Every 17 hours or so I try to get some sleep. Some nights it is effortless and deep and other nights not so much. So then I lay quietly listening to the music of the night, as they say in Phantom of the Opera.
“Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation. Darkness stirs and wakes imagination. Silently the senses abandon their defenses. Helpless to resist the notes I write, for I compose the music of the night…
Slowly, gently night unfurls its splendor. Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender. Turn your face away from the garish light of day. Turn your thoughts away from cold unfeeling light, and listen to the music of the night.”
My experience in the hours from 11pm to 3 or 4 am are not quite so romantic. I hear the crescendo of ice cubes falling like freighter sized shards of arctic ice from the icemaker into the plastic, clattering container way out in the kitchen. I hear the crickets outside – the incessant cricketing – I know it means they are trying to attract a mate. Holy Cow, how can that take all night long and require such a deafening screeching. I hear the distant train, the far-off siren, the flutter of an outdoor creature….perhaps an owl or a bat. Coyotes howling. I hear my own stomach growling, contents of my innards slurping along the tube they are in like a waterslide ride. I hear things I cannot explain. The house has a life of its own; it creaks and groans as it cools and settles. Pipes snap as if they are breaking; the fridge hummmmmmms. Rumbles and …. or was that thunder? Will it rain? I listen for rain. No, it is the wind picking up.
In addition to that roar of auditory stimulation I hear the louder thoughts in my head and I see images randomly presented to me in a rapid fire stream of almost unconsciousness. It is on like ping pong. There will be no sleeping tonight. Obscure fleeting ideas, not fully formed and recognizable, fling themselves at my screen. The colorful day’s activities parade past the inside of my eyes. Who was that person I saw do that amazing thing….did what’s-his-face really say what I thought I heard him say? So worried about my friend who has cancer. Am I going to have to call the handyman again about the thing? That movie did not turn out as good as it was supposed to be. I wish I had bought that cowhide rug I saw. I have always wanted a cowhide rug. Why can’t I find the size canvas I need? I think paint is on sale. Did I remember to call the lady back about the insurance? Who was that person who waved at me – did I know her? Why is my hip hurting. I think I forgot to plug in my phone.
None of this makes any sense to me in the dark purple of my room in the middle of the night. It is an exercise in fruitless thinking. It is never ending and always changing providing nothing and yet it is everything…. in my simple mind world. But I solve no world problems. I have no illuminating realizations. How we can truly save the whales and end world hunger and make that horrible weed go away and die – the one that is choking and devouring our outdoor spaces around the globe. Those solutions do not come to me in the knot of my covers inside my fetal position with my pillows scattered. The night has been a failure to sleep and to solve.
Except once in a while – once in a great whopping while – a super duper idea will come to me that seems pure genius. Usually it’s an idea for a painting composition or a blog or a third book or a recipe or a unique vacation or a great original quote from me that everyone will remember or a creative solution to some issue I needed to finish. If that happens, I force myself to sit up and write it down on the tablet next to the bed. Far too many brilliant ideas were totally lost to me through the years by believing that I could remember them until morning. That is a big mistake, waiting until morning. You have almost always lost the magic by then. You have sacrificed a glorious something for the comfort of not getting up to write it down. Lazy, slovenly you. You need to learn to use the night. It rewards you in unexpected and wondrous ways and you feel productive and smart when you take notes.
On the other hand, occasionally you’ll wake up and read your “notes to self” in the morning and they make no sense at all.
the hot dog faucet was slick. i want to sit in. my third arm would not paint. chasing the rock was weak paint. he was under the cowhide rug. the weeds strangled the whales.
When that happens, you give it a couple minutes of thought and if nothing sensational and worthy of your thoughtful time comes back to you, then you just forget it. Days later you might get it. Or not.