Tag Archives: insomnia

“But You’re Innocent When You Dream… When You Dream…”

It’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

I’ve gotten into this terrible habit, in the middle of my sleep:  When the alarm clock goes off, I yank its cord out of the wall.  As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if that thing has a snooze button:  I’ve never had to use it.  And I wish I could give up the habit, but I do it when barely awake.  So, it’s kinda like sleep walking.  Sleep yanking.

The thing is:  I LOVE to sleep.  I can hibernate for hours.  I sleep to cope with stress, loss, life.  I sleep on the road.  I’ve got no problem sleeping in cars, planes, tents; in new beds, in new towns.  The bigger the change — the longer I take to wake up.  Sometimes, I think I sleep to return to my innocence; or to somewhat restore it, at least.

And once I’m out, there is no noise that can wake me.

Motha always jokes:

“Ze Russian tanks rrollin’g thrrough town von’t vake you.”

(This — is Russian humor.  Welcome!)

But on the other hand, I never seem to have enough time in the day to get shit done; so I rarely want to get to bed, at night.

First, there are my survival gigs:  The hustle.

Then, there are auditions and my projects of choice:  The very reason I’ve landed in LA-LA.

The rest of my time is gobbled up by writing.  Every week, the art claims about forty hours.  I’ve counted them the other day because I began to wonder why I was always so tired:  constantly wanting to sleep, but never wanting to get to bed; sleeping past the alarm, then running late for the rest of the day.

I clock-in for it every day, first thing in the morning.  And it must be the only reason I get to bed at all:  to recharge the brain and to start from scratch, all over again.  To return to my innocence — or to somewhat restore it.  To remember it, at least.

The rest of my comrades — are sleepless as well.  First of all, most of the time they’re hungover on jet lag, not remembering in which timezone they’ve landed a few days ago.  They are artists, bohemians, gypsies:  They sleep in my car on the way to or from LAX.  My comrades play by their own rules, live by their own clocks, in timezones of their invention.  They wear their watches like eccentric wristbands.  They use their phones and the bedtime of their beloveds to tell time.  And there have been many nights we’ve used to reconvene, while the rest of the world has long gone to sleep.

Because our love must be how we return to our innocence — or how we restore it, somewhat, at least.

“Bloody hell!  I went to bed at five this morning!” my brother from New York is always likely to tell me.  His voice is raspy when he wakes, but child-like.  Give him a cup of coffee and eggs with chocolate (a recipe of his own invention) — and he is ready to play again.

Innocent.

He should be here, in a few days; and for a week, my sleeping schedule will get jolted into a strange line-up of sleepless nights, midnight talks, crashing on couches, mid-day showers, and running late.  But there will also be tearful laughter, endless talks of art and love; and a closeness so intimate, it will rejuvenate my hopes for the human kind.  And even if it won’t return me to my innocence — it will somewhat restore it, at least.

Back in my college days, a decade ago, I used to be able to pull off weeks of not sleeping.  The weight of the world used to be on my shoulders — or at least, the world’s most poignant questions.  But then, none of us slept those days, especially before finals or the deadline to send our college newspaper to the printing house.  We were young artists, bohemians, writers, dreamers — lovers of the world.  We already suspected we couldn’t return the world to its innocence; but, perhaps, we could restore it, somewhat:  with our art, our hopes, the poetry of our youth.

With New York City as our playground in the backyard of our college, there never seemed enough reasons to get to bed.  But once we did — often at five, six in the morning — there was no noise that could wake us.  We slept calmly, as the innocent do; but only for a couple of hours, before class (and before starting the work from scratch).  Because there was nothing to restore yet.  Our hearts were full.  And we still knew — how to love.

But today, it’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

These days, I’m always seemingly late.  There is never enough time — to return the world to its innocence, to solve its most poignant questions — and there is less and less of it, as I get older.

The somberness of the day set-in as soon as I checked-in with the world before sitting down to work:  A decade ago, we have all lost our innocence — in New York City; and for the rest of the world, restoring it got a lot harder.

But we continue to clock-in, every day:  my comrades, artists; bohemians, poets; lovers, beloveds.  

