Kage Baker once stayed awake for almost 40 hours. She considered it a personal best, which it was, and was very proud of the fact. Ordinarily, she was one of those people who falls asleep by midnight, and turns into a variety of semi-sentient fungus if she doesn’t get 8 hours of sleep a night. She’d stay up until 1 or 2 if she was racing a writing deadline, but pay for it by being in a helpless coma the next morning.
So she was justifiably proud of her best streak of wakefulness. She also never wanted to repeat it, as it was fairly weird toward the end there.
Of course, the end was on the roof/patio of her agent’s wonderful shotgun apartment in New York, at the tail end of a publishing party, drinking Cuban coffee and smoking … stuff, and watching city lights impersonating UFO’s. So there is really no telling how much was the psychotropic effects of fatigue poison and how much was the interesting hor d’oeuvres.
In that 40 hours, though, Kage had flown across the continent, accompanied me on a fevered pilgrimage to see rose-quartz hand axes and Homo ergaster skeletons at the Natural History Museum, observed polar bears and Arctic char and the wonderful animal clock at the Zoo, danced between the lions at the New York City Library, watched a falconer hunt pigeons between apartment buildings, dined at Aquavit restaurant, seen Baz Lurhman’s La Boheme on Broadway, driven round Times Square leaning out the window of a cab, done a radio show, given a reading, had a late night supper in a Irish pub, and dodged porters hefting huge baskets of oysters and mussels on the cobbled sidewalk of the harbour end of Wall Street.
And those were just the more active parts … but she was speaking in tongues by the time I tucked her into the beautiful sleigh bed in Linn’s guest room. Which was not so much a room as an alcove off the living room, where the neon sign from the Cuban grocery downstairs blinked colours on the walls all night.
We were living in magic during that trip to New York, and Kage was determined not to waste a moment.
This has always been my personal philosophy – sleep is for sissies, etc. I have been blessed for most of my life with a low need for sleep, as well, ordinarily getting by on 3 or 4 hours a night. It was not unusual for me to stay awake for entire weekends at Renaissance Faires; or subsist happily on cat naps so as to spend the nights with the other insomniacs, sharing poetry and port by lamplight or running pike drills in the Dragon Maze.
I eagerly anticipated middle and old age. I believed that myth that the elderly don’t sleep much, and figured that by the time I was 60 I could have dispensed with sleep almost entirely. However, that turns out to be a huge, lousy, stinking lie. It also doesn’t take heart disease into consideration, which is pretty stupid when you consider that it’s just at that point in life that most hearts begin to falter …
To my annoyance, I now need more sleep than I ever did before in my life. It is a family legend that I was the non-sleeping variety of infant. My memories of insomnia go back to seeing my next youngest sister asleep in her crib while I was running round the bedroom floor, so it must be true. I was awake through adolescence. I was awake through my early and middle adulthoods. I have seen more midnights than noons, and cringed from more dawns than any vampire. This is a serious drag, man.
Kage was thrilled when she managed to spend almost 4 days awake – but she realized it was an aberration, and she never tried to do it again. She was always wiser than me in base-line practicalities … usually I stay awake to write and read in the quiet hours of the night that have always been my natural habitat; then I catch a few hours of sleep. But now, when I am once again awake and armed with coffee and deep into my morning correspondence, this new incubus sneaks up on me and I don’t wake up again until 2 in the afternoon! Not acceptable!
I would happily just go nocturnal if it meant I could manage on 6 or 7 hours of sleep again. But it seems I need more like 12 or 14, and it is making serious dents in my time. Is there something like a reverse sleeping pill? Some medication that will restore my waking hours and not turn me into a red-eyed psychotic? I don’t even mind a few hallucinations if they keep to my schedule … grist for the writer’s mill, and all that. Hasn’t anyone developed electro-sleep headsets yet?
Must go check EBay …