Kage Baker rarely wrote in the middle of the night.
She was a daylight person. She stayed up late to work, most nights: but her idea of late was any hour past midnight. By that time, she was visibly flagging. Her eyes would develop the fixed, glassy stare of someone who has been driving for 12 hours, and is still 2 states away from their exit. Ultimately, she would drive off the information highway and fall asleep in a ditch by the road.
I can count the number of times Kage had actual insomnia on the fingers of one hand. And two of those occasions she was sleepless due to worry over a family member. On any normal night, and some pretty abnormal ones, she was essentially sleep walking by 2 AM and could be put to bed with no more resistance than a toddler. She learned to stop writing by then, because she’d get up the next day and find it was gibberish and all to be done again.
“I can’t write if I’ve turned into a pumpkin,” she fretted. Then she’d go to bed and plot whole stories in her dreams. Nice work, if you can get it …
I have insomnia. I have insomnia the way I have brown eyes, or the knack of twisting my tongue into a tube, or congestive heart failure. It’s not an occasional condition; I am habitually awake more nights than I am asleep. It’s worse in the Spring and Fall, like allergies, though one memorable year I failed to fall asleep after a Halloween party, and was more or less awake until May Day. I am accustomed to seeing dawns and sunsets and then new dawns in matching sets. I recently calculated that my accumulated sleep debt is now longer than my actuarial lifespan.
It’s an acknowledged fact that loss of sleep will fry your brain and most of your autonomic metabolism. Torturers use it for that reason, and it’s reputed to be more effective than pain. (I believe that, because with enough pain you can eventually pass out.) Scientific American has a tidy littlel article online, that says the world record is 264 hours: about 11 days, set by some teen-aged kid back in 1965. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-long-can-humans-stay/) I am willing to bet that some other miserable teenager has since met or bettered this record. Adolescence is like that.
I have been slow-dancing with insomnia all May. It’s much easier now that I am retired, I must admit; I can stay awake until the sun rises, then sleep for 6 hours with an utterly clear conscience. If I am really awake – like, manic with it, which happens – I can write until late into the night, and it’ll still make sense 12 hours later when I am pouring coffee down my throat and my pants in an effort to wake up. But when I am too tired; when I have been awake for a day or 3 and my only real claim to wakefulness is that my eyes are still open: then I read. I crave the printed word with an addict’s ardour. I NEED to read. I used to have panic attacks when I thought I didn’t have enough fresh books to hand to last me through the night.
My Kindle has saved me from that terror, at least. I have over a thousand books safely in my Cloud, and new ones are an instant gratification as long I have a wifi signal. And I always have a wifi signal. This is an addiction of long standing, and I have moved with the times to accommodate that erudite monkey on my back. It means I can write all night, too, if I want to do that: witness my tendency to write blog entries between 9 PM and midnight. Then I can spend the wee small hours in the arms of Thoth, Seshat, Nabu and Cadmus. Or any other deities of the written word who might be awake for a foursome of spades, or a little four-in-hand dancing.
The last few nights, I have been reading up on UFOs. This is almost total junk food; sometimes you get a nugget of information, like some real cheese on a greasy burger of dubious meat; but mostly, it’s comfortable junk food. It’s a nostalgic topic, too, as Kage and Kimberly and I spent many, many nights watching the stars and hoping for sightseeing aliens. I can’t state for sure we ever saw any, though we did see UFOs aplenty: if you can’t tell what it was you saw, it’s a UFO, right? My favourite left Kage with an inexplicable sunburn in the middle of the night (probably ball lightning) while Kimberly and her husband were wandering helplessly in an old quarry in the dark – Kage had the flashlight, of course. My second favourite turned out out to be a goose flying overhead, with the moon reflecting silver off its breast.
UFOs are cool.
My nights have been further enriched lately by the apparently endless stream of baby opossums who have been toddling indoors through every loose window screen or chewed-open vent in the house. How the hell do we suddenly have so many possums? Last night was Opossum #3, announced with a sort of of resigned bewilderment by Michael about 4 AM. We had a brief bug hunt through the bedrooms, then gave it up till morning – the little bugger left on its own sometime during it all, leaving just me to watch and listen till dawn. The cats were no use at all: the black cat never woke up, and the red cat just sat in her cat tower crying piteously. Possums are scary, I guess.
I chased aliens through to the ere-dawn, and then fell over for a couple of hours. After which I was again wide freaking awake, and so was able to advise Michael (who did not need it) on how to possum-proof all the windows.
The good part – and yes, there is a good part, Dear Readers! – was that there is a story in this. I am going to work on it a little as soon as I post this … because if infinite possums can come through the walls at night, who knows what else might be out there?
I’ll leave a light on.