Because even if we cannot restore the world’s innocence, we can at least preserve our own.  That is the meaning of an artist’s life; his or her most poignant responsibility.  

“The Blues Is My Business — And Business Is Good.”

What’s this nauseating feeling looming in the pit of my stomach?  That time of the month?  Or maybe I should just lay off the coffee.

Back in Manhattan, I used to live on that shit.  Now, I limit myself to three cups a day.  On a good day.  Nights don’t count:  Nights keep their own count.

Sometimes, I forget to eat, too — a habit of my student days that hasn’t dissipated despite the new habit, of my non-student days, for daily running whenever my anxiety strikes.  Back in the student days, I could just call up a lover and get tangled up in that mess.  Not now though.  Now:  I just run, for miles.

And, oh, I could run for miles, right now!

But first:  Must have some coffee.

Or maybe I should lay off the coffee.  I hear it invokes anxiety.

Anxiety.  Ah, that.  It looms in the pit of my stomach, and it’s sickening:  this battle of mind over matter.

I lie down on the floor.  I should meditate, I think; or count some fucking sheep.  Whatever it takes to get rid of this anxiety thing, looming in the pit of my stomach.

And coffee:  I should definitely lay off that shit.

There is some drilling happening somewhere in close proximity; and because it’s been hot enough this week to sleep with all the windows slid wide open (come on in, thieves and ghosts!), the sound has awoken me, long before I was ready to get up and do my thing again.

What IS my thing, by the way?

Well, it starts — with making coffee.

Which I do.  I get up from the floor and stare at the drip.

“thinking, the courage it took to get out of bed each morning

to face the same things

over and over

was 

enormous.”

Bukowski.  That old, ugly dog was the bravest of them all, never whoring himself out to academia, yet always producing the words, despite being ridden with vices, not the least of each was the endless heartache of compassion.  And he knew a thing or two about clocking-in every day, at some maddening day job for a number of decades, then over his unpublished papers, at night.

Because nights keep their own count.  And days — are mostly spent with some nauseating anxiety looming in the pit of the stomach.

“and there is nothing

that will put a person

more in touch 

with the realities

than

an 8 hour job.”

But he would do that, until the day job was no longer necessary — and the papers were finally published.  And after that happened, did the nausea vamoose for good?  Poof!  Or did he continue drowning it in liquor, exhausting it on the tracks or in between the thighs of his lover-broads; then getting up for the grind all over again, in the morning?

I stare at the drip as if it’s going to give me some answers.  It reminds me of sitting by the life-support machine and staring at a sack of some gooey, transparent liquid — but not transparent enough to give me some fucking answers.

The pot’s half full.  I think I’m supposed to wait for the whole thing to finish, or it ruins it.  It interrupts the process.  Fuck it.  I pour myself a cup — I interrupt — and take it back to the floor.  I lie down.

Maybe I should count some fucking sheep, I think.  Or get me some poetry.  It has put me to sleep last night, with all the windows slid wide open.  Because the fucking sheep refused to be counted, at night.

And because nights keep their own count.

I take a sip of coffee and close my eyes.  Open them:  The drilling has started up again.  I haven’t even noticed the silence.  I put down the pen, the Bukowski.   Start listening to the drill.

It reminds me of my never made dental appointment for a check-up.  A check-up?  What the hell do I need a check-up for?  Just to see how much damage life has done to my enamel — with all that coffee — the timid receptionist called Lisa quietly explains, in so many words.  She is always kind, whimpering her messages into my answering machine like a cornered-in mouse.

Goodness.  Thank goodness — for kindness.

I should meditate, I think, after all.  I take a sip, close my eyes.

Whatever happened to that girl, I wonder, remembering a colleague gloriously succeeding somewhere in this town.  I had known her for years by now, but haven’t seen her for half of those.  We began to lose touch, two of my lovers ago, after a row of coffee dates were meant to be broken.  Eventually, the colleague and I forgot whose turn it was to make plans for the next date, to choose the next coffee shop.  It must be a self-protective thing with her, I realize.  She is successful:  It’s hard for her to relate.

Oh well, I think.  I’ll just keep in touch by overhearing some good news, on her behalf; and keep drinking my coffee alone, outside of coffee shops.

But then, I bet she too gets up to the grind, every morning.  She too must feel the looming nausea in the pit of her stomach until she forces herself to meditate.

Because after years and years of getting up to do my thing, I realize that it pretty much summons success.   

Success is simply getting up again.

But then again, there must be more to it.  Certainly, there must be more to life — than getting up.

I get up, take my coffee with me.  The drilling has stopped.  I stare outside through the windows slid wide open.

“I listen and the City of the Angels

listens:  she’s had a hard row.”

I remember:  I’ve got to start the work.  Because isn’t it what I’ve gotten up for?

I pour myself another cup.  I begin.

But what’s this nausea looming in the pit of my stomach?

“the impossibility of being human

all too human

this breathing

in and out

out and in

these punks

these cowards

these champions

these mad dogs of glory

moving this little bit of light toward

us

impossibly.”

I take another sip.  I continue.

The nausea begins to vamoose, giving room to the acidity of my coffee, incorrectly brewed; interrupted.

“On Lonely Nights, I Start to Fade. Her Love’s a Thousand Miles Away.”

It’s 2 a.m.  Here come the monsters.

Cute little buggers they are, whispering quirky thoughts into my ears while nibbling on my earlobes or jumping rope with my braids.  My hair has gotten longer by now and has taken on that sun-kissed frizz of LA-LA’s summer.  But if I leave it untamed, my little monsters get tangled up in it while playing thumb wars and building castles out of my mane — fluffing up magnificent pillows for their hairy elbows and messy heads; and then I’m up until dawn, cutting off their cruddy nails and wiggling out their paws — to get them out of my hair.  And then, they’ll whimper, aiming at my dormant ovaries.  So, I’ve learned my lesson by now.  I know better.

In the kitchen, the humming buzz of the fridge should be enough to make me doze off, but the girl next door has gotten one of her terrible chronic cough attacks again; and I cringe away at my desire to fetch her some cough syrup, or water at least.  She is lovely, from what I’ve seen; quite luminous.  And she has one of those laughs that make you check the corners of your joint for the little girl that may have gotten lost there; and while waiting to be reclaimed, the girl-child plays house — a make-believe, much kinder than her reality.

2:17.

The birds outside are going bonkers.  What could possibly be in dire need for their negotiation, at this hour?  I’d like to think they are planning their next destination, or dissing the previous one:

“Whose idea was it to slum it, in Texas?!”

Or, maybe, they are just like me:  Insomniacs with misbehaving monsters roughing up their feathers, after midnight.  I attempt to tune them out, get reacquainted with the humming buzz in my kitchen:  My early morning lullaby.  It reminds me of my basement quarters in the Bronx.  Those days I fancied myself a Master, waiting for his pornographic witch of Margarita.  She never descended though; but all that waiting in the daytime and chasing monsters in the dark has created quite a bit of inspiration, but never quite enough poetry.  So, I’ve learned my lesson by now:  Leave the ghosts unattended.  I know better.

Aha:  A bath!  That sounds like a great idea, tested by time.  Who said there was no ailment of the mind that a perfectly drawn bath couldn’t fix?  It had to be a woman writer, with a closet full of ex-lovers’ ties and head full of stories; someone who knew how to put pen to paper — then, mind to rest.  The water is of perfect temperature, but only in the summer.  Perhaps, the secret is in the juxtaposition of body to air, skin — to the world.  I submerge.  Immediately, I am aware of the throbbing exhaustion in my limbs; and while I count to ten, I hear my little monsters clasping their manicured fingers over the ledge and pulling up their funny faces, wanting to crawl in.  I let them, pushing up a few hairy bottoms with my palms.  Some prefer to keep hanging on the ledge; and with their breath, they drill caves through the while peaks of my bath foam.  Cute little buggers.

2:41.

I get out:  Much better.  At least my limbs are mellowed out, and the mind is slowing down its pace.  I let the skin get air-dried and walk out into the living-room:  Body to air, skin — to the world.

From the window, I can see the Observatory on the top of the hill.  It stays lit up at night, and it always makes me wonder if LA-LA’s angels go there, for naps and foot rubs, and maybe even nightcaps.

The patter of little feet with manicured nails tick-tocks across the kitchen tiles.  I turn my head:  There they are, my cute little buggers; and they hang back, making funny faces and imitating my frowns, and they wait for me to wave them over.  I do.  They yelp and leap, slide their wet feet across the floor, bodysurf on the doormat, do cartwheels on the carpet.  They climb the poles of my chair’s legs and the ropes of my braids.  One of them clasps and unclasps his paws, asking for a lift again; and he whimpers, aiming at my dormant ovaries.  I give him my hand:  He sniffs it, then climbs in.  I sit him down on the windowsill.  I’ve learned my lesson by now:  It’s better to not resist.

The birds are still at it, dissing another suggested locale:  “Why the hell would we go to Canada, in September?”  And, by the way:  Where the fuck are the coyotes when you need them?  We could all start a bloody choir around here:  Us Versus the Moon.

3:02.

A ghetto bird flies by:  A treacherous, dark hunter.  How come I’ve never heard those, in the Bronx?  Perhaps, there, all hunting — is done on the ground.  Speaking of ground control:  I hear the police sirens.  They seem to echo a lot longer in this city, especially when LA-LA’s angels takes nightcap breaks at the lit up Observatory, on top of the hill.

But:  What was the name of that lullaby he used to sing to me, after midnight?  He left a while ago, and by now, I’ve learned to wane myself off his voice in the daytime.  But at night:  Alas, at night, it’s a whole different tune, around here:  Us Versus the Moon.  Between the humming buzz of the fridge in the kitchen and the clicking tongues of my nibbling little monsters, my memory gives out.

Perhaps, I would be better off, putting pen to paper.  After all, I am a writer, with a closet full of ex-lovers’ ties and head full of stories; who’s learned her lesson by now:  It’s better to not resist.  It’s better to surrender.

It’s 3:32 a.m.

And here come the words.

I’m Just a Soul Whose Intentions — Are Good!

I was dreaming last night.  I always dream, apparently; and my occasional sleep witnesses always testify to it not being a very pretty picture.  Actually, fuck “pretty”:  Apparently, the “picture” is not even tame.

And every morning, when I make my bed, I must agree with them:  As I untangle a mount of sweat-soaked sheets, feline hair, crumpled up pillows and turned out blankets, I always wonder:

“What the fuck went down in this joint last night?”

Sometimes, I am able to remember these wild dreams in the morning.  But they have to be particularly disturbing for me to launch into the research of their meaning.  One thing is for sure, though:  My brain is never at a deficit — for bloody metaphors.  (Now, okay:  They aren’t always “bloody” bloody, but when they are, they make Quentin Tarantino’s flicks seem like Disney toons in comparison.)

Some metaphors get written down.  Most of the time though, the dreams simply get retold to their participants:

“Had a dream about you,” I usually start.

“Oh yeah?”  And the poor, non-expecting suckers always get so excited:  They are clueless as to what I’m about to unload onto them.  “What about?”

“A’right:  Here we go.  You’ve asked for it.”

As I watch my dreams’ cast members get petrified and puzzled, their faces deconstructing into a Miro-esque canvas, I think:

“I could’ve given Freud a fucking head trip or two.  Dora’s got nothin’ on V!”

And in the mean time, my people have no idea about the challenge of my having to choose calmer vocabulary to describe the utter atrocities they were doing in my head the night before.  Still, even when watered down by my mercy, this shit ain’t “pretty”.  Or “tame”.

“So… Yeah.  You go figure this one out now,” I tell ‘em.  “And, um…  Have fun with that!  Yourr velkom.”

During the times of coping with loss, such as death or a break-up (same shit by the way!), my dreams get even more intensified.  It’s hard to believe that my head can go even further out, and yet it does.  Sometimes, I get more than one viewing in one night.  Several scenarios, one madder than the previous one, play out against my closed eyelids.  So, no wonder I tend to get reacquainted with insomnia during times of change:  It’s not that I have troubles sleeping:  I just don’t want see this sick shit again.

But last night, I had a dream that made me realize that I’ve finally hit the bottom of my current, death-related disturbance.  Just two nights ago, in my dream, I got struck by a weird looking black snake with erected scales.  I woke up screaming.  (Lovely!)  So, when I finally talked myself into hitting the pillow yesternight, I was prepared to be awake — and screaming — in a matter of just a few hours.  Instead:

I dreamt of San Francisco.

It was like that one passage in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America that signifies the end of the world, or death;  or the ultimate love:  “In the Hall of Continental Principalities; Heaven, a city much like San Francisco.”

All the major players of my life were scattered around a Victorian house in a small vineyard, somewhere by the Ocean.  (We couldn’t hear that ancient monster, but we tasted its salt in the air.)  And I couldn’t see all the cast members, but somehow I knew:  Everyone was there.

My godchild who’s grown into a less dainty version of Frida Pinto was writing poetry on a crocheted blanket in the tall grass of my front yard.  (Or was it a dissertation on curing cancer via meditation?)  Her mother — my best friend, the love of my life — was reclining nearby, gently stroking her daughter hair, looking older, like her own mother; yet still in awe of time.

Younger women, related to me by spiritual adoption, not blood, were dusting off a rustic wooden dinner table by the bushes of lilacs.

I could hear the voices of my friends:  

My brother from Bohemia, whose contagious laughter was punctuated by the clicking of shutters, was making my motha feel young and beautiful again:  He was making her howl;

Women who had married other women and gave paths to more women; who have granted me a dozen of artistic births throughout my own life but never claimed authorships of it — they were gathering giant strawberries from heavy vines underneath apple trees;

Broken hearts that have been replenished by my love — but never fixed — were nibbling on platters of Mediterranean snacks coming out of my kitchen on a verandah with chimes;

Exhausted artists, always so hard on themselves but so kind on me, were napping in hammocks and tree houses;

A fellow insomniac with the voice of Tom Waits was sitting on the front steps, and with his poignant imitations of the human race was making me do spit takes, over and over, into my glass of Malbec;

Lovers who have loved me — but loved my freedom even more — were arguing over a game of backgammon in my master bedroom;

A reincarnation of Nina Simone was singing anecdotes to gypsies up in the attic while they unpacked and dusted off my books;

The sound of wood chopping resonated from the garden:  Dad!  Dad, refusing to give up on his country’s habits, was getting his pre-dinner workout on.

Were we all living together, or had we gathered there, to rest; to drink away the night?  Had I flown in my hearts to celebrate the news of another book contract — or some incurable disease? 

And what had happened to the world, in the mean time:  Had we had survived another Chernobyl?  Were we even closer to the coming of the end?  Or had we snapped to it — finally! collectively! — and retracted our mistakes, apologized for the gaps in our love and redeemed ourselves with more kindness, served for dinner?

I didn’t know.  But this morning, as I untangled my sweat-soaked sheets, I remembered the talk with my brother from Bohemia, whose contagious laughter just a few nights ago was making me feel young and strong again (and it was keeping me awake from my nightmares).

“Is the end of the world still coming; or is it the beginning of it?” I asked him then.

“But does it matter?” he answered.  “We’ll still be kicking ass — with kindness.”

Hit the Road, Jack!

A heavy heart.  She believed it to be a condition of the true. 

“Not now…” her girlfriends in bad relationships pleaded, their faces looking like sad dogs or startled babies, right before they howl with grief.  “Maybe tomorrow, you can tell me the truth.  But not now.”

They were hurting, like so many:  An epidemic of the living.  She understood that.  But she always thought it was better to hit the road.

Her losses — there have been many.  Plenty of little defeats.  But maybe it was her father, who as she remembered always stood so very tall; maybe it was he who taught her to get up and hit the road, again and again, even if merely out of habit.

He himself had long been self-discounted to the camp of the defeated:  Those who got through a listless crawl of days that were mundane most of the time — at their best — and chaotic for the rest of the year.  (Once, he confessed that he preferred the chaotic ones; because at least then, he couldn’t ponder his way through them.)

