These days my sleep cycle is more or less shot. I’m not sure what to make of that. I don’t know if this is a new thing, or an emergence of something I used to deal with twenty years ago or longer. When I was in my 20s, living alone, I worked a mid-shift doing tech support for Apple computers. I worked the 10-7pm shift, and the little apartment where I was living had no air conditioning. I used to stay up until 2 or 3am writing, reading, and generally just sweltering until sleep finally took me in the early hours of the night. I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of green lacewings which had found their way into my apartment. I didn’t have a lot of friends and back then, rather than welcome the silence, it terrified me.
These days feel a little like those days of the past. Tonight, I went to bed at around 11pm and woke up at 12:30am. I’m not even sure if “woke up” is the right words to use, since I don’t remember actually sleeping. Time passed, I suppose, and for a while my thoughts were still. In deciding to tackle the idea of writing as a full-time job, there are a few adjustments that I am making in my life. One of them is the reality that I have no real set schedule these days unless my son is with me. As much as I would like to be the kind of writer who gets up at 7am and exercises, eats, sits down in the chair at 9am and sets their fingers on the keys and gets to work, that has been difficult. Fruitless even.
I don’t know why I have been applying the old ways to my new life in this way. I don’t see much of a reason to do it anyway. My natural state of operation has hardly held onto the mores and rhythms of a traditional worklife. I’ve always wondered why people get up, spend all day working and then clock out at 5pm, especially in the summertime, where the heat of the day is oppressive and a nap feels like the best thing imaginable at around 2 in the afternoon. Or how there are times I would love nothing more than a quiet house in which to work, but have to plop myself down in a hot room with the TV blaring in the next room and the sounds of one of my sons video games filtering back through the walls, complete with him making a running commentary.
Tonight reminds me of one of those nights when I lived alone, before I had kids. So quiet and still. My son is finally asleep and quiet in his bed, and I have just pulled myself out of my own, unable to sleep. The sounds of my own thoughts crashing against the inside of my skull like waves on a rocky shore. I know it will be just another sleepless night of lying there in bed. The hot and cold of a restless summer night, the sleep schedule determined by a world that has abandoned me. The clock that had to get punched. The schedule that was like everyone else’s.
Ever since I was a little kid, I was a night owl. I remember when my dad worked the late shift or graveyards at the mine, I would be up at all hours of the night, playing Old Maid and UNO with my mom until he walked through the door. As a little kid, I remember watching John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live and even shows that came on afterwards. Of course in those years, I was up with the sun, watching cartoons while my parents slept. Tonight I decided rather than waste a quiet night with worrying and random thoughts, I might as well put my words to the page.
It feels so right to do this. I think one of the things I resented about my job was the loss of my nights. I missed staying up late and just working things out on the page, falling asleep when I was too exhausted to continue, my fingers working still even after my eyes had closed. There were some days when I would look at what I had written the next day and not be able to make sense of some of it. I had been dreaming and writing.
The path I have been taking lately has been jarring, like trying to feel your way through the gears without using a clutch. I had almost forgotten what it meant to work at the times I wanted to work. When the house was quiet, when my thoughts had settled, and there was almost nothing to distract me. When I could pour a cup of tea and write as it steeped, listening to crickets outside. Knowing that sleep will take me when it is time and I don’t need the soporific effects of alcohol to still my mind just because I’m supposed to go to sleep at a certain time.
Today, I wrote. It took a while to get the words down because they were dry and somehow I had to come up with 2,000 words for what a contingency fee was for a law firm. That’s it. That’s the only guidance I had other than “be vague, dodge the question.” I wrote it. I dodged. And I watched the hours slip past. Had I been punching the clock, I would have put in a late day. It’s hard to shake that kind of thinking. I have to think more now about “Is the writing done?” rather than, “Did I take up enough time between the hours of eight and five to justify my worth?”
At 12:35am tonight, I decided the writing wasn’t done. I had an idea for a podcast I want to do soon. A friend informed me of another podcast idea too, this one about white privilege and other concepts that are important to the collective conversation as well. My friends at Dutch Bros. this morning wanted to know if I had written anything about the state of the world yet. They valued my thoughts. Unfortunately, I’ve been wrapped up in my own drama so much lately, I haven’t had much to say about it. The revelation that struck tonight told me that I have plenty of time in the day now to do all of these things. I’m not held to the hours of a timeclock anymore. These ideas will find a place on the page. The world is beautiful and vibrant at 1:30am, and the ideas flow freely if you let them.
My dreams lately have been for shit. I keep having the same dreams over and over. I don’t remember much about them when I wake up, other than it was the same dream. More of a thought process than an actual dream anyway. The concept is the same. A train that goes around a forested mountain. Or sometimes a road. And all that matters is the shortest distance from point A to point B to meet the path if I leave the forest. That’s it. There’s nothing else in the forest. Just the mechanics of “how do I get to the path from here?”
That’s not the kind of rest you look forward to every evening. It’s an exercise in efficiency. It baffles me, much like people who play Sudoku to relax.
I know what isn’t working. Taking a shot of whiskey to trick the brain into a chemical reflex to shut down. Counting sheep. Exercising to the point of exhaustion. Thinking about happier times, holding hands on moonlight walks, singing along with the radio on road trips, seeing that smile that still haunts my memories. That just makes me toss and turn some more. Beating myself up for another moment gone and lost forever. Its shadow burned into my writer’s brain like the ghostly image of a shitty arcade video game into the screen of a CRT screen after 20 years of running in the back room of a pizza parlor.
All I really want is that decent shot of dopamine to the brain for having accomplished something during my day. Give me that, and I’ll sleep like a baby, even after three shots of espresso.
I’m up. Time to get to work. Sunrises are overrated. Especially on hot summer nights such as this. To hell with the way things were before. They never really suited me all that well anyway.
Is it lonely at night? Yes. Blissfully so.