dreams colluded with the angel of inspiration and they decided to put a screen between me and every image and memory available. Sleep was everywhere. And everywhere was sleep.
As suddenly as it began the flu went away and I forgot, all over again, what it was like to sleep. The angel of oblivion disappeared. And my long-trusted friend, the angel of daydreaming, took over. Ideas began to surface: Strange, tufted fragments that might be part of a book or might be fragments. Characters eager to audition. Titles that might have resonance.
And, not for the first time, I began to wish there were a country where things people did during the day happened at night. Home Depot would be haunted by non-sleepers. The aisles would be quiet. The tools would be lit. And everyone–shoppers and salespeople– would walk down the aisles in socks. Costco would have a cathedral-like calm. The towels and toilet paper would be lit by votives.
I might like this country more than the country of sleep. I imagine encounters with people I’d never talk to in the demanding etiquette of daylight. I see shops with illuminated windows, restaurants with people making business deals over candles. And bookstores,too, some with books already written, others with books about to be. The stores are behind thick doors and have halls that lead to endless aisles filled with bookshelves.
After getting a garden hose at Home Depot and boxes of detergent at Costco, I would immerse myself in these stores. Then night would become a place of refuge without tossing and turning and wondering if I should work or watch something on Netflx. I might meet Proust, restless after a few hours in his cork-lined room, or Colette, who worked until three in the blue light of a paper lantern–or maybe Balzac, out for a walk. Oh! To sleep! one of us would say. Those lucky people who are sleeping now. Would we mean it? I don’t think so. We would be glad to live in the company of insomniacs. And if we found a dark store that offered the vacation of no sleep, we would look in the window for a moment and hurry on.