He had stayed behind, in a country that she fled before she too joined the defeated.  Because she wanted so much more than survival.  Because she got sick in the lobbies of its office buildings, hospitals and dorms, all smelling alike — like chlorine and mildew — waiting and waiting for someone to come and get you, only to give you another dose shit.  Daily resignation to injustice just wasn’t enough:  She wanted to strive, to flourish; to chase ideals, like a cat does mirror reflections on the wall.  She wanted the truth; and she had hoped, for the world.  

So:  She hit the road.

But the heavy heart followed.  (She believed it to be a condition of the true.)

“Truth’s okay,” a wise woman once recommended.  “But you have to say it with a smile.  Otherwise, you’re all sharp edges.”

“Look!  A roach in your salad,” she said; then remembered the woman’s advice — and smiled.  Better?

Every night, when heading home, at the end of all that striving and flourishing — the hour of the heavy heart would rapidly descend.  Because she knew that in between the white walls (which her lease prohibited her from painting), there would be no distractions.  Only pondering.  Only the truth.  (Oh, is that why she always preferred to be in the midst of a love affair:  Because she could reach for the voices of her lovers like others reach for a midnight snack?  But then again, she never knew how to end it.  How to wait for the end.  So, she’d either found herself “in the midst” — or hitting the road.)

Sometimes, she’d take the longest routes home, through the unpredictable neighborhoods of her city that she was beginning to memorize by heart.  Her sometimes heavy heart.   

“How do you not get lost around here?” her mother, always the passenger, asked her every single time.

“I’d rather be fucking lost, trust me!” she responded; then remembered the woman’s advice — and smiled.

Some nights though, she just couldn’t bear it.  After all of her failed attempts to get lost, she’d return to the white walls; leave the bags in the kitchen, then turn right around and leave.  Oh how she wished to live in a city with tolerance for pedestrians!  Still:  She hit the road.

And so, she would drive through her city, over and over —  through it, around — hoping to discover a new street.  To get fucking lost.  She hated those “Dead End” signs — always so brutal and non-negotiable! — and preferred one-way streets.  Those ditches on the road — she kind of liked them:  They always jolted her to an awareness and justified a complaint.  She liked shortcuts, through alleys and parking lots, especially when it was unclear if she was heading the wrong way.  The poorly lit streets of immigrant neighborhoods thrilled her and she rolled down her windows:  to get a whiff of their contented survival.

She studied other drivers, most of whom always seemed unaware of their living behind the glass walls.  She hated being stuck behind trucks and buses, even though most forewarned her of making frequent stops and wide turns.  So she’d zoom around them.  Prii — always brought bad news.  (She liked calling them “Priuses” anyway.)  So, she’d go around those too, while shaking her head and avoiding eye contact with the owners.

When following police cars, she never knew if she was allowed to go faster than them; because truth be told, she rarely knew the speed limit.

“WATCH THE ROAD” their stickers recommended.  Not:  “WATCH THE SPEED”.

So, she’d speed around those as well.

“Ooh, gurl,” one night, a driver of a bus she had just passed, attempted to talk to her through his cracked window.  She looked over.  Very much the jolly type, he probably never suffered from a heavy heart.  He was grinning:  A happy wanderer.

“Come wit me?” he said with some sort of a mishmash of Caribbean accent and street talk.

“Okay,” she responded, surprising herself with the sudden lightness of her own heart.

“Meh say:  Come WIT me!”  The man was in the midst of a sermon.

“OKAY,” she laughed.  “Where are we going?”

“Whedeva ya want, gurl!”

She considered:  “India?”

“Let’s — go!”

“Now?”

“Yeh, gurl.”

“Don’t you have passengers?”  She looked back at the monstrosity she’d zoomed around:  No wonder it makes wide turns.

“Ya make me wanna pull dis ting ova’!”  He grinned at her, with not a hint of creepiness, just joy and admiration.

“Well.  Then, let’s hit the road,” she said.

Of course, at the green eye of the traffic light, she’d sped past him, and past the orange monstrosity he was lugging around town, with seeming contentment.  Straight home she went, for the white walls of her apartment which she was prohibited to paint.  And when she stood in the midst of her kitchen — alone with her heavy heart — she thought:

“This isn’t so bad,” — and reached for the fridge, at midnight.