Tuesday, October 30, 2007
WRITTEN WORD 12 - Insomnia
I toss around. I get up, have a fake cheese snack, fake cheese so I will not die with clogged arteries, and then I try again. Back in bed I look at the old clock radio whose tape player has not worked for years. When I went to bed it was midnight, and I have to be up at eight so there had been time for a full nights sleep. But now it is 3, and then 4, and I see daylight creeping in from behind the shades. Almost no time left, and I have a lot to do in this day ahead. Better take a pill – though it might be even better to have a cigarette.
I toss and I turn, kind of drugged up now, and it would really be much better if I can smoke. I haven’t had a cigarette in over 20 years. But when I had my last one it was at the end of that day’s regular three packs. So who knows when the lung cancer will strike.
That past comes in. A cigarette on the edge of the desk. All desk edges had cigarette burns. A cigarette right after making love. “Fucking” was the word even way back when it first became relevant to me, a word back then, and sometimes now, more thought and acted upon than spoken. Leaning over to some night table somewhere and finding the cigarettes. Probably putting two in my mouth at the same time so that there will be one to pass on to the girl, in the style of Humphrey Bogart, who must have had an incredibly long list of women fucked. I am not getting any closer to sleep. Maybe I can try what I used to do for sleep when I was in an upper bunk at Ft. Benning in the silly peacetime army. I would think in chronological order of every girl I had ever fucked – which had been a very short list until the months just passed in Indianapolis at the time the Indiana Legislature was meeting. A sweet red-headed whore named Cindy in a flea bag hotel. And then the list got longer just before I was drafted, for I spent those last weeks in Batista’s Cuba. But the list is still short enough so that it needs women almost fucked, and then women I was determined to fuck one day, especially women whom I had not met yet, women in my imagination. But this is not helping at all. Could it really have put me to sleep at Ft. Benning fifty years ago? Of course I am now beside my beautiful wife whom and love and is sleeping peacefully – not in a bunk in the barracks.
I toss and I turn. There are still so many loose ends in my life, going back into the deep past. Was I or was I not molested as a child? Does Aunt Betsy count? Three months behind on the mortgage. Isn’t it time I made money from writing again? Writing is probably all over for me. And the old Volkswagen Golf, its left front tire has a not so slow leak, and there is a strange screeching sound that starts when I pull out of the driveway and does not stop for five minutes, and the whole car shakes and rattles when the speedometer passes 50. And my twin brother, with whom I have been through so much since childhood, my brother the good twin, not so much fun as me the bad twin, and really quite dangerous – the CIA and an even worse Defense Department agency – in Southeast Asia in two periods when I was there on the other side. And up well into middle age, well after I became published, he was still sending me ads from a Washington paper for door-to-door salesman jobs or entry level jobs in grim business writing. He has been sending me classified ads like this for thirty years. And what if it should turn out he was right about me all along. And an ear-nose-throat doctor has just told me that the ringing in my ears is there because something is “asymmetrical,” which calls for an MRI, and I know what that means.
I used to be able to lie in bed and my memory was so good I could put together whatever it was I was doing on any day in the year if I could figure out where the week started.
I groan at the thought of every book or magazine article or pamphlet or web article about how to overcome insomnia. Very light exercise before sleep. Use the bed only for sleeping! Tighten your head muscles, then neck, then shoulders, down to the tips of your toes. Take a hot bath. Have a snack, but not too much. Rid your life of caffeine. Go to bed at exactly the same time every night. Keep the window open. Always keep it shut. Use something from nature – valerian or melatonin or L-tryptophan or a homeopathic concoction. And nothing works. Nothing.
Everything in life open ended. Cathy, whom I loved, then Vannie, whom I loved, then Judy, whom I loved, then Bonnie, whom I loved, and my first wives, Anne and Brenda, loved them too, and then more of the might-have beens – Tina, the girl with net stockings, the pretty freedom fighter in Nicaragua, and on and on and then all the way back to earliest times, to Sandie, and most of all to Kitty. I could stay up all night dreaming of Kitty in that time when I was 15 and it looked for the first time that life would work out.
I wonder now if anyone but me has noticed that those giveaway pamphlets about how to sleep that you sometimes see in doctors officers are produced by drug companies that sell sleeping pills. Certainly everyone has noticed that a good percentage of the anti-smoking TV ads are produced by Phillip Morris, a company whose life depends upon people being addicted young to nicotine, and that the most visible ads for moderate drinking come from Budweiser.
I am feeling coldly logical now. Something is falling into place that should go into the book on writing I am writing. It goes like this: If the pill companies have an interest in promoting insomnia, and the cigarette companies in seeing that nicotine addiction flourishes, and Budweiser needs binge drinking for its bottom line, what about the hidden motives of the owners of writer’s magazines and publishers of how-to-write books who say all writers should sit for three hours a day in front of computer screens even when the screens are blank? Or that everything will be fine once you learn to use hooks and epiphanies and closures in all your stories.
I toss and I turn, trying one side and then the other. In my mind I see steel shelves at Barnes & Noble holding books with advice on how to write and how to overcome writer’s block. They must weigh a ton. You could get killed if they fell on